ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. The winners of the 52nd Grammy Awards will be announced on Sunday. The very idea of an old-style awards ceremony, where a select group of industry insiders picks the winners, flies in the face of such popular shows as "American Idol," where viewers help crown the next superstar.
Joel Rose reports on the Grammy's fight to be relevant.
JOEL ROSE: The Grammy Awards do make some nods in the direction of audience participation. This year, you can vote for which song Bon Jovi should play during the show on Sunday night. Here's my vote.
(Soundbite of song, "Livin' On A Prayer")
BON JOVI (Rock Band): (Singing) Oh, we're halfway there. Oh, livin' on a prayer.
ROSE: The slogan of this year's Grammy marketing campaign is "We're All Fans." The matching Web site includes something called a FanBuzz Visualizer, which turns fan posts and tweets into images of your favorite superstars. This newfound interest in social media doesn't surprise Slate pop critic Jonah Weiner.
Mr.�JONAH WEINER (Pop Critic, Slate.com): You can't be giving out awards and not have the success of a show like "American Idol" in mind and all its attendant buzzwords like, you know, democratization and crowd-sourcing. Those words sell.
So if they're trying to sort of apply them topically to the awards, well, that makes sense. Whether or not it's changing the process of how an award gets in a musician's hands, it doesn't seem like it is.
Mr.�NEIL PORTNOW (President, Recording Academy): The voting by peers is at the heart of what makes the Grammy what it is.
ROSE: Neil Portnow is president of the Recording Academy, which produces the annual Grammy telecast. Portnow says he's all for audience participation, just not when it comes to handing out actual Grammys.
Mr.�PORTNOW: When you think about a Grammy Award, it's a peer award. It's given based on a voting membership that qualifies in order to vote. So when somebody receives a Grammy, they look upon that as sort of the ultimate compliment. It's the pinnacle of awards, and that all really emanates from the process.
ROSE: In theory, the Grammys are supposed to recognize what's good, not just what's popular. But several factors conspire against the awards. The voting members musicians, record producers, engineers and executives tend to be older than the average pop-music fan. And there are more than 100 different categories of Grammys. Because the voters may not know a lot of the nominees, they seem to rely on name recognition or nostalgia when casting their votes. Slate's Jonah Weiner says that can lead to some head-scratching decisions.
Mr.�WEINER: What the Grammys sort of promises is that there will be that sort of expert opinion. I think in practice, they sort of lose some of that sense of authority because their nominations historically reflect this mixture of popular opinion and weird, left-field choices that make the Academy seem out of touch.
(Soundbite of music)
ROSE: In 2001, for instance, the Academy bypassed Radiohead, Eminem and Beck to give Album of the Year to Steely Dan.
(Soundbite of song, Gaslighting Abbie)
STEELY DAN (Group): (Singing) Lovin' all the beautiful work we've done, cara mia, its barely July. If we keep on boppin' until Labor Day, Li'l Miss Abbie, bye-bye.
ROSE: When it comes to being in touch, the Grammys are also hamstrung by the eligibility rules. To qualify for the January awards, an album has to come out before Labor Day of the year before. That pretty much excludes a lot of the high-profile records, labels schedule for release before the holidays. So they turn up at the Grammys more than a year later. Still, Los Angeles Times pop critic Ann Powers says most pop fans don't seem too upset.
Ms.�ANN POWERS (Pop Critic, Los Angeles Times): What's being shut out is the music elites, you know, the critics, the tastemakers, the hipsters who don't see themselves reflected at the top of that ticket. Those are the people who've always been alienated by the Grammys and continue to be. But I think for the average music fan, they're seeing what they like.
ROSE: Powers says that over the last few years, the Grammys have done a better job of reflecting the tastes of mainstream pop consumers. This year, for instance, the top categories are dominated by a trio of pop divas: Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Lady Gaga.
(Soundbite of song, Poker Face)
Ms. LADY GAGA (Singer): (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, Ill get him hot, show him what I got. Cant read my, cant read my, no, he cant read my poker face. Shes got to love nobody. Cant read my, cant read my, no, he cant read my poker face...
ROSE: For this year, anyway, Ann Powers says the Grammys are recognizing music that's both popular and interesting. And she thinks the awards really aren't that different from "American Idol." The Grammys employ a secret committee to pick the nominees in the top four categories; on "American Idol," producers make their choices before the show goes on the air.
Ms.�POWERS: "American Idol" offers basically the illusion of democracy. The singers the fans get to vote on in a show like Idol, you know, go through a heavy pre-selection process. I think Idol has created this illusion of fan involvement. It's real fan involvement in a very narrow sphere.
ROSE: We may all be fans, but that doesn't mean our votes really count.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.