The 57th Grammy Awards are this Sunday. The ceremony should be a time to honor the year’s best in musical achievements. But for many viewers, it will be a time to let out one long groan. Year in and year out, safe, populist choices are rewarded, those sweet and sugary treats that before long make your teeth rot, while bolder, fresher and more acclaimed works are either passed over or ignored outright. As we prepare for the worst on Sunday (Iggy Azalea wins Best Rap Album?! “In a Lonely Hour” for Album of the Year?!), it seemed appropriate to remember the times the Grammys got it very, VERY wrong. Of course, such moments are numerous, so it made things (slightly) easier to start from the year 2000. Below are six examples that stood out the most.
Jill Scott loses Best New Artist, 43rd Grammy Awards
It was both disappointing and outrageous when country singer Shelby Lynne took the prize for Best New Artist in 2001. Disappointing because Jill Scott’s debut album “Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1” delivered smooth sensual grooves and spoken-word style poetry that made love to your eardrums. Outrageous because Lynne was far from a New Artist; her career goes as far back as the late ‘80s. Today, we know which artist is one of the queens of contemporary music.
Radiohead’s “Kid A” loses Album of the Year to Steely Dan, 43rd Grammy Awards
Listen, Steely Dan is a perfectly fine band, and their 2000 album “Two Against Nature” was a muscular throwback to their glory days in the ‘70s. But a throwback is no match for a stone cold masterpiece, which is precisely what the always innovative and cutting edge rock group “Radiohead” delivered. Perhaps we should be happy voters even nominated a work of such bold and restless sonic experimentation and complexity (and it did win Best Alternative Album). Today, the album can be found on both Time magazine and Rolling Stones’ list of greatest albums of all time, the latter publication voting it the best album of the ‘00s. Care for a do over, Grammys?
“Jesus Walks” loses Song of the Year, 47th Grammy Awards
It’s worth discussing why a rap song has never won this award, one given for writing (Record of the Year is given more for production and mix). But even if Grammy voters don’t put the lyrical content of Hip-Hop on the same level as other genres, how could they ignore the pop cultural crater Kanye West left with this track? West was shut out of every major category that year, but for infusing rough-edged, pulsating faith into Rap’s school of hard knocks with sweaty sound and fury, this one really should have been a no brainer. A game changer if there ever was one. The winner was John Mayer’s “Daughters,” a sweet ode to family connections that one doubts even Mayer himself remembers.
Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” shut out of both Song and Record of the Year, 49th Grammy awards
A song voted by Rolling Stones magazine as the greatest of the 2000s. Surely Grammy voters were on the same page, right? Wrong. The funky duo of CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse did win Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the song. But it wasn’t even nominated for the two major categories. The Dixie Chicks took both prizes for “Not Ready to Make Nice,” a track that for many critics was their way of saying they didn’t regret the anti-Bush statements Dixie Chick Natalie Maines made during a concert in Texas in ‘03. The song is a moving piece of country pop, but not even making room for “Crazy” in these categories was, well, crazy.
No Album of the Year nomination for Janelle Monae’s “Archandroid,” 53rd Grammy Awards
Janelle Monae is one of the few artists out now worthy of being called an artist, and the closest heir we have to Prince. Her debut studio album was an exuberant and eclectic blast of musical ambition that took us down a rabbit hole of afrofuturism, feminism, old-school funk and cyberpunk that pushed against the stagnant state of pop music. The album was named as one of 2010’s best by a number of critics, but Monae’s achievement could not find a place amidst the Album of the Year nominees (which included hallow efforts from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry). Worse still, though it was nominated for Best Contemporary R&B Album, it lost to Usher’s instantly forgettable “Raymond v. Raymond,” a lesser work from a dying star. Meanwhile, Monae’s continues to burn brighter than most of her contemporaries.
Major-categories shut out for “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” 54th Grammy Awards
In 2010, Kanye Wests’ magnum opus received more ecstatic reviews from major critics than anything since Radiohead’s “Kid A” a decade ago. Alas, this year’s ceremony would belong to Adele, whose second album “21” and her hit single “Rolling in the Deep” devoured the competition. Shame. Both the album and the song are lovely displays of the British singer’s soaring vocals, but they look puny and feeble next to the artistic and thematic heights West reached here. The inevitable win for Best Rap Album is almost an insult. West is indisputably one of the vital artists of the millenium, but for Grammy voters: *Kanye shrug*