I feel weird giving credit to the award show that hands out trophies even hotel bellmen don’t want, but in recent years, the Grammys haven’t been as hilariously out-of-date as they usually are. Take a look at this year’s nominees: Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, Queens of the Stone Age, Alabama Shakes, the National. Not too shabby, and at least they’re trying; there’s no River: The Joni Letters among this year’s Album of the Year nominees.
OK, enough Grammy love — let’s talk about the snubs AND flubs. Here are 10 of the biggest mistakes the Grammys have made, with one note: I only considered the bands and artists that were nominated. For instance, Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted should have won EVERY category in 1993, especially Best Small Ensemble Performance, but because it wasn’t nominated for Best Small Ensemble Performance over whatever, it doesn’t count. Let’s go.
1. Eric Clapton’s “Layla (Unplugged version)” for Best Rock Song over Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
I have a theory that once the Baby Boomers die, Eric Clapton will stop being a music icon. Derek and the Dominos are Cream are good, occasionally great bands, but goddamn, few musicians are treated as lovingly by music journalists as Clapton; he’s to rock as Brett Favre is to NFL reporters. Proof: his garbage acoustic version of “Layla” over the gigantically influential “Smells like Teen Spirit.” The Grammys wussed out, and honored the wuss song.
2. U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb for Album of the Year over Kanye West’s Late Registration
I’d be as pissed as Kanye, too, if arguably my best album was bested by U2’s weakest album. (The College Dropout and Graduation were also nominated, but lost to Genius Loves Company and River: The Joni Letters.) This entry could also go to Two Against Nature > Kid A?
3. Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” for Best Rap Solo Performance over Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
Also embarrassing, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince for the inaugural Best Rap Performance over LL Cool J.
4. A Taste of Honey for Best New Artist over Elvis Costello
The Best New Artist category is littered with ill-advised winners — Maroon 5 over Kanye? Evanescence over Fountains of Wayne? Paula Cole over Fiona Apple? — but the most egregious example came in 1979, when A Taste of Honey, hot off the success of “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” triumphed over the Cars AND Elvis Costello.
5. “We Are the World” for Record of the Year over “Born In the U.S.A.”
It’s tempting to go with Coldplay’s “Clocks” over “Hey Ya!” but at least “Clocks” doesn’t feature the song stylings of Dan Aykroyd. “We Are the World” won four Grammys in 1986, because the 1980s were awful and everyone wanted to save the world but didn’t know how to, so they made a bloated song where a bunch of musicians, and Dan Aykroyd, tried to out-sing the artist before them. It’s well meaning in the same way that giving cocaine to your best friend is well meaning. It also pitted a Bruce Springsteen against himself. I’ll take U.S.A over the WORLD. (Another unwise Record of the Year win: “A Taste of Honey” over “Yesterday” in 1965.)
6. Young MC’s “Bust a Move” for Best Rap Performance over Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”
No offense to Young MC — we’ve all been known to bust a move here or there — but “Bust a Move” is hardly essential. It’s a fun song, which is exactly why it won. For the majority of Grammy voters, “Fight the Power” was, and probably still remains, terrifying. It’s amazing it even got nominated in the first place.
7. New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral” for Best Contemporary Song over the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”
Best Contemporary Song began as Best Performance by a Top 40 Artist before becoming Best Performance by a Pop Single Artist, then Best Rock & Roll Recording, and now it’s Best Metalcore Performance by a Goat, probably. But while the title may have changed, the promise of the category — to award the best rock and/or roll song — was never fulfilled. See: “Winchester Cathedral” over Beach Boys and the Beatles.
8. Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me” for Best R&B Song over Prince’s “U Got the Look”
Think how many babies have been conceived to Prince. It has to be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, right? And yet, the Man in Purple is only one for five in the sexiest of categories, Best R&B Song, with the most damning loss coming in 1988 when a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” beat “U Got the Look.” Don’t even get me started on the lack of love for “Batdance”…
9. Jethro Tull’s Crest of a Knave for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance over Metallica’s …And Justice for All
This category doesn’t exist anymore (it’s now Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Metal Performance) because of the furious outrage directed at the Grammys after they decided Jethro Tull is better at metal than Metallica. Some members of Tull didn’t even attend the ceremony, assured in the knowledge that there was no way they could win. Bu when they did, boos could be heard in the crowd, and Metallica was never heard from again…
10. Creed’s “With Arms Wide Open” for Best Rock Song over Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication”
Never feel nostalgic for years gone by. Proof: in 2001, the artists nominated for Best Rock Song were matchbox twenty, 3 Doors Down, Lenny Kravitz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Creed, who won. “Californication” isn’t a great song, but it doesn’t sound like it was sung by a goat doing an Eddie Vedder impression, so it gets the nod here.
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