With artists spread among 109 categories, there’s bound to be something for everyone in the full list of Grammy nominations. Once one gets past the 23 combined nods for three artists — Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift — the Grammys take an arms-wide-open approach. To be sure, there are plenty of adventurous choices, such as the ambient French pop of Phoenix or promising R&B newcomer Melanie Fiona.

In the top three categories, the Grammys largely rewarded only a handful of artists. Rockers Kings of Leon are a potential spoiler if the aforementioned trifecta of female artists split the vote, and veteran jam act the Dave Matthews Band snuck in at album of the year, besting such Grammy and critical favorites as U2 and Green Day.

Yet the true surprises lie beyond the mainstream grip of the major categories. Pop & Hiss explores some of them below.

The 2011 best new artist class just got a little bit thinner. With all the drama over Lady Gaga not being considered for a new artist trophy, one would think labels and artists would have learned their lesson.¬† Not so, because two of the prime candidates for a 2011 best new artist prize were found among the nominees. Rappers Drake and Kid Cudi will compete in the rap solo performance field next year, which will knock both out of contention for best new artist in 2011 (an artist with a previous Grammy nom cannot compete for best new artist in an upcoming year). With Grammy voters showing little designs on embracing new artists in album, record and song this year, the two may come to regret the move. Additionally, as noted earlier, potential R&B star Fiona scored a nom in best female R&B vocal performance for her slow-burning orchestral soul number “It Kills Me,” which will knock her out of the best new artist field in 2011.

A little short for an album, no? Soft rockers Death Cab for Cutie showed up in the best alternative album field with their release “The Open Door.” It’s their second consecutive nomination in the field; “Narrow Stairs” earned a nod in the category in 2009. The nomination for “Narrow Stairs” didn’t surprise anyone, because the act has consistently grown its fan base and critics responded positively to the album. But “The Open Door” is simply a five-track release, and one song doesn’t really count as new because it’s a demo from “Narrow Stairs.” So four previously unheard songs from Death Cab for Cutie warrants a best alternative album nomination over full-fledged releases from the likes of Jack White’s blues revivalists the Dead Weather, or Lily Allen’s coming-of-age pop effort “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” just to name two worthy contenders? Nothing against Death Cab, but Grammy voters seem to have went with brand loyalty here.

Perhaps you ‘real’ musicians can learn a thing or two from these comedians. Granted, best rap/sung collaboration isn’t the sexiest of categories, but there must be more valid choices than Andy Samberg’s comedy troupe The Lonely Island, which was nominated for its pairing with T-Pain “I’m On a Boat.” In fact, there are, as Pop & Hiss has taken a look at the ballots. Don’t get us wrong — we enjoy a good laugh, and Cartman singing “Poker Face” on “South Park” stands as one of our favorite music moments of the year. But there’s a time and place for everything. And how about Norah Jones playing give-and-take with Q-Tip on the groovy “Life Is Better” over a comedy tune?

Don’t call it a comeback. The Grammys love Whitney Houston. The diva even performed at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy gala in 2009, which for the first time ever was endorse by the Recording Academy. Houston has a record of the year win for “I Will Always Love You” in 1993, the same year the soundtrack to “The Bodyguard” took album of the year. Her first non-holiday album since 2002, “I Look to You,” was Whitney’s return to music after being a tabloid darling. Critics were largely positive, if a little lukewarm, but Houston certainly didn’t embarrass herself, and sales were strong. Since its late August release, the album has sold 818,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. Additionally, history shows Grammy voters love a comeback story (see Mariah Carey and “The Emancipation of Mimi,” which earned eight nominations for the 2006 awards). So what went wrong? Houston not getting an album of the year nod wasn’t unexpected — with Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Taylor Swift as the year’s biggest stars — but Houston was completely shut out of the R&B fields as well. Certainly the album’s Aug. 30 release didn’t help Houston, as the eligibility period ended Aug. 31. Additionally, voters surely picked up on the critics who said Houston’s return played it too safe, and though she ventured onto “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” her promotional window was relatively short. Votes were collected in early October. So even though Houston did give a triumphant performance at the recent American Music Awards, that came long after votes were tabulated, and Houston came up surprisingly short.

Did you know Hall & Oates put out a live album in 2008? If you were a Hall & Oates completist, you surely did. “Sara Smile,” a song originally found on the 1975 album¬† “Daryl Hall & John Oates,” made the cut for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals. Fine song, wrong year. Hall & Oates may have been unjustly ignored by the Grammys throughout their career, but rewarding live versions of old tunes detracts from the fresh music recorded over the last year.

–Todd Martens

source: los angeles times