The incredible shrinking Grammy

Starting in 2010, the Grammy Awards will merge the Rock and Hip-Hop categories into a single new slot: "Best Rock/Hip-Hop album." For example, you’ll have, say, Bruce Springsteen, competing against Eminem.

Weird, huh?

Of course, I’m only kidding. Who would think of such a thing? There’s no way the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which organizes the Grammys, would do that. And it didn’t.

What NARAS did do was merge the Latin Urban category (which includes hip-hop, urban regional, and reggaetón) into the Latin Rock/Alternative category, thus reviving the "Latin Rock, Alternative, or Urban Album" category (the urbanos earned their own category two years ago, when the reggaetón craze was too big to ignore, but the low number of Urban entries put things back to where they began). So now we have Daddy Yankee versus Maná. God save us.

Immediately, the rocanrol intelligentsia went berserk.

"We must protest! We must do something!" wrote Alicia Monsalve, founder of Al Borde! (a Latin alternative magazine in Los Angeles), on her Facebook page. "This shows a profound ignorance of Latin culture and music," she added on an Al Borde’s blog entry in which she urges everyone to pressure the Academy to reinstate the two separate categories. Good luck.

"The biggest record of the last two years `Wisin & Yandel’s La Revolución` now does not have a home at the Grammys," said Los Fabulosos Cadillacs manager Tom Cookman in Billboard. "The folks at NARAS seem to be acting like old-school major-label types that do not realize that things have changed," he added in an interview with the Current. "Doing what they have done is a display of disregard for such an important creative and commercial community."

"This is not a good thing, to put it mildly," wrote Leila Cobo, Billboard’s Latin Bureau Chief, stressing the "ironic" fact that a week after the announcement "three of the top four albums on Billboard’s Latin Album charts were urban. Is someone like Don Omar likely to boast that he bested Julieta Venegas in an awards competition?"

As a well-connected friend told me, "Not only did they screw the urbans, but they screwed rock and alternative as well. ... They didn’t know what to do with urbano `mistake number one`, so they sent them to the recycling bin `mistake number two`. That’s why there are less and less nominated artists present at the NARAS pre-Grammy telecast."

Some blame NARAS’s stupidity; others (read NARAS) blame it on the reguetoneros’ inability to submit their damn albums for consideration on time. Latinos can dance, but we’re not great at organizing; I’ll grant you that. (This axiom doesn’t apply to occasional revolutions).

See, NARAS (and LARAS, its Latin counterpart) have a strict 25-minimum rule; if you don’t have at least 25 albums for consideration in any given category, the category is out or put on probation for a year or so. And the rule sucks. I wish I could give you the names of the brilliant minds who came up with this crap, but, you know, privacy rules. At least one NARAS person is speaking, though.

"We want to create a lot more competition," said Bill Freimuth, NARAS’ VP Awards, via phone from LA*. "We don’t feel that it’s fair, for example, that one out of every five Latin urban artists would receive a Grammy nomination, whereas one out of every 50 rock artists receives a nomination. We’re trying to make a little more of a leveled playing field. We don’t want to make it that it’s a lot easier to receive a Grammy nomination in a smaller subgenre than it is in the larger categories."

But I don’t believe the way to fix a lack of entries is to "level the playing field" by just mixing apples and oranges while pissing everyone off in the process. The way to do it is by honoring the albums on their own merits, not on how many entries there are. If you do that, you’ll have some peace, and nobody will be bitching about how useless or clueless NARAS is. Maybe suspend the category until the artists and managers and labels get their shit together, but don’t eliminate it. Especially, if you consider that the urbanos submitted 24 entries for the upcoming awards — just one short of the required 25.

Lousy decisions like these only defeat the Academy’s purpose, which is to encourage and recognize musical excellence (get that smirk off your face). If you don’t believe me, ask Joe Treviño, who engineered a superb polka album by Max Baca and Alex Meixner days before the Academy announced that, due to low submissions, the polka category would be eliminated. "While the Polka category may have been eliminated, Polka albums are still eligible for submission and consideration in the Best Traditional Folk Album and Best Contemporary Folk Album categories," said Freimuth in a statement.

"Ay, Chihuahua ... !" said Treviño. "That’s the one that’s gonna kill us. It’s really unfortunate. When you have Alex, one of the best accordionists in the world, and Max, one of the premiere bajo sextos, lumped in with the folk category — everyone loses."

*Click here to read the complete Bill Freimuth interview.


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