Get news updates from WGBH
Mon February 11, 2013
Decoding The Grammys' Upsets and Expectations
Was anyone else scratching their heads while watching the 55th Grammy Awards last night? I certainly was — I nominate the Grammys as the most confusing awards show of the season. Maybe it’s the Grammy nomination process that trips me up. In order to be eligible for an award last night, a song or album must have been released between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012.
In the age of the YouTube music sensation, when the next big thing is probably still in elementary school, that meant a lot of last night's winning music felt as old as Croesus. Beyoncé won Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Love on Top,” which was released in Jan. 2012 — over a year ago.
Inconsistency in wins across Grammy categories has also long befuddled me. For instance, two songs from the Jay Z and Kanye West collaboration “Watch the Throne” win awards last night (“N****s in Paris” for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, “No Church in the Wild” for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration). But the album itself lost out in the race for Best Rap Album to Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”? Plus, "Watch the Throne" lost that race in last year’s awards ceremony.
See what I mean about confusion? I can’t be the only one who’s feeling this way, so I decided to sort out the surprising from the mundane at last night’s ceremony — as a public service.
Surprising: Skrillex’s “Bangarang” beating out Avicii’s “Levels” for Best Dance Recording. If you are under the age of 30, odds are that you have heard Avicii’s “Levels” over 300 times in the past year — and that’s a safe guess, not an exaggeration.
Though radio play and popularity did not predict the majority of last night’s winners (If it had, “Call Me Maybe” would have won Song of the Year), Skrillex’s win might surprise those unfamiliar with dance and electronic music.
Not Surprising: Mumford & Sons winning Album of the Year. "Babel" had more commercial appeal than that the nominations from Jack White, Frank Ocean, and The Black Keys. While fun. may have more fans than Mumford & Sons, “Some Nights” was uneven, with highs (the namesake song “Some Nights”) and lows (“All Alright”). News outlets like CNN predicted a win for Mumford & Sons in advance.
Surprising: Fun. winning best new artist. This award isn’t surprising based on fun.’s success in the past year — they had two explosive hits, “Some Nights” and “We Are Young.” Though the competition in this category was tough — I would have voted for Alabama Shakes, and many thought Frank Ocean should win — fun. earned this award.
So why is it surprising? Well, “Some Nights” is fun.’s second album. Their first, “Aim and Ignite,” was released in 2010. That makes fun. a not so new artist, even by Grammy standards.
Not Surprising: Adele’s win for Best Pop Solo Performance for “Set Fire to the Rain (Live).” At this point, when Adele is nominated for anything, it’s wise to anticipate a win.
Surprising: Bonnie Raitt beating out The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons for Best Americana Album. Raitt, who is best known for hits like 1991’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” received critical acclaim for her album “Slipstream,” earning four stars from Rolling Stone. But equally high acclaim for The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons, as well as the two bands’ commercial appeal, makes Raitt’s win a surprise.
Not Surprising: Gotye’s win for Best Alternative Album. For non-music nerds, Gotye may have been the only recognizable name in a category that included M83, Björk, Fiona Apple and Tom Waits. With his smash hit “Somebody that I Used to Know” also taking Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Record of the Year, this award came as no surprise.
Surprising: Taylor Swift losing Record of the Year for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Taylor Swift might be a little bit miffed today — she won in only one out of her three nominations, for her song “Safe and Sound,” recoded with The Civil Wars, for Best Song Written for Visual Media (it appeared in “The Hunger Games”).
Many had predicted she would win Record of the Year, which focuses on a song’s performance, recording, and production, but Gotye crept in with a win for “Somebody that I Used to Know.” Luckily for Swift, there are likely more Grammys in her future.
Not Surprising: Drake’s win for Best Rap Album with “Take Care.” Drake’s album achieved incredible commercial success and high critical acclaim. It even coined a new word: “yolo.” The only surprising thing about this award is that after four albums, hits like “Headlines” and “Fancy,” and nearly 10 years in the business, this Grammy was Drake’s first win.
BOSTON PUBLIC RADIO