When award nominees are announced, it’s not unreasonable to expect that a certain amount of the artistic community (those who don’t get recognized, obvs) will catch some feelings. We know what goes into award nominations, and we know that they’re not based on pure talent. There’s certainly a very political aspect to them. Even if they’re nominally honoring the best, the fact of the matter is that money talks, and a runaway commercial success is arguably more meaningful to the nominating committee than actual quality is.
That said, what the hell is Team Bieber whining about?
Sure, Justin’s Believe was one of the year’s biggest sellers (as of today, it’s one of less than ten albums to sell over a million copies in 2012.) The album got halfway decent reviews. Hell, even I predicted an Album of the Year nomination (based on those stellar sales and solid reviews, in addition to the fact that Bieber got a Best New Artist nod a couple of years ago.) However, Bieber not only found himself without an Album of The Year nomination Wednesday night, he found himself without any Grammy nominations at all. The teen idol’s manager, Scooter Braun, angrily called out the folks at NARAS (the organization that votes on nominees) and even Billboard magazine devoted an article on their website to the perceived snub. While I’ll admit to being somewhat surprised that Justin was shut out, I’m probably more surprised that people seem so up in arms about it.
Let’s take Braun out of the equation for a moment-he’s the artist’s manager and thus isn’t going to be objective. However, unless someone on The Biebs’ payroll is working for Billboard, I’ve gotta say that I’m stunned that the publication is even suggesting Bieber deserved to be nominated. After all, despite the fact that the magazine specializes in non-subjective data (I mean, the charts are computerized,) one would think the editorial staff, in terms of musical taste as well as musical knowledge, would be pretty nonplussed about Bieber’s omission (and Timothy White is probably rolling in his grave at the quality of Billboard’s writing this last year or two, which has fallen off the cliff completely.)
Teen idols have never really been Grammy favorites. New Kids on the Block? 1 Grammy nomination throughout their career, and it was in a Video category. New Edition? 1 Grammy nomination. Backstreet Boys? ‘NSync? Both groups were nominated for Grammys during their time in the sunlight (a signal that the tide was turning,) but they never won anything. While the teen-pop boom was in effect a decade or so ago, the only artist that came out with any hardware was Christina Aguilera, who had indisputable adult appeal, not to mention the pipes to give her slight pop songs a little more heft. Justin Timberlake (whose twice-awarded solo debut, Justified, Billboard compared to Bieber’s Believe) has a handful of Grammys, but they came as a full-fledged adult star. And, yeah, Britney has a Grammy too, but in a category (Best Dance Recording) that really places the emphasis on the song and not necessarily the person singing it. Think of all the millions of records teen idols have sold, and then think of the handful of awards and nominations they’ve received. When you consider history-even recent history, when the recording academy has been slightly more kind to teen pop-it shouldn’t really stun anyone that Bieber got left in the lurch.
The Billboard article mentioned Justin’s recent sweep of the American Music Awards as an indication that he would have (or should have) received Grammy love, but if they’d followed the AMAs at all over the past four decades, they’d have quickly realized that the two award shows’ recipients are generally quite different from one another. Of course, they intersect during years when there is a clear cut megastar (Michael Jackson in ’84, Whitney Houston ten years later, Adele and Taylor Swift in more recent years,) but the difference between the two is as clear as what they choose to announce their categories as. Grammy nominees and winners are regarded as the “best” in their respective categories, while AMA nominees and winners are listed as “favorite.” There’s clearly a difference between what’s regarded as the best in one’s field (particularly when decided by a team of music execs and artists) and the “favorite” artist of the public.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of artistic quality. Totally subjective, again. But NARAS has a rep as a pretty highbrow organization, and usually, the Grammy nominees are the types who would appear on a year-end list from people who are fairly serious about music (usually of an advanced age, too.) While Believe was a strong seller, one could (probably rightfully) argue that Bieber’s fans are still, largely, teenage girls and thus, his music isn’t really gonna penetrate the type of people who would vote to nominate it for a Grammy. To bring back the Timberlake comparison, it should be noted that Justified succeeded in opening JT up to several new audiences (which he’d laid the groundwork for with the last ‘Nsync album,) including the urban audience. Justified not only was purchased by teenage girls, but also adult women and a fair amount of men (including myself,) not to mention lots of folks who, two years before, wouldn’t have been caught dead buying an ‘Nsync album, but were drawn towards The Neptunes and Timbaland’s cutting-edge production. JT escaped the teen-pop ghetto. Bieber still owns tons of real estate there and hasn’t really staked his claim outside of it.
No one with any discerning taste in music can look at the Album of the Year nominees (The Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, Jack White and fun.) and make any compelling argument that Believe is a better album, whether they’ve actually heard the nominated albums or not. Even detractors of the nominated artists probably wouldn’t argue in favor of Bieber. Hell, I thought Believe was a halfway decent album (not good enough to spend money on, but still halfway decent,) and don’t think it deserves to share space with the nominated albums.
So, while Bieber nation might want to revolt, they probably don’t have much of a leg to stand on (and his fans aren’t the kind that would sit and watch the ceremony anyway.) Now, if John Mayer fans were pissed off about the nominations, they’d probably have a point.
Just for shits and giggles, I compared Believe‘s Metacritic score (which creates a score from 1-100 based on professionally written album reviews) to the Album of the Year nominees.
Frank Ocean-Channel ORANGE: 92
The Black Keys-El Camino: 84
Jack White-Blunderbuss: 83
Justin Bieber-Believe: 68
Mumford & Sons-Babel: 63
fun.-Some Nights: 60