The industry liked Eminem's sales numbers, alright, but it didn't care much for his style, and so kept him at arm's length when passing out its biggest year-end prizes at the Grammy Awards.
Those days appear to be ending. Eminem is poised to finally win the one major award that has eluded him in a career that has produced more than 80 million album sales: The Grammy for album of the year.
The 53rd annual Grammy Awards on
If Eminem walks off with a boatload of Grammys, consider it a thank you from an industry desperate for a shot of vitality. While album sales fell 9.5 percent in 2010, continuing a decade-long decline, "Recovery" trended upward. It racked up more than 3.4 million sales, nearly a half-million more than any other full-length release last year. It didn't hurt that "Recovery" showcased a more introspective — if emotionally frayed — Eminem than ever before. A huge single, with Rihanna singing an inescapable hook on "Love the Way You Lie," allowed Eminem to dominate the old-fashioned way: by creating a ubiquitous commercial-radio hit that transcended formats.
In that respect, he defines an old-school music
industry pro, the type of star who benefits from the distribution and
marketing muscle of a major multinational corporation (Eminem's
Interscope label is a subsidiary of the
Unfortunately, all this has very little to do with
Eminem as a still-vital creative force. No one should mistake
"Recovery" for the rapper's best work. In the past, the pitbull MC born
"Recovery" has few of those qualities. It presents him as a more thoughtful and humble artist than ever before, one acceptable enough for grown-ups. He even owns up to his mistakes — the type of "maturity" that the Grammys often reward. But the album lacks inventive production, brims with apologies for past lousy albums, and makes countless dated cultural references and jokes. Outside of a few singles, it lacks the depth that defines a classic.
The Grammys have spent most of the last half-century playing a waiting game. Rather than embracing artists as they shake up the mainstream, they hold off till they've been fully assimilated. Such acceptance all too often coincides with comfort or compromise, attributes that have come to define "artistic excellence" at the Grammys.
Eminem knows the game first-hand. He was the album-of-the-year favorite in 2001, only to have his "
Afterward, Steely Dan's
Now it appears to be Eminem's turn to join the
parade of formidable artists who won Grammys for less-than-stellar
His victory seems assured because his competition doesn't fit the usual parameters of the Grammys' most prestigious prize:
What's lacking in that group? The kind of long-in-the-tooth career artist that the Grammys usually like to anoint when the pop upstarts who have been nominated aren't quite cutting it. Remarkably, this year it's Eminem who is playing the role of elder statesman at age 38, the maverick star who won 11 previous Grammys but never took home the big prize.
An Eminem win would be a fitting year-end capstone for an industry struggling to remain relevant. Even pariahs who hang around long enough selling records become acceptable, especially in an industry that can no longer afford to be choosy about which best-sellers to wrap its withered arms around.
(c) 2011, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.