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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Grammys nominations make the Oscars look more elitist than ever

Katy_perry I know that a lot of my pals on the music side of town are celebrating today, with the news that Arcade Fire, everybody's favorite indie band, landed a prestigious album of the year Grammy nomination, the pop music equivalent of a best picture Oscar nomination. But for me, the most fascinating thing about this year's Grammy nominations, which also gave big props to the likes of Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Cee Lo Green, is how the Recording Academy is so much more eager to reward commercial hits than the motion picture academy.

All of the Grammy album of the year nominees are bona fide hit records with largely youthful appeal. It's the equivalent of seeing "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," "Jackass 3-D," "The Karate Kid" and "Clash of the Titans" earning best picture nominations along with all of the highbrow stuff ("The King's Speech," "The Kids Are All Right," etc.) that's being endlessly touted by the legions of Oscar bloggers and pundits. And talk about populism. The always loopy Katy Perry is up for both album of the year and best female pop vocal performance, which is sort of like seeing Cameron Diaz or Drew Barrymore getting nominations for best actress and best screenplay in the same year.

Unlike the Oscars, which are expected to be as white bread as ever this year, there are also plenty of people of color represented in the Grammy field. B.O.B., Jay-Z. Alicia Keys, Cee Lo Green and Rihanna are all part of the record of the year contingent, while Beyonce is a contender for  female pop vocal performance and Drake, a smooth young rapper, is a favorite in the new artist category. (Drake is a great story in himself, being perhaps the first rapper ever up for new artist who's had a bar mitzvah; his father is an African American drummer from Memphis, whose brother, Teenie Hodges, played on all of Al Green's hits and co-wrote "Take Me to the River," while his mother, who is a Canadian Jew, raised her son in the Jewish faith.)

But back to my main point: Why are the Grammys so much more oriented toward the mainstream than the Oscars, whose voters regularly opt for cinematic snobbery over populist appeal? If anyone has a theory, I'd love to hear it. Both awards are the result of seemingly elite academies whose members all have worked for years in their respective fields. But the Grammy voters seem to view their awards as an equal mixture of polished craft and mass appeal, while Oscar voters look at their statuettes solely as a symbol of artistic achievement.

Come Oscar time, you don't get any extra credit for filling up the multiplexes, which is probably the main reason why James Cameron's box-office record-breaking "Avatar" lost out to Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," which made less money in its entire theatrical run than "Avatar" made in its first two days of release. It's hard not to see the Grammys as a rebuke to the Oscars, in the sense that the Recording Academy hasn't erected a wall separating music's breadth of appeal from its artistic value.

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Katy Perry in the press room at the Grammy nominations concert at Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images

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Except, if the Academy actually did nominate stuff like Twilight for Best Picture, it would be a joke since those movies are terrible, just like how Katy Perry and (for the most part) Lady Gaga is terrible. Also, Eminem has been getting nominated for Grammys for a solid decade, why is his nomination a surprise?

Great point! The lower you aim, the more you should be rewarded. It's not the Grammys that should change, by rewarding musical accomplishment as opposed to album sales, it's the Oscars. This is a lot like arguing our politicians should speak slower and appeal even more to our base instincts, and should openly mock smarty-pants liberals who believe in college and eating right, all philosophies I agree with. Pander to the lowest common denominator, is what I always say. Avatar should'a totally beaten Hurt Locker! Hurt Locker was sad and made my brain work. Avatar had pretty colors and made so much money! That should get the shiny award!

I think the answer is quite simple. People are going to the cinema to watch movies (many paying more to watch in 3D) VS the music industry which is failing to make the record profits that it once had. YES download income is increasing, but ten years ago you could charge $25-30 for a CD, this wouldn't be the case today.

By giving credibility to their bubble gum pop acts they hope that they will sell more records. I'm sure when these acts perform on the live shows their sales go up. The audience is less likely to be an audience who will be swayed by an awesome act like Arcade Fire...but they might just purchase a Katy Perry album as it's 'fun.'

That's what I believe anyway.

Huh. I actually disagree with the grammys being less elitist this year. If you listen to this year's record or song of the year nominees, they're really quite soaring. Last year, this argument had more sway, but in a bad way: Four out of five album of the years were imo horrible autotuned smarmy electronicey messes of noise. Of course, the one song that wasn't, won. Perhaps the grammys are just as elitist as the oscars: Can you name music MORE elitist than (excellent) Arcade Fire? And The-song-that-I-can't-name-without-cursing was just as much a hit among, say, nerdy musicians as among "The Masses"(whoever they are).If the grammys were truly unelitest (which I hope they don't become, because big sales [does-not-equal-sign] high quality), then Justin Bieber and Suzan Boyle would be the big winners, and if that's the future, take me to the past.

Oops, I ranted.

The Grammys have always sucked up to an establishment yardstick. In the '60s, the Grammys refused to even nominate the Beatles or any other of the legendary rock bands of the day in favor of giving the umpteenth award to Al Hirt (who??) or Henry Mancini. Back then they weren't hewing to popular "artists", i.e., those raking in the most money, they were run by a geriatric group who held the music of the young in disdain, and rewarded the quickly forgotten, unoriginal and cliched as a societal slap in the face of the ne plus ultra whose popularity the old farts just couldn't take. Research will stun with the level of crap they awarded and the absence of classic quality, which coincided with popular sales.

Now, in pretense of awarding to quality, they nominate whoever is bringing in the most money over the risky, higher quality, and greater artistry. The Grammys have always been a joke. At least they are consistent.

As for the Oscars, they have their own skeletons: Films awarded based on the politics of the establishment at the time. For example, the truly weak Hurt Locker, which 20 years ago wouldn't have been noticed as a tv movie-of-the-week, defeats the progressive message of the too-rich Avatar regarding the piggish and corporate nature of the US military, and please don't tell me you don't get that, versus the ecologically beautiful under attack by conservative jerks. So a film that accepts the evil of the destruction and occupation of Iraq as a given trumps the billion-dollar and innovatively loved spectacle by an establishment currently in love with the war agenda, who pokes James Cameron in the eye by giving the miserably undeserved award to his ex-wife. Oh, the irony, giggled the politically-inspired Oscar establishment.

For more details on how Hollywood thinks, rent the dvd of The Bad and the Beautiful. The Academy loved it, but couldn't bring themselves to reward revealing the ugliness around their own decision-making.

Of course the Grammys are awful with nominations. They nominated the Jonas Brothers last year and now they're liking Justin Beiber.

The Oscars have it right... it should all be about the art. I do not care about what the main stream like. Just because it's popular doesn't make it good. Good lord, can you imagine if Jersey Shore won an award for best tv show... or the enquirer won an award for best journalism. This country is already dumbed down enough.

Patrick - I think you are making a fundamental error in your logic comparing the grammys and the oscars. It's not the awards that are at fault; it's the business model that is aiming for a four-quadrant homerun, designed and overseen by corporate masters and marketing geniuses who believe if they build it right, the people will come (and they're usually right). Why fuss with "challenging" or "interesting" or "original" when you can make your McDonalds and the masses will hand over the loot for your filmic big-mac?

By contrast, music is a business where, for the most part, the artist goes in and makes their product, some more obviously commercial than others, and then the record company and marketing geniuses step in and try to do the best they can with what they got. As such, the music audience is often choosing from original, provocative, artist-driven material, some good some bad, some popular some not. And the Grammys get to choose from that same booty.

The movie studios long ago gave up trying to make anything "good". Over the last ten-fifteen years, they've gotten out of the quality movie business. They dont even pretend anymore that they care about awards (except for the Monday after the Oscars when every hack director or producer spends the day thinking about how they might get their own statuette (read:Attention)).

And the artists follow suit. As has become obvious, the indie movie business is no business at all, and not much of a way to make a living. So naturally the talent is drawn to where the jobs are (i.e. the studios). Indie movies are as good as we get when our real best are really spending most of their time trying to feed their family.

SO dont blame the Oscars when it comes time for nominations. Blame the biz and the corporations who feel zero responsibility to engage the audience in any intelligent dialogue about the times, in good movies, or in cinema itself. They're too busy just trying to make a buck. And the academy is forced to choose from mostly flawed little movies with grand artistic ambition and no marketing dollars instead. That ain't their fault, mister.

Patrick, all of you who've made this complaint about the Academy over the last 42 years forget that these are not the "People's Choice" awards. First of all, the Academy is a private organization of industry professionals invited to join after achieving a certain level of achievement in specific areas. As such, its membership has always skewed older than, particularly the majority moviegoing public of the last 45 years, but also have different, more informed in most instances, standards for judging the quality of work. At the same time, the founders of the Academy were inculcated with an attitude toward "high art", as particularly represented by literature and the stage, which resulted in an unacknowledged attitude of choosing not necessarily the Best Picture of a given year but what the members considered the film equivalent of the best novel or play. This is evidenced by a look at the Best Picture winners over the Academy's first 50 years. This began to change in the Eighties as the Academy got younger members who felt film was a unique art form in itself but this has been compromised over the last 20 years because of a revival of that old "high art" attitude now applied to art house/independent films. The fact that none of today's "popcorn" films are of equal quality to such films made in the Sixties also undermines your annual rant on this subject.

Rick Mitchell
Film Editor/Film Historian

this is something i've always thought about the grammy's. it seems that who the grammy goes to is synonymous with who is most popular in mainstream culture.

and in terms of the oscars, though they aren't flawless either, at least they look at quality rather than what raked in the most money.
avatar may have made the most money at the box office but does that make it the best movie? i think not.

it is the quality not the quantity that should be rewarded, and even if a film/song is the most obscure unheard of one out there, that does not discredit it from being a good film/song.

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