Ever heard of electronic dance artist Al Walser, who was nominated Wednesday for a 2013 Grammy in the Best Dance Recording category alongside much more recognizable names like Skrillex and Calvin Harris?
It's OK if you haven't. We hadn't either. The electronic dance community itself--a tightly fraternal group of artists who are well familiar with their own--was confused by the nod for his song "I Can't Live Without You," an effort that's not quite Rebecca Black-level terrible, but pretty close in terms of, well, not exactly making the professional grade. Check for yourselves:
Media outlets ranging from underground music blogs to industry standards such as Billboard--as well as plain ol' music fans--have been hashing out Walser's nomination, with commentary ranging from indignant ("[An] awful song by some random dude") to amused ("Hey guys, I'm so glad Al Walser is FINALLY being noticed for his TREMENDOUS dance track!").
Those who weren't outraged by the out-of-nowhere nod were likely just indifferent: The tune is not only subpar, it was virtually unknown before this week. Prior to the Grammy nomination announcement, the equally amateur YouTube video for the clip had received a mere 20 hits. (The number has since grown to more than 100,000 and counting.)
So, the question begs: How did a basically unknown performer squeak his way in with the A-listers of the genre? Unsurprisingly, insider talk is pointing fingers at foul play, suggesting that the Los Angeles-based Walser used a beefy list of Grammy-related connections to secure his place in the category.
Walser, who got his start in the '90s as a member of a European pop group, now has his fingers in various music-industry endeavors--including heading up an independent label, a publishing company, and a weekly dance-music radio show. He also claims to be a Grammy voting member on his Twitter account.
That alone doesn't mean much, but Walser admits he networks extensively with other Grammy voters--leading some to suggest he leaned on this popularity of sorts in this matter.
Dance music site House.net hopped on the story early, leveling "connection claims" at Walser as part of an investigation into the mystery. While noting that he does not appear on the official Grammy Academy rosters--and therefore is suspect as an actual "Grammy Voting Member"--the site points out Walser's history of behind-the-scenes industry work and social media activity with fellow Grammy voters.
Walser himself responded to these allegations in various interviews this week. He reaffirmed to MTV that he is indeed a legitimate Grammy voter, as well as a longtime member of the dance community. "I've been in this game for decades...I traveled the world as a DJ, as a singer, as a songwriter, as a producer. Believe me, I've worn all hats."
He also noted that while he was humbled by the nomination, and claimed it as a win for independent artists, he worked legitimately hard over the years to create a name for himself. As he noted to alternative publication the L.A. Weekly, "The people who vote for the Grammy nominees are mostly in their 40s and have other jobs or are musicians themselves. They like music that they can relate to--they like commercial music.
"I have worked hard to nourish my relationships with everyone I have come into contact with. There are a lot of events that are held, and I have met a lot a lot of voting members that way."
Walser pointed out that there are thousands of Grammy voters that are familiar with his name and probably banked on that familiarity when it came time to vote on nominations. "I'm not connected to all of them, but they can grasp me. They know Al Walser," he told MTV, adding that there's no way he could have "tricked" the system. "That's just outrageous."
He additionally made the valid point that a dance artist needs far less votes to be nominated than an artist in a main category, such as Best New Artist. All fine and well--and certainly a good lesson about networking for independent artists--but is this really enough to nail a chance to win the music industry's highest annual honor?
Fans of electronic dance music don't seem to think so, but some are pointing fingers at the Grammy institution instead of Walser. "Al Walser, as far as we can tell, is certainly not the outrageous fraudster that he has been made out to be," stated dance site Dubstep.net. "Rather, the ire of the public should instead be directed straight at the source of the problem: the out-dated, uninformed, and tragicly [sic] under-qualified voters of the Grammy Academy."
Ultimately, we'll leave it to you: Listen to "I Can't Live Without You" and let us know if you think it holds up to fellow noms Avicii, Calvin Harris, Skrillex, and Swedish House Mafia.
We don't think so, either.
Check out videos from backstage at the Grammy Nominees announcement: