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.
And now, select nominees:
Album of the Year
Can you say “shoo-in”?
Adele 21, Foo Fighters Wasting Light, Lady Gaga Born This Way,
Record of the Year
Can you say “shoo-in” again?
Adele "Rolling in the Deep"; Bon Iver "Holocene"; Bruno Mars "Grenade"; Mumford & Sons, "The Cave"; Katy Perry "Firework"
Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
Danger Mouse Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi Present Rome Meyrin Fields EP (Broken Bells)
- “Call It What You Want” (Foster the People)
- “I Would Do Anything for You” (Foster the People)
- “I’ll Be Waiting” (Adele)
- “Life on the Nickel” (Foster the People)
- “No One's Gonna Love You” (Cee-Lo Green)
- “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele)
- Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Bruno Mars)
- “If I Was You (OMG)” (Far East Movement featuring Snoop Dogg)
- “Lighters” (Bad Meets Evil featuring Bruno Mars)
- “Mirror” (Lil Wayne featuring Bruno Mars)
- “Rocketeer” (Far East Movement featuring Ryan Tedder)
- “Brighter Than the Sun” (Colbie Caillat)
- “Favorite Song” (Colbie Caillat featuring Common)
- “I Remember Me” (Jennifer Hudson)
- “I Was Here” (Beyoncé)
- “Not Over You” (Gavin DeGraw)
- “#1Nite (One Night)” (Cobra Starship)
- “Rumour Has It” (Adele)
- “Sweeter” (Gavin DeGraw)
- “Who’s That Boy” (Demi Lovato featuring Dev)
Butch Vig Wasting Light (Foo Fighters)
Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
Acoustic recordings dominate this crop, and it’ll probably come down to a battle between the LPs from Krauss and Welch, the best-known contenders, with Shipley and Blackwood edging the Andrews/Marcussen tandem, if only because Krauss is a Grammy darling.
- Follow Me Down, Brandon Bell & Gary Paczosa, engineers; Sangwook "Sunny" Nam & Doug Sax, mastering engineers (Sarah Jarosz)
- The Harrow & the Harvest, Matt Andrews, engineer; Stephen Marcussen, mastering engineer (Gillian Welch)
- Music Is Better Than Words, Rich Breen & Frank Filipetti, engineers; Bob Ludwig, mastering engineer (Seth MacFarlane)
- The Next Right Thing, Kevin Killen, Brendan Muldowney & John Shyloski, engineers; John Shyloski, mastering engineer (Seth Glier)
- Paper Airplane, Mike Shipley, engineer; Brad Blackwood, mastering engineer (Alison Krauss & Union Station)
Best Surround Sound Album
Wilson has won three times in the category, but it would be foolish to bet against perennial all-stars Scheiner, Levenson and Ludwig, especially considering they worked their magic on a certified rock masterpiece.
- An Evening With Dave Grusin, Frank Filipetti & Eric Schilling, surround mix engineers; Frank Filipetti, surround mastering engineer; Phil Ramone, surround producer (Various Artists)
- Grace for Drowning, Steven Wilson, surround mix engineer; Paschal Byrne, surround mastering engineer; Steven Wilson, surround producer (Steven Wilson)
- Kind, Morten Lindberg, surround mix engineer; Morten Lindberg, surround mastering engineer; Morten Lindberg, surround producer (Kjetil Almenning, Ensemble 96 & Nidaros String Quartet)
- Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Super Deluxe Edition), Elliot Scheiner, surround mix engineer; Bob Ludwig, surround mastering engineer; Bill Levenson & Elliot Scheiner, surround producers (Derek & The Dominos)
- Spohr: String Sextet In C Major, Op. 140 & Nonet In F Major, Op. 31, Andreas Spreer, surround mix engineer; Andreas Spreer, surround mastering engineer; Andreas Spreer, surround producer (Camerata Freden)
Best Engineered Album, Classical
I have absolutely no idea.
- Aldridge: Elmer Gantry, Byeong-Joon Hwang & John Newton, engineers; Jesse Lewis, mastering engineer (William Boggs, Keith Phares, Patricia Risley, Vale Rideout, Frank Kelley, Heather Buck, Florentine Opera Chorus & Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
- Glazunov: Complete Concertos, Richard King, engineer (José Serebrier, Alexey Serov, Wen-Sinn Yang, Alexander Romanovsky, Rachel Barton Pine, Marc Chisson & Russian National Orchestra)
- Mackey: Lonely Motel: Music From Slide, Tom Lazarus & Bill Maylone, engineers; Joe Lambert, mastering engineer (Rinde Eckert, Steven Mackey & Eighth Blackbird)
- Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4, Arne Akselberg, engineer (Leif Ove Andsnes, Antonio Pappano & London Symphony Orchestra)
- Weinberg: Symphony No. 3 & Suite No. 4 From “The Golden Key,” Torbjörn Samuelsson, engineer (Thord Svedlund & Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra)