By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
9:30 AM EST, December 7, 2013
With so much music being streamed, swapped and downloaded from so many outlets these days, it's valid to ask whether we can arrive at any sort of Grammy consensus.
The nominations for the 56th annual ceremony, announced late Friday, give us the answer: No. Successfully predicting musical consensus is, more than ever, a fool's game.
Few, for example, would have bet on singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles' "The Blessed Unrest," landing an Album of the Year nomination. Sales have just been so-so, and it dropped out of Billboard's Top 200 album chart recently, only to sneak back in the latest ranking.
Deserved or not — the latter, from this perspective — the album took a slot away from one seeming shoo-in, Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience." The Recording Academy also passed over Kanye West's acclaimed "Yeezus" and Kacey Musgraves' far more lyrical and way less treacly "Same Trailer, Different Park."
Bareilles' December surprise almost seems like a mistake. Other than for the year's best album, her new work earned her just one other nomination — Pop Solo Performance for "Brave," an aspirational song that borders on propaganda.
That Bareilles and a few other left-field nominees prevailed over higher-profile artists in that category serves as a reminder that the 12,000 voting members of the Recording Academy have some pretty catholic tastes — and that buzz doesn't always matter. If it did, Timberlake would have ruled the nominations and New Zealand singer Lorde would have already been awarded 2014's Best New Artist.
As it happens Lorde was passed over in the category, even though "Royals" got nominated in two of the big four, Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Occupying Lorde's should-be spot in the New Artist category is one of the night's biggest surprises: James Blake, the British singer and electronic music producer who recently won Great Britain's Mercury Prize.
Unlike Lorde or young electronic dance music chart-buster Avicii (also passed over in the category), Blake didn't make much of a mark on the American charts and got scant commercial radio airplay. But then, in this same category two years ago voters gave the similarly gentle tones of Bon Iver the Grammy, and last year it awarded it to the harmless Fun., suggesting a new category might be necessary: Best Young Adult Contemporary Album.
Then there's Jay Z. For many reasons, it's tough to weep for him. After all, he earned the most nominations this year with nine. But his "Magna Carta ... Holy Grail" which dropped in July, was denied solo nominations in the major categories (though he got one as a contributor on Kendrick Lamar's "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City").
As usual when he releases a record, though, Jay Z again dominated the rap division, earning five nominations in the four categories.
Harder still, in general, is to cry for West, whose self-proclaimed "genius" didn't earn him respect with Grammy voters this year. Despite the praise for his adventurous "Yeezus," West received only two nominations for it: one in Best Rap Album, and another for "New Slaves" as Best Rap Song.
Kanye haters will no doubt be gunning for him to suffer the ultimate ego buster: losing in both categories to the much-dismissed Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the upstart rapper-producer team whose seven nominations are among the most for any artists.
Better to expend your emotions celebrating the assured showing for Lamar, whose rise from Compton mixtape master to toast of the Los Angeles hip-hop scene to master rap provocateur has been as quick as it has been confident. His "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City" had been mentioned as a contender for Album of the Year, but many expected Drake's "Nothing Was the Same" to occupy that slot.
Instead, Drake got the shaft and "Good Kid" earned mention alongside Taylor Swift's "Red," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "The Heist," "Random Access Memories" by French dance duo Daft Punk and Bareilles' album.
That rock music was shut out of the major categories — unless you count Imagine Dragons, which I don't — offers evidence of the genre's current lack of heft. So fragmented and confused is the electorate and so unfocused is rock 'n' roll in 2013 that Led Zeppelin, a band that disbanded more than three decades ago, earned a Best Rock Performance for "Kashmir," which was on the soundtrack of their concert film "Celebration Day."
Led Zep, in fact, received as many nominations as Bareilles did. Need any more evidence of the chaos at hand?
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