And the Award for Dumbest Voters Goes to …

I had a random stream of consciousness conversation on Twitter the other day that ended with me mentioning Grammy stupidities. My friend Ryan Brymer was curious what my top 5 were, and here we are. (Ryan has more knowledge about music in his thumbnail than I have in my whole body, so I’m expecting him to reciprocate when we’re done here.)

The Grammy’s have a long history of stupidity, but this list is limited to what I consider to be the most egregious in the timeframe that I have been paying attention to music, which goes back to around the invention of the treble clef.

Starland Vocal Band over Boston

This is the one that actually prompted this post. Tom Scholz lived the life every kid who’s ever picked up a guitar has dreamed of. He had a day job as a certifiable genius at Polaroid and a long line of demo tapes that bounced around for years before one landed on a desk at CBS’ Epic Records. A few short months later, Boston’s eponymous debut album was the fastest million-seller in history (at that time), and every single song on the album received heavy airplay. (Quick, name another album that is true of, I’ll wait.) One of SVB’s members has blamed their lack of subsequent success on the New Artist curse, but that’s a gigantic load of … nonsense. Much like their music.

A Taste of Honey over The Cars/Elvis Costello

Two years later, despite ignoring rock-and-roll for fifteen years, the Grammy’s decided to embrace the relatively new disco. Disco! Conventional wisdom has this one going to the punk generation’s Elvis, but my vote would have been for the Cars. Their debut album was a true album; side two (that’s right, it predates CD’s, much less MP3 streams) has some my favorite song transitions. Elvis has had a better career, certainly a better critical career, but based on their first album, I still would have gone with the Cars.

Christopher Cross over The Pretenders

Yes, you’re correct, there is a distinct New Artist theme to this list, mostly because it took the Grammy voters about thirty years to realize rock-and-roll was a viable musical style. How someone could stay awake during an entire Cross song, much less vote for him over Chrissie Hynde and company is one of life’s great mysteries. Thirty-plus years later, they don’t even play Cross on Muzak (too boring), but you can find the Pretender’s all over the classic rock dial.

Milli Vanilli over … does it matter?

This wasn’t a misjudgment based on no one actually ever hearing them sing, this was a misjudgment based on really bad music even if they had sung it. They should have been disqualified based on their name alone.

Celine Dion over … anyone

Celin Dion has a Grammy. She has more than one, actually. It does not matter what category, it does not matter who the other nominees were (even if they were on this list), that is a travesty of the highest order. Every person who voted for her should have to listen to Starland Vocal Band until their brains spontaneously combust.

All right, Ryan, your turn.

2 thoughts on “And the Award for Dumbest Voters Goes to …

  1. The trouble with the New Artist award is deserving of a post in and of itself. In short, it isn't a curse, it's an inevitability.

    Per Wikipedia: The official guidelines are as follows: "For a new artist who releases, during the Eligibility Year, the first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist." Note that this is not necessarily the first album released by an artist.

    In the case of the 2014 awards, the eligibility window was 10/1/12-9/30/13. So, for a number of these artists, their popularity may already be on the decline when the awards are announced in January of the following year.

    Further, the troubles of launching a new artist in this marketplace are myriad. First, the gap for most artists between their debut and sophomore albums can be quite lengthy. They drop the album, get tons of radio play, win the award and spend 10-16 months touring the record first as an opener then as a headliner. Then they have to go back into the booth, road-worn and weary, for another several months to put out the second record. This may be 2 full years since their debut record "broke." Audiences don't have the patience for that.

    Second, there's the quality/style gap. for a major-label artist (in many cases) the record company invests months and tons of money and oversight into the debut record. By the time the second album comes around, the label may be as disinterested as everyone else. The band goes into the studio without all of the tinkering and notes from the label and without the high profile producer. Often what you get is something more along the lines of what that band may have always sounded like – but this can be a huge departure from what they were tailored to sound like for the last 2 years. (See the band Augustana or Maroon 5).

    Finally, there's the torture of the road. Many artists will tell you that the most successful times in their careers are the most painful. With little sleep, little money, and little love, tensions that were always beneath the surface come to bear and often threaten to destroy groups. Those who work through it often find their release being delayed even further. This was the case when I spoke to NEEDTOBREATHE earlier this year. Their most successful tour nearly ended the band.

    None of this has to do with Grammy Awards, it's just the nature of the beast. Looking back at the last 6 winners…
    2009 Adele – "retired"
    2010 Zac Brown Band – going strong
    2011 Esparanza Spalding – not pop music, therefore not applicable
    2012 Bon Iver – "on a break" since Nov. 2012
    2013 fun. – "working on an album" previous record released 4/21/12
    2014 Macklemore – personally, I think there's no way he can re-create the magic. the record was held together by the guest artists and the hooks, not Macklemore.

    Just some thoughts.

  2. Adele hurts your case. She didn't retire at all (word is the third album is imminent), at best she took a hiatus, and she did so after releasing a second album that flies in the face of most of your points. Four Grammies, including Record of the Year and Album of the Year. Seems like all that touring and time and so on don't really matter if you actually have talent, which none of the ones on my list did.

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