On Why ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ Is The Best, Most Ambitious Grammy Category

Senior Pop Culture Editor
02.05.13 10 Comments

ARE YOU EXCITED FOR THE GRAMMYS? Probably not, but this year, it might not be so bad. In the run-up to Sunday’s ceremony, we’ll have daily posts about Grammys past and present, including a look today at why the much overlooked Best Alternative Music Album is the most Internet friendly (and best) category out there.

#1. Because Best Rap Album hasn’t existed as long (and the same artists win every year)

The Grammys history with rap has been well reported, is sad, and makes SNL‘s look stellar by comparison. The Best Rap Album category has only existed since 1996 (Poverty’s Paradise by Naughty by Nature was the inaugural winner), and over the past 13 years, only five artists/groups have won the award: Outkast, Eminem, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and, ugh, Ludacris. That’s not to say Stankonia and Late Registration didn’t deserve to win (they did); it’s that the Grammys only seem to be aware of a half-dozen rap acts. Best Alternative Music Album is all over the place, in a good way. Beck, Radiohead, Beastie Boys, Gnarls Barkley, Wilco, the White Stripes, etc.

#2. Because Best Rock Album is a joke

OK, sure, the Foo Fighters have won a few times, which is a good thing, but Best Rock Album has also crowned Sheryl Crow, U2, Coldplay, and Santana’s Supernatural (never forget) with rock and/or roll’s ultimate award. This is the category for your dad who still has a subscription to Rolling Stone.

#3. Because it’s “edgy,” at least for the Grammys

One of the chief criticisms of the Grammys is that its afraid to take chances, to nominate albums or artists that would cause Casey Kasem to blow a fuse. Best Alternative Music Album is the slight exception to that stereotype. The Replacements, XTC, the Smashing Pumpkins, Björk, the Prodigy, PJ Harvey, Beck, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Modest Mouse, Tom Waits, and My Morning Jacket have all been nominated or won over the years, and although not all of them are “edgy,” they’re at least somewhat, kind of, sort of “hip,” a word not often associated with the Grammys.

#4. Because if it didn’t exist, where else would these artists be nominated?

I’ll be the first to admit that “Alternative Music Album” is a dumbass name for a category — the term “alternative” hasn’t meant anything since 1997, and even then, the exact definition was nebulous, at best. In fact, the fine print of the category has changed since it was first introduced. Back in 1991, it was intended to “recognize the kind of non-mainstream rock records heavily played on college radio stations,” while today, “this category is intended for recordings of a non-traditional form that exist (at least initially) outside of the mainstream music consciousness.” Meaning, it allows an artist like M83, who wouldn’t have a shot in hell at winning Best Album of the Year, to receive some recognition for his amazing work, like sound-of-2012 “Midnight City.” Obviously, awards are ultimately meaningless, but in true Ron Swanson style, if Best Alternative Music Album gets someone to switch from Lady Antebellum to Tom Waits or Fiona Apple instead, that’s not a bad thing.

#5. Because Album of the Year stopped meaning anything after River: The Joni Letters won in 2008.

Seriously. What was that?

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