Bud Scoppa's Take on Grammy 2012 Nominations

Dec 5, 2011 1:34 PM, By Bud Scoppa


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The biggest controversy this year has to do with the Recording Academy’s decision to eliminate 31 categories, from 109 to 78, with the cuts hitting the R&B, country and roots sectors particularly hard. For example, the R&B categories were cut from eight to four, while the radical compression of roots styles resulted in the creation of a so-called Best Regional Roots Album category, pitting bluesman C.J. Chenier and N’awlins institution the Rebirth Brass Band against Hawaiian guitarist George Kahumoku Jr., Cajun combo Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys and polka king Jimmy Sturr, whose grand total of 18 Grammys will likely come to an end with the elimination of the polka category. You can’t blame fans of these and other niche genres for going, “C’mon, man!” You could sense Academy chief Neil Portnow bracing himself as he told the L.A. Times after the fourth-annual edition of the inelegantly titled Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! Countdown to Music's Biggest Night, which aired on CBS Wednesday night, “We get the nominations moments before the show. We haven’t had enough time to do an analysis. As we do annually, we have our committee meetings where we will review our categories, obviously with a special eye and ear toward how this all played out.” Have fun with that, dude.

And in the most intriguing subplot of the telecast, a press release from the Academy had promised “a special live announcement from an iconic group regarding their historic band reunion set to take place” during the Grammys ceremony in February. The smart money around Tinseltown was on the reportedly reunited Van Halen, complete with David Lee Roth, and fans waited with bated breath for the hard-rock heroes to take the stage. Didn’t happen. Following the no-show, others theorized that the no-show band was instead the Beach Boys. Either way, it wouldn’t be shocking if the whole thing imploded before it could even get started.

The Album of the Year awards the producer and the artist, meaning double nominations for Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder, each of whom contributed tracks to Adele’s 21, the prohibitive favorite, which led to producer noms for both. Same for The Smeezingtons—Bruno Mars, Phillip Lawrence and Ari Levine—who produced Mars’ album nominee Doo-Wops & Hooligans, and for Butch Vig, who helmed the Foo Fighters’ nominated Wasting Light. Going in, I had the Producer of the Year Award as Epworth’s to lose, considering he produced Adele’s mega-hit “Rolling in the Deep,” which is also up for Best Record and Best Song, as well as three tracks on Foster the People’s Torches, though not the breakthrough single “Pumped Up Kicks.” But FTP’s failure to get the expected Best New Artist nomination or a Best Album nod make his victory somewhat less than inevitable, though I still give him the edge over The Smeezingtons and Tedder (who produced Adele’s likely future single “Rumour Has It,” another uptempo rouser). Vig is a long shot—unless nostalgia for the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind surges across the voting bloc—as is Danger Mouse, who had a relatively quiet year, with his Daniele Luppi collaboration Rome and a low-profile Broken Bells EP. But pencil him in for the final cut next year for the Black Keys’ totally killer El Camino, which hits on Tuesday (December 6).

One of the biggest pleasant surprises was the voters’ embrace of Bon Iver, the nom de plume of writer/artist/producer and indie-rock hero Justin Vernon, who bagged four noms, including three biggies, with the gorgeous track “Holocene” nominated for Record and Song of the Year, along with a Best New Artist nom, plus an Alternative Album nod for his sophomore LP Bon Iver. Vernon’s the closest thing to Arcade Fire in this year’s competition, though Bon Iver didn’t make the Album of the Year finals, nor would it have stood a chance given the Adele factor. By the same token, there’s no way “Holocene” upsets “Rolling in the Deep” in the Record category, though it could conceivably compete with “Rolling” for Song of the Year. Side note: Minutes after the nominations were announced, an incredulous Vernon tweeted the legitimate question, “What’s the difference between song and record?! ahhH! super weird butterflies! thanks y’all.” But he has a real shot for Best New Artist against country act the Band Perry and rapper/singer Nicki Minaj, with rapper J Cole and DJ/producer Skrillex probable non-factors. (The Skrillex nom caught everybody off-guard; one wag quipped, “I thought it was an erectile dysfunction medication.”) A close listen to the sonically stunning Bon Iver makes it clear that Vernon is a real comer as a studio artisan. Indeed, he could show up in the producer finals next year for the brilliantly inventive job he did on girlfriend Kathleen Edwards’ upcoming LP, Voyageur, which transports the Canadian writer/artist from the alt-country ghetto to the big time. “I got to listen to [Bon Iver] in different stages,” Edwards told me just two days before the announcement, “and the first time I heard pieces of it, I was in shock because I thought, 'Holy shit, he’s working on his masterpiece, and no one has any idea what’s coming.'” They do now.

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