There will be no EDM spacemen on the Grammy red carpet this year, but here's an even bigger surprise: This year sports a varied and credible slate of dance and electronic music nominees.
Previous Grammys have had an uncertain relationship with dance music. Sometimes they shovel awards at newcomers like Skrillex in an attempt to seem relevant to young crowds. At others, they mangle their good intentions, like 2012's clumsy "Tribute to EDM," which shoehorned David Guetta, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Foo Fighters and Deadmau5 into one grab-bag performance.
Sometimes, like the unknown Al Walser's nomination-via-palace-intrigue, they prove that many Grammy voters still struggle to understand the category.
Not this year, though.
The nominees in the year's two major dance-music categories -- best dance recording and best dance/electronic album -- are unexpectedly savvy and reasonable. There's a mix of big-festival crossovers (Deadmau5, Mat Zo), ambitious populists (Duke Dumont, Robyn and Royksopp, Disclosure) and a few genuinely progressive acts (Aphex Twin, Zhu) that will pleasantly surprise the most Grammy-skeptical club music fan.
And just as importantly, there are no groan-worthy surprises. The acts on both lists show that this year's Grammy voters have paid at least cursory attention to the ways dance music and pop are interacting today.
The previously Grammy-nominated Dumont has taken his '90s-house sound beyond the club circuit and onto pop radio. The same goes for Disclosure's bouncy, soulful Mary J. Blige collaboration "F for You" and Clean Bandit's YouTube breakout "Rather Be," which revived vintage sounds for new audiences that are moving past the merciless 130-bpm thump of EDM. The pristine Nordic electronica of Robyn and Royksopp's "Do It Again" was a high point for both acts, and proved that the dance-pop pipeline runs both directions.
Aphex Twin's "Syro," a comeback LP more than a decade in the making, dominated the electronic-music conversation this year despite being one of the genre's most challenging records. It's easy to see why Grammy voters might have lauded it, but it's worth remembering how dense "Syro" was as an LP. Zhu's spooky and minimal "Faded" became one of the year's breakout tracks despite the cryptic anonymity surrounding its creator.
Now that the initial wave of EDM is tapering off in America, the novelty has worn off and Grammy voters will have to do more legwork in assessing its most influential artists. Hopefully this year signals a new seriousness from the Grammys about dance music, and acts that not only boil over into the pop realm but who achieve success on the genre's own terms.
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