10 Times the Grammys Got It Wrong

Metallica is metal. Jethro Tull? Not so much.
Metallica is metal. Jethro Tull? Not so much.
Photo courtesy of BB Gun Press
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The Grammys have been around now for almost 60 years; the 59th edition of the famed music awards show emanates Sunday night from Staples Center in Los Angeles. During that time, the Grammys have showcased the best and brightest in music. From star-making performances from the likes of Ricky Martin and Adele to powerful statements from artists like Kendrick Lamar, the Grammys have given viewers plenty to celebrate over the years.

Of course, the Grammys have also given us plenty to deride as well. That holds particularly true for the awards themselves.

U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is a perfectly fine record, if somewhat redundant when compared to its superior predecessor, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. So it was somewhat disappointing that the album won every award for which it was nominated at the 2006 Grammys. One of those came at the expense of Kanye West, whose classic Late Registration lost out to U2 in the Album of the Year category. Say what you will about Kanye and his antics, and many have, but dude put out a Top 20 all-time hip-hop record, and the Grammys should have responded accordingly.

I don’t even really like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, though it’s hard to deny their 1999 comeback album, Californication, is an all-timer in the rock pantheon. Creed, meanwhile, was a band that fused pop sensibilities with a second-rate attempt at Pearl Jam. It wasn’t so much surprising that Creed’s cliché-ridden “With Arms Wide Open” bested the Peppers’ “Californication” for Best Rock Song at the 2001 Grammys — the awards have traditionally gone the “safe” route. It was simply a bit of a letdown.

For starters, Milli Vanilli’s music was abominable and certainly not deserving of any kind of awards-show love. More important, the dudes who won the awards weren’t even singing the songs! This lip-syncing revelation led to Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan being stripped of their 1990 Best New Artist Grammys, only nine months after winning the award in the first place. So distraught was Pilatus over the controversy, and subsequent fallout, that he fell into a pit of substance abuse and eventually died from an overdose in 1998. He was only 32.

Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is a pretty terrific song, one that holds up to this day. Need proof? Cue it up on karaoke night and survey the crowd reaction. However, the song isn’t exactly peer-worthy of fellow nominees Dr. Dre (“Keep Their Heads Ringin’”), 2Pac (“Dear Mama”) and Notorious B.I.G. (“Big Poppa”). Not that Coolio was the worst of the nominees; not when Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” was among the contenders.

Nas, an absolute legend in the hip-hop game, has been nominated for 12 Grammys during his career and not won a damn one of them. Moving on.

This one really isn’t so much about Hancock, whose 2008 Album of the Year win for River: The Joni Letters sent shock waves throughout pop culture. Even still, many people were disappointed that Amy Winehouse’s breakthrough, Back to Black, didn’t take home the honor, particularly considering its biggest single, “Rehab,” won both Record and Song of the Year. Back to Black is essentially the perfect pop record, one with its own sound, and a taste of what she might have given audiences had Winehouse not passed away in 2011 at age 27.

Celine Dion possesses one of the best voices in the history of pop, but calling her music artistic or creative isn’t entirely accurate. So it was somewhat of a shock that her Falling Into You took home Album of the Year at the 1997 Grammys, over fellow nominees Beck (Odelay), Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness), the Fugees (The Score) and a Waiting to Exhale soundtrack featuring the likes of Aretha Franklin, Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston. It was an all-too-familiar example of the Grammys playing it safe when given the opportunity. On that note…

This one was so well received in 1989 that the Grammys shelved the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category after only one year (it later returned in 2012). That’s right, Metallica — metal pioneers, hard-rock deities — lost out to Jethro Tull, a band with a flute player. And people have the nerve to say Grammy voters are out of touch.

So imagine you’re Bruce Springsteen. You’re a Jersey guy, one so broken up over the September 11 terrorist attacks that you pen The Rising, widely regarded as the definitive 9/11 record. The record is a hit both critically and commercially, not to mention a textbook example of art as a healing mechanism. You head into the 2003 Grammys expecting a coronation, and instead, you watch as Norah Jones takes home the prize for Album of the Year. No disrespect to Jones, a talented artist in her own right, but she didn’t even deserve to beat out fellow nominees the Dixie Chicks and Eminem. Speaking of whom…

Eminem wasn’t just a rapper at the turn of the century; he was a legitimate, and controversial, pop-culture phenomenon. So when it was announced that his classic, The Marshall Mathers LP, was up for Album of the Year at the 2001 Grammys, many saw it as a chance to embrace a new genre of music. Instead, Grammy honchos hedged by giving us an Eminem-Elton John performance and by awarding Best Rap Album to Marshall Mathers. Album of the Year, meanwhile, went to Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature, a perfectly fine record that had no business beating out the likes of fellow nominees Eminem, Beck and Radiohead.

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