Congratulations are due to Kanye West, who is currently leading the 2012 Grammy nominations with seven, most of which are for his acclaimed album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Unfortunately (and probably frustratingly) for Kanye, it’s not all about him – U.K. singer Adele is hot on his heels, with six nominations for her album 21.
The two artists go head to head in the Song of the Year category, Kanye’s electrifying “All of the Lights” pitted against Adele’s ubiquitous “Rolling In The Deep,” in what may be the Grammy competition of the year.
By the numbers, Adele’s already won — 21 sold over 4 million albums in 2011, the best of the year, and she’s nominated in all the Grammy Award categories that really count, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year.
View the complete list of Grammy Awards nominations in top categories here
Adele’s has been a crossover runaway train of success, triumphing over heartbreak and an honorable freshman debut with an album so wrought with emotion it transcended race, gender, sex and creed. Heartbreak is universal, and one could barely step outside their door without hearing “Rolling In the Deep” blaring from TVs, radios and grocery store speakers.
Critics and fans alike love Adele, who has seemingly mastered her own form of blue-eyed soul, co-opting the sounds of southern blues without becoming a warbling caricature of sloppy runs and forced wails. Add that to her U.K. upbringing and full figure, and she’s a shoe-in for an American media obsession.
Take this in contrast to Kanye, who is often begrudgingly acknowledged for his musical talent, in spite his difficult public persona. For the record, Kanye’s won 14 Grammy Awards out of his 36 nominations. Curiously, all of his wins have been in the hip-hop or R&B categories — he’s never won in any of the more prestigious categories, awards that help cinch crossover success for the average artist.
Not to say that Kanye doesn’t have crossover appeal. However My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, while brilliant, wasn’t necessary an album for the masses. It is probably his most intellectual album to date, a high-concept effort that pooled the talent of dozens of artists to tell a story of the isolation of fame. The album is ingenious, a genre-bending effort that is both timeless and ahead of its time.
That said, in the race of “Rolling in the Deep” versus “All of the Lights” it becomes a question of what the 13,000 voting members of the Grammy Awards value in the “Song of the Year.” Do you give it to the artist who undoubtedly had the best year, career-wise? Do you honor someone who overcame personal and public calamities to create a work of genius? Do you consider how humble the thank you speech may or may not be?
That Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy wasn’t nominated for Album of the Year feels like a snub, an early indicator of the Grammy Award’s reserve toward his artistic talent. Even when he was nominated for Album of the Year (in 2005, 2006, and 2008), he’s never taken home the award.
So historically the outlook is bleak for Kanye. While the voting body of the Grammy Awards respect his talent, there’s a glass ceiling that he seems to always bump against, preventing him from taking the top awards. Adele is an obvious media favorite, and it’s likely that the Grammy Awards are hers to lose.
Grammy has rarely recognized hip-hop outside of the rap category. In the awards’ 52-year history a rap album has taken the top honor only twice: Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauyrn Hill in 1999 and Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below in 2004.
Last year, hip-hop impresario Steve Stoute fired off a letter to the Record Academy expressing his displeasure with the continued exclusion of hip-hop from the Album of the Year category. He eventually met with the Neil Portnow, the chairman and CEO of the academy, but it appears his pleas for an Album of the Year category which better reflects the American cultural landscape have yet to be fully heeded.