Thursday, December 04, 2008

re: Grammy nominations & NARAS' fire-up-the-troops concert

First of all, that Grammy noms concert. The whole conceit of it was pretty silly - and Taylor Swift and LL Cool J are not particularly good hosts - but the idea to have artists perform songs from the Grammy Hall of Fame was actually pretty smart, or at least potentially interesting.

Mariah's opening performance of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" was fine, but it felt as if she was singing off a teleprompter. In contrast, Celine Dion's take on Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" was surprisingly moving and came off as very heartfelt; it's one of the best things I've ever heard from her. Their cover of "You're So Vain" proved that still, the most interesting thing Foo Fighters have done this decade may be their appearance on Top Chef last week. (Memo to Dave Grohl: please stop. And could you have read the noms for Country Duo/Group with a little more smarm in your voice? Asshole.)

Performing "I Loves You Porgy" in the style of Nina Simone was slightly shocking - the fact that Christina Aguilera pulled it off (what a rich lower register she's got - wish we'd get to hear it more often) with such panache shouldn't have been. Absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, Taylor Swift provided the opposite, showing off a very thin voice on Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry." She may be a good, burgeoning songwriter, but she's not become a star on the back of her voice. Letting her segue into a snippet of her new single felt like cheating, too. As for John Mayer and B.B. King, their "Let the Good Times Roll" (originally by the leviathan Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five) was damned good, owing more (naturally) to King than to Mayer (who, it pains me to admit, really is a shit-hot guitarist).

Before heading headlong (don't worry, it won't be that deep) into the nods themselves, I'll hand off for a moment to my friend Ben, who emailed me this, today: "I'll give you a call tomorrow afternoon to talk about all the Grammys Lil Wayne won't win and how it was nice that Robert Plant got nominations in the two big categories so that all the old people who vote for Grammys will have someone to vote for." (He's got further Grammy thoughts on his blog, linked with his name above. I love how cranky he gets about them every year.)

The full list of Grammy noms is here.

The "big 4" Grammy categories are full of (somewhat) surprising nods this year, making them overall more good than not. Here's two words: "Paper Planes," and a further five: Record of the year nominee. I'm stunned and thrilled that M.I.A. made it into the Record of the Year bake-off - and it's not, contrary to what you may have heard, her only nomination: as the "Paper Planes"-sampling "Swagger Like Us" made it into Best Rap Song contention, she's up there, too (as are the members of the Clash, since "Paper Planes" itself samples "Straight to Hell"... got that?). I'd already figured that Coldplay would be up here (as they are in all of the biggies), so whatev; "Bleeding Love" is better than you think; "Chasing Pavements" is marvelous; and "Please Read the Letter" was a no-brainer. In Album of the Year, even though Tha Carter III is the year's biggest seller, I'm still blown away by Lil Wayne's name here. A victory would be a huge shock, though, since Weezy - the year's leading nominee, with 8 - is up against both Coldplay (in Grammy terms, they're mini-U2) and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss (living legend + Grammy queen = possible juggernaut). Radiohead and Ne-Yo are delightful surprises here as well.

Song of the Year is, as is often the case, the dullest of the big 4; along with Adele and Coldplay's Record nominees, Jason Mraz (barf) and Sara Bareilles (more barf) landed here, along with the surprise of Estelle and Kanye's "American Boy." And as for Best New Artist, along with the shock of Lady Antebellum and Jazmine Sullivan making appearances is that of Katy Perry and Leona Lewis being absent. I especially expected Lewis, Simon Cowell's pet and a Record nom for "Bleeding Love," here. (Plus, she's kind of the UK version of old-school Mariah.)

This post is long and I've tired of writing it. More, perhaps, in the 2 months between now and the actual handing out of Grammy hardware (Feb 8th).

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