NOT TO NAME drop, but this October I found myself in Los Angeles, and the Grammy Museum. While the museum was undoubtedly excellent fun, and I’d recommend it anyone who enjoys music, one thing in particular stuck with me. Emblazoned on the wall next to the display of ‘Album of the year winners’ was the institutions description of the prize. It stated that the winners were chosen because of pure merit and the decision was in no way effected my appeal or sales.
Let me tell you dear readers the only thing I heard that was more bullshit than that statement was when I watched a Donald Trump rally.
If they Grammys definitely aren’t based on sales, why then did we see The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift all nominated for Album of the year in a year that also gave us It’s Blitz!, xx and Merriweather Post Pavilion? As Anthony Fantano recently put it, The Grammys ‘in one way or another is always a disappointment every year’. I was curious to see if this would be the case in the 2016 nominations, so I trawled through some of the biggest and most well known categories to see how the ceremony was shaping up.
Let’s kick it off with the big one; Album of the Year. Slightly better than my aforementioned 2010 example, this year has a couple of decent albums. Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album To Pimp A Butterfly is nominated, and, despite being a fascinating critique on modern America, it will still probably lose to Taylor Swift’s 1989. While 1989 is an actual good album, it will almost certainly top the competition because, let’s face it, it sells. Aside from these two we also have The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness, a very disappointing release, and Country artist Chris Stapleton(?) and his album Traveller, which has seemingly just appeared out of nowhere. Finally we have Alabama Shakes and their album Sound & Colour; while I wasn’t a fan of this as such, it’d be nice to see them win, just for the left field choice.
We then come to the Best New Artist category, its pigswill once again. Indie snore-fest James Bay is featured probably because he was in one of those Apple Music adverts. Token Country artist Sam Hunt is also featured, as well as her-from-American-Idol Tori Kelly, both of whom are very Grammy- choices. Then we have Meghan Trainor. Meghan-fuckin’-Trainor. I despair, I really do. The one redeeming quality is having Courtney Barnett nominated, but I wouldn’t pin your hopes on her winning. In the past we’ve seen Sam Smith beat Haim, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar, and Fun beat Frank Ocean.
Ok, it’s not all bad news. Let’s take the Best Dance/Electronic Album category. Caribou, Disclosure, The Chemical Brothers, Skrillex and Diplo; even if some of these albums weren’t great, they were still enjoyable. And then of course we have Jamie XX, who should, without a shadow of doubt, win this award. Best Rap album has some great names too, With Dre, Drake, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj and, of course, Kendrick all making the shortlist. It will be anything short of a tragedy if Kendrick doesn’t win, however, I’d grudgingly accept Drake or Dr. Dre. Even the Alternative category has some redeeming names, such as Bjork, Tame Impala, Wilco and Alabama Shakes. All very mainstream, but all decent albums.
Unfortunately, going back to the more popular awards, we return back to a boring selection as exciting as the colour beige. It’s nice to see Florence and the Machine get a shout out in the Pop Vocal categories, but the rest is very tame. I’m even surprised Mark Ronson fit into that category, but then again, genre’s isn’t the Grammy’s strongest suite. I mean, these guys have put Alabama Shakes into the rock performance category and the alternative album category. They’ve stuck Florence in the rock song category and pop vocal album category, and we haven’t even got to the clincher yet.
The Best Rock Album category is a mess. We have, and I’m not joking: James Bay, Muse, Highly Suspect, Death Cab For Cutie and Slipknot all nominated for the same award. I mean, without even mentioning the quality of some of these albums, this is just all over the place. How can you be so obtuse as to class James Bay and Slipknot as just rock?! In what universe do they fit together? There are loads of actual ‘rock’ albums that have been overlooked here; Wolf Alice, Viet Cong, Ought, Foals, Courtney Barnett, Blur, SLEATER-KINNEY! This, in a category sums up everything wrong with the Grammy’s.
Finally, let’s talk about the two important awards; Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Thankfully, there’s nothing too horrendous here, but, like most of these awards, it’s so drab. D’Angelo makes a nice appearance in Record of the Year, but the award is more likely to be snapped up by The Weeknd or Taylor Swift, or even ‘Uptown Funk’, which seems to have done pretty well so far. Record of the Year is a similar story, but it would be really nice to see Kendrick’s ‘Alright’ to get some recognition, but it’s the only notable song on the list. Ed Sheeran shouldn’t be anywhere near this category.
So maybe the 2016 Grammy’s are not quite as diabolical as I thought. Some categories, such as Rap, Alternative and Dance music include some good work, but shun some of the less mainstream albums. The main awards are, unsurprisingly, total radio-fodder however, and almost entirely focus on what’s popular and in right now. The Grammy museum in LA may boast that their selections are based on merit, but in 2016 the 58th ceremony will take place, and I’m still failing to see any proof of that. Yes, all music is subjective, but perhaps it’s time the Grammy’s took listened to the critics, as opposed to their wallets.
Click here for a full list of nominations.