In three of the past five years, an artist with connections to country music has won Album of the Year. The same ratio applies for the Record of the Year category. In the same time frame, two country artists have won Song of the Year and two have won Best New Artist.
That’s all good and well, and would be seen as a positive for the genre if not for one pesky problem. All of the artists and songs and albums that have been emerging victorious have been nearly indistinguishable from adult Top 40 music.
All that’s changing is the decreasing artistic credibility. With all due respect to Lady Antebellum, they’re a step down from last year’s victors, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown Band, who in turn are nowhere near in the same league as Dixie Chicks and Alison Krauss.
What happened at this year’s Grammys in the marquee categories is a continuation of the organization’s strongest weakness. When the best music of the year is in a style that is palatable to Adult Top 40 and Adult Contemporary radio, they are quick to honor it accordingly. But when it comes in a more challenging musical format – hip-hop, alternative rock, traditional country, dance, even bubblegum pop – it will nominate said work, but it won’t emerge victorious, unless one of the subgenres is nominated against another.
So forgive me for not throwing hosannas up in the air for Lady Antebellum winning with the terribly pedestrian “Need You Now.” Is it one of the best country records of the past year? Probably. But country music is in such a creative nadir that it didn’t have much business in the Record or Song categories, and their entry was less artistically significant than every nominee that lost to it.
It borders on disgrace that an urban or hip-hop record hasn’t won Record of the Year at this point. There were four excellent opportunities to right that wrong this year, to make up for overlooking “Waterfalls”, “Gangsta’s Paradise”, “No Scrubs”, “Say My Name”, “Ms. Jackson”, “Lose Yourself”, “Crazy in Love”, “Hey Ya!”, “Gold Digger”, “Irreplaceable”, “Umbrella”, and “Paper Planes.”
Much like the lack of female nominees for CMA Entertainer of the Year, you can make the case that most of those records may have lost to better contenders, but good luck making the case this year. If country music is going to rain on the parade of a genre that’s long overdue for recognition at the Grammys, it would be nice if said country music was actually good. Or actually country. Or both.