Music

No More Polka

The Grammy's are now under 110 categories!

The Grammys have finally eliminated the polka category; stories said fewer than two dozen qualifying polka albums were released in a typical year, making the odds about one in four that just about any clown with an accordion, a jittery sense of rhythm and a recording contract could snag a Grammy nomination.Less noted was that the Recording Academy meanwhile added another category, splitting the contemporary folk/Americana category into two. Fortunately, it is also combining the “Latin urban” category with “Latin rock or alternative” category, so it will in the end be lowering the number of categories by one, to 109.Yes, 109. This of course remains about 70 or 80 too high.The academy keeps all the unnecessary categories because it allows the 109 winners to run around saying “I won a Grammy award,” the 500-some nominees to bruit about there nominations—and, most importantly, the labels to run around marketing the fact.The music press goes along with it all, routinely citing a Grammy award—or, more pathetically, a Grammy nomination—as if it were some arbiter of quality, rather than the equivalent of a lollipop at the doctor’s office.The Oscars, for all their quirks, is a fair accounting of the opinion of the movie industry; the Grammys are the Special Olympics of award shows. Everyone gets a hug and no one’s a loser.The biggest problem isn’t the number of musical categories, though some of them (new age, alternative) should definitely go; it’s the musty divisions within each category.Giving out 11 Grammys each year in a semi-moribund genre like jazz, for example, is crazy in the first place; does there really have to be three separate “jazz vocal” categories (male, female and “duo or group”)?But, as with so many things involving the Grammys, the absurdities just begin there.For example, after a half-dozen normal old jazz categories, you get separate awards for “Latin jazz album,” and then “contemporary jazz album,” and then something called “best jazz fusion performance.” What the difference is between a “performance” and an “album” is probably explained somewhere, but I don’t care, and you don’t either.Fusion went out with the Stanley Steamer in any case, and as for “Latin jazz,” there are already eight other Latin categories, but whatever.But the Grammys are just getting started. After all that comes a utterly pointless nod for “jazz vocal album,” whose main purpose seems to be to give a special little award for any morose little jazz vocalist loitering around who didn’t manage to be one of the fifteen artists nominated in one of the three other jazz vocal categories. Note that no fewer than 20 jazz vocal artists each year can expect to market themselves as “Grammy nominated.”Can’t we just give them shiny little smiley-face stickers to put on their albums instead?Splitting contemporary folk and Americana into two categories is just as nutty*.  I like folk music—you probably do too. But there are six folk categories—do you think there are thirty folk albums a year that deserve a Grammy nomination?Here again, microgenres are given their own category; it’s hard to imagine there are more Hawaiian folk albums released each year than polka, but that category is still going strong.Now, I personally don’t think zydeco or Hawaiian are currently vibrant enough to warrant awards, but again—whatever.The really skeezy thing the Grammys do is redivide the genres up inside another. Take gospel. Nothing wrong with a couple of gospel Grammys; it’s a legitimate genre. But out of a total of seven categories, five are gratuitous, just another opportunity to add NARAS-approved smiley faces on marginal work: “rock or rap gospel,” “pop/contemporary gospel,” “southern/country/bluegrass gospel,” “contemporary r&B gospel” and “traditional gospel.”Now, rock, pop and rap vastly dominate the current musical scene. Out of the enormous onslaught of product each year, most pop-music critics have a hard time coming up with a defensible top ten list. What do you think the chances are that thirty five albums in the gospel category alone are worthy of national recognition in the given year?————-* Americana was a vibrant genre, fifteen years ago; a category then might have called attention to some of the striking artists of the era, notably Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the like. Today, not so much; perfect time to make it a separate category. As for the contemporary folk category, Dylan has won in it for his last three albums, though they are all plainly rock efforts. But that’s an entirely different silly aspect of the Grammys.

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