HITS Daily Double


MUSIC’S BIGGEST COMEBACK: For the first time in more than a decade, the majors’ top priorities were reflected in the Grammy nominations. There’s thus been a noticeable lack of bitching from bizniks, and it would seem that Harvey Mason Jr.’s moves—notably eliminating the Secret Nominating Committees and replacing Bill Freimuth as Chief Awards Officer—have helped create a better model for Music’s Biggest Night.

Will this slate of noms, representing as it does a smart mix of chart-toppers and cool left-field discoveries, move the ratings needle? The show is clearly not as relevant as it was in the past, but artists still care tremendously, and that’s the fuel that drives this train. Prior sweeps by Billie Eilish, Sam Smith and Adele have certainly resonated powerfully throughout all media platforms, and the strong ratings for CBSLady Gaga/Tony Bennett special suggest this final chapter of their splendid musical partnership could also prove a big draw for Grammy.

True, there’s been some chatter around the expansion of the Big 4 categories from eight to 10 nominees. Eight nominees in the Big 4 were leaked, in writing, to some players on Monday night, which served to put the late additions into the spotlight when noms were announced and sparked a bit of controversy. Bringing in Ye and Taylor Swift, who otherwise might not have made it into the top tier, will likely make the show more compelling and—considering the cultural impact of their recent work—was certainly justified. (We’re assuming nobody’s speech will be interrupted this time.) So putting a thumb on the scale, in this instance, has largely been greeted as a positive, even if it was done without great finesse. Tay and Ye can easily suck the oxygen out of social media; high-profile noms for the pair will prove a good result for all—unless they win and the losers cry foul, of course.

There were still some surprises. Chief among them was the 11-nom haul for Verve’s Jon Batiste. Given that Batiste has been beamed into America’s living rooms for years as Stephen Colbert’s bandleader, many insiders assumed this was a CBS put. But the fact is that Batiste is adored throughout the music community. His inventive R&B set We Are has made an exceptionally strong impression and over the last six months has garnered tremendous word of mouth among producers, artists, songwriters and gatekeepers—many of whom have worked with Batiste in one capacity or another. Best New Artist noms for indies Arooj Aftab and Japanese Breakfast also sparked chatter and raised eyebrows, though both have impeccable musical bona fides and are representative of a much more inclusive Grammy vision. As Aftab recently inked to Jamie Krents-led Verve, the noms could be the biggest look for the storied imprint since the heyday of DownBeat, when founder Norman Granz, the Renaissance man behind the label’s greatest era and a god of the American songbook, presided. (Interesting side note: Mo Ostin worked for Granz at Verve before he was plucked by Frank Sinatra in 1960 for his fateful gig at Reprise.)

There’s also been some buzz, mostly benign, about the unexpected inclusion of ABBA among the ROTY noms and where that came from. The veteran Swedish pop troupe had a single eligible track (their new Capitol album dropped on 11/5). Many insiders feel that someone on the TV side believed that the band’s inclusion could help pique the interest of that 60+ CBS audience and perhaps help conjure one of those elusive Grammy moments. ABBA hasn’t really been relevant to the contemporary pop scene for years, and it seems nobody involved in their current project had a clue this was coming.

WHEN GRAMMY WAS GRIM: When were the smoke-filled rooms of the prior Grammy era the darkest? When was the “fuck ’em, it’s our toy, we’ll do what we want” attitude at its worst? The tipping point for outright double dealing and fuckery may have been in 2013, when Justin Timberlake was snubbed in the top categories after the blazing success of his 20/20 Experience. Subsequent "oversights" affirmed that the fix was in, culminating in the unconscionable shutout of The Weeknd a year ago. The warnings of Deb Dugan during her short, embattled term as chief appeared prophetic. Overall, though, it seems Grammy is back on the right track. Now let’s see who wins.