Behind the scenes at last night’s Grammy Nominations Concert there was a lot of talk about the good old days — fond remembrances of a time when industry folk actually listened to full albums and not just the ones they worked on; when Best New Artist truly meant an extraordinary breakout from that year, not five years or five minutes ago; and when the lucky hopefuls got word at the crack of dawn, via a bare bones ceremony that had nothing to do with showy performances and everything to do with function: just a simple reading of the nominees (by a few famous faces, of course, many contenders themselves).
Okay, maybe the early morning wake-up call wasn’t missed, but this year’s red carpet roll-out of the Grammys — a televised one-hour extravaganza consisting of live numbers and lists upon lists of potential nominees (the first 10 or so maybes, then the five who actually scored the nod) presented by the likes of Ringo Starr, Katy Perry and Dwight Yoakam — had its own issues. Namely, that it didn’t know what it wanted to be: an awards show with fancy tables and marquee names or a club gig.
Two-time host LL Cool J kicked off the evening with a performance titled “The Hits of 2009,” in which the rapper-actor mused in medley about everyone from Lady Gaga to Taylor Swift to Marilyn Monroe. The tiny Club Nokia seemingly couldn’t accommodate all of the acts on the night’s bill, so Sugarland’s performance of “Coming Home” and Maxwell’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller ballad “The Lady In My Life” were relegated to an outdoor stage. Perhaps Nick Jonas, debuting his new side project Nick Jonas and the Administration, was wishing he had the same fate. The band’s “Who I Am” was mired with feedback problems. On the other hand, perennial Grammy faves the Black Eyed Peas delivered their summer smash “I Gotta Feeling,” the de facto theme song of this year’s awards, without incident and helped energize an otherwise disengaged audience.
Judging by a few bizarre groupings for nominations, it seemed some of this year’s Grammy voters were also a bit disengaged. Among the televised categories was Best Rock Album. The youngest act competing for that prize? Dave Matthews Band, who released their first album in 1994. The oldest: Eric Clapton, who teamed up with Steve Winwood for Live From Madison Square Garden. Similarly, Daryl Hall and John Oates make an appearance in the Pop Duo with Vocals category for “Sara Smile,” a song that dates back to 1975. They’re up against MGMT, Black Eyed Peas and Bon Jovi. It’s a head-scratcher. Then again, the Grammys usually are.
That said, for every veteran, there’s a newcomer and nowhere was that virgin excitement more pronounced than in the press room following the show. Take Rap Solo Performance nominee Drake, for example. His debut album has yet to be released — in fact, he’s still working on it — but the prospect of Grammy attention was making this Canadian MC downright giddy. “I used to dream about hearing my name called out,” he said excitedly. “Being a kid from Toronto, I’m just proudâ€¦ I know my mom’s at home buggin’ out.”
Even on your second go round, it’s no less exhilarating, as Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill demonstrated. His band garnered multiple nods this year, all for “Use Somebody.” “To get four for one song, that’s what makes it even more special,” he said following the show. “It really is a good feeling considering the people you’re up against.” And when it comes to other categories, he and the boys will be rooting for their Southern brethren: “Taylor Swift, Sugarland — all the country people we bump into at the Whole Foods, that’s who we’ll pull for.”
But the true underdog of the night was undoubtedly Maxwell, who, following a moving Jackson tribute, got even more emotional counting up the potential trophies for his comeback album, Blacksummers’ Night: six in total. “I’m not used to this,” he said. “I’ve been gone for eight years, throwing out my own trash, basically living in obscurityâ€¦ so to come back and make a record based on my own experiences… and to have this kind of reception, I feel like I’ve already won.”
And lest we forget: the ladies. Beyoncé tops the nominations tally with 10, Taylor Swift gets eight and Gaga has five. But, as Rolling Stone previously reported, Gaga’s not up for Best New Artist — Zac Brown Band, Keri Hilson, MGMT, Silversun Pickups and the Ting Tings will duke it out for that honor. None of these pop powerhouses were actually there, but Swift’s name was invoked far more than any other female contender. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles, for one, is simply in awe of her business acumen. “When I was 20 years old, I was playing clubs and learning how to drink Jim Beam and Coke,” she said.
To that end — or E.N.D. — the Black Eyed Peas looked ready to get their celebration on, but not without taking stock of their whopping six nods. “We could’ve gone the okee doke route and been forgotten about,” said Will.I.Am in reference to artists who get too comfortable once they sell a couple million albums. “I’m so proud that we didn’t get swallowed by yesterday’s success. We’re continually inspired by DJs. We’re club people. We’re party people.” On that note, the nominees made their way out into the L.A. night. Fergie looked relieved that it was all finally over. “Now we can scream?” she asked. “Woo-hoo!”