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2009 Grammy themes: The Winehouse effect, the perfect album and M.I.A.


Lil Wayne's eight Grammy Award nominations Wednesday can be interpreted as the record industry's sincere thanks to the New Orleans rapper for proving that it's still possible to sell 1 million albums in a week, which he did in June with "Tha Carter III." He did it by exploiting nontraditional avenues, galvanizing rap fans in the months leading to the album's release with a series of mix tapes distributed over the Internet.

The industry wants -- more to the point, desperately needs -- such innovators, but it decidedly prefers those who also find ways to acknowledge the old traditions. That's one of several themes that emerged from this year's nominations.

The good soldiers

There are, perhaps, some surprising newcomers to this year's album of the year and record of the year fields. Check the presence of Internet sensations M.I.A. and Lil Wayne.

The globe-trotting political activism of electronic artist M.I.A. has been a cult fave for years. Both her albums -- 2005's "Arular" and 2007's "Kala" -- reached the Top 200 on the U.S. pop charts. But Grammy nods didn't exactly shower upon her until this year, when her gunshot-enhanced "Paper Planes" snared a record of the year nod.

But why the sudden interest in M.I.A.? Perhaps because she's been playing by more conventional industry rules. Last year, she worked with star producer Timbaland, and this year, her "Paper Planes" shot up the charts -- after it appeared in the trailer for comedy "Pineapple Express."

She's also become a budding entrepreneur. M.I.A. recently partnered with Interscope to launch her own label in N.E.E.T, which released the soundtrack to "Slumdog Millionaire."

And then there's Lil Wayne. Kanye West has been the hip-hop stand-in for the album of the year field the last few years, but Kanye's decidedly safe compared with the sexually explicit rap of Lil Wayne.

More to the point, the last few weeks unveiled a different Lil Wayne, one who's happy to do some standard, awards-baiting industry promotions. Witness his recent appearance at the Country Music Assn. awards in Nashville, waving a guitar on-stage with heartland favorite Kid Rock.

Winehouse effect

Amy Winehouse, last year's big Grammy star, might not have been anywhere near this year's nomination list, but that doesn't mean her presence wasn't felt. Three of the five contenders for best new artist -- one of Winehouse's five Grammy wins last February -- have connections to the retro soul star or tap a similar vibe.

Philadelphia-bred R&B newcomer Jazmine Sullivan and Brit singer Adele both released albums that employed Winehouse's star producers. Sullivan's album opener, "Bust Your Windows," goes for a similar vintage recklessness as Winehouse's "Rehab" and was recorded with Saleem Remi, whose résumé includes Winehouse's 2003 debut, "Frank," and 2006's "Back to Black."

As for Adele, she tapped Winehouse's reining Grammy producer of the year in Mark Ronson, who helped give her coffee-shop soul more of a smoked-out nightclub vibe (see "Cold Shoulder"). And then there's Duffy, who essentially stepped right out of the 1960s.

This year's Grammy nominations clearly reveal that Recording Academy voters are looking for new stars. Just check the lack of a major nomination for Mariah Carey's "E=MC2." Her 2005 effort, "The Emancipation of Mimi," received 10.

And there were no album nods for "As I Am" from perennial Grammy favorite Alicia Keys. But if voters are on the prowl for new blood, they're tapping artists who have found inspiration in the past.

'Idol' backlash

Maybe they're still stinging from the ratings trouncing the Grammy Awards took in 2006 when the show went head to head with "American Idol," but "Idol" omissions from this year's nominations would suggest voters have had their fill of the talent competition.

The biggest surprise was the shutout of Carrie Underwood's "Carnival Ride" album, despite Underwood's three wins previously, including new artist of 2006 and female country vocal for the last two years.

It's nearly as surprising not to see any nominations for leadoff singles from the show's latest grads, David Cook and David Archuleta, both of whom released their debut albums after the eligibility period closed. No singles from Kelly Clarkson's 2007 album, "My December," earned any Grammy appreciation either.

Previous "Idol" champ Jordin Sparks sneaked in with a nomination in the pop collaboration category for "No Air," her duet with Chris Brown, from her debut album. So did "Idol" judge Simon Cowell, one of the producers of British singer Leona Lewis' nominated single "Bleeding Love."

The most significant nods went to Jennifer Hudson, whose debut CD is vying for R&B album. She also landed two other nominations: female R&B vocal for the track "Spotlight" and R&B duo or group performance for "I'm His Only Woman," her duet with another "Idol" grad, Fantasia.

Perfect storm

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss didn't just make extraordinary music when they teamed for their "Raising Sand" album. They also gave Grammy voters everything they could hope for in the way of nomination fodder.

In Plant, they have a legend overlooked during his heyday as lead singer of Led Zeppelin, which never won a Grammy, although the academy doled out lifetime achievement recognition three years ago.

The British rocker has collected just two Grammys, one of which arrived last year in the pop vocal collaboration category for "Gone Gone Gone," the first single from "Raising Sand." The other was a hard rock performance win in 1998 for his re-teaming with Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.

Grammy voters love to heap belated praise on veteran musicians, and this would allow them to bestow major awards -- including record and/or album of the year -- on one of rock's genuine deities.

His pairing with Grammy-darling Krauss is the clincher. With 21 statues in her awards chest, Krauss is the most honored female musician in Grammy history. Voters will jump at this chance to add a few more to her pile.

To top it off, the songs on "Raising Sand" touched a nerve with critics, many of whom included the album on their Top 10 lists for 2007. But it's also soothing enough not to alienate Grammy conservatives, the way Radiohead’s more exotic rock or Lil Wayne's racy rap might.

They'll face strong competition Feb. 8 from Coldplay, another Grammy favorite, in the record and album categories. But it's a lock that come "music's biggest night," this unlikely pair should brace for a whole lotta love.

-Randy Lewis & Todd Martens

Photo credit: M.I.A., courtesy Robert Caplin / For the Times

Comments () | Archives (9)

Regarding Idol: Carrie's earned a nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for "Last Name." I wasn't so surprised at no nods for either David. First off, Cook wasn't submitted beforehand for anything. RCA just decided not submit. Archuleta was submitted in Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year for "Crush." But when you think about the Best Pop Vocal Performance category, you can understand why he wouldn't get a nomination for a song that hadn't been out very long. That's the category of John Mayer (multiple year winner) and Jason Mraz (with the mega-hit "I'm Yours" that has been around for over 3 years but just got noticed this year). And this year both James Taylor and Paul McCartney were nominated in that category. The one wild-card was Kid Rock. It's really a stretch to think that a debut single that went for radio adds in September would stand a chance at a 2008 Grammy nomination. And forget about Record of the Year or Song of the Year. I don't think it's a backlash against Idol so much as common sense when you consider the more -established competition.

I really don't think it's that big a surprise or a sign of Idol backlash that Carrie Underwood's "Carnival Ride" wasn't nominated for Best Country Album. There wasn't a single country pop album nominated in that category, not even the album Todd was buzzing about as a sure thing -- Sugarland's "Love on the Inside." Also, while "Carnival Ride" was quite well-reviewed, I think Underwood is currently viewed as someone whose best album is (or at least should be) ahead of her. In any case, Underwood wasn't shut out of the nominations, as she is up for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for "Last Name" in a category of incredibly talented nominees.

The nominations in the Country field in general are interesting for how, in contrast to last year especially, they veered toward artists that haven't experienced much commercial success in the past year. Jamey Johnson in on the verge of a top-10 hit (and deservedly so, as "In Color" is an incredible song) but his album hasn't been a big seller. Nor have the great albums from Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless. Randy Travis' album hasn't sold much, either and like Yearwood and Loveless, he hasn't had much of a presence on country radio, either. After the predictability and staid nature of the ACM and CMA nominations, the Grammy nominations in the Country field are a very welcome surprise and change.

One not-so-pleasant surprise in the Country field was that Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder & Lead," nominated for Single of the Year at both the ACMs and the CMAs, didn't make the cut in Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Actually, it is great to hear that " . . .Recording Academy voters are looking for new stars". With musicians hurting for work this year and probably next, it is a great thing to "patron" new talent coming through the pipeline! Speaking of great, new talent . . . I just heard a radio station in Italy play a new jazz artist who sounds just about as soulful and musical as they get. I think he warrents a new category of music called "soothe jazz!". His name's Paul Seaforth and his stuff's magic. He has a web site under his name. It would be nice to see an unknown like this guy, with REAL talent, make it big.

Oh yes, let's hear it for the great new artists coming through the pipeline like Taylor Swift who couldn't have even made it past the audition of Idol - the girl CANNOT sing !! If you check the whole list of Grammy nominations for this year you will find there are alot of Idols, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson with 3, Carrie Underwood ( along w country female vocal - the song Ever Ever After she sang for Disney movie Enchanted was nominated in the movie category - it's nice to have the buying public pick the artist as opposed to record execs or artists with huge egos who think they can sing but instead make a fool of themselves on a Grammy show.

Carrie did get a grammy nomination again this year-- for Country Female Vocalist for her number 1 song, Last Name, that she wrote. However- I agree that she definetly should have been nominated for Carnival Ride in the album category.

but look at who they nominated-- all traditional artists that didn't sell very well or do well on radio. So I guess the voters were trying to throw the traditional artists a bone--- since the mainstream artists like Carrie are dominating radio and sales.

I am happy for Allison Krauss- she deserves it. But I think Carrie at least deserved a nomination for Country Album.

I wish the actual country industry would get with the program. They've lost a lot of integrity, in my opinion. Leaving it to the Granny's to recognize their real talents; that should be very embarrassing. Maybe the ACMs and CMAs next year will be better.
About Idol: I think the Grammy's were exactly right. Why do people think that they only talent out there is coming from AI? I get really mad when people seem to think its the last refuge of real music. ""Idol" omissions from this year's nominations would suggest voters have had their fill of the talent competition." I think everyone pretty much has. I know I have. It hasn't found that much talent anyway.

Go Coldplay!

I hope Plant and Krauss win, their album is great

The omission of Idol contestants was not surprising as both Davids released their albums just a month ago.I predict David Archuleta will be a grammy collector in the future: his first album was a hit, critically and commercially- considering how fast it was put together. Although he is well known in music circles for his mad vocal skills, he is gradually developing into a singer/songwriter/performer. Unlike Jonas bros, who fickle fanbase will move on in a few years (months?); David A. has a huge multi-generational following. Idol helped to launch him, but his vocals are the talent the will serve him (and us) for a long time.

I think Carrie Underwood should've been nominated for Country Album. The nominated albums are more traditional, stuff no one even knew were out in stores. I think Miranda lambert's shut-out is really surprising seeing that her album was ACMA's album of the year.

as for any of the Davids, I didn't expect either of them to be nominated, that is if you excluded a slight chance of best new artist or record of the year for archuleta. Light on could've been nominated for rock solo but i knew it wudn't be as the song was released the day the year closed.

Leona Lewis should've been nominated for 'best new artist'. she'd have been a much better choice than the Jonas Brothers


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