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What To Love About The Boston Music Awards—And What To Hate

Griping about the Boston Music Awards has become so routine at this point that you can’t be expected to do so without first acknowledging it, and you may in fact find yourself griping about how everyone gripes. Yet there must have been something special about this year, because after the nominees were announced on Nov. 4, the BMA committee felt compelled to issue a statement on its Facebook page, which was later taken down. The main thrust of the rather flippant posting was that the BMAs do something far more important than shed a light on the Boston/New England music scene, and that is raise money for music-based charities.

It’s a good point, but one that I think willingly ignores the significance of the awards among the music-loving denizens of Boston. As a critical, rant-prone person myself, there was plenty in the list of BMA nominations to make me raise an eyebrow or shake my head. But there was also plenty to make me cheer. Below is a breakdown of those things. Put your own thoughts in the comments section, and don’t forget to vote for your favorite artists: online public voting closes at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, and is weighted 1/3 against the votes of an anonymous nominating and voting Academy. The event itself will be held at the Liberty Hotel in Boston on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m.

CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION

The Dominance of Bad Rabbits: The Boston-based post-funk/R&B/rock band is nominated for five BMAs, more than any other artist. 2013 was their breakthrough year, with appearances on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and at the Boston Calling Festival. Their first full-length album, “American Love,” was released in May to much buzz and critical acclaim. With stunning musicianship, an exuberant live presence, a distinctive sound, and a diverse lineage—three members are first-generation Americans with ties to India, Liberia, Ghana, Italy, and Argentina—Bad Rabbits are a band that Boston can be proud to call its own.

Women Are Both Legion and Badass: Not only are women well represented among the nominees, but they seem to defy stereotypes at every turn. Among the contenders are three all-female groups: neo-bluegrass outfit Della Mae with their song “This World Oft Can Be,” indie-punk New Artist nominees Potty Mouth, and international music ensemble Women of the World. More notable, perhaps, is the presence of women in rock n’ roll, a genre that is overwhelmingly constituted by skinny white guys with beards. Folk-punk rockers Kingsley Flood, 70’s blues-rock group Viva Viva, and indie-rock outfit Mean Creek, to name but a few, count women among their members (as well as lots of skinny white guys). Then, of course, there is the impressive array of frontwomen and female solo artists, among them Haitian-American rapper Dutch ReBelle, singer-songwriter and Newton native Aoife O’Donovan, piano virtuoso Moira lo Bianco, Medford-born DJ LeahV, and soul/rock/hip hop artist Shea Rose. The Boston music scene, it seems, is a good place to be a lady.

The High Level of Artistry: Most critics will identify some duds among the nominees, but the vast majority of BMA-nominated artists are worthy, and many are outstanding. My personal favorites include: wry indie-rockers You Won’t, hip hop act Moe Pope & Rain, smoky-voiced folksinger Aoife O’Donovan, witty soul/pop band Lake Street Dive, fingerpicking guitar prodigy Shun Ng, and effervescent electro-pop outfit Bearstronaut.

“My Dick:” “My Dick” is a joke band, as is, presumably, the nomination of their album “My Dick’s Double Full Length Release” for Album/EP of the Year. Jokes aside, a band that spoofs popular songs by replacing most of the words with “my dick” is something that I think we can all get vigorously behind.

CAUSE FOR LAMENTATION

The Nominations Reveal A Discomfiting Rock/Pop Bias: Mainstream music will always control the awarding of musical prizes, but the BMAs betray a myopic rock-and-pop-oriented view even in categories that should be free of such things. Sure, You Won’t probably sound folky to someone who only listens to Top 40, but anyone who has caught one of their live sets in the last year—namely at the Boston Calling Festival—would know that they are best described as a rock band. The same goes for artists nominated for jazz and international music awards, most notably Boston-based Singaporean Shun Ng, a blues fingerstyle guitarist and singer whose nomination for International Artist of the Year suggests both an ignorance of the purpose of such a category—it usually implies music of non-American origin—and that his Asian-ness somehow precludes his inclusion among the so-called blues or pop/R&B artists. Furthermore, all of the nominees for Best New Artist fall under the punk/garage/indie rock umbrella, there are no hip hop artists nominated for Artist, Album/EP, Song, or Live Artist of the Year, and the Live Artist of the Year and Best Live Ongoing Residency awards seem to be designated for guys who are too old to be deemed hip enough for the awards people actually pay attention to.

All this is to say that, by filling the fringe categories with mainstream artists or ones that sound exotic only to the untrained ear (or look exotic to the white-centric, youth-biased eye), the Boston Music Awards committee is depriving excellent musicians of merited recognition. Admittedly, the organization is aware of this problem, explaining on its website that, though the BMA “Academy” is made up of over 150 members who nominate and vote for winners, “We will continue to try to update and expand this list to ensure that it is truly representative of people who have their finger on the pulse of ALL music genres in Boston.” Were the BMA organizers to do this, the awards would undoubtedly showcase a more diverse and deserving set of local artists.

Too Many Nominees Do Not Call Boston Their Home: The BMA committee is well aware that not all the nominees are strictly Boston-based, and they explain the parameters for nomination on their website, as if to anticipate the inevitable griping: “Who is eligible for a Boston Music Award? A musician, producer or industry professional who has strong ties to New England. We define strong ties as someone who is a New England native or has lived here for a substantial period of time who has actively worked or is actively working here.” That sounds reasonable enough, but when you have a category entitled Best Boston Artist Who Doesn’t Live In Boston, it implies that the artists in every other category actually do live here, which is certainly not the case. Many of them have only tenuous ties to the city: Skaters who are nominated for Rock Artist of the Year, are extremely New York-centric, with an album called “Manhattan” and the URL skatersnyc.com; Deer Tick, nominated in the same category, have and always will be strongly identified with Providence, RI; and Rachael Price, the lead singer for Lake Street Dive and a nominee for Female Vocalist of the Year, has lived in Brooklyn for years.

Technically, all these artists meet the parameters for nomination, but it would behoove the BMA committee to interpret the rules more strictly (much as I would love to lay claim to Rachael Price, my favorite singer from my favorite band). Again, this would provide space for oft-overlooked artists; but more to the point, it would go a long way towards encouraging and strengthening the local music scene. The sad reality is that the music industry is structured in such a way that artists are practically forced to make a bid for the Big Apple at some point. Boston has never been and never will be New York City, but it provides a rich and dynamic environment in which musicians can cut their teeth. The BMAs only feed into our collective inferiority complex and weaken our sense of community by trying to claim artists that have long abandoned Boston for greener pastures and bigger ponds.

The Nomination of Famous People Despite the Fact That They Have Not Produced Anything of Note in the Last Year: Sure, Aerosmith, the Dropkick Murphys, and Amanda Palmer are popular and still call Boston home, but the last time I checked, you don’t get awarded simply for Continuing To Exist And Be Popular. Aerosmith is nominated for Live Artist of the Year, but they have something of an edge, what with all that money and access to huge arenas. The Dropkick Murphys started out as a novelty but at this point seem to have morphed into a kind of punk-Southie cliché. Meanwhile, Amanda Palmer has a loyal following and continues to garner attention for her artistic antics, but musically she seems to be in a bit of a rut. Shouldn’t we hold our celebrities to at least the same standards as everyone else?

“My Dick:” With so many artists deprived spots on the BMA ballot, it seems a shame to waste a nomination for Album/EP of the Year on a joke band. Especially when a non-dick-related artist could, paradoxically, better fill that hole.

This program aired on December 1, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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