When the latest GRAMMY nominations were announced this week, dance music fans, artists and pundits alike scratched their collective heads at the inclusion of one Al Walser alongside much more recognizable names such as Deadmau5, Skrillex and Calvin Harris in the category of Best Dance Recording.
While more mainstream onlookers might have just mistaken the name for an emerging new artist landing a monumental break, even the most diehard fans of electronic dance music (more commonly known these days as EDM) were left wondering who exactly was Al Walser, and how in the world did he end up with a GRAMMY nomination?
It was enough to send longtime dance music scribe Phillip Sherburne to investigate the matter for SPIN, and what he discovered was only the tip of this year’s most fascinating GRAMMY controversy.
Walser, a native of the small European country Liechtenstein, has an extensive history in the music industry, including a stint in ‘90s dance act Fun Factory, as well as a record label (Cut The Bull Entertainment), connections to President Obama and the Jackson family, and even an instructional book entitled Musicians Make it Big: An Insider Reveals the Secret Path to Break in Today’s Music Industry, which promises to show readers how to “use secret industry loopholes that will have masses of new fans discover you” and “use secret tools to rise above the Youtube noise.”
Walser’s nominated song, “I Can’t Live Without You,” is a rhythmic pop track featuring a female vocalist and a decidedly low-budget music video highlighted by a classic car and the non-ironic use of a “keytar,” a keyboard that’s worn like a guitar and prevalent in countless ‘80s music videos.
While the quality of the song is subjective, it still left many wondering how this relatively unknown artist was able to snag a coveted GRAMMY nomination next to such heavyweights as Skrillex. Cries of conspiracy soon followed, with a litany of theories on how exactly he was able to pull off what some have called a highly elaborate hoax.
“If they say that, they will hear from my attorney. Because that’s just ridiculous. Are you kidding me? That is a very, very, very deep accusation, and people need to be very careful when they say that,” Walser said to Vice about the fallout regarding his nominated song, which was submitted just nine days ahead of the 2013 GRAMMY deadline of September 30th. “We will not hesitate a second to really aggressively pursue that. In fact, if I get to see or hear or read that somebody is calling it a hoax, they’re in trouble because that’s absolutely garbage.”
Huffington Post writer Daniel Weisman maps out his own theory regarding Walser’s surprising nomination, alleging that the producer (who is a voting member of the GRAMMY board) pulled a page from his own book and essentially spammed his way to a nomination by taking advantage of GRAMMY voters who might not be very well-versed in dance music as more traditional genres.
“I’m going to have to start with the fact that the Grammys consist of people who are half-time musicians, and sometimes have a day job. These are people, maybe in their 40s, who are not too familiar with EDM music,” Walser himself admitted to Vice. “I just have very close relationships…I met all these people—my fans—and I have email newsletters that let them be part of the process. I send these newsletters out to thousands of people, some of whom are also maybe voting members. So they become a part of the song, and I nourish that environment.”
While the controversy around his nomination continues to rage, Walser is reaping the benefits of the notoriety, with Youtube views of the “I Can’t Live Without You” video jumping from under 5000 to nearly 110,000 virtually overnight.
Ultimately, Walser seems unfazed by the criticism, preferring to agree with KISS bassist Gene Simmons’ infamous claim that any and all press is good press, as long as they spell your name right.
“Look wherever there is sun, there is shade,” Walser said to MTV about the uproar. “On a nomination like that, what it does is it multiplies everything. It multiplies the ones that are skeptic. It makes them become loud. And it multiplies the ones who were always rooting for you.”
–Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local