The Grammys and MTV's Video Music Awards don't agree on much. The two music award shows have given their top award to same work just once, in 2005 when Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" won both a Grammy for Record of the Year and a VMA for Music Video of the Year.
The Grammys are voted on by music professionals who tend to be older and established in their careers. The VMA's are voted on by fans, who tend to be younger. Green Day's power ballad appealed to both constituencies. It's melodic and poignant, qualities that Grammy voters respond to, but at the same time has crunching power chords, which made it VMA-friendly.
Since the two award shows almost always disagree on their top award, I thought it would be fun to go back and compare their top choices in the 28 years since the VMA's originated. Which show "got it right" more often? Of course, this is just my opinion. I doubt anybody out there would agree with me in all 28 "showdowns." I hope you play along and make your own decisions about which show got it right more often.
You can vote strictly on which song you like better, or you can take other factors into account. I bet even some Grammy voters thought Don Henley's The Boys Of Summer" was a superior record to USA for Africa's "We Are The World," but they were swayed by the social import of the latter record (and maybe dazzled by the star power).
When I'm done, I'll tote up the results and tell you which show, in my opinion, got it right more often. You should do the same on your end.
Neither show has a monopoly on getting it right. I'm sure even top executives at the Recording Academy would acknowledge that some of the VMA choices are better than theirs. And I think top executives at MTV would make the same acknowledgment about some of the Grammy choices.
For the record (pun intended), the Grammy for Record of the Year recognizes a recording, while the VMA for Video of the Year acknowledges a video. If the VMA's had a Single of the Year category, the winner in some years would probably be different. In the showdowns, I focused on the recordings, not the videos.
Also the eligibility periods for the two shows are different. In some years, these winners went head-to-head in both competitions. In others, they fell into different eligibility years.
Let's scroll back through the years. In each case, I list the VMA winner first, followed by the Grammy winner. (I list them in that order because the VMA's are awarded first, usually in August, while the Grammys follow about six months later.)
1984: The Cars' "You Might Think" vs. Tina Turner's "What's Love Got To Do With It." The Cars' spunky song is evocative of the glory days of MTV. It will be a hit at your 1980s theme party. But Turner's song is timeless. It has never left our consciousness. Turner's song logged three weeks at #1. It's her biggest hit and provided the title of her 1993 bio-pic. The Cars' song reached #7. My pick: Tina Turner.
1985: Don Henley's "The Boys Of Summer" vs. USA for Africa's "We Are The World." "We Are The World" is heartfelt, but other humanitarian anthems (such as Michael Jackson's 1988 smash "Man In The Mirror") are better. Still, give Quincy Jones credit for pulling this extraordinary collection of talent together. Henley's song, about lost youth, is brilliant and timeless. It peaked at #5. "We Are The World" spent four weeks at #1. My pick: Don Henley.
1986: Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing" vs. Steve Winwood's "Higher Love." Both songs reached #1: "Money For Nothing" for three weeks, "Higher Love" for one. The witty "Money For Nothing" was Dire Straits' biggest hit. Mark Knopfler and Sting co-wrote the song. Sting also sings a back-up vocal. Chaka Khan contributes a back-up vocal to "Higher Love." My pick: Dire Straits.
1987: Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" vs. Paul Simon's "Graceland." "Sledgehammer" reached #1. The sexy, R&B-influenced song is Gabriel's biggest hit. It's not the last innuendo-laced song in this recap (see "Umbrella"). Simon's song, which featured backup vocals by the Everly Brothers, peaked at #81. It deserved better. My pick: Paul Simon.
1988: INXS' "Need You Tonight"/"Mediate" vs. Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy." Both of these songs reached #1: "Need You Tonight" for one week, "Don't Worry Be Happy" for two. These were the biggest hits for both acts. McFerrin's song, which was featured in the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, is his only Hot 100 entry. It's likable, but lightweight. Michael Hutchence's sexy vocal drove INXS' song. My pick: INXS.
1989: Neil Young's "This Note's For You" vs. Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." Midler's song, from the movie Beaches, went to #1. Young's song didn't crack the Hot 100. Midler's hit is schmaltzy, but she gives it warmth and humanity. Young's acerbic song loses a lot without the accompanying video, which skewers celebrities (such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston) who sign endorsement deals. My pick: Bette Midler.
1990: Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2U" vs. Phil Collins' "Another Day In Paradise." Both of these smashes topped the Hot 100 for four weeks and are the artists' biggest hits. O'Connor's stark rendition of Prince's song, first recorded in 1985 by The Family, is her only single to reach the top 40. Collins' poignant song about the plight of the homeless features a backing vocal by David Crosby. My pick: Phil Collins.
1991: R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" vs. Natalie Cole with Nat "King" Cole's "Unforgettable." These are both first-rate records. R.E.M.'s masterwork peaked at #4, becoming their biggest hit. Cole's silky hit reached #14. Her dad's vocals were dubbed in from a 1961 re-recording of the song, which he had originally cut in 1951. These records have little in common besides quality. My pick: Natalie Cole with Nat "King" Cole.
1992: Van Halen's "Right Now" vs. Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven." Clapton's song was a heartfelt tribute to his son Conor, who had fallen to his death in a tragic accident in 1991. Clapton co-wrote the song for the movie Rush. It logged four week at #2, becoming his highest-charting hit in nearly 20 years. Van Halen's song peaked at #55. It loses some of its punch without the clever video, in which dozens of thought-provoking, one-line messages pass by. My pick: Eric Clapton.
1993: Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" vs. Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." This is a showdown between a grunge classic and a blockbuster pop hit. "Jeremy" peaked at #79 on the Hot 100 (when it was re-released in 1995). Houston' smash logged 14 weeks at #1. David Foster produced Houston's power ballad remake of Dolly Parton's 1982 country tune. My pick: Whitney Houston.
1994: Aerosmith's "Cryin'" vs. Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do." Aerosmith has had more memorable songs, but this was Crow's peak achievement. Aerosmith's bluesy rock hit reached #12. Crow's witty and engaging song logged six weeks at #2. It was her first top 40 hit and it remains her biggest. "Hit it!" My pick: Sheryl Crow.
1995: TLC's "Waterfalls" vs. Seal's "Kiss From A Rose." This was a battle of #1 hits. TLC's song logged seven weeks on top. Seal's song had one week in the lead. TLC's moody song dealt with drugs and HIV/AIDS without seeming like a self-conscious message song. It merged pop, soul and hip-hop in a way that all but defined contemporary music. Seal's elegant, classically-shaded ballad was featured in the Val Kilmer movie Batman Forever. My pick: TLC.
1996: Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" vs. Eric Clapton's "Change The World." "Change The World" was featured in the John Travolta movie Phenomenon. Babyface produced the mellow ballad, which reached #5. "Tonight, Tonight" peaked at #36. It loses something without the video, which was inspired by director Georges Melies' 1902 silent movie A Trip To The Moon. My pick: Eric Clapton.
1997: Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" vs. Shawn Colvin's "Sunny Came Home." Jamiroquai's song, which blends elements of pop, jazz and blue-eyed soul, inexplicably didn't crack the Hot 100. Colvin's sing-songy folk song reached #7. (It was her only Hot 100 hit.) My pick: Jamiroquai.
1998: Madonna's "Ray Of Light" vs. Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From 'Titanic')." This is another show-down between the trendy and the timeless. Madonna's frenetic smash is an effective embrace of electronica. Dion's anthem is a stately power ballad. It takes a while to get going, but once it kicks in, it soars. "Ray Of Light" reached #5. "My Heart Will Go On" spent two weeks at #1. My pick: Celine Dion.
1999: Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" vs. Santana feat. Rob Thomas' "Smooth." This is another showdown of #1 hits. Hill's song, which blended old-school R&B and contemporary hip-hop values, debuted at #1. Santana's propulsive song, which merged Rob Thomas' pop vocal and Carlos Santana's rock guitar solo, racked up 12 weeks on top. My pick: Santana featuring Rob Thomas.
2000: Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" vs. U2's "Beautiful Day." Eminem took a shot at the Grammys, among other targets, in this song, which reached #4. It was his first top 10 hit. Dr. Dre produced the song, which was a showcase for Eminem's witty wordplay and brash style. U2's exhilarating song peaked at #21. I've always been baffled why it didn't climb higher. My pick: U2.
2001: Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink's "Lady Marmalade" vs. U2's "Walk On." "Lady Marmalade," a remake of LaBelle's 1975 classic, logged five weeks at #1. Missy Elliott co-produced the smash, which was recorded for the movie Moulin Rouge. U2's rock ballad "bubbled under" the Hot 100, peaking at #118. It was released before 9/11, but it gained resonance after that awful day. My pick: U2.
2002: Eminem's "Without Me" vs. Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why." Eminem's video marked the return of his Slim Shady character. "Without Me" logged five weeks at #2, becoming Eminem's biggest hit to that point. Jones' subtle and beguiling ballad peaked at #30. It was her first Hot 100 hit and remains her biggest. Arif Mardin co-produced the single, which blends pop and jazz. My pick: Norah Jones.
2003: Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott's "Work It" vs. Coldplay's "Clocks." Just as in 2000, this is a showdown between a rap smash and a pop/rock hit. Timbaland produced "Work It," which logged 10 weeks at #2. The funky, sexy smash is Elliott's biggest hit. The classy, piano-dominated "Clocks" peaked at #29. It was the band's first top 30 hit. My pick: Coldplay.
2004: OutKast's "Hey Ya!" vs. Ray Charles with Norah Jones' "Here We Go Again." As in 1991 (R.E.M. vs. Natalie Cole featuring Nat "King" Cole), this is a choice between a highly contemporary track and a remake of a decades-old song by a legend. Charles had a hit with "Here We Go Again" in 1967. Commercially, it was no contest. The exuberant "Hey Ya!" logged nine weeks at #1. The Charles/Jones collabo, which features an organ solo by Billy Preston, "bubbled under" the chart, peaking at #113. Charles sounds tired. He died of liver disease three months before his album was released. My pick: OutKast.
2005: Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" vs. Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams." This song logged five week at #2. It's the band's biggest hit. My pick: I've got to go with Green Day.
2006: Panic! At the Disco's "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" vs. Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready To Make Nice." Rick Rubin produced the Chicks' song, which effectively describes their feelings after the firestorm which followed Natalie Maines' harsh comments about President Bush. Panic!'s song is amusing and theatrical. The best line: "Haven't you people ever heard of closing a god-damn door?" Both songs reached the top 10 and are the artists' highest-charting hits. Panic!'s song reached #7. The Chicks' song initially peaked at #23, but re-entered the chart at #4 after it swept the Grammys. My pick: Panic! At The Disco.
2007: Rihanna feat. Jay-Z's "Umbrella" vs. Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." The sexy "Umbrella" logged seven weeks at #1. "Rehab" hit #9. It was Winehouse's only top 40 hit. The spunky tempo belies the serious subject matter. This was the second year in a row that the Grammy for Record of the Year went to an artist whose song represented a comment on the central issue in their life. My pick: Amy Winehouse.
2008: Britney Spears' "Piece Of Me" vs. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' "Please Read The Letter." "Piece Of Me," a witty account of Spears' life as a tabloid mainstay, hit #18. The song has a great opening line: "I'm Miss American Dream since I was 17." "Please Read The Letter," which Plant first recorded on a 1998 album with Jimmy Page, "bubbled under" the Hot 100, peaking at #120. T Bone Burnett produced the recording, which proved to be too spare (read: dull) for pop radio. My pick: Britney Spears.
2009: Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" vs. Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody." Beyonce's energetic song was a dance smash and an instant feminist anthem. The song logged four weeks at #1. King of Leon's vibrant rocker is in the same vein as pop/rock hits by such Grammy magnets as U2 and Coldplay. It peaked at #4 and is their only top 10 hit to date. My pick: Kings of Leon.
2010: Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" vs. Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now." Both songs reached #2: "Bad Romance" for seven weeks, "Need You Now" for two. It's Lady A's biggest hit. Gaga's song is richly theatrical; Lady A's song is tender and heartfelt. It blends country, pop and soft rock, all genres that Grammy voters have long embraced. No wonder it won. My pick: Lady Antebellum.
2011: Katy Perry's "Firework" vs. Adele's "Rolling In The Deep." For the record, Adele's song hasn't won Record of the Year yet. But do you really think anything else has a chance? "Firework" is a wonderfully positive and encouraging song, which builds to an exhilarating finish. Adele's classy song was a hit in a wide range of formats. Both of these songs topped the Hot 100: "Firework" for four weeks, "Rolling In The Deep" for seven. My pick: Katy Perry.
The Results: I favored the Grammy winner 18 times; the VMA winner nine times. (I didn't count Green Day, which won both awards.) Which show came out on top for you?