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Slimmed-down Grammys still carrying extra weight

Adele-music-02When the Recording Academy announced last spring that it was reducing the number of Grammy Award categories by almost a third, the first thought that came to mind was “it’s about time,” followed rapidly by, “was it enough?”

This year’s 78 categories — down from 109 in 2010 — still represent a helluvalot of awards to sift through, and I don’t know of any other awards organization that comes close to that number, unless you count the Creative Arts Emmys, which don’t command the public attention the Grammys do.

It was the regional and ethnic music categories suffered the most, while the top-selling artists were left largely unscathed; kind of like the nation’s top one-percent earners still being granted the largest number of loopholes despite the country’s massive deficit.

And it’s those top-heavy categories that are the real head-scratchers (and don’t get me started about who SHOULD HAVE BEEN nominated). For example, you have Rock Performance and Rock Song: what’s the difference? OK, somebody wrote the song (or more often than not, a platoon). But if it wasn’t written, how could it be performed? These chicken-vs-the-egg distinctions basically make the Foo Fighters eligible for three different rock categories, NOT including Album of the Year, for which they were also nominated.

And what is Best Pop Vocal Album, versus Album of the Year, other than an opportunity to have multiple nominations for Adele, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Rihanna? Does anybody really think that Adele would have gotten a single nomination for reasons other than her voice?

“Record of the Year” vs “Song of the Year” begs the same question: What’s the diff? (OK, one goes to producers and one goes to songwriters, but in the case of “Rolling in the Deep,” it’s the same people who benefit. At the very least we might suggest calling the song category “Best Pop Lyrics of the Year” or some such thing.)

Even the Recording Academy’s reduced jazz categories are open to scrutiny, even given my own sympathy for a genre whose album market share (roughly 3%) stands way out of proportion to its cultural significance. We now have four categories, with “best improvised jazz solo” as a separate entry. But isn’t all jazz, by definition, largely improvised? As a result you have Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins and Fred Hersch double-nominated for essentially the same work.

Sure, Grammy might be sporting a svelte figure compared to years past, but there’s quite a bit of fat that could be trimmed from those bones.


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