By Todd Martens
8:40 PM CST, December 5, 2012
Wake up the kids, parents. The nominations for the 55th edition of the Grammy Awards are to be unveiled Wednesday night, and Pop & Hiss will be providing live coverage of the proceedings.
This year, the Recording Academy has gone country, staging its now annual "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live! -- Countdown to Music's Biggest Night" in Nashville. It will be televised in an hour-long show on CBS starting at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific time. LL Cool J is returning to host, but this time he is joined, as he was in 2008, by country royalty in Taylor Swift.
Swift's hit record "Red," by the way, won't be nominated tonight. Only albums released between Oct. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2012, are in the running. Yet without Swift's "Red" in Grammy contention, and no 2012 album as successful as Adele's "21," which took home the album of the year prize in February, there is no obvious Grammy front-runner.
Could that clear the way for the ambitious, minimalist electro-R&B of Frank Ocean? Live coverage of tonight's concert and nominations will be posted here, then stay tuned to Pop & Hiss for post-nominations news and analysis.
"Honky-tonk, here I come," said the likable but awkward Grammy-host LL Cool J. And we're off. LL Cool J and Swift engaged in some award-show pitter-patter, all of it leading up to Swift, reprising her role as T-Swizzle, beat-boxing to her "Mean."
"I'm 100% sure we're not going to be nominated for that collaboration," said Swift.
Not so fast, Taylor. The superstar needs a brush-up on her Grammy history. Heck, I would take a beat-boxing version of "Mean" over Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg singing "California Gurls"
Raise your hand if you don't immediately think of young'uns the Band Perry when someone says Johnny Cash? The Band Perry was joined by Dierks Bentley to pay tribute to Grammy past and Nashville history by tackling Cash's Grammy-winning song "Jackson."
And then we got to the reason we're here. Country up-and-comer Hunter Hayes sang the nominations for pop vocal album. No one won by that presentation, as Hayes gave quickie run-downs of each artist, as if was angling for a spot on "The Voice." But the nominations for pop vocal album are:
"Stronger," Kelly Clarkson
"Ceremonials," Florence + the Machine
"Some Nights," Fun.
"Overexposed," Maroon 5
"The Truth About Love," Pink
One-sentence analysis: The flamboyant Florence + the Machine is the most unique of this lot, although this likely foretells big things for Fun., which had a massive hit in “We Are Young."
Oh, Grammys, how Pop & Hiss has missed you.
Why, just the other night, I went to bed dreaming that some medleys would be in my future. Please, Grammy nomination concert, I said, give me some soft-pop reggae, like latter-day Sting, but with even more energy squeezed out of it. And if I'm really lucky, maybe you could toss in some disco? But don't make it dancey, make it more the kind of disco I'd hear while grocery shopping. Then, can you wash it down with just one verse of a really overwrought rock ballad, like the kind I'd hear on a bad soap opera during an extreme close-up of a tear on a face?
And voilà! You gave me Maroon 5's "One More Night" and followed it up with "Moves Like Jagger" and "Daylight."
And the nominees for record of the year are....
"Lonely Boy," the Black Keys
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Kelly Clarkson
"We Are Young," Fun. featuring Janelle Monáe
"Somebody That I Used To Know," Gotye featuring Kimbra
"Thinkin Bout You," Frank Ocean
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Taylor Swift
One sentence analysis: "Lonely Boy" is a pretty killer rock single, and Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" highlights her move away from country into more pop-rock anthems, but Ocean's "Thinkin Bout You" is a fascinating meditation on love and heartache and is the song to beat.
Songs and nominations are coming quick here. Forgive us for lagging. The Who sang a little of "Won't Get Fooled Again" but was cut off for a commercial break, perhaps because the band's inclusion in this Grammy nominations concert really made no sense.
Luke Bryan then sang his "I Don't Want This Night to End," but he was overstaged by the unveiling of the new artist noms.
The nominees for new artist are...
Here’s an oddity: For once, this category is dominated by artists on their debut albums. Ocean, the Lumineers, Alabama Shakes and Hayes all made their debut during the eligibility period.
The Grammys tipped their hand on Hayes when he was announced as a performer at tonight’s nominations concert; the youngster thus far has proved to be more of a heartthrob than an alarming new voice. Yet voters got it right in nominating Ocean and Alabama Shakes.
Alabama Shakes released the impressive “Boys & Girls” this year, and more people need to be exposed to the torrential, rock ‘n’ soul force that is frontwoman Brittany Howard. Live, she stomps, hollers, howls and grooves. She doesn’t just sing a song; she tackles it.
The Lumineers are one of the year’s biggest breakouts, and it’s nice to see voters pay attention to an act that’s been gradually bubbling into the mainstream. Some key television placements have helped the group, but think of the Denver folk-rockers as a less instrumentally aggressive Mumford & Sons. Make no mistake, theirs are songs that are still built for the climax -- every Lumineers tune is a mini-hootenanny.
Fun. is the veteran of this lot, as “Some Nights” was the act’s second album. For all intents and purposes, however, the band was introduced to the world via the hit “We Are Young,” as feel-good a pop number as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
New artist nominee Fun. performed its hit “We Are Young." This means that the band won't play the song on the February telecast, which means that the band will likely be part of a medley honoring someone else.
Live, Fun. can be hit-and-miss, as the band seems to get overtaken by its energy. Recklessness is all fine and good in rock 'n' roll, but the rowdier Fun. gets, the more it seems to highlight the ways in which the band hides behind orchestral flourishes.
Here, Fun. gets rather subdued. Vocalist Nate Ruess has one level, and it's "shout," but his oddly high voice serves as a contrast to the string section, which always seems on the verge of breaking free. "We Are Young" has a secret weapon, though, and that's Janelle Monáe, who brought the song home with a celebratory exclamation point.
Up next was Ne-Yo's slick, laser-enhanced "Let Me Love You." The song starts as R&B and soon explodes into a full-on dance party. As soon as it ended, the Lumineers popped up to unveil the nominees for country solo performance.
And the country solo performance nominees are....
"Home," Dierks Bentley
"Springsteen," Eric Church
"Cost Of Livin'," Ronnie Dunn
"Wanted," Hunter Hayes
"Over," Blake Shelton
"Blown Away," Carrie Underwood
One sentence analysis: This category belongs to Underwood, whose dark, rock makeover has never suited her better than it does on “Blown Away."
That’s a wrap. The nominations are now out, and homegrown hero Ocean is among the leaders with six nods. Others with six include Mumford & Sons, Jay-Z, Fun., Kanye West and Dan Auerbach, who in addition to his work with the Black Keys was nominated for producer of the year.
Below, Pop & Hiss offers a quick look at album of the year as well as some initial thoughts on who’s not on the nominations list. Stay tuned for deeper news and analysis.
Album of the year:
The nominees are….
"El Camino," the Black Keys
"Some Nights," Fun.
"Babel," Mumford & Sons
"Channel Orange," Frank Ocean
"Blunderbuss," Jack White
After giving in to the pop charts for the last two years (see nominations for Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and more), this year’s album of the year crop is nearly experimental.
Ocean’s “Channel Orange” is already topping most critics’ year-end lists, and with good reason. Ocean’s singing voice is an intimate instrument and his album is a collection of strikingly heartfelt melodies seemingly crafted from ambient noises. Pianos materialize out of thin air, and electronics feel alternately psychedelic and incandescent. He’s not a million seller, but Ocean has dominated the pop conversation in 2012, partly for being willing to openly address his sexuality in song.
Rock ‘n’ roll makes something of a comeback this year, and the Black Keys and White both play with roots-rock conventions. “Blunderbuss” is a musical journey -- at times Gothic, at times reckless, at times earnest -- and the Black Keys have over the course of the last decade grown into one of rock’s most reliable practitioners of hardscrabble hooks. “El Camino” isn’t the Black Keys at their most nuanced, but it is the band at its most celebratory and irresistible.
The weak links here are Mumford & Sons and Fun. The latter’s “Some Nights” spawned the inescapable “We Are Young,” but this is a band that wears orchestral flourishes like fashion accessories, putting enthusiasm ahead of song craft. Ever wondered what it would sound like if the kids from “Glee” started an indie rock band? It would sound like Fun.
In regards to Mumford & Sons, the band was a lock here. The band has already been embraced by Grammy voters -- Mumford & Sons was a new artist nominee two years ago – and “Babel” was an instant hit that’s also one of 2012’s top sellers. As with Fun., Mumford & Sons put forth an outsized personality, in this case presenting folk rock as if they were Bon Jovi.
Still, Grammy voters could have played it safe and nominated personalities ahead of artists. Fans will quibble over the artistic merits of anyone nominated, but this year there is no head-scratcher, such as Perry’s “Teenage Dream” being nominated for album of the year.
So who got snubbed?
With 81 categories, the Grammys don’t have to do a lot of apologizing. If you’re looking for a pop star, you can probably find it somewhere within the package of nominations. Chart watchers, however, may still notice that some well-known artists were excluded from the nominations tally.
For one, teen singles machine Justin Bieber is nowhere to be found. Also missing: Madonna, Green Day, Nicki Minaj, Lionel Richie and One Direction. The Grammys have been criticized for years for nominating solely name-brand artists rather than those most deserving of wider recognition, so is it really a snub if an artist didn’t deserve to be nominated in the first place?
Having a big fan base shouldn’t guarantee an invite to the Grammys, so let’s give the voters credit for stepping beyond household names. Bieber, for instance, hasn’t outgrown his teen idol status. For as polished and club-friendly as much of Bieber’s “Believe” is, his personality is still driven by the whims of his producers. Green Day made a misguided attempt to act like teenagers, Richie’s “Tuskegee” was a cynical appeal to the country market, Minaj’s balancing act between hip-hop and pop is still a mess, and let’s not bother with One Direction.
Madonna’s “MDNA,” however, was indeed overlooked. The misstep that was its first single -- the rah-rah- “Give Me All Your Luvin’ ” -- set the album off on the wrong foot, yet it was the exception on a record that covered a range of grown-up emotions. Another worthy pop-dance record voters missed was Santigold’s “Master of Make-Believe,” whose worldly beats moved with a social-conscious groove.
For the second year running, voters also overlooked hip-hop in the album of the year field. Though the Roots’ terrific “undun” is recognized in the rap album category, the album -- released toward the end of 2011 -- excels at offering a snapshot of hard living over a mix of gospel, jazz and hip-hop.
Finally, plenty of independent artists are missing from the nominations tally. Cat Power’s “Sun” was equally lively and foreboding, El-P’s “Cancer for Cure” was doomsday hip-hop at its most sci-fi surreal and Bobby Womack’s “The Bravest Man in the Universe” was the sound of survival at its most soulful.
And, of course, local rapper Kendrick Lamar, whose sarcastically sinister hip-hop would have been a nice contrast to all the acoustic instruments in the new artist field. That’s just a scratching of the surface.