If music be the food of love, then the Grammy Award-winners for Song of the Year be the icing on the cake. From Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” the titles are legendary and the artists immortalized. On Sunday night, music lovers will see this list expand by one. Even for those not yet versed in the contents of the upcoming contest, the titles will likely be familiar: Ed Sheeran, “The A Team.” Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Fun., “We Are Young.” Miguel, “Adorn.” And the one name that may just ring most familiar of all: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe.”
Among any negative opinions regarding the nominees, Carly Rae’s bubblegum-pop single might just be the most intolerable of all. How is the greater music community supposed to take this nomination? Do nonsensical lyrics and a teenybopper appeal belong on the same level as its celebrated predecessors?
“Call Me Maybe” was – and is – popular. It was all over the radio. It was played at high-school proms, in summer-camp dining halls, and as the background for college YouTube hits. It is recognizable from the first synth. It is a sing-along song to the degree our generation hasn’t heard since Backstreet Boys. You might not like it, but you know all the words to it, and there have probably been days when you weren’t sorry about it.
But from a musical standpoint, not a radio-ready one, “Call Me Maybe” simply doesn’t compare. The Grammys, per the Academy’s own words, are meant to honor “overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.” Songs of the Year have been groundbreaking, if not record-breaking. Of course there are notable exceptions; winners of the Grammys, as of any major award, tend to be contentious. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to put “Call Me Maybe” in the same league as tracks like Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” or Luther Vandross’s “Dance with my Father” – because there is something in those songs that transcends their chart number. There is craftsmanship and character. There is something of power, of remembrance. There is more than a catchy chorus and a remix-ready back beat. If lyrics like “before you came into my life I missed you so bad” are now the hallmark of excellence, then this power of music has undergone a serious shift from days gone by.
Just because a song is perpetually on the radio does not make it unworthy of acknowledgment (exhibit A: almost every other nominee this year), and certainly not every Song of the Year recipient has been indicative of music’s crème de la crème. But if “Call Me Maybe” wins Song of the Year for 2012, it may well represent a potent blow to the music world’s integrity. Let’s just throw a wish in a well and hope that Sunday night brings us any other winner than this.