Grammy Awards 2013: This year it’s more about
the song than the artist The change reflects the dominance of downloading;
top contenders include Frank Ocean, Mumford & Sons, Black Keys, fun., Taylor Swift and
more Have the Grammys gone bipolar? This year,
it’s looking that way. If you scan the nominees in the three top
categories — the ones that nab the next day’s headlines — you’ll see two distinct
types of contenders. On the one hand, there are the oh-so-serious
album artists, the sort of singers and musicians better known for a long body of work, and
for sustained personas, than for individual songs.
On the other hand, we’ve got pop figures better identified with hits — in some cases, just
one of them. This year, substantial stars like the Black
Keys, Jack White, Mumford & Sons, and even the ample new Frank Ocean, square off against
potential one-hit wonders like Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Ed Sheeran.
Even stars with several, or many, hits to their name — like Kelly Clarkson, fun. and
Taylor Swift — most likely earned these nominations more through the undeniable popularity
of their latest singles than for those songs’ innate profundity.
In years gone by, you’d see something very different. Grammy pets — like U2, Paul Simon,
Kanye West or Radiohead — would be nominated across the top categories, even if their albums
alone had the greatest resonance, not the individual songs that end up clogging the
top Song and Record slots, regardless. The shift doesn’t necessarily represent a
dumbing down of the voters’ choices. Rather it more accurately reflects the way people
listen to music now. In the downloading era, when people increasingly choose to play select
tracks over whole albums, it makes sense that lone songs would stand on equal ground with
more sustained works. While some might bitch that shooting-star-artists
like Gotye, fun., Sheeran and Carly Rae will likely too soon turn up in a game of “where
are they now,” at the moment their songs have real resonance. And the Grammys exist to reflect
the music of the day, not to shape it. Of course, all this makes predicting this
year’s winners that much more of a chore. Because a rash of individual songs held such
sway this year — more than any single artist of the hour — it’s possible that tonight
a confusing split of people will trot off with the top awards. Rather than a headline
writer’s dream year — when artists like Santana, Eric Clapton, or Adele took everything
— tomorrow’s “winner’s photos” could look mighty crowded.
In fact, only one act has a shot at a sweep this time: fun. has bids in the top troika:
Album, Song and Record of the Year. They’ve even got a chance at the fourth most prized
trinket: Best New Artist. If they bag them, they’ll be this year’s Adele, who swept 2012.
Then again, many a multinominated act has marched into the Grammy-cast with arms outstretched,
only to slink home without a single statue to clutch. Are you listening, Mariah, Tracy
Chapman and Kanye? Unlike 2012 when only an act of God could
have prevented Adele from taking every prize, this time several acts have a good chance
of upsetting the fun. The Black Keys, Frank Ocean and Kelly Clarkson each have bids in
two of the top three slots (and two outta three ain’t bad).
If you pull the camera back further, and look at the total list of 81 (!) categories, the
Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Frank Ocean, Jay-Z, Kanye and Mumford & Sons each boast six bids overall.
Naturally, none of this will prevent us from venturing a rash of predictions. Here’s a
look at the most likely winners in this year’s top 10 categories, to be announced tonight,
starting at 8 on CBS.