Unlike the Oscars, the Grammys don’t have an agenda. You may remember last year’s Best Picture Academy Award going to The King’s Speech instead of The Social Network. Many people, myself included, found this decision outrageous. Granted, The King’s Speech was an uplifting period piece, triumph of the human spirit and all that, but The Social Network was innovative, well-acted and relevant to our Facebook-saturated modern world. But even if you disagree with that ruling, you can at least see the reasoning: the Academy was affirming both their love of British culture and their unease with innovation and modern relevance. You may hate it, you may love it, you may feel totally ambivalent about the whole thing, but the Oscars have an agenda, and it’s fairly obvious.
But there is no sane reason for saying Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature was a better album than Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP or Radiohead’s Kid A. Which is exactly what the Grammys did with the Album of the Year award in 2001.
Likewise, there doesn't appear to be any sane reason for the Grammy's decision to leave Kanye West's album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy off the nominations for the 2012 Album of the Year Grammy. But maybe there is.
Let’s say that the 2012 Grammy nominations released a few months ago were in fact calculated to maximize a particular outcome. Let’s say that the absence of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy from the Album of the Year contestants was not the result of a massive brainfart but rather a decisive chess move. In fact, I’m not even going to continue this argument in the form of a hypothetical. I’m just going to assume that it was all planned, because the alternative (that the Grammy committee really does think that Rihanna’s Loud was a better album than MBDTF) is too horrifying to contemplate. But in that case, what possible ulterior motive could lurk behind this coldly calculated snub?
In all probability, it was done so that Adele’s 21 could win. I can’t think of any other reason.
Sure, they could’ve given the trophy to Adele and still nominated Kanye, but that would’ve been a travesty. The 2020 equivalent of snarky bloggers like me would look up “2012 Grammys” on the 2020 equivalent of Wikipedia and throw something against the wall if they saw that 21 beat MBDTF. Snubbing Kanye from the nomination altogether will prevent untold numbers of objects from being thrown against untold numbers of walls, because people won’t see 21 beating out a better album. They’ll just see 21 beating out Doo Wops and Hooligans, and that is obviously acceptable.
So that’s probably why Kanye was left off this year’s Album of the Year short list. And if that’s the case…
(wait for it…)
(wait for it…)
I agree with that decision.
WAIT! Give me a chance to explain before you hurl your computer through a window. I love MBDTF, I really do. More than a year after its release, I can still listen to the entire album beginning to end and enjoy every second. Good God, I still have Nicki Minaj’s entire “Monster” verse memorized, and it goes without saying that “All of the Lights” will remain on my workout rotation for the rest of eternity.
By almost all accounts, MBDTF was a better album than 21. Kanye's masterpiece received a perfect score from both the notoriously critical Pitchfork and the increasingly noncritical Rolling Stone. MBDTF fit perfectly into the arc of Kanye’s career, a simultaneous response to and triumph over a horrible two-year stretch highlighted by the Taylor Swift VMA debacle. The various sounds (Elton John piano, Gil Scott-Heron slam poetry, even Nicki Minaj reworking Roald Dahl poetry with a British accent) combined to form a masterwork totally unique in the sonic landscape of hip-hop.
But you weren’t buying it for your grandma for Christmas. I know the lyrics to “Monster,” but everyone knows the lyrics to “Someone Like You.” Kanye’s album was a tour of his unique kaleidoscopic brain, but Adele’s was a powerful evocation of heartrending feelings we can all relate to. We can marvel at Kanye’s masterwork as at an austere cathedral; his skill lies in making us say, ‘wow.’ Adele’s power comes from her unstoppable ability to make us cry real tears and relive a broken heart. Listening to her album is like visiting an old friend: a familiar place tinged by familiar heartbreak. Kanye is telling us what it’s like to be famous, but Adele is reminding us what it’s like to be human. That sounds a little cliché, I admit, but still, it’s true that Adele’s 21 was the most powerfully human album of the year. And let’s not forget that she did her own thing sonically speaking as well, giving us a fresh take on British diva retro soul that somehow found a place on every mainstream radio station. Seriously, it didn’t matter if a radio station was all alt rock all the time or simply stuck the iTunes Top 10 on repeat, they were blasting “Rolling in the Deep” as much as they could. As a result, Adele is probably the soundtrack to most of your 2011. “Rolling in the Deep” was the sound of the summer, “Someone Like You” tracked winter, and the whole time, Adele was there with you. In fact, I would bet that nothing was belted drunkenly in 2011 quite so much as the lyrics to “Set Fire to the Rain.” That’s why Adele should win 2011’s Album of the Year. As much as I love Kanye, if that’s why the Grammys snubbed him, then that's okay.
Some disclaimers: I am postulating here. It’s quite possible that the Grammys simply didn’t nominate Kanye for the hell of it, and might end up giving Album of the Year to Bruno Mars or (God forbid) Foo Fighters. They’ve done stupider things (that whole Steely Dan-over-Eminem-and-Radiohead thing, again). It's similarly possible that there are people for whom MBDTF strikes every emotional note that 21 does, and there are definitely people who think both albums are shit. The Grammys are an attempt to impose objectivity on the most subjective experience there is, which makes it all kind of a crapshoot.
But if the Grammys really have thrown on the Oscar cape this year, really do have an agenda and really are seeking to name the best album of 2011 — the one that most defined the past year — then snubbing Kanye was the right choice.