It’s time to get excited about an industry congratulating itself again! The Grammys will take place February 12, 2017, with nominations announced this morning. We already knew who wouldn’t be nominated: Frank Ocean, who withheld Blonde and Endless from consideration in protest of a “dated” awards system. Now that the list of nods is actually here, some of it seems as foreordained as the lack of Ocean—specifically, Beyoncé and Adele dominating the Song, Record, and Album of the Year categories.
While Chance and Anderson .Paak scoring Best New Artist nods is heartening to see, the nominations are disappointing on the whole, considering how incredible 2016 has been for music overall. Last year’s noms brought sighs of hey-these-are-actually-kinda-decent relief; nominations in top categories for folks like Kendrick Lamar, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, the Alabama Shakes, and Radiohead throughout recent years have been encouraging, in terms of quality control. And yet as the year lurches to a close, we can look forward to approaching Valentine’s Day serenaded by the Chainsmokers. Here, let’s attempt to turn Grammy lemons into, hmm, Lemonade?
Let’s Talk About Bey vs. Adele
Both are certified Grammy darlings—Beyoncé has taken home 20 Grammys (both solo and with Destiny’s Child) and is nominated for nine this year, Adele has taken home 10 (in a considerably shorter career) and is nominated here for five—so watching them face off over Song, Record, and Album of the Year will be interesting. Lemonade may be a more ambitious record than 25, but that often works against nominees in the Album of the Year category—it was only after multiple-time AOTY nominee Beck made the chillest, most conventional album of his career that he won the award in 2015 when Beyoncé’s self-titled really deserved it. Maybe Lemonade will be the one that forces the Grammys to finally recognize Bey as a great album-maker, seeing as Adele has already won AOTY for 21.
As far as Record and Song of the Year, it’s also Beyoncé and Adele’s categories to lose. Can you imagine how out-of-touch (not to mention, you know, tone-deaf) a listener you’d have to be to consider “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” a better, more important song that “Formation”? But never say never—Mike Posner’s “Ibiza” is an earnestly-strummed, EDM-hating play for authenticity, which is sadly like a Venn diagram of things Grammy voters seem to enjoy. It may not be Bey vs. Adele here but rather, Bey and Adele vs. the rest.
The Grammys Take a Chance
If the Grammys recognized free mixtapes as albums, then Chance wouldn’t even qualify for Best New Artist—nominees can’t have more than three albums or 30 singles/tracks to their name. Though the Recording Academy is often living in the past when it comes to their definition of an album, they did open up nominations to streaming-only albums this year, thus qualifying Chance and slotting him in alongside Anderson .Paak and a bunch of mainstreamers that range from fine to dry-heave (Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, the Chainsmokers). Being unsigned marks a huge barrier of entry for Chance in the Grammy game—one that practically no artist in history has been able to successfully scale—but he’s campaigned to the forces that be, taking out a charming ad in Billboard asking, “Hey, why not me?” There’s also the Bon Iver factor: When the Grammys go to the effort of nominating someone for Best New Artist who is, in fact, not a new artist but rather someone they’ve ignored in the past, there is often a reason why. Maybe in Chance’s case it’s because his mixtapes didn’t qualify, but it’s more likely the Academy might not have been terribly familiar with him before “Ultralight Beam” (and, let’s be honest, the Kit Kat commercial). Country-pop singer Kelsea Ballerini is probably Chance’s biggest competition in theory, though Morris and Ballerini could divide the country vote and .Paak and Chance could split the hip-hop vote, meaning Chainsmokers win. Oh goodie.
Where the Hell Is Bowie?
You would think it’s been long enough for the Grammys to get over the fact that David Bowie, historically speaking, has never really been their cup of tea. Sure, they gave him a Lifetime Achievement Grammy a decade ago, but throughout his career, Bowie only won one Grammy—and for a music video, no less (his little-remembered 1984 short film, Jazzin' for Blue Jean). But a bit of recognition for Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, would have clearly been the right move, given widespread mourning in the music community over his death just days after the record’s release. And not only that, Blackstar is deserving, too, given the critical acclaim it received both before Bowie’s sad passing and in various year-end lists to date. Bowie did receive four posthumous Blackstar nominations (Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song, Best Alternative Music Album, Best Recording Package), but the enduring legacy will be of an awards ceremony that overlooked him. Who doesn’t love Bowie? Ah, yes, the Grammys.
Rihanna Also Got Robbed
OK, so it’s hard to complain about Rihanna being snubbed when she’s tied for the second-most nominations overall, behind Beyoncé, with eight (the same as Drake and Kanye). And it’s only right that she got a Record of the Year nod for “Work,” one of her two standout Drake collaborations this year. But historically, the Grammys love Rihanna. They love Rihanna so much they nominated 2010’s Loud, which never made it above No. 3 on the album charts, as Album of the Year. And Anti—which, as the commercially minded Recording Academy should know, did hit No. 1—is so clearly Rihanna’s best album as an album, the sort of artistically inventive, full-length listening experience you’d think the AOTY category ought to celebrate. Alas, Rihanna will have to cry herself to sleep on all the trophies she could still pick up for Urban Contemporary Album, Best R&B Performance, Best R&B Song, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and on and on. Just kidding—she probably doesn’t even care and instead is smoking skull-sized blunts as we type.
Even Grammy Voters Don’t Listen to Rock Anymore
While rock typically takes a back seat to pop in the Big Four categories, the Academy has made room for the genre this decade—witness not just Beck’s surprise 2015 AOTY win, but also Arcade Fire’s shocking AOTY victory in 2011, Mumford and Sons’ 2013 AOTY win (they’re rock-ish), and last year’s AOTY nod for Alabama Shakes. This year, not so much. That sleeper AOTY nod goes to Sturgill Simpson, who could certainly win some “real music, not this pop crap” voters over with his excellent A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. With no rock albums nominated, and with Simpson fancying himself an outsider to the country establishment (as well as playing music that doesn’t really reflect current country radio), there is a small chance he could take the title from Bey or Adele.
Meanwhile, three-time AOTY nominees Radiohead were consigned to the talent-stacked Best Alternative Music Album category for their quite solid A Moon Shaped Pool, alongside Bon Iver, PJ Harvey, Iggy Pop, and the ultimate Grammy snub-ee, David Bowie. Then again, we’ve reached the point where Beyoncé (and fucking Disturbed, oh my god) is up for Best Rock Performance, thanks to her ferocious, Jack White-featuring “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” Hey, if crap like Twenty One Pilots and Imagine Dragons can be nominated in both the rock and pop categories, Bey with Jack seems almost logical.
The Academy Still Doesn’t Know What to Do With Hip-Hop
If the Grammys are no longer interested in guitars, they still seem a little perplexed by hip-hop. Going through the categories, it’s as if once voters have decided a rapper is Grammy approved, they just repeat, repeat, repeat. Drake has already been nominated for a bunch of Grammys and even won once (Best Rap Album for 2011’s Take Care). So here’s his mega-selling Views as the only rap AOTY contender, though you don’t have to be a Drake skeptic to admit his latest wasn’t up there with his past full-lengths. No one should’ve expected Kanye’s divisive The Life of Pablo to vie, in Grammy voters’ hearts, for AOTY. But it’s interesting that the multiple-Grammy-nominated Ye, who famously—well, you remember—is right there in that second-place tie for most nods with Drake and Rihanna. Technically, Chance is nominated three times for Best Rap Song—for his own “No Problem,” but also for his work on Pablo’s “Ultralight Beam” (arguably more of a Chance showcase than a Ye one) and “Famous.” West is obviously nominated twice not just in that category but also Best Rap/Sung Performance; even the Rap Performance category, where Ye is not seemingly nominated, ostensibly finds him unsure which one of his guest spots to root for (Schoolboy Q’s “THat Part” vs. Drake’s “Pop Style”). Besides this small handful of established favorites, it’s almost like the Academy doesn’t know what to put in these categories. Which, they don’t—they nominated Desiigner.