We're dividing these up into four posts, one for each category. For each post, Mark will have a mirror post on his blog. Read mine, then read his. Then read mine again.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Sappiest Nominee: Okay, I believe special mention needs to be paid to the fact that All-4-One were nominated back-to-back in 1995 and 1996 for the one-is-even-worse-than-the-other duo of "I Swear" and "I Can Love You Like That." Holy shit. I thought I'd forgotten those songs. No such luck. Additionally, I'm giving a pass to Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take the Wheel," both because she's made it up to me with the last couple years and also because I was able to wring so much recap- and blog-fodder out of that awesome title.
No, the crown goes to "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics (1990), which tried to mine the subject of father-son regret for every dry eyeball that Harry Chapin left behind. It was so bad that my grammar-school music teacher made us sing it at an assembly. THAT'S how you know a song is sappy. [Mark says: "I Hope You Dance" (2004)]
Least Appropriate Winner: Runners-up: "A Whole New World" in 1994, which didn't exactly beat out a murderer's row, but which toppled Neil Young ("Harvest Moon") and Jim Steinman ("I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)"), both of which I would have vastly preferred. Also John Mayer's "Daughters" (2005), maybe my most hated of all the winners of the past couple decades. The fact that it kept Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" from winning is its only mitigating factor.
No, I'm giving this to 2004 winner "Dance With My Father," by Luther Vandross (and co-written by Richard Marx!). Not only because it was overly sentimental pap, and not only because as a "sorry you're dead/dying" handout it beat out the superior Warren Zevon, but because it kept Eminem from picking up the one trophy (for "Lose Yourself") he'd ever deserved on pure merit. How does the man who wrote "There's vomit on his sweater already/Mom's spaghetti" NOT end up at the podium to accept a songwriting award? [Mark says: "Unforgettable" (1992)]
Most Obviously Engineered Nominee: It took all five members of Train to write "Drops of Jupiter" (I wonder how many it took to write "She checks out Mozart while she does tae-bo"!). It took ten (TEN!) people to write Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together." But because I'm feeling sentimental, I'm giving this to Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" (2001), which I'm pretty sure was written by every member of Destiny's Child, past, present, and future.
Best Example of Actually Good Songwriting: A couple of great ones from the early '90s: In 1992, REM was nominated for the obsessive semi-masterpiece "Losing My Religion." Naturally, it lost to "Unforgettable" (written in 1951). In 1991, they nominated Sinead O'Connor's heartbreaking total-masterpiece "Nothing Compares 2 U" (written by Prince). Naturally, it lost to Bette Midler's "From a Distance." [Mark says: "Nothing Compares 2 U"]
Best Field: Here's how you know how rare it is for this category to put together five completely defendable nominees in a given year: It hasn't happened in at least 20 years. The closest it's come: 2008, which had the very good "Rehab," the great-but-probably-not-because-of-the-songwriting "Umbrella," the good-but-probably-a-guilty-pleasure "Before He Cheats," Corrine Bailey Rae's perfectly adequate "Like a Star," ... and "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's (WHAMMY!). And 1993, when Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," k.d. lang's "Constant Craving" (both excellently written songs), the theme song from "Beauty and the Beast," and Vanessa Williams's "Saved the Best for Last" (both totally egregious but enjoyable songs) were forever sullied by their association with Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy Breaky Heart."
No, the actual Best Field is this year's, with strong entries from Estelle ("American Boy"), Adele ("Chasing Pavements"), Jason Mraz ("I'm Yours"), and Coldplay ("Viva La Vida"). And if Sara Bareilles is your thing (she's not mine, but I know many fine people who really like her), then her "Love Song" makes it 5/5. Kudos, 2009. [Mark says: 2007]
Worst Field: All due lack of credit to the aforementioned 1994, but let's refuse to give it up for 2000's lineup, where the classic "I Want It That Way" (not kidding) and the perfectly adequate "Unpretty" by TLC were diminished by association with Santana's "Smooth," Shania Twain's "You've Got a Way," and Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca." [Mark says: 1990]
Worst U2 Nomination: "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" (2006). As is often the case among the least defensible U2 nominations, they won. [Mark says: "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"]