Monday, January 30, 2012

2011 Grammy Guide: Best Pop Solo Performance

As the 54th Annual Grammy Awards approach, Vertigo Shtick will be taking a look at the nominees for some of the 78 statuettes that will be awarded at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 12, 2012. Check back daily for previews of the pop, dance, r&b, rap, and general awards, as well as some of the more interesting standalone categories, and wow (or annoy) everyone at your viewing party with your dazzling Grammy knowledge!

Best Pop Solo Performance

This category replaces three different awards given in previous years: Best Female Pop Vocal, Male Pop Vocal, and Pop Instrumental Performance. The award is given to and based on the performance of the lead artist, not on songwriting, production or mixing. (Info)
Adele - "Someone Like You" (from 21)
There's no question Adele is one of the heavyweight champs in this year's pack of Grammy contenders, so her inclusion in this newly slimmed down category comes as no surprise. Although "Rolling In the Deep" earned nods in the two major general categories for individual tracks, Record of the Year and Song of the Year, it's most likely that Adele's camp submitted "Someone Like You" in this category instead, in order to spread the wealth (and the likelihood of a win). The second single from 21 is the closer of the blockbuster album "Rolling In the Deep" opens, and it was nearly as big a hit as its predecessor, reaching the top of the Hot 100, reigning for five non-consecutive frames. It's more of a showcase for Adele as a performer than "Rolling In the Deep," which is more of a team effort between the singer and producer Paul Epworth.

Lady Gaga - "Yoü and I" (from Born This Way)
Though "The Edge of Glory" was widely thought to be a prime contender before nominations were announced, as it happens Lady Gaga's camp didn't even submit the track for single/track award consideration, instead sending the underperformer "Judas" and "Yoü and I," hence the usual Grammy darling's paltry 2012 tally (three nominations). "Yoü and I," an Elton John-meets-Shania Twain piano ballad the singer has called her favorite of all songs she's written, only made the cut in this category, which is too bad because it's the highlight of the second half of Gaga's sprawling, ambitious sophomore album. Thanks to an unexpected collaboration with producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, in a brilliant pastiche of himself (good old Gaga, the Postmodernist), and the singer's uncharacteristically impassioned delivery (plus the reputation-saving avaunt-garde music video), this structurally simple song turned out to be a small pop gem.

Bruno Mars - "Grenade" (from Doo-Wops and Hooligans)
This sophomoric ballad by the pretty boy tenor pop star of the moment may have been a big hit, hitting the peak of the Hot 100 for four non-consecutive weeks, but the fact is, this is pretty fluffy stuff, a formula standard factory pop song. But this category is about the performance, and there's no denying that Bruno Mars manages to sell the youthful naivete of the tune. His emotive sincerity is just the right vehicle to deliver the hyperbolic proclamations and melodrama of young love/obsession and win over the middle and high school girls who drive so much of the pop market. Every generation needs a Romeo.

Katy Perry - "Firework" (from Teenage Dream)
There are several performances on Katy Perry's hit factory Teenage Dream alone that frankly outshine this third #1 single, a Stargate-produced dance tune also nominated for Record of the Year. It's primarily your standard "It Gets Better" anthem as was in fashion around late 2010, albeit one of the best in its class. It benefits from Perry's skillful songwriting, of course, with its unique blend of detail and simplicity ("Do you ever feel like a plastic bag/drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?"). But its main strength has always been Perry's obvious personal passion for the song, which elevates her performance despite its punishing musicality that does her no favors as a vocalist. It's not a masterpiece, but boy is it a damn good showstopper.

Pink - "Fuckin' Perfect" (from Greatest Hits...So Far!!!)
Two years ago, Pink gamely attended a ceremony despite having been all but snubbed that year despite her excellent Funhouse, got up, grabbed a mike, strapped herself to a cable, and performed the shit out of a little-known ballad in such an aggressively awesome way that nobody would ever forget how much they'd fucked things up by overlooking her. Now it appears they're making it up to her, as the singer, who's been absent most of the year popping out a kid and so forth, closes out this truncated field with a nod for her own empowerment anthem, the companion piece to 2011 nominee "Raise Your Glass" off her first singles compilation album. It's a testament to Pink that even her unremarkable performance, which "Fuckin' Perfect" surely is, is still Grammy-caliber stuff. It's at the bottom of this heavy-hitting heap, but least she's getting nominated again.

Vertigo Shtick's Pick: Though "Someone Like You" perhaps strikes me as what I feel I "should" pick, my vote would be with Gaga in this race. "You and I" is a great song, single, record, and performance. Its excellence isn't as showy and obvious as Adele's emotional freight train, yet it's the most raw, real, gutsy performance Lady Gaga has given to date.

Prediction: "Someone Like You" would be the easy bet, unless Perry's supporters decide this is the best chance for her to finally win a Grammy for her record-smashing album, which got an Album of the Year nod in 2011.

These tracks and many others nominated for the 2012 Grammy Awards can be found on Vertigo Shtick's Spotify playlist "2011 Grammy Nominees (Songs - Overall, Pop, R&B, Dance, Rap, Remix)" Subscribe now and you'll be able to listen to all of the nominated singles we'll be covering here over the next two weeks!
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