Will Bon Iver Be The Arcade Fire Of 2012? And Other Pre-Grammy Nomination Show Questions

TONIGHT’S GRAMMY nomination concert, airing at 10 p.m. on CBS, will not only jam-pack a bunch of performances by the likes of Lady Gaga and Jason Aldean into its 60 minutes, it’ll also let us know which artists will be prostrating themselves in front of the globe and thanking their families and God during next February’s awards ceremony.

Sure, Adele not getting as many nominations as humanly possible for her much-beloved, best-selling 21 is probably the most shocking development that can transpire this evening, but there are other questions afoot, too. Will the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences allow Taylor Swift to look surprised again and nominate Speak Now for multiple awards? Will Kanye West get honoured for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy a year after it was greeted by nearly across-the-board critical love? Will the ambition all over Lady Gaga’s Born This Way pay off in nominations? And is Bon Iver, currently racking up the “Best Album Of 2011” laurels from the likes of Paste, slated to rep for “indie” next February a la the Arcade Fire this year? Nick Murray and I answer these questions, and offer our picks for the Big Four categories’ nomination slates, below.


Maura Johnston: So Nick, tonight is the Grammy nomination special, although I assume you already have your DVR set. Want to engage in a little bit of nomination handicapping?

Nick Murray: Sounds good, though I have to admit I don’t have any DVR to set. Let’s just say that I already opened a browser window and typed “‘Dirt Road anthem’ + grammy nomination special” into the search bar.

Should we start the finisher? Or, 21 is a guaranteed Album of the Year lock and a clear favourite to win, right?

MJ: Not sure how many actual nominations are going to get announced during the show, given that there are something like 10 performers scheduled for the evening, but I guess the producers wanted to save time, given that reading all the nominations means that the people on stage will have to say “Adele” and “Adele” and Adele” over and over again. And she won’t even be there.

21 is definitely a lock for a lot of nominations. It sold a lot! It has gravitas! And a great backstory, as long as our heroine recovers from the throat condition that sidelined her from the AMAs and from tonight’s festivities to give that story a tidy conclusion.

NM: What do you expect out of another numerically titled album, Beyoncé’s 4? Three years ago, I Am… Sasha Fierce picked up eight nominations, and while the new one doesn’t have ‘Single Ladies’ to win Song of the Year, Best R&B; Song, and Best Female R&B; song, I imagine it’s still going to do well, at least at this stage in the process.

MJ: I think it has a lot of potential (although this might be coloured by my love of most of it) and could even take the crown from Adele if it gets nominated and is promoted correctly during the voting period. It’s throwbacky and classy and a bit of a victory lap, and its credits contain a few Grammy-beloved names – Babyface, Diane Warren – alongside the likes of The-Dream, Frank Ocean, and (sigh) Ryan Tedder). And as far as songs, may I remind you of a little song called ‘Countdown’, or at least ‘Love On Top’? Neither of them is eligible thanks to them coming out too late as singles, but they’re still solid contributions to a great album.

NM: As much as I love ‘Countdown’, and as much as just about everybody who’s heard ‘Countdown’ loves ‘Countdown’, it still only peaked at 71 on the Hot 100. Radio has apparently been similarly ambivalent, and the song has only barely cracked the R&B;/Hip-Hop top 40. Contrast that which ‘Single Ladies’, which even made its way into the trailer for the Alvin & the Chipmunks reboot.

Who else do you expect big things from?

MJ: Lady Gaga, maybe.

NM: Of course, plus it never hurts to have her involved in any sort of awards show or public event. Will there be a rap LP in the Album of the Year final five? Usually we get one: Recovery last year, The E.N.D. (sort of) the year before, Tha Carter III in 2009, but on first glance this year’s field doesn’t have a clear frontrunner. You could go with Carter IV, but the even National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences must be able to hear the drop off between that and its predecessor. You had mentioned to me earlier that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy might a chance, and that would make sense, particularly since every record in Kanye West’s College triptych got nominated in its respective year.

MJ: This morning while I was waking up the possibility of Kanye getting a lot of nominations was floated by the Los Angeles Times‘ Randall Roberts, via the news-gabber station WCBS. But I don’t know. Did Dark come out too long ago? (This might be a good place to note that this year’s Grammy eligibility period runs from October 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011.) Is Still Pretty Unrepentant Kanye going to be a turnoff for the nominating committee? Will the nominating committee still have “Black And Yellow” stuck in their head and perplexingly vote for Wiz Khalifa? Or will Nicki Minaj be rewarded for being one of the most vibrant things to happen to pop in the past 12 months? Even Taylor Swift’s covering her.

NM: Despite the release date and everything outside the music, Kanye will always appeal to the people who decide on awards, particularly album awards (Pazz included, of course) because of his – as Joshua Clover once put it – “I’m-a-genius-and-here’s-my-record” style auteurship. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is presumably the pinnacle of that arc (If not, I can’t imagine what’s next), but its failure to produce ‘Gold Digger’-type single hurts its chances here, I think. I’d love see Nicki win Rap Album or pick up and even pick up Album of the Year nomination. Pink Friday is better than Dark Twisted Fantasy anyway, and here its supposed weakness, not enough “spitting,” might play to its advantage.

But I want to take this moment to call attention to a very distressing rumour, one that has picked up steam as “critical” year-end lists have begun to be unveiled, namely, that Bon Iver’s self-titled LP has a shot at a Grammy nomination for album of the year. Maura – here’s where I tee it up for you – what do you think of Bon Iver’s chances? Would it be deserving?

MJ: Ha. Well, “deserving” to me might mean a very different thing than “deserving” to the people deciding the nominations, who if they were going to pick one indie-leaning type might lean toward Justin Vernon’s pillowy, produced, saxophone-rich second record. (Remember when Eminem went up against Steely Dan a decade ago?) And yesterday Paste crowned Bon Iver its record of the year, which is as good a sign as appealing to a particular “rock is important but it can’t rock too hard” aesthetic.

Plus dude has a great story. From heartbreak in a cabin to singing with Kanye? I could see it getting the Second Annual Arcade Fire Nomination For An Important Independent Release In Yet Another Year Defined By Fragmentation.

I don’t like the record very much, though. I listened to it yesterday and I understand the appeal of it on some level – Jess Harvell outlined it for us a few months ago, and called it “probably the only album around that will have you thinking of Neil Young’s Harvest, Sting’s Fields of Gold, early Kranky albums, and the KLF’s Chill Out all at once” – but I was… well, I just kept thinking, “And?” (I also heard snatches of other adult-contemporary touchstones of yore. Like Breathe.) What do you think?

NM: Well since you asked, I think it’s a boring record with little shot at receiving any serious Grammy recognition. “Pillowy” is good way to describe it, both for its airy production and for capturing the bedroom feel (I imagine it’s also a good sleeping aid, which I don’t mean as a back-handed compliment; that’s a fine thing for a record to be). But I can’t picture this record anything other than mood music, kind of like a bearded, flannel-wearing Buddha Box, the sound of applying a coat of tan paint to your living room.

Even Justin Vernon’s story, once you remove the proper nouns, isn’t particularly special: the man going off to a cabin the woods to Get Away From It All and write deep shit is one of the founding myths of our country, right up there with lone warrior who stands up to the corrupt establishment and the five dollar, all-you-can-eat pizza buffet.

Which is all just to say that it I can’t imagine dude being nominated for any major Grammys, and that For Emma, Forever Ago was a better record anyways. Arcade Fire was indie in the sense that Pitchfork reviewed it before Entertainment Weekly, but sonically it was a huge record with strings, crescendos, melodies, etc. It’s been awhile, but I can’t remember if Bon Iver has any of those things.

MJ: Neither can I. And I listened to it yesterday! But something tells me that I’m not exactly the demo.

© Maura JohnstonThe Village Voice, 30 November 2011

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