When the Grammy committee announced the 2013 nominees for Best Dance Recording, there were the usual suspects who churned out massive commercial club-bangers: Avicii’s “Levels,” which was not only my pick for the most overplayed club song of 2012, but licensed in car and cruise commercials. Also nominated were Calvin Harris’ “Let’s Go,” “Bangarang” by three-time Grammy winner Skrillex, and “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia. Rounding out the category? Al Walser with “I Can’t Live Without You.”
If your first reaction was, “Who???” you’d be in the majority.
When nominations were announced, I feared some gem of a producer had somehow escaped my radar. But after a Google search the day the nominations were announced, the song’s video popped up with only 30 or so total views. Not 30,000. Just 30. Pressing “play” assaulted my ears with a poorly produced cacophony that made me cringe. Add horrible vocals, lame-ass lyrics, a video that looks as if they paid $20 to stand in front of a green screen at a mall kiosk and Walser awkwardly grooving around with a keytar (side note: There is only one EDM producer who can pull off using a keytar, and that’s France’s Joachim Garraud).
So, how did a virtual unknown get nominated with one of the worst, cheesiest piece-of-crap songs I’ve ever heard? Similar WTF moments have happened before. Remember when flute-toting folkies Jethro Tull beat out Metallica for the Hard Rock/Metal Grammy in 1988? To get insight into the minds of the folks behind the Grammys (that’d be the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), one must learn more about the process. For perspective, I chatted with a multi-Grammy nominee/academy member who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Sure, art is subjective, but this shit-song Grammy nod (mocked on the Internet as “Walsergate”) had to be a mistake, right? Frighteningly, it wasn’t. When you peer into the nomination process, you discover that Walser’s song was eligible. Walser earned enough credits to join the academy through his membership in the mid-’90s German euro-dance group Fun Factory. And his song earned enough votes to be nominated. Sure, he essentially spammed other members via Grammy365.com, asking them to nominate his track, but that was within the rules. And sure, he hobnobbed with the “right folks” as exemplified by a plethora of “look at me with important people” pictures online. (Go to AlWalser.com/photos.html to see him with apparent uber-fan Hillary Clinton.) But that’s within the rules, too.
“The end result how Mr. Walser made it was that he’s eligible and he got the votes,” says my insider contact. “They’re not going to pull a nominee unless there’s been actual proof of foul play—tampering or something like that.” (Apparently, using German producer Zedd’s stems from a remix contest to craft Walser’s song isn’t “foul play.”) It looks like some academy members need to brush up on what’s deemed good/bad in certain genres, or just opt out of voting in particular categories.
America is just gonna have to live with Walser’s nomination. Frighteningly, it could win, particularly if votes are split between the other nominees. I’m told the day after the announcement, a pop-up appeared on Grammy365.com, allowing members to opt-out of direct messages, i.e., Walser’s solicitation method.
Is there anything us non-academy members can do besides bitch? Musicians, producers and engineers don’t need to be famous to become a voting member (as exemplified by Walser), just have six-to-12 commercially released songs (details are on Grammy365.com). Ineligible music-industry folks can become associate members. There are even memberships for college students.
There is one bright side of sorts: The Best Dance Recording category usually isn’t televised.