Grammys Show Some Spunk

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The Boston Phoenix
Jed Gottlieb
December 3, 2010

With the announcement of this year's nominees, the Grammys had two words for its conservative past: "(expletive) You!"

Founded by aging icons (Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, etc.) threatened by rock 'n' roll barbarians, the traditionally buttoned-down music awards embraced the indecent and irreverent on its Wednesday night nominations TV special. The show rolled out a few startling contenders, giving Cee Lo Green's profanity-powered smash "(expletive) You!" five nods and Eminem's vulgar-and-violent raps a leading 10 nominations.

Other surprises included a handful of left-of-center acts who will be vying for golden gramophones with the obvious blockbuster artists at the February show. New Englander Ray LaMontagne's "Beg, Steal or Borrow" is up against Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me," Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" and "(expletive) You!" for Song of the Year. Arcade Fire's excellent indie record "The Suburbs" competes with major label releases - Eminem's "Recovery," Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," Lady Gaga's "The Fame Monster" and Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" for Album of the Year.

The Best New Artist field mixes superstars and surprises. Along with the no-brainer choices of teen sensation Justin Bieber and hip-hop phenom Drake, ethereal English act Florence & the Machine, British folk kids Mumford & Sons, and Berklee-schooled jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding are up for the 2011 New Artist award. Behind Eminem, came everybody’s favorite collaborator, Bruno Mars, with seven nominations (Mars co-wrote and co-produced "(expletive) You!" and co-wrote, co-produced and is featured on B.o.B's megahit "Nothin' on You"). Jay-Z and a pair of ladies (Gaga and Antebellum) grabbed six nods apiece.

Beyond the big names, artists with Massachusetts ties going for gold include Danilo Perez (Jazz Instrumental Album), former Boston coffeehouse queen Patty Griffin (Traditional Gospel Album), and Seekonk-resident Bill Harley (Spoken Word Album for Children). The classical categories include two nominations for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (Classical Album, Orchestral Performance) and one for Cambridge resident Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble project (Classical Crossover Album).

While the Grammys still don't care much about art - 90 percent of the nominations reward sales numbers not creativity - it's nice to see the Recording Academy take a few risks. Cee Lo had the best song of the year; he should be rewarded for that even if his song annoys the FCC. Arcade Fire doesn't sell like Katy Perry, but the band's an artistic force spearheading the indie revolution and deserves to be recognized.

Let's hope Grammy voters don't chicken out between now and the 53rd annual telecast on Feb. 13 and give all the gold to teenage dreams and tween wonders.