Sometimes the Recording Academy gets it right. Sometimes the Recording Academy gets it wrong. (Way wrong.) And sometimes the recording Academy comes across as shilling for the man.
Same as it ever was, then.
The 58th Annual Grammy Awards, which will be aired live on CBS on Feb. 15, announced this year’s nominations on Monday, and in so doing, simultaneously celebrated the diversity of the contemporary music scene, and missed the opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the more vibrant artists, young and old, making music today.
It’s rare for the “big story” behind the Grammys to be a story worth telling – more often than not, what we get is hype, and the honoring of an artist based purely on his or ability to move product – but this year, the buzz is one worth embracing.
With 11 nominations, groundbreaking Hip-Hop artist Kendrick Lamar is poised to walk away with more Gramophone trophies than he can carry this year. This is a good thing, for Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” is that rarest of rare species – an album that is incredibly challenging, musically sophisticated, full of timely social and political discourse, and somehow still a major commercial success. If Lamar takes the Album of the Year prize, the Academy gets to have its cake and eat it too, showing some spine by honoring a controversial recording, and also giving the nod to a commercial sales powerhouse.
For the most part, that’s where this year’s Grammys stop being interesting, because Taylor Swift follows Lamar with seven nominations for “1989,” possibly the most over-hyped collection of well-produced musical mediocrity to come down the pike over the past 10 years. Producer Max Martin – the guy everyone with a massive budget calls when they want a pop hit – has his mitts in everything from Swift’s to Adele’s latest, and he is up for six nominations this year, including the coveted Song of the Year trophy, a songwriter’s award that Martin might claim for his work on Swift’s “Blank Space.”
Other major players in this year’s Grammy field include, yawn, Drake and the Weeknd, with five and six nominations respectively. And yes, the Academy found a way to include Meghan Trainor for the second year running – nominated for both record of the Year and Song of the Year last time around, this year Trainor finds herself in the Best New Artist sweepstakes. Go figure.
Not everything in this year’s list of nominees summons the inner cynic of the seasoned music lover, however. Some of the races are stacked with serious horses. Here are a few of them.
Album of the year: With Alabama Shakes, Lamar, country newcomer Chris Stapleton, Swift and the Weeknd duking it out, there’s much to celebrate. But c’mon, Academy – Swift and the Weeknd in, and D’Angelo’s stellar “Black Messiah” out in the cold? For shame.
Of the artists on this list, Lamar deserves to be the winner.
Record of the year: D’Angelo makes it here, in the singles category, where he will do battle with Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” Ed Sheerhan’s snoozer “Thinking Out Loud,” and youy guessed it, Swift (“Blank Space”) and the Weeknd (“I Can’t Feel My Face”). D’Angelo should win, but he will probably lose to Swift, which will be unjust, or Ronson/Mars, which will hurt far less.
Song of the Year: Lamar’s “Alright” is up against Swift’s “Blank Space,” Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” and Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”. If there’s any justice, Lamar will take the trophy home.
Best New Artist: Courtney Barnett, James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly and Trainor fill this ticket. The Academy should’ve passed over Trainor, who makes fun but wholly disposable pop trifles, in favor of newcomer Leon Bridges, who is simply oozing with soul and creativity, and whose “Coming Home” is certainly one of the year’s finest R&B-based releases.