The Grammys have a long history of being absolutely confounding when it comes to awarding artists in their rock categories. The modern categories as we know them have only been around since the early ’90s, and have been plagued with a profound lack of understanding about what the hell “rock” actually is. They’ve also been littered with pity awards, wins just for being Bruce Springsteen, and a lot of other problems.
But the 2019 nominees might just take the cake. This year’s nominees for Best Rock Album:
Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog
Fall Out Boy – M A N I A
Ghost – Prequelle
Greta Van Fleet – From The Fires
Weezer – Pacific Daydream
And this year’s nominees for Best Rock Song:
“Black Smoke Rising” (Greta Van Fleet)
“Jumpsuit” (Twenty One Pilots)
“Mantra” (Bring Me The Horizon)
“Masseduction” (St. Vincent)
These are nearly all absolutely baffling choices, although it was far from a banner year for mainstream rock. Many were befuddled by this crop of nominees, but this might actually be the final Pokemon evolution of a legacy of weird and outright bad Best Rock Grammy nominees over the years. To go along with this year’s array of singular, bizzare choices, presented for your approval are some of the strangest and stupidest nominees and winners from the history of the rock categories as we know them today.
Sting, “The Soul Cages” — Winner, Best Rock Song (1992)
I’ll admit it: This is a pretty rocking song as far as Sting’s solo career goes. The Youtube description for this fan-uploaded track proclaims this “Sting’s darkest song,” and it very well may be, as a spooky child enters a drinking contest with a doomed fisherman, offering a vintage squoze from the blood of other victims. But this song is a bizarre winner of the very first Grammy ever for Best Rock Song, notably for what was nominated that year and didn’t win. The other nominees in 1992 were Bryan Adams’ “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” (whatever; probably the most typical vestige of late-’80s mainstream/establishment rock and the third-most-memorable track on Waking Up the Neighbours), “Learning To Fly” by Tom Petty (another safe Old Man Rock selection), and three undeniable classics extremely vital to the time — all of which were on MTV every hour that year and which rock aficionados of all stripes will unashamedly own up to loving right to this very day: “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction, “Silent Lucidity” by Queensrÿche, and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
Instead of any of those, the Recording Academy decided to give the award to a six-minute weirdo track by Sting. Off to a great start!
Train, “Drops Of Jupiter (Tell Me)” — Winner, Best Rock Song (2002)
It is only recently that I realized this song about a dead mom is more accurately about fried chicken, a buddy who will stick up for you, and the best soy latte that you’ve ever had. Objectively one of the lousiest tracks of the new millennium from one of our generation’s most cringe-y bands, this beat out Aerosmith’s “Jaded,” Coldplay’s “Yellow,” and two U2 songs. All of those are pretty clearly better songs, and more “rock” to boot. Yes, even “Jaded.”
Sheryl Crow, Sheryl Crow — Winner, Best Rock Album (1997)/Sheryl Crow, The Globe Sessions — Winner, Best Rock Album (1999)
I’ll own up: I absolutely love the self-titled Sheryl Crow album, and I feel like it still holds up. (If nothing else, it holds up as a great example of what 1997 was like.) The other nominees for Best Rock Album in 1997 were mostly uninspired: Dave Matthews Band, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Bonnie Raitt, and No Doubt for Tragic Kingdom, which maybe should have won. Meanwhile, over in Best Alternative Album, Beck’s Odelay took home the trophy over fellow nominees Smashing Pumpkins, Tracy Bonham, R.E.M., and Tori Amos… thus proving that the line between “Rock” and “Alternative” was anyone’s guess, even back in 1997. (Which makes it baffling that Best Alternative Album predated Best Rock Album as a category by four entire years. So was “alternative” just an alternative to… music in general? No one knows!)
The more egregious pick here is giving Best Rock Album to The Globe Sessions, perhaps Sheryl Crow’s least-memorable album, and one where her trademark laid-back delivery just sounds flat-out bored for its duration. The other picks were just as asleep: Dave Matthews Band (again), John Fogerty (the year after he took home the same award), Garbage, and in a shocking burst of inspiration, Hole’s Celebrity Skin. But The Globe Sessions got the win, perhaps because when Academy voters put the album on, the first track — “My Favorite Mistake” — actually sounds like what they imagine textbook rock ‘n’ roll to be. And just like all the textbooks you remember, it’s sterile, boring, safe, and dry as hell.
Limp Bizkit, Significiant Other — Nominee, Best Rock Album (2000)
The late ’90s and early 2000s were hard times for all of us. Maybe time hasn’t been kind to Limp Bizkit and America’s love of them, but perhaps it was exactly as kind as it should be. This is another hallmark of Grammy nominees: Recognizing blockbuster albums, tracks, and artists of the moment, but giving those actual awards to safe bets or established acts. (Santana’s Supernatural won Best Rock Album over Bizkit, Tom Petty, Melissa Etheridge, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.)
Creed, “Arms Wide Open” — Winner, Best Rock Song (2001)
It wasn’t even the best Creed song off that album.
Bruce Springsteen, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” — Winner, Best Rock Song (2009)
You’ve never heard this song before. No one has ever heard this song before. At some point in the mid-to-late aughts, the Best Rock Grammy categories began nominated legit indie-, fan- and critical-favorite acts — Death Cab for Cutie, Green Day, Wilco, Snow Patrol, The Killers, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, Lucinda Williams — only to give the award to the most established, palatable, or boring selection among them. Bruce Springsteen won Best Rock Song in 2008 and 2009, although we can forgive them for at least not giving the 2008 award to Daughtry.
Let’s also note that Radiohead was nominated for Best Rock Song for a track off of In Rainbows, which won Best Alternative Album. Not Rock Album. Just your standard potential Best Rock song, which comes from the empirical Best Alternative Album. Categories don’t mean anything, and they never will. (In 1999, Radiohead lost out on Best Alternative Album to The Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty, which contained the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. ABOLISH GENRES.)
Black Sabbath, “God Is Dead?” — Nominee, Best Rock Song (2014)
Pretty much every awards format — but most notably the Oscars and the Grammys — is huge on make-up awards or career awards in competitive categories. Every work of art benefits from hindsight (which is the main reason why annual awards are nearly predestined to look foolish), and every academy or voter base looks back and says, ‘Well, we clearly whiffed on that one back there, but this new version is nearly as good,’ or ‘Well, they’ve been around so long, how could we NOT reward them in some fashion?!’
Which brings us to Black Sabbath’s 2014 offering, a supremely uninspired number that really speaks to how influential Sabbath was, and how their act absolutely does not fly today except on 100 percent pure nostalgia. “God Is Dead?” sounds like every awful band of just-out-of-high-schoolers you’ve ever sat through at your hometown club; one hundred million beanie-wearing adolescents who learned how to play “Sweet Leaf” and two Pantera songs and called it a catalog. The fact that the ACTUAL Black Sabbath sounds only marginally better than that speaks volumes.
(Oh, by the way, this track won Best Metal Performance that same year. Black Sabbath is important, you see.)
Led Zeppelin, Celebration Day — Winner, Best Rock Album (2014)
See above. This was the Best Rock Album of the year in 2014, although the album was released in 2012 and was the soundtrack to a concert taped in 2007. Was anyone worried we don’t appreciate Led Zeppelin enough?
Greta Van Fleet — Nominee, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album, Best Rock Performance (2019)
And finally, we reach the logical conclusion of postmodern rock and of the Grammys’ ouroboros-like nature of rewarding the established and the establishment. Greta Van Fleet is derided by many for being a retread of a specific classic rock group — Led Zeppelin, natch — a fact that stands out more considering all the great rock that came out by women in the last few years to help totally reshape the modern conception of this genre.
So obviously it makes perfect sense for Greta Van Fleet, an act whose rock pastiche is so crass and shallow that it skips right past “love letter to rock” and lands firmly in “anything for a buck” material, is the ultimate Rock Grammy bait for voters. What’s easier to digest within a genre than a paint-by-numbers cash grab manufactured in a lab to sound like rock ‘n’ roll and possibly snag as many television appearances and beer commercials as possible? Congrats to Greta Van Fleet on your inevitable Grammy wins, because you’re the only act pigeonhole-able enough for the Recording Academy to understand.