The Great Grammy Cull: RIP, Best Hawaiian Music Album


This morning NARAS–the outfit responsible for putting on the Grammy Awards every year–announced that next year, the awards show would have a leaner, tougher look, bringing the total number of categories down to 78 (from 109) and forcing each category to justify its existence by having 40 potential nominees within (up from 25). Not that this’ll make the show any shorter–most of the affected categories are ones distributed during the pre-telecast–but it might result in competition getting a bit stiffer.

“[We asked], is there an underlying infrastructure and rationale across all the awards as to how we’re doing this? And what we found is, there wasn’t,” NARAS chairman Neil Portnow said when explaining his organization’s thought process behind these sweeping reforms, which are the result of a process that started all the way back in 2009. (He might have been echoing some observers, too. Ahem!) A brief rundown of all the changes:

A bunch of categories are merging. Among the most notable shifts: Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Metal Performance are being brought back together after splitting for the 1990 ceremonies; Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album, Best Native American Music Album, and the much-maligned Best Hawaiian Music Album are all being shoved under the “Best Regional Roots Music Album category; and distinctions between “contemporary” and “traditional” are going away in genres like world music and jazz. (The Grammy site’s handy mapping tool goes into further specifics.)

Solo performance categories in pop, R&B, and country are losing their male/female distinctions. A blow for gender equality or a sign that certain genres might have been lacking on one side of the aisle? Well, in any case, it’ll make the possibility of live recordings of years-old songs getting nominated a bit less likely.

Any category with more than 25, but fewer than 40, potential nominees will have their number of nominees reduced to three; categories with fewer than 25 potential nominees will be suspended for the year, with a “three suspensions and you’re out” policy. This is probably the most crucial change, and the one that likely explains a lot of the category-culling that took place today. While it was nice to have the Best Urban/Alternative Album category, for example, if only because its existence did prevent Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” from being shut out this year, it seemed like it could have been a tough one to fill on a year-to-year basis–not the least of which because, well, who aside from the Grammys has ever referred to a piece of music with that tag?

But it’s hard to not wonder if the consolidation of so many categories will result in a consolidation of winners as well. Given the Grammys’ generally traditionalist tendencies (did you see the boomer bent of this year’s rock winners?) one might be a bit wary of any changes that seemingly slash the number of potential winners. Then again, we are coming off a year in which the Grammy voters made people think a lot about the ascent of Generation Indie, so perhaps this is another step along the way toward breaking the awards’ old habits.

Speaking of:

Welcome, “electronica.” Yes, Best Electronic/Dance Album has been rechristened Best Dance/Electronica Album, and it’s “intended for groove-oriented recordings with electronic-based instrumentation.” Groove-oriented! Let the glowsticks wave!

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 6, 2011


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