by Ryan Fine

As far as I’m concerned, the Grammys have been on thin ice for the past few years. I loved the boldness of giving the Album of the Year award to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs in 2011 (and the hilarious complaints that followed), but ever since then, they seem to have a consistent inability to make the right decisions. 1989 was a solid pop record, but did it really deserve to win over the near-absolute consensus pick for best album of that year? And Beck is great, but why was Morning Phase the point in his career when he finally won Album of the Year?

All things considered, the pool of nominations for this year’s awards are the best they’ve been in a long time. Even though the Grammys are trying really hard to make Record of the Year their top prize, most people still have their eyes on Album of the Year, and this year’s choices for the gold are stacked. Not only do I actually like every album nominated for the first time maybe ever, but this is the most diverse cast that the board will have voted on in ages. The list of Childish Gambino, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Lorde and Bruno Mars is the first AOTY group to include no white men for nearly two decades.

Looking at the broader “big four” general categories (Record, Song and Album of the Year + Best New Artist), the trend of diversity continues. It seems like the Grammys have finally taken heed of the #GrammysSoWhite tag and gave several nods to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito”, which is the first ever mainly Spanish-language song to be nominated for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year. And as a pleasant yet shocking bonus, Ed Sheeran is nowhere to be found in any of the big four categories.

What does this say about how the awards will actually play out this year? Well, it could go a couple different ways. It’s entirely possible that despite the increase in minority representation, the Album of the Year award will go to Lorde for Melodrama (it is a lovely album, after all). But Kendrick Lamar is in the running for the third time with the critically acclaimed DAMN., so it seems more likely that he will finally get his due. Really though, it would be entirely realistic for any of the contenders to win. The Grammy voters do love a throwback album, and both 24K Magic and “Awaken, My Love!” bring back the sound of the past very effectively. Meanwhile Jay-Z, who has won 21 Grammys in the past, is back with his best album in quite some time.

The genre categories also offer some surprises within themselves. The Best Pop Solo Performance award features a couple of big names who were expected to be nominated for the general awards, namely Ed Sheeran with “Shape of You” and Kesha with “Praying”. Possibly Lady Gaga too, depending on who you ask, but to be fair Joanne doesn’t have nearly the critical consensus behind it that her previous records did. The strangest category as usual is Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, which features several artists who are far past their prime and also Seth MacFarlane. The man behind Family Guy is up for a Grammy for the fifth time, which is five times too many.

There’s a lot of interesting genre choices further down the list as well. LCD Soundsystem’s “Tonite” and Gorillaz’s “Andromeda” are both nominated for Best Dance Recording, but their respective albums are up for the relatively distant Best Alternative Music Album. And isn’t it time to at least rename Best Rock Album as Best Rock/Metal Album? When there are two separate categories for Best Rock Performance and Best Metal Performance, it looks really odd to see Metallica – one of the founding fathers of thrash metal – in the running for Best Rock Album.

Also nominated in the Rock categories are a couple notables of the recently deceased, as is often the case at the Grammys. Leonard Cohen and Chris Cornell are both candidates for Best Rock Performance, even though Chris Cornell’s single “The Promise” has technically been around since the movie of the same name was released in September of last year. Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” certainly deserves its nomination, but it’s a little bit more surprising that his most recent album (widely regarded as his best in decades) isn’t up for Best Rock Album.

Ever since the surprise Album of the Year win for The Suburbs in 2011, the Grammys have been desperate to continue their adoration of Arcade Fire. Despite Everything Now being an absolute mess of an album, it’s still nominated for Best Alternative Music Album alongside Humanz, which is also considered by many to be the worst Gorillaz album to date. Even LCD Soundsystem, who has had a couple of nominations in past years, is probably on the list mostly due to their highly unexpected reunion rather than the genuine quality of their album.

So even in the better-than-average nomination lineup, there are a few duds in the mix as always. But more surprising are a couple of notable exclusions from the list. For instance, the beautifully hilarious and poignant self-directed “Boys” video by Charli XCX is my personal choice for music video of the year, but despite its popularity, it is notably absent from the Best Music Video category.

But the biggest snub of the year comes in the form of the legendary hip-hop group: A Tribe Called Quest. They came back at the tail end of 2016 with one of their best albums ever, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. It was the last recorded release from the late former member Phife Dawg, and “We the People” was actually the closing act at last year’s Grammys ceremony. There was absolutely no reason for them not to be nominated across the board in the Rap categories, but they weren’t even mentioned, and Q-Tip is rightfully livid about it.

So did the Grammys do enough this year to shake the criticism they’ve received in the past few years about their ability to pinpoint the musical zeitgeist? Maybe not, but it’s still looking a lot better than it has been. It doesn’t seem like the Recording Industry Association of America’s ceremony is going to be losing its colloquial status as the be-all, end-all of musical award shows, so at this point, it seems like we need to take whatever we can get.


Sources: NME, Album of the Year, The New York Times, Byte, YouTube, Billboard

Images: Twitter, YouTube, BET

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