Will ‘Ye ever be forgiven for Taylor-gate? Despite releasing what was roundly regarded as one of the year’s finest albums, if not its definitive best, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was relegated almost entirely to non-televised rap categories, other than a sole Song of the Year nom — while relatively lightweight releases with mixed critical reviews, like Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and Rihanna’s Loud, grabbed prestigious Album of the Year nods.
SNUB: Taylor Swift
Habitual Grammy darling Swift was also left to languish in genre categories — ”Mean” received a nod for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance, and Speak Now is up for Best Country Album. And if you’re wondering, the phenomenally successful and generally well-received Speak, released on Oct. 25, 2010, does in fact fall within this year’s eligibility dates of Oct. 1, 2010-Sept. 30, 2011. Then again, the girl does already have 4 Grammys, 10 AMAs, 6 CMAs, 13 Teen Choice Awards and possibly a Hope Diamond for Special Achievements in Everything Including Hair Care; it’s a good bet that her trophy shelf won’t keep its few remaining bare spots for long.
SNUB: Foster the People
Having one of the year’s most beloved and inescapable hits in ”Pumped Up Kicks,” a string of sold-out tour dates, and near-universal love from both the indie and pop realms weren’t enough to give the sunny L.A. rockers an edge over this dude in the Best New Artist category (more on him later). They also failed to garner a Song or Record of the Year nom — relegated instead to Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Alternative Music Album.
Critical reception of this year’s 4 was mixed, to be sure — and commercially, it performed below expectations. Still, several strong singles and an inspired run of videos (”Countdown,” anyone?) seemed to merit more than a Best Rap/Sung Collaboration nod for ”Party” and Best Long Form Music Video for her I Am .. World Tour.
SNUB: Paul Simon
Thirteen previous Grammys and a Lifetime Achievement Award — plus a lovely, widely admired late-career album, this April’s So Beautiful or So What — were apparently not enough to garner the singing and songwriting icon a single nod this year. An accidental oversight, or an unfortunate example of over-correcting by an Academy that seems eager to put as much distance between themselves and their grey-ponytailed Herbie Hancock/Raising Sand choices of a few years ago? We might never know, though Tony Bennett, whose recent, much-admired Duets II is also sorely underrepresented (true, it did receive two minor nods), may be wondering the same thing.
SNUB: Raphael Saadiq
He’s welcome as a performer, apparently — see this year’s excellently funky Solomon Burke tribute with Mick Jagger — and has 11 previous Grammy nominations (and one win) under his throwback-soul belt. His widely praised Stone Rollin’, however, clearly failed to move the Academy; they gave him only a lone nod for Best Traditional R&B performance for ”Good Man.”
If there is a bigger ”who in the what??” name on this list, we can’t find it. Yes, Spin magazine’s October cover boy is a phenomenally successful DJ (and interestingly, a fairly recent migrant from the post-hardcore scene). But the Academy’s sudden embrace of neon-backpack rave culture seems bizarre and not slightly misplaced, considering the years — nearly decades now — that they have relegated superior electronic-music talents like Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem to the Dance categories. The odds of the 23-year-old (born Sonny Moore) actually winning in the Best New Artist category are about as high as Adele’s of going home empty-handed, but in the meantime, he’ll always have this.
SURPRISE: Bon Iver
Kudos to the only man to ever land a Best Song, Best Record, Best New Artist and Best Alternative album for an LP recorded in a decommissioned veterinarian clinic in Wisconsin; Bon Iver is truly a solid record, and mastermind Justin Vernon deserves acclaim. Still, Best New Artist — really, guys? Perhaps you missed that For Emma, Forever Ago, his 2008 full-length debut, landed on countless Year-End Best lists in the mainstream press three years ago (EW’s included).
First things first: We thought Loud was a pretty great record (read our A- review here). But is it Rihanna’s best? Few would say so — on artistic merit, Rated R takes that prize, and for pure pop nirvana, Good Girl Gone Bad easily clears the hurdle. So why the sudden Album of the Year love for an artist who has only received noms (and, to be fair, four wins) in genre categories, or alongside other artists (last year’s smash Eminem collaboration ”Love the Way You Lie”)? We don’t begrudge her the nod, but we can’t say we’re not perplexed.
SURPRISE: Lady Gaga
It’s been a year of ups and downs for Ms. Stefani Germanotta; yes, she sold 1.1 million copies of Born This Way her first week out, but the album’s 99-cent price on Amazon also single-handedly prompted Billboard to change its rules regarding sales claims. And the album’s titular single was widely derided as derivative, even as it topped the charts in 19 countries. All told, Born is a bit of a mixed bag, so it was a small shock to see it included in the highly esteemed Album of the Year category — even more surprising, considering she didn’t receive a single other major nom outside of two Pop Vocal categories. Whether or not you think her career is still on the right track, baby, she’s unlikely to win the bigger prize against the seemingly undefeatable Adele.
SURPRISE: Fleet Foxes
Love ’em. Have no clear idea why their excellent Helplessness Blues is nommed solely in the Folk category, alongside Eddie Vedder (for his strictly-ukulele record) and Steve Earle. Then again, this is the same Academy that has put Wilco in, variously, the Best Contemporary Folk, Best Alternative, Best Rock, and Best Americana categories over the years. So what do we know? We don’t even own a banjo.
SURPRISE: Chris Brown
Leaving all personal opinions of Brown aside, it’s tough to make sense of the R&B star’s inclusion in not one but two Rap categories for ”Look at Me Now,” which is largely a showcase for Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne’s skills anyhow. Is Jason Aldean’s ”Dirt Road Anthem” included? Because he ”raps” on that one too.