Going for the Black and Gold
BY Jason Lamphier
January 05 2009 1:00 AM ET
The recording academy unveiled its nominations for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in December -- and for the first time in years, certain nods seemed refreshingly relevant. Yes, critical darlings like M.I.A., Adele, Radiohead, and Kanye West made the list, but it’s an out-of-the-blue nomination in the Best Dance Recording category that’s particularly striking. Among the batch of formidable contenders -- which includes Rihanna, Madonna, Daft Punk, Hot Chip, and breakout pop star Lady Gaga -- is a flashy, Sydney-born gay singer-songwriter who is relatively unknown in the United States: 26-year-old Sam Sparro, who scored a nomination for his propulsive electro-funk single “Black and Gold.”
“I was out shopping with friends when I got a text from my label congratulating me on the nomination,” recalls Sparro from his Los Angeles home, where he is taking a brief break from touring. “I was like, ‘What nomination?’ It wasn’t something I was considering because there hasn’t been a lot of support for the song in mainstream media. I didn’t expect people in the Academy to even be aware of it.”
Evoking Prince’s flamboyant sensuality and the druggy euphoria of Goldfrapp’s Supernature, Sparro’s slightly distorted cool-kid vocals sail over shimmering synths. The centerpiece of his self-titled debut (released in June 2008), “Black and Gold” should have been last summer’s answer to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Yet aside from limited airplay on indie and college radio and some chatter online, the single went practically unnoticed in America, bubbling under the radar for months before it made a cameo on a September episode of Dancing With the Stars. Only then did MTV’s Buzzworthy blog and RollingStone.com begin gushing over Sparro.
The single had a considerably different fate outside the United States. Soon after its 2007 release on an EP of the same name, it surfaced on BBC Radio 1, which ultimately led to massive success for “Black and Gold” overseas. The song hit the top 10 charts in Ireland, Australia, and Denmark, and bolted to number 2 on the U.K. singles chart. Before he knew it, the former child actor (and onetime West Hollywood go-go boy) became an international dance-floor phenom. He began touring exhaustively, performed with Mark Ronson, and received five ARIA Award nominations (the Australian equivalent of the Grammy Awards). Both Adele and Katy Perry played acoustic live covers of “Black and Gold,” and Lindsay Lohan soon phoned Sparro, expressing interest in collaborating.