OnlineRock Blog

03 December 2011

Independent Artists Still Underrepresented at 54th Grammy Awards

By Tomi Mendel

On November 30, 2011, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences revealed the list of nominees for the 54th Grammy Awards, which will be held February 12 of next year. The nominations were accompanied by a live concert special on CBS, featuring performances from Rihanna, Jason Aldean, Ludacris, and Grandmaster Flash, among others. Leading the field with seven nominations is Kanye West, although he may feel snubbed in the important Album of The Year category, where his highly-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy did not make the cut. 

The Grammy Award: Prestigious or irrelevant?

Among music fans, the Grammys are a controversial award ceremony that can seem stodgy and largely out of touch with the cutting edge. Winners are frequently of the past-their-prime variety, like Steely Dan in 2001 (infamously defeating Radiohead’s Kid A, Beck’s Midnight Vultures and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP for "Album of the Year") or the 2006 Best Rock Album winners, U2.  Unfortunately, when the pendulum swings the other way, the results are not usually much better. The Grammys frequently lean toward comfortable, commercially successful artists with lukewarm critical reviews or middling artistic ambition.

 Adele will probably be taking home a whole lot of Grammys this year.

A good number of the nominees for 2012 match this description, with top-40 mainstays like Bruno Mars and Adele earning nods in the each of the “big three” categories: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. The Album of the Year category seems particularly uninspiring this year with the five nominees (Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, Bruno Mars’ Doo-Wops & Hooligans, Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, Rihanna’s Loud and Adele’s 21) averaging a not-so-exciting score of 70.6/100 on If these were high school papers instead of albums, that score would place them firmly in the C-grade range. Meanwhile, highly-touted works by less commercially viable artists like P.J. Harvey, Tom Waits or tUnE-yArDs met with zero nominations all together. 

“Bizness,” the lead single from tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l.

Another Grammy quirk is the strange relationship to release dates, which saw Paul Simon’s “Graceland” lose in the Song of the Year category for 1987, and then win the Record of the Year award for 1988. Such nuances of the eligibility period mean that Bon Iver, who released his well-received debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, in early 2008, has confusingly garnered a Best New Artist nomination this year. 

Bon Iver’s “Holocene,” up for Record and Song of the year. Yep, there is a difference.

Fortunately, up-and-coming, independent artists are slowly but surely making inroads when it comes to the Grammys. Last year’s ceremony packed a surprise punch when critics' darlings Arcade Fire won Album of the Year for The Suburbs, a moment that led to the creation of one of the most entertaining Tumblrs of all-time. Continuing the trend, several indie bands managed to earn recognition this year, too, led by Bon Iver’s four nominations. Popular dubstep producer Skrillex grabbed a major nomination in the Best New Artist category, in addition to nods for Best Dance/Electronica Recording and Album. Meanwhile, Cut Copy and Fleet Foxes feature in the Dance/Electronica Album and Best Folk Album categories, respectively. Indie music also dominates the field for the Best Alternative Music Album award, a battle between Death Cab for Cutie, My Morning Jacket, Bon Iver, Foster the People and Radiohead. 

Arcade Fire unexpectedly won 2011 Album of the Year, though they lost to the Black Keys in the Alternative category.

Despite the presence of some of these lesser-known artists, the nominations remain a mostly unadventurous, middle-of-the-road list. Most of the choices are decidedly safe, and the more artistically challenging works championed by many higher-brow publications, as well as countless young music fans, do not have sizable representation at the ceremony. Still, a Grammy award can mean a lot to the success of a fledgling artist or genre, boosting sales, public awareness and industry respect. As a result, continuing nominations and wins for the likes of Bon Iver and Arcade Fire are a positive step forward independent music, and with any luck, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences might start rewarding an even more varied field in the near future.


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