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Read This: Why Best Rock Performance is a slippery Grammy category

Alabama Shakes accept the Best Rock Performance award for “Don't Wanna Fight” at the 2016 Grammys. (Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS)

Most Grammy categories are pretty straightforward: Best Spoken Word Album, Best Rap Song, Best New Artist. But those lines get a bit blurred when it comes to Best Rock Performance. This year, for example, includes likely winner David Bowie for “Blackstar,” Beyoncé and Jack White for “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots, and “two for live TV broadcasts of songs whose eligibility, in their original versions, had already expired”: Disturbed’s version of “The Sound Of Silence,” “Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)” from Alabama Shakes. The New York Times takes a look at the category today in a piece titled “How Best Rock Performance Became One Of The Grammys’ Weirdest Races.”

Historically, the Times points out, the category has featured some well-deserved trophies, like Bob Seger’s “Against The Wind” and U2, a seven-time winner. Sometimes Imagine Dragons bests Led Zeppelin, which happened a few years ago. But unlike the Song Of The Year category, which is based on songwriting, Best Rock Performance lacks that kind of structure. The original versions of the Disturbed and Alabama Shakes songs had already been released; then Disturbed appeared on Conan with a 15-piece orchestra, while last year’s winner Alabama Shakes performed their track on the PBS series Austin City Limits, both within the limits of this year’s Grammy timetable. The article quotes Grammy voter David Gorman, who says these nominations “seem like desperate attempts to get in on a technicality, which I guess is the new normal.”


The inclusion of Beyoncé in the category also raised some eyebrows this year, as “an academy staff person flagged it for discussion.” Seventy members of the “Rock Sorting Committee” (which sounds like a fun committee) sat down and listened to the song. “We played it for the group,” said Bill Freimuth, senior vice president for awards at the Recording Academy. But “there wasn’t all that much discussion. Everybody said, ‘That’s a rock song.’”

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