Thursday, February 28, 2002
It's Time to Nominate a New System
The Grammy voting process may have split support for critically acclaimed albums, giving 'O Brother' the edge.
"O Brother"? Oh my goodness.
It's easy to feel good when the character and passion of American country and roots music are celebrated with five Grammys, especially when commercial country music has relegated this vintage sound to the outhouse.
But "O Brother" wasn't the most distinguished album of the year. It wasn't even one of the three most compelling nominees in that category.
By most measures, Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft," U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and OutKast's "Stankonia" were more substantial works.
So how did "O Brother" beat three far more acclaimed albums?
The only way the (ATYCLB) wouldn't win, pundits said, was if Dylan drew enough votes away from U2 for a longshot, such as "O Brother", to sneak in. And that is just what happened, one suspects.
Looking over previous Grammy contests, it's easy to see where strong albums may have drawn enough votes from each other to let a compromise choice win. In 1985, two of the great albums of the decade, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." and Prince's "Purple Rain", went head to head in the best album category, allowing Lionel Richie's far less memorable "Can't Slow Down" to get more votes.
Three years later, U2's deserving "The Joshua Tree" might have benefited from a voter split between two other commercial blockbusters, Prince's "Sign 'O' the Times" and Michael Jackson's "Bad."
And didn't Celine Dion's shallow "Falling Into You" win best album in 1997 only because progressive forces Beck, the Fugees and Smashing Pumpkins canceled out one another?
It may be that all of these albums would have won under any circumstances, but the chance of the voters' will being subverted leaves too much of a doubt over the voting system for it not to be addressed.