The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Grammys nominations make the Oscars look more elitist than ever

December 2, 2010 | 12:21 pm

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