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Daft Flunks: The Grammys’ Rocky Relationship With EDM

From the ill-fated Best Disco Recording category to the ill-fitting FooMau5 collaboration

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This year, veteran androids Daft Punk may get more than lucky at the Grammys, as the first electronic group in history to get nominated for Album of the Year — we know it's for an album with live drums on it, but baby steps, people. In addition, the Grammys will honor their robot forefathers Kraftwerk with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Combining this with nominations for artists like Disclosure, Pretty Lights, Zedd and Calvin Harris, this is easily the ceremony's best year for electronic music. But it wasn't always this way. Here's the rough road that the Grammys danced along to get here. By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd and Christopher R. Weingarten

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2002: Introducing Lionel Richie… Disco Don?

In between success as a Commodore and his current life as country crooner, Lionel Richie briefly tried his hand at dancing on more than the ceiling. The limp single "Angel" — it sounds like Seal on a weak house track — was a relative flop when it was released in 2000, peaking at Number 70 on Billboard. But Grammy voters clearly recognized the name "Lionel Richie" on a ballot or something and a Dance Recording Grammy nominee was born. And to think Basement Jaxx was completely locked out. Where's their head at?

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2005: Grammys Introduce Fancy New “Electronica” Award, Party Like It’s 1997

Electronic music fans bristled at the word "electronica" in the Nineties, so it felt like a relic by they time the Grammys introduced the new category in 2005 for "Best Dance/Electronica Album." Though couldn't have come as too much a shock since most of the nominees — Crystal Method, the Prodigy, Paul van Dyk — could have won back in 1997 too.

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2006: LCD Soundsystem Lost Edge, Now Lose Category

The only thing we can venture to speculate about this one is that the bros go with what they know. Chemical Brothers' "Galvanize" was vastly inferior to LCD Soundsystem's "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" — and far less connected to both the larger and the underground dance music cultures of 2006, as well — but by this point the Chem Bros were essentially the Paul McCartney of electronic acts. 

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2007: And the Award Goes to… Madonna?

Look. We're not making any excuses for Madonna's competitors in the Best Electronic/Dance Album category in 2007. Paul Oakenfold is Paul Oakenfold is Paul Oakenfold, while Zero 7's best achievement remains bringing Sia to the world. But Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madge's disco-aspirational tenth album, deserved a pop award rather than the token big-ups in a category in which literally no one else could compete with the queen. It's Madonna, and "Get Together" was a jam. Pet Shop Boys' also-nominated album was blowing in the tumbleweeds. 

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2008: Rock Band Shiny Toy Guns Nominated for Best Dance Album

You could probably dance to MySpace-y Los Angeles electro-rock band Shiny Toy Guns if the only music you've ever danced to was someone spinning Human League at your college town's "Eigties night." But is that any world we'd want to live in? 

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2010: Lady Gaga. Really?

It was like the only qualifier for "Best Dance Recording" up to 2010 was "uses synth somewhere in the mix." Gaga's "Poker Face" took it away, and while it was huge on the charts, it's nonetheless a 120 BPM middle-banger, memorable for its verses' flat monotony and a tempo literally anyone could dance to with little commitment. Regardless, any one of the songs nominated for this category could easily have been swapped with any of the songs nominated in the pop categories, although props to David Guetta — nominated with Kelly Rowland for "When Love Takes Over" — for humping the 4/4 while having a rave-y hairdo.

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2011: “Best Dance Recording” Category Has Zero Non-Pop Nominees

In 2010, dubstep was mainstreaming, R&B singers were making electronic records and the baby that would become known as EDM was beginning to emerge. Yet the Grammys' perception of dance music seemed to be fully planted in chart hits. In the year Crookers collaborated with Pitbull, Magnetic Man brought the world Katy B, and LCD Soundsystem dropped his final album, the members of the nomination committee couldn't seem to find a record that wasn't also pop. You could do way worse than Rihanna, Robyn, LaRoux, Goldfrapp and Gaga — but were the categories not so rigid or tied to popularity, it could been had a better representation of the movement set to devour the world.

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2012: David Guetta, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Foo Fighters, Deadmau5, Make Hilarious Attempt to Show EDM on TV

"I'm leaving for tour tomorrow and there wasn't enough time for what I wanted to do, prepare," Skrillex told Billboard about why he didn't land his awesome spaceship on the Grammy stage. In their attempt to acknowledge EDM — a genre that reached critical mass in 2011 — the Awards invited David Guetta and Deadmau5 to perform instead. Likely scared that a French fortysomething twisting knobs and a dude in a blinking mouse head might not make the most compelling television, they had Foo Fighters "jam" with the Mau5. The intention was probably supposed to spark "Hey, this isn't that much different than rock" debates, but it just seemed like a mash-up that wouldn't blend.

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2013: The Saga of Al Walser

And the nominees for Best Dance Recording are: Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris, Avicii and. . .Al Walser? While his competitors were dominating festival stages, this "entertainment mogul" had fewer than 7,000 YouTube plays total for his nominated song, "I Can't Live Without You." How did this happen? One theory we alluded to last year: "Walser is well connected in Grammy circles: he's a voter, and he's active on Grammy365, a social networking site for the awards. He also solicits opinions from people he's networked with while working on songs, which means many Grammy voters know who he is." As Walser told MTV, "Thousands of people have been part of the process of my songs. So probably when it came to ballot time they were very familiar with my name. There's nothing wrong with [that]."

 

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2013: Skrillex Wins Everything (Yay!); Nothing is Televised (Sigh)

The Grammys had had their dalliance with electronic music and appeared to be over it, despite the fact that EDM was still raking in buckets of money and attracting record festival attendees. (In 2012, Electric Daisy Carnival's main Vegas event alone attracted 300,000 people.) But astronomical DJ fees and touring proceeds does not the Grammys make, so after gesturing to the genre with a 2012 performance, the fickle board brushed its Dance Awards to the side. Skrillex swept both dance categories and Best Remixed Recording, but there was barely any visual evidence: The Grammys, weary of your blips and your bleeps, neglected to air any of it on the television. 

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