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Grammy experts' smackdown: Will Taylor Swift or Kings of Leon win best record and song?

January 28, 2010 |  6:29 am

You've read who our forum moderators Darrin "DoubleD" Dortch and David "Guru" Schnelwar and I believe will win the top four Grammy Awards this Saturday. Now let's go to the videotape. Darrin and I recently got together in Los Angeles to connect with David (who's on the East Coast) via webcam. Check out our first two clashes below. David believes that Taylor Swift will prevail in races for best record and song with "You Belong With Me." Darrin and I say the champ will be "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon, but we all agree that Beyoncé may be a threat too.

Check out their detailed written analysis of the best-record contest here, plus see what we think about the contests for best album, best song and new artist.

Our first video slugfest below is over the best-record contest. Below that, best song.


RELATED LINKS

Will Taylor Swift or Kings of Leon win the award for best record at the Grammys?

Prediction: Taylor Swift will grab Grammy crown for best album of the year

Grammy battle over best song: Taylor Swift, Beyoncé or Kings of Leon?

Will the Zac Brown Band or Keri Hilson win the Grammy for best new artist?

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Comments

Most media pundits seem to be going with Taylor Swift, some are even predicting her to sweep the Top Three, which has certainly happened a few times in the past decade: Norah Jones' album did it (she didn't write the song so she didn't technically win the Grammy for Song of the Year), the Dixie Chicks did it, and Amy Winehouse almost got all four, save that last minute Album of the Year ambush by Herbie Hancock (more on that later). But something tells me these pundits are overestimating Swift's chances and I'll explain why when I analyze the Top Three.

Oh don't get me wrong, I think she'll win big. She even has a good chance of tying the record for most awards won by a female artist in a single night (5) which is currently held by Lauryn Hill (1998 ), Alicia Keys (2001), Norah Jones (2002), Beyonce (2003), and Amy Winehouse (2007). The fact that this "record" has occurred so frequently in the aughts (to provide some perspective, consider that before 1998, the Grammys managed to go 40 years without a female artist winning 5 in one night!) says less about the emergence of quality female artists, and more about how ridiculous the Grammys have become in terms of the sheer number of categories. In the early 90's for example, there weren't so many categories for every single genre (there weren't even genre album categories for Pop/R&B/Rock/Rap/Country as there are now) and -- as with any award show (here's looking at you Oscar with your Ten Best Picture nominees this year!) -- expanding the number of categories and/or nominees results in too many awards, too many award winners, and therefore a devalued award. If almost every popular artist has a Grammy nomination, then being nominated is no longer special is it? You only have to look at the Pop field to see how ludicrous this attempt to include everything has become: Pop Female Vocal, Pop Male Vocal, Pop Duo or Group with Vocals, Pop Collaboration with Vocals (WTF? As if the Duo/Group category isn't sufficient?), Pop Vocal Album, Pop Instrumental Performance, Pop Instrumental Album, Traditional Pop Performance, and Traditional Pop Album. And that's just one fucking genre!

Anyway, back to Taylor Branch er Swift. Yeah I'll admit, I don't care for her, I think she's as unremarkable as Michelle Branch and of course I'm hoping that I'm right and she won't pull off a sweep of the Top Three categories. But I'll try to keep these predictions based on Grammy history and not based on my dislike of her. And here's some history to keep in mind: while 5 is the magic number Taylor has to match or beat for female artists, 8 is the magic number for most wins by an artist (regardless of gender) in a single night. That record is currently held by Michael Jackson (for Thriller natch) and Santana (for Supernatural).

Here's the thing: I think pop culture award shows should, over time, represent the year in music through iconic figures. I mean the Oscars and the Grammys are never really going to represent the very best in film or music (and when they do, it's merely incidental) because they are not a critics organization. Nor should they be. They have very specific middlebrow tastes and god love em for that. For these groups then, doing the "right" thing means picking winners who -- say a decade or so later -- will make sense as winners, and stand the test of time, based on their iconic status in film and music. For example, Julia Roberts was in no way the Best Actress of 2000, but her win makes sense and won't look embarrassing (it already doesn't) years later because she's an iconic film presence and that was arguable one of her best performances. And this is why the Grammys picking songs like "Moon River", "Billie Jean" and "My Heart Will Go On" are -- whether you like those songs or not -- sensible picks because they will stand the test of time, if not critically (though I'd argue the first two certainly do), then at least culturally. When the Grammys falter is when they pick winners doomed to look embarrassing or puzzling years later. Yes the easy example is Milli Vanilli, but I mean even less obvious than that, is their current (and it's been going on for over a decade now) penchant for turning the Album of the Year category into a Veteran Honors Award.

This is OK when we're talking about an album that made a huge pop-culture impact on the year in music like say Santana's Supernatural. But it's less defensible when they pick albums completely outside the zeitgeist like Steely Dan's Two Against Nature, or Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company or Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters or last year's winner from Robert Plant and Alison Kraus, Raising Sand. One can debate the relative merits of these albums from a critical standpoint (although you'd find few defenders for Ray Charles' terrible final duet snooze-fest, or Herbie Hancock's irrelevant output, neither of which represent the superior earlier work of two terrific artists), but there's no denying that these albums were not part of the zeitgeist, the pop culture landscape, in their respective years. And that's what the Grammys should be representing, because they are not a critics group. The Grammys are a time capsule of the Year in Music, and you need look no further than the actual appellation for Grammy's Top Three categories. It is not "Best Album, Best Record and Best Song" but rather, "Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year." The qualifying "of the year" has a much different connotation from "best."

But again I'm digressing. My point in writing this opus is to explain why I pray Taylor Swift will not win more than 5 Grammys. She certainly could. And it's not just because I don't care for her music, but rather because I care about the pop-cultural significance of these awards. When you see that Michael Jackson holds the record for 8 wins in one night (and still holds the record for the most nominations in one night) that makes perfect sense because Thriller was the biggest fucking thing around. As a culture, having Michael Jackson hold that title makes sense. It's the same thing with Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Beyonce or Amy Winehouse winning 5 awards because they represented their years in music (I would argue Norah Jones -- as lovely as she is -- does not meet that criteria, and see? I can be unbiased because I actually like her music but I wish she hadn't tied the record with the aforementioned women).

If Taylor Swift wins 5 awards, that would make sense because she certainly was a HUGE deal this past year, and so from the standpoint of pop icons, having her tie the record with those women would accurately represent the year in music (see? I'm being fair). But if she won more than 5, that would mean that she surpassed the likes of Lauryn Hill. Which...I hope we all agree is ridiculous. I'm OK with her representing a big story for 2009, but I'm not OK with her breaking a record and therefore surpassing every pop female artist in Grammy's 52 year history. Because that's what that would mean. It would be the Grammys saying, "To us, this was the year a female artist topped all other female artists in history, the year she produced a work of music that blew all those other albums away." And I mean, even fans of Taylor Swift (I hope) would have to admit that the teen-diary lyrics of "You Belong With Me" can't really be compared to Joni Mitchell or Tracy Chapman, nor can Swift's girlish delivery possibly compare to vocal performances by Roberta Flack or Aretha Franklin. No, that would be overkill. Five is enough (and for me, more than enough) and I'm hoping enough recalcitrant voters -- unwilling to crown a merit-less queen who's still barely a princess -- will settle for tying her with Lauryn, Beyonce, Alicia, Amy and Norah (I'm not even going to discuss the frightening possibility that she could win 8 and therefore be on the same level as Michael Jackson. Neither myself nor Kanye West could take that).


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