A lot of great music was released in the fourth quarter of 2006. But as usual, none of it is being considered for tonight’s Grammy Awards. As a comprehensive overview of the year that was in music, the Grammys always were a little slow to recognize the best music at the height of its relevance.
The voters at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences took a wait-and-see attitude toward artists such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Public Enemy and Nirvana and never really caught up.
The Grammys could get away with such oversights when they were the only music awards show. They’re still the biggest, with a national TV audience in the millions, but now their credibility and timeliness continue to erode. As the Internet accelerates the way music is distributed, consumed and evaluated, fans can turn to many credible and far more timely outlets to find the year’s best songs and albums. Increasingly, the Grammys can’t help but be perceived as a relic of a time when MP3 files didn’t exist.
Yet the Grammys roll on, tied to an outdated schedule. Academy voters were allowed to consider music released only from Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006.
This October-to-September schedule has been in place for decades; it was created to give the academy time to poll its 16,000 members and then recruit artists to perform.
Yet that schedule does a disservice to the industry the Grammys purport to honor. The last three months of the year are when the major labels release their biggest albums, to capitalize on the holiday gift-giving season. October through December 2006 was no exception: Major albums by the likes of John Legend, Jay-Z, My Chemical Romance, Gwen Stefani and the Game were released after the Grammy deadline. Many of these albums are represented in year-end polls in magazines and newspapers. Yet they won’t be eligible for Grammys until 2008.
The academy’s tardiness is magnified by the high-volume, high-speed exchange of music on the Internet, which is rapidly making official release dates obsolete. Lily Allen was among the most talked-about new artists of last year based on the songs streaming on her MySpace page. But her music wasn’t officially released on an album in the United States until last week, which means she won’t be up for Grammy consideration until next year.
With Web sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Pitchfork presenting new music around the clock and weighing in on new songs and albums months before they’re officially released, the Grammys can’t help but come off as late-comers. Of course, the Grammys have never been particularly hip. But now they’re falling even further behind the culture they purport to reflect.
More up-to-date surveys of the year’s best music can be found on the Web. By the first week of the new year, the Idolator Web site had polled 497 critics and posted the results. Just as timely are HeartonaStick, which has already posted the cumulative favorites of 641 blogs, and IndieforBunnies (only in Italian), which had 236 blogs.
All of these lists take into account releases through the full calendar year, and they brim with artists whose albums came out too late for Grammy consideration: Joanna Newsom, Clipse, the Decemberists, the Hold Steady.
Their inclusion on so many year-end lists suggests that the Grammys, and the viewers who use them as a barometer, are missing out on a lot of great music. In the mouseclick world, the gap between what the Grammys honor and what the rest of the world is listening to is only going to widen.
On TV: “The 49th Annual Grammy Awards” airs 6 p.m. today on CBS.
More online: See more photos of tonight’s Grammy Awards show and read a complete list of winners at www.getoutaz.com.