The Grammys are finally upon us. Looking for a quick refresh on some of the bigger awards during the biggest award night of music? Navigate your way through the big night and all subsequent office conversations afterward, through the filter of our professed extreme bias.
What’s are the Grammys? Another damn award show; though this one for music. It’s widely seen as the music award of all music awards. In spite of the fact that it is completely voted on by music industry insiders (who have every incentive to vote up their own labels, producers, and artists for the publicity). Now let's meet some of the nominees!
Album Of The Year
25 is Adele’s long-delayed and anticipated follow up to her runaway smash hit, 21. Despite the fact that she had every reason to not want to record a new album, and professed wanting to go out on top, she didn’t let a pesky thing like being happily married, raising a child, or finding the kind of happiness that most of us will only ever dream of, stop her from writing another album’s worth of depressing heartache ballads.
The sheer pop culture juggernaut Queen Bey has become since the end of Destiny's Child is simply impossible to understate. Who else can tease a new album by releasing a trailer that looks like a mini movie? Then go on to reveal that it’s a teaser trailer for the movie for the album! What is Lemonade? A modern day The Wall? An eclectic, multi-genre spanning album? A raw tell-all account, publicly calling out her husband Jay-Z for cheating on her? A ground-breaking visual experience? Completely critic proof? The answer is all of the above.
Last year Justin Bieber successfully managed to pull off the best kind of redemption tour with Purpose; one that required changing exactly zero about his personality or learning any kind of lesson about not being a public tool. Bieber is still very much attached to every awful stereotype about self-absorbed millennials he’s always been. But with Purpose, he managed to prove that none of that really matters as long as he can write slightly better songs. Bieber taps into the R&B influences he borrowed from Usher and cobbles together an admittedly solid record of ear-pleasing club banagers and catchy singles.
Let it not be said that Drake is one sensitive guy at the end of the day. Was anyone really surprised that Drake would get way into his feelings again when it came time to record a new album in 2016? All joking aside, it’s commonly accepted these days that when you get a Drake album to expect all the things you’ve come to love, the incredible flow and ground-breaking production work, intersected with all those things you’ve come to merely tolerate. Views continues that trend of finding Drake at his rawest and a little-too-realest, with the added on criticism that he seems to be peaking artistically.
This is the refreshing and out-of-the-box nominee. Every Grammy category is good for one, and Album of the Year is no exception. He’s not going to win. Sturgill Simpson has the kiss of death of going up against far more widely known artists. Not to mention the fact the last country album to win Album of the Year was Taylor Swift. All of this is a shame because A Sailor's Guide to Earth is an album that forces you to check all your preconceived notions of popular country music at the door. It’s an absolutely beautiful, mournful masterpiece of raw pain, backed by some incredibly songwriting and arrangements. It’s only Simpson's third album and on his first major label.
Who’s Probably Going To Win?
Lemonade by a wide margin, unless the wrath of the Beyhive gets invoked. Plus Beyonce is performing at the Grammy’s post her announcement that she’s pregnant with twins. Oh yeah, she’s winning this award or it’ll be one of the bigger snubs in Grammy history.
Who Should Win?
I’d honestly agree with Lemonade being the winner, with a close second place going to Sailor’s Guide to Earth. The anarchist in me though will always wonder at the Grammy drama that could have been had they had the stones to nominate Beyonce and Kanye West in the same category.
Song Of The Year
Beyonce - “Formation”
“Formation” was originally just released as a single to build hype both for Beyonce’s upcoming album Lemonade and for her Super Bowl performance. What couldn't have been expected was Beyonce having to battle controversy for a few weeks for being accused of having an anti-cop message, buried in her pro-black and pro-woman stance. Considering the crazy year 2016 ended up being, the discussion of institutionalized racism and police brutality being brought to the forefront, it’s not too much of a stretch to call “Formation” the unintentional anthem of the year.
Adele - “Hello”
“Hello” is a perfectly good haunting song, that kicked-off the wait for Adele's comeback album. The only drawbacks are that one, it sounds earlier like a song that’s been thrown together from the parts of 21 that were left on the cutting room floor and two, there are no less than 35 plus songs that are called “Hello," or begin with the first lyrics as “hello."
I know right? That guy who wrote “Cooler Than Me” way back in 2010 and hasn’t had a hit since, not only broke his way back into the top ten charts with a new song but he managed to even get it nominated for song of the year. Mike Posner owes everything to the Norwegian EDM duo, Seeb, for getting this song as popular as it did in 2016. All kidding aside, while Posner’s star has very much trended downward since the last time he had a hit, there is something to be said about his painfully honest lyrics in “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” that acknowledge just that.
Justin Bieber - “Love Yourself”
Hello, “boring sounding white guy backed by faux-sounding guitar” song of the year. Justin Bieber managed to get everyone talking about his comeback album with this tune, and get it nominated for song of the year. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why.
Lukas Graham - “7 Years”
Lukas Graham are a pop/soul group that have been active since 2011. They also are a band you can be forgiven for not knowing existed until this year. Being from Denmark, they had not had a chart-topping U.S single until 2015. “7 Years” is the worst kind of song in that it masquerades itself as a seemingly deep ballad about the passage of time before you realize it’s just a song about a guy bragging about himself for four minutes. Did I mention that the band’s frontman is also named Lukas Graham?
Who’s Probably Going To Win?
“Love Yourself” is the exact kind of safe garbage that the Grammy voters love and tends to win this spot. But knowing my luck it could also just as easily be “7 Years.”
Who Should Win?
“Formation” managed to spark a much-needed conversation about race in America, while also being a danceable tune. If any songs better sum up the chaos of 2016, it’s this one.
Best New Artist
If Kelsea Ballerini’s wants to get one thing across on debut The First Time, it’s that she fully intends to occupy that throne of the country/pop princess that Taylor Swift abdicated years ago, and rule it with an iron fist. Ballerini gets the nod for at least actually being from the south.
Chance The Rapper
How the Chicago native Chance the Rapper can be given the tag “New Artist” when he is three albums into his career, is beyond me. But any year he gets some much-deserved exposure is a good one. The underground music scene fell in love with his 2013 album, Acid Rap, for his ability to blend blues, soul and gospel, with some spitfire flow. However, it was his 2016 album Coloring Book that captured mainstream America's attention. In terms of rappers to watch in 2017, Chance the Rapper tops that list.
Do you like you country music artists with a touch of croon to their vocals? Maren Morris is likely the best of both worlds for the coming year. She’s new to the major label scene, having only just inked her first major label deal (Columbia Nashville) but is already making headway with a self-titled debut album that went Gold, and an admittedly catchy single in “My Church," that channels one of her influences, Shania Twain.
That popular trend of DJ’s being top 40 musicians, despite that fact that they are only there because they borrow the vocal talents of an already established artist doesn't see to be going away anytime soon. The Chainsmokers offer that same “annoyingly loud, overproduced sound” schtick that got David Guetta tracks popular, only this time with indie vocalists. They are also responsible for the song “#Selfie," which can and should be held against them.
Anderson Paak deserves a lot more love than being thrown the “best new Artist” bone, especially when he’s five albums into his music career. His 2016 album, Malibu, is what’s garnering him the nomination, thanks to the single “Come Down” (fet. T.I). But to boil him down to a one-off, hit maker is doing him a disservice. The multi-talented Californian raps, sings, plays the drums, produces, and has recently been signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment label.
Who's Probably Going To Win?
Smart money is on the Chainsmokers. Sure, their producing is anything but memorable and caters to the lowest common denominator of what’s been defining pop music the last few years, but damn if they aren’t catchy.
Who Should Win?
Chance the Rapper all day, every day by a landslide. “New” artist he is not, but if a win gets more people listening to the Coloring Book then I’m all for it.
Best Rock Album
Blink 182 - California
After all of the feel good energy that was in the air upon a Blink reunion, the burying of the hatchet, and a mostly all-right comeback album in Neighborhoods (2011), everything seemed to be ahead of the band. Then former-frontman Tom Delonge started remembering that maybe he didn’t want to be in the same band he was in high school and singing the same songs he wrote at 16, then decided to bail on the band again. Luckily, bass player/”What’s My Age Again?” singer Mark Hoppus, and drummer Travis Barker, decided they had no such problems chasing youth and the nostalgia dollar and snagged a new guitarist in Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. They went right to work ion hammering out an album in under a month. Blink-182 have either found a way to mentally go back in time, or have managed to steal from their own children’s diary entries shamelessly. California, for better or worse, plays like vintage Blink-182.
Cage The Elephant - Tell Me I’m Pretty
Cage the Elephant have come a long way from that punk-esque bar band with the bluesy influences. 2013’s Melophobia, and their most recent album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, find the band trying and succeeding at finding their own voice beyond just aping the Pixies and The Stooges. Admittedly it’s one that involves a lot less shouting; while dropping their more overt punk leanings for a more psychedelic-inspired, depressed sounds. But weirdly enough, Cage The Elephant are that kind of band that sound more creative, the less fun it sounds like they’re having.
Gojira - Magma
The Grammy’s do not have a Best Metal Album. Metal you see isn’t exactly the most marketable of music genres, so a metal nominee is often just shoved into the Best Rock Album category, and treated like the ugly kid at the party that you begrudgingly invite because your mom made you. Like when Black Sabbath's over-the-hill 13, was the last time a metal album got nominated for a Grammy the same year a little band called Deafheven released the groundbreaking record Sunbather.) That’s exactly why French death-metal outfit Gojira is being nominated for with their sixth studio album Magma. Odds of them winning are laughably small. But these guys still manage to win out by getting some much-deserved exposure on the big stage. Magma absolutely challenges anyone who has the notion that all metal music is just the same dumb gimmicks repeated with its mature arrangements and beautiful atmospheric sound.
Panic! At The Disco - Death Of A Bachelor
Panic! At The Disco may be down literally all the of their past members, except frontman Brendon Urie. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything of significance that has changed. In fact, the band actually sounds a lot better when it just becomes Urie’s Vegas band of assorted musicians and he's calling all the creative shots.
Weezer - Weezer (The White Album)
It actually felt like Weezer was on something of a comeback swing of late. 2014’s Everything Will Be All Right In The End was such a pleasant surprise after sitting through close to a decade of Weezer trying their hardest to make you forget why you ever liked this band in the first place. As it turns out, a great way to win back any fan base after treading water creatively is to play the long game of intentionally trying something new. This way you don’t have to try too hard to drudge up the past for a “new” album that wraps everything up in a nice bow of critic-proof nostalgia. Weezer's 2016 follow-up, proves all they have left is critic-proof nostalgia, sans the “critic proof." Did you love “Buddy Holly?" How about eight more songs that sound like but aren’t as good as “Buddy Holly?"
Who’s Probably Going To Win?
Weezer gets the edge here for being a nostalgia act, but also for being a nostalgia act that’s at least not quite as pathetic as Blink-182.
Who Should Win?
Gojira wasn't afraid to try something new with their sound, and it came together to sound like a innovated, mature album. Failing that, Death Of A Bachelor is anything but mature, but at least Brendon Urie’s having a good time tapping into his inner Vegas showman.
Rap Album Of The Year
Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
I doted on Chance the Rapper enough back up there in “Best New Artist." Coloring Book is such a ridiculously feel-good kind of mix tape with its heavy soul and gospel influences. It’s simultaneously the best kind of record to either chill with or go-to church too.
De La Soul - And The Anonymous Nobody
Here’s an interesting little tidbit. The funds for this album were raised by a Kickstarter in under ten hours. Not too surprising when you consider the legacy De La Soul have in hip-hop and how eager anyone should be to hear a brand new album from the classic hip-hop trio. That’s right up until you realize maybe most of the money went into paying way too many featured artists on the album. The single “Pain” featuring Snoop Dogg, might be the best sign of what could have been with this album. As it stands, the rest of the album comes across as this incredibly chaotic collaboration that rarely gives De La Soul the chance to really sound like vintage De La Soul. But hey, they managed to get Usher and David Byrne (Talking Heads) on the same album, so there’s the novelty of that.
DJ Khaled - Major Key
DJ Khaled doesn’t rap. He doesn't produce most of his own beats. He doesn’t write lyrics. He doesn't sing. But because he can shout his name loud enough, seems easy to work, and has the likes of Nas, Drake, Jay-Z, Future, Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Busta Rhymes, and Nicki Minaj on speed dial. Here he is up for a Grammy. DJ Khaled lives a privileged life is what I’m trying to say.
Drake - Views
Did you know that this is only his fourth album? Yet somehow it still feels like a little too much Drake too fast? Views is a perfectly okay album to play at the party when you’re afraid of offending anyone's sensibilities and kinda like the sound of Drake’s voice. But also it's nice if you like to have the option to tune him out at your leisure.
ScHoolboy Q - Blank Face LP
In the renaissance of the West Coast rap scene, hip-hop collective Black Hippy, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and ScHoolboy Q lead the way with groundbreaking, hard-hitting MC’s. But poor ScHoolboy Q has never had the media love or success that Black Hippy’s own Kendrick Lamar has gotten. What he lacks in the social-consciousness, more heady musings of Lamar, he makes up for in spitting some of the rawest, in-your-face fire. Think less Tupac and a lot more Easy-E. That’s not to say Schoolboy Q doesn’t have anything interesting to say. It’s just that he’s a little more willing to be a social nihilism with some truly bleak descriptions of hopeless neighborhoods and appeal to his ID of guns, drugs, women than K.Dot.
Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo
It’s officially impossible to talk about Kanye West the artist because he constantly gets out-shined by Kanye West the person. This makes trying to tackle his music rather difficult these days. For instance, the argument can be made The Life Of Pablo sounds like an unfocused mess because Kanye West is trying making a statement about the state of the music industry. Others could argue that The Life Of Pablo doesn’t flow well together, in order to force the listener to challenge their expectations; like the expectation that a Kanye West album would totally justify the $10 a month for that Tidal subscription. There’s a lot of ways to attack this is what I’m trying to say.
Who’s Probably Going To Win?
Chance the Rapper actually stands a pretty good chance of winning this with Coloring Book, and maybe even making it out of the parking lot with his award before running into Kanye West.
Who Should Win?
Chance the Rapper.