The Grammys are in for a huge change when the 54th edition takes place in 2012. That's because the Recording Academy, which oversees the Grammys, announced Wednesday it is cutting the number of Grammy categories from 109 to 78.
The decision will certainly impact the country music field because what had been seven awards now will be four. Gone will be Best Female and Male Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Collaboration With Vocals and Best Country Instrumental Performance.
Instead, the new categories will be Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
Remaining will be Best Country Song and Best Country Album.
What this means is that female and male country singers will be thrown into the fray against each other. Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, for example, will have more competition than each other. Now, they must face the likes of Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, George Strait and Kenny Chesney.
I am pretty sure that the record company folks are not going to be happy about this because there is little doubt that this will affect the bottom line - negatively. Any time an artist is nominated for an award, the sales numbers go up. Obviously, with half as many performers being nominated, that means less sales.
From a musical standpoint, I'm not so sure it's a bad thing. I'm not convinced it's a good thing either. There's a part of me that really likes the idea of limiting the pot and letting the chips fall where they may. It'd be interesting at some level to see if voters think Lambert or whoever is better than let's say Strait. This is not the be all and end all either folks, as I've said for years. It's great to win. Who wouldn't want to take home the trophy, but it doesn't mean the music is good...or bad.
Will it have any impact on the quality of music? Hardly. I can't see any reason why it should.
The Best Country Collaboration With Vocals seemed like a limited category to me with not all that many songs eligible. One song that did particularly well this year, Zac Brown Band's As She's Walking Away with Alan Jackson, may have had a collaboration, but it sure felt like ZBB's song to me with a bit of AJ aboard.
Even more esoteric was the Best Country Instrumental Performance. There were so few songs that could even be nominated in this category. I always liked the fact that Marty Stuart and Brad Paisley were good for an instrumental or two on an album, but this underscores the fact that there aren't that many stellar musicians who also are band leaders out there.
Americana music supporters must be thrilled because the Best Americana Album remained intact as did the Best Bluegrass Album. Some considered the Americana category iffy anyway.
This sure is a big change. Recording Academy President/CEO told Billboard: " "Every year there are changes but we've never ... stopped and stepped back to look at the whole thing...is there an underlying infrastructure and rationale across all the awards as to how we're doing this? And what we found is, there wasn't."
"So we said, 'All right, let's deal with the holy grail here. Let's sit down and talk about what might be a vision or an overview structure of this that gives us some consistency.'"
One has to agree with Portnow at least in part. He has taken steps to address problems. The rules changed in other ways - for the better. Each category requires at least 40 artist entries. If a category receives between 25 and 39, only 3 recordings will receive nominations. If there are fewer than 25 submissions, the category will not be presented. The category will be discontinued if there are fewer than 25 entries for 3 consecutive years. One suspects that the country instrumental and collaboration categories would have gone by the wayside anyway under the new rules.
The Grammys can't please everyone. Nor should it. Instead, the awards show ought to stand for something. Perhaps with these changes - even though it will not necessarily help country music - will.