Every awards show is bound to divide people based on their preferences and who they think should walk away the winner. We see it with the big film awards, with many critics jumping into handicapper mode in an attempt to pick the correct winners and losers, and we’ll see it tonight at the Grammys.
With this division, there’s always a sour feeling left behind when someone’s favorite doesn’t stand victorious at the podium. For every high, there is an equal low for those crashing in the “runner-up” pool. The problem is when these winners seem to baffle everybody and present someone who “doesn’t deserve it” in the eyes of the public or beats a clear favorite.
In honor of the Grammy awards tonight, we thought we’d take a look at some of the controversial winners from over the years. Those acts that just seemed to make everybody scratch their head or that caused a stir after the fact. Will we see any tonight?
5. Eric Clapton’s acoustic “Layla” beats “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
At the 1992 Grammy Awards, Nirvana had just broken through with Nevermind and the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” They were quickly becoming the biggest band in the world and seemed like shoe-ins to take home the honors for Best Rock Performance. Instead, they lost Eric Clapton’s mellow acoustic version of “Layla.”
Kurt Cobain hardly seems like the type of person to care about winning a Grammy, but it had to feel like a slap in the face for grunge fans who saw it as the awards ignoring a new musical movement to honor a guy who had already been around for 30 years. But as you’ll see with some of these other choices, Grammy voters aren’t always the hippest crowd.
4. Eminem and Radiohead lose to Steely Dan
So yeah, the Grammys have an unfortunate tendency to award old dudes over younger, fresher artists. In 2001, the Album Of The year category was fairly loaded, with Eminem’s classic The Marshall Mathers LP and Radiohead’s groundbreaking Kid A both up for the honor. In a weird twist, they would both lose to Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature. It was their first album in two decades, and hardly as vital to the music scene at the time as Eminem and Radiohead’s efforts. But it proved once again, Grammy voters tend to be suckers for the old folks.
3. Macklemore beats Kendrick Lamar, apologizes, makes things worse.
This award wasn’t actually given during the broadcast, but when it was announced via Twitter that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s The Heist had won the award for Best Rap/Hip-Hop album, the internet quickly went nuts. Many people thought the award should have gone to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, or perhaps Kanye West’s Yeezus, or Drake’s Nothing Was The Same.
The consensus was that a mediocre album had beaten multiple masterpieces. The fact that it was a white artist beating out black artists certainly exacerbated the outrage.
The weird thing is, Macklemore seemed to agree with the anger. He sent Kendrick Lamar a text message saying “it sucks that I robbed you.” This didn’t go over well; now, it seemed like Macklemore was over-compensating. At any rate, Kendrick’s loss hasn’t much done much to stop him from being one of the most respected artists in hip-hop.
2. Amy Winehouse and Kanye Lose To Herbie Hancock
Going into the 2008 Grammys, there were two albums that were considered equally fine choices for Album of The Year: Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and Kanye West’s Graduation. In a stunner, they would both lose to Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, which was an album composed of Joni Mitchell covers. Hancock’s album is actually pretty good, but Amy and Kanye represented the peak of contemporary music at the time. Awarding Hancock over them was yet another indicator that the Grammys were out of touch with popular music.
1. Metallica loses to Jethro Tull
In 1989, the Grammys introduced the new award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, and in a shocker, the winner was Jethro Tull’s Crest Of A Knave. Even among Tull fans, this album isn’t especially popular (too much dated 80s production), but the really surprising part was that it beat out Metallica’s classic …And Justice For All.
Really, though, the entire category made no sense. Individual songs (Iggy Pop’s “Cold Metal”) were nominated in the same category as entire albums. After much shock over the award, it was dropped after just one year, and replaced with separate awards for Best Hard rock Performance and Best Metal Performance.