Now that the 55th Annual Grammy Awards are hours instead of days away, here are a few last-minute tidbits and predictions…
* Who will open the show? Taylor Swift will open the show and she’ll be singing “We Are Never Ever Getting Together,” which is nominated for record of the year. There was a lot of debate about the coveted show-opening spot this year. Justin Timberlake, a favorite of Grammys executive producer Ken Ehrlich, almost usurped the spot in recent weeks, but Swift’s popularity and the less-than-torrid public response to the new Timberlake music tilted the decision back toward the 23-year-old country-pop singer, who was notified about a week ago that she would be the first voice of the night.
* Album of the year — a tie? Well, no. But it feels like the most knotted album race in years because there’s no hip hop. I’d guess that it comes down to Mumford & Sons and the Black Keys who have bright lines connecting to their respective (and respected) music heritages but with fresh tintings and growing audiences. If you’re looking for the deciding factor, go with an act’s reputation for instrumental prowess — and that puts the trophy on an international flight back home with Mumford & Sons. Don’t for a minute underestimate the importance of craft (or, to be slightly cynical, the reputation for craft) with academy voters. The rudder of the Academy vote is the mindset of musicians, players who play instruments, and their tastes and talents are varied. They place a value on craft that goes far beyond music fans, bloggers, critics/pundits. That’s why Kanye West and Eminem get snubbed again and again. Session musicians, singer-songwriters, country pickers, blues producers, jazz veterans that can easily accept each other as musicans will have a harder time viewing rappers as peers. Consider a sampling of the acts that have picked up album of the year wins since 2000: Herbie Hancock, the Dixie Chicks, the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou, U2, Santana, Steely Dan, Ray Charles, Arcade Fire, Norah Jones, Arcade Fire, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. They veer across genre, they vary in commercial success, and they are all over the places as far as hipness quotient. But all of them can play.
* History isn’t sealed up in envelopes. There’s plenty of intrigue this year with no dominant front runner as far as the overall trophy race. But not all of the winners and losers at the Grammys are determined by the names in the envelopes. The performances and the speeches are the things that echo for years to come. People are still talking about the nutty Soy Bomb incident from 1998, but does anybody remember what won record and song of the year that same night? (It was Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home.”) Likewise, music fans remember the name of the song that Eminem and Elton John did on the 2001 show — it was “Stan” — but how many can name the Steely Dan collection that won album of the year? (It was Two Against Nature.)
* Meet the new boss…Zac Brown?: The tribute to Levon Helm was an especially evocative moment during rehearsals with Elton John, Mumford and Sons, the Zac Brown Band, Mavis Staples, and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes pulling every bit of elegiac emotion possible out of “The Weight.” Still, Grammy producers probably will think about “the one that got away” for a while. At one point, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, and Neil Young were on the list of potential performers for the number, but Vedder bowed out due to a personal matter, and Springsteen (honored at Friday night’s MusicCares dinner) was probably a lot less likely to stick around in town for the Grammys after he was snubbed in the marquee categories.
* It’s life after death (if time permits): CBS Executive Vice President Jack Sussman was at rehearsals on Saturday and watching the In Memorium section when he noticed a photograph of a living human being — or, to be more precise, a music industry executive — included in the on-screen photographs of the recently deceased. After considerable discussion, it was decided that the collage potraying the living exec would be reworked. Ehrlich deadpanned: “We’ll change it and take the photo out — unless it’s easier just to take this guy out.” The photo was simply excised, of course.
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