The Grammy Awards nominations, announced Friday night, traditionally incite rounds of cheers, gasps and grumbles. That really loud noise you hear is Kanye West's head exploding.
The volatile rapper's Yeezus, a highly acclaimed and challenging work that sold less than previous efforts, inexplicably didn't make the best album cut. He would have squared off against deserving but less ambitious albums by nominees Daft Punk, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Kendrick Lamar. Now, that's a heated contest.
Voters also gave a slot to statuette hoarder Taylor Swift for the entertaining but less adventurous Red. No surprise there. The shocker? Sara Bareilles fills the fifth position withThe Blessed Unrest, a benign effort that drew tepid reviews from Rolling Stone ("groomed for rom-com soundtracks") and The New York Times ("all shoulder-drooping heft, and her musical choices are vexing").
In a year crowded with exciting new talent, massive mainstream hits and bold, engaging albums, Grammy voters managed to reach for the middle.
West, with 21 Grammys on his shelf, has yet to win the top album prize, though he clearly outranks the rap pack in creative audacity. He does get two nods, for best rap album and rap song (New Slaves), which his past rants suggest won't be much consolation - especially since Jay Z's less impressive Magna Carta Holy Grail and various collaborations generated a pack-leading nine nominations.
Even the uneven Magna Carta would have been a better choice than Bareilles.
Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, while no Yeezus artistically, is more deserving and was considered a shoo-in here. His shut-out is perplexing, given Grammy's tendency to reward big sellers: 20/20 has sold 2.4 million copies to date, more than any other release this year; Unrest has sold 204,000.
Timberlake also failed to land in best record or song, locking him out of the marquee categories. (Shed no tears for our pop superhero: He has seven shots elsewhere.)
That was no misstep. Voters wisely chose such standouts as Daft Punk's feisty breakthrough Get Lucky and Imagine Dragons' rock gem Radioactive (in record) and Pink's mighty Just Give Me a Reason and Katy Perry's empowering Roar (in song). Even the most tuned-out Grammy voter couldn't help tripping over the huge crop of worthy songs sprouting from top 40 charts this year.
New Zealand sensation Lorde gets record and song nods for brilliant debut single Royals, yet is a no-show in the new artist roundup, where she was expected to be a tough competitor. That opened the door for this year's dark horse, intriguing U.K. electronica artist James Blake. Florida Georgia Line, thought to have a chance at record and song (for hit Cruise) and new artist, was overlooked entirely. So were sister group Haim, rapper Earl Sweatshirt and pop singer Ariana Grande.
No sense blaming the Grammy process for every shortfall, considering the sheer number of qualified entries. This isn't kiddie soccer. Not everyone makes the team and goes home with a trophy.
On the other hand, shouldn't a hip-hop Pelé like Kanye West finally get his due?