If I Ran the 2016 Grammys

After a year in which Beyoncé’s best album yet lost to a Beck album that no one will ever listen to again, it was tempting to disregard the Grammys altogether. But doing a “fix the Grammys” post is such a great way to highlight underheard music, since God knows the Grammys aren’t doing that.

A few ground rules:

1) I’ll give the real nominees with my prediction for the winner in bold. Then I’ll give you who I would have nominated with my choice for the best in the group in bold.

2) We all know the October 1st, 2014-September 30th, 2015 qualifying dates are stupid, but we’re going to keep them in the interest of chaos. I can’t fix everything about the Grammys. So no 25, but 1989 (from 2014, but released after October 1st, 2014) is fair game.

3) For the four major awards (Album, Record, Song, New Artist), I’m realistic. Phil Cook and Sufjan Stevens made two of my favorite albums in the qualifying year, but they would never be nominated for Album of the Year. However, Charli XCX and One Direction also released albums I loved, and they’re plausible options for Album of the Year. But when it comes to the genre awards, anything goes- hence, groups like Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, Diamond District, and Citizens & Saints getting nods over more popular acts in their respective categories..

4) Genre boundaries are fuzzy- Miguel’s album could really fit into rock or R&B, Laura Marling and Kevin Morby could easily be considered Americana instead of alternative, One Direction has a lot of rock songs on their album, etc. So I went with my gut. I don’t have your gut, so if you disagree with me on whether or not Titus Andronicus belongs in the rock or alternative category, sorry.

5) New rule this year! Forget the 5-nominee limit! Sometimes the Grammys do this; a genre will have enough contenders that they’ll fit 6 nominees into one category. I’ve often wondered why more award shows don’t open categories a bit more. If there are enough albums that truly deserve the be in the conversation, why not include them and draw more attention to more great music? Let’s have anarchy!


Album of the Year

Real nominees: Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Traveller, Chris Stapleton
To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
1989, Taylor Swift
Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd

My nominees: Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Sucker, Charli XCX
To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
Four, One Direction
1989, Taylor Swift

grammys02Surprise, surprise, I actually mostly agreed with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences this year. The past two years I’ve had one album each year in common with the Grammys’ nominees, but this year I have three! It sure seems like Kendrick’s year, but Taylor Swift could easily take this, considering she basically rules the world. And I wouldn’t quite rule out Alabama Shakes, since rock albums have upset the favorite three out of the last five years. I don’t mind that the Grammys recognized The Weeknd and Christ Stapleton; they both received well-received albums that were also popular- they fit the bill, basically. But I’d rather single out a couple of pop records that didn’t have to be as great as they are: Charli XCX’s Sucker and One Direction’s Four.


Record of the Year

Real nominees: “Really Love”, D’Angelo & the Vanguard
“Thinking Out Loud”, Ed Sheeran
“Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars)”, Mark Ronson
“Blank Space”, Taylor Swift
“Can’t Feel My Face”, The Weeknd

My nominees: “Hotline Bling”, Drake
“Where Are Ü Now (feat. Justin Bieber)”, Jack Ü
“Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars)”, Mark Ronson
“Blank Space”, Taylor Swift
“The Hills”, The Weeknd

grammys04Hard to argue with “Blank Space” or “Uptown Funk”. “Blank Space” is maybe the shiniest eligible song from 1989 with an impressive vocal performance from Swift, while “Uptown Funk” is just all-around unstoppable. It’s also hard to argue with “Can’t Feel My Face”, but I’ll do my best- as catchy as “Face” is, “The Hills” has the more interesting production and The Weeknd’s best singing performance yet. And all due respect to the great D’Angelo and the, uh, not-great Ed Sheeran, but can anyone pretend those songs are better than “Hotline Bling” or Diplo’s & Skrillex’s “Where Are Ü Now”?

Song of the Year

Real nominees: “Thinking Out Loud”, Ed Sheeran
“Alright”, Kendrick Lamar
“Girl Crush”, Little Big Town
“Blank Space”, Taylor Swift
“See You Again (feat. Charlie Puth)”, Wiz Khalifa

My nominees: “Don’t Wanna Fight”, Alabama Shakes
“Here”, Alessia Cara
“Alright”, Kendrick Lamar
“Wildest Dreams”, Taylor Swift
“Can’t Feel My Face”, The Weeknd

grammys06Here’s where the Academy should have put “Can’t Feel My Face”, because it’s an impeccably crafted song, and Song of the Year is supposed to reward songwriting. And I’m okay with them seconding “Blank Space”, because it’s a great song, but “Wildest Dreams” is the best straight-up songwriting on 1989. I like “Thinking Out Loud” and “See You Again” well enough, but I would never argue their songwriting is anything more than average. Cara’s “Here” and Alabama Shakes’s “Don’t Wanna Fight” are far more interesting songs. And while everyone has a different favorite song on To Pimp a Butterfly, “Alright” has had a raw, undeniable impact unlike any other. It will and should win.


Best New Artist

Real nominees: Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

My nominees: Chance the Rapper
Courtney Barnett
Samantha Crain
Young Thug

grammys08This is always a weird one, because the Grammys are never clear on the criteria involved. Sure is nice that the Academy is recognizing Courtney Barnett and Meghan Trainor, but they came on the scene before this qualifying period. Anyway, you could say the same for, well, all of my choices, but they all truly reached new peaks of quality and publicity. None more so than Chance, who has risen as an independent from obscurity as a niche Chicago performer to a leading cultural voice. In the real world, expect the white male rocker to win. He’s the only one I haven’t heard of.

Best Pop Album

Real nominees: How Big How Blue How Beautiful, Florence + the Machine
Before This World, James Taylor
Piece by Piece, Kelly Clarkson
Uptown Special, Mark Ronson
1989, Taylor Swift

My nominees: Brand New, Ben Rector
Sucker, Charli XCX
Honeymoon, Lana Del Rey
Four, One Direction
1989, Taylor Swift

grammys10I feel like Swift not winning this award may signify the apocalypse, so ink her in. Florence, Clarkson, and Ronson are all fine, but the fact that James Taylor is nominated for this on an album that includes an ode to Fenway Park’s storied history is just one more piece of evidence of the Grammys’ lunacy. Obviously I’d put XCX and 1D here, since I nominated them for Album of the Year. Lana Del Rey continues to turn out great work with little industry recognition; maybe she’s still paying for that one awful SNL performance? And though Ben Rector would probably never achieve the kind of popularity necessary for a Grammy nod, he deserves one in my book.


Best Rock Album

Real nominees: Kintsugi, Death Cab for Cutie
Mister Asylum, Highly Suspect
Chaos and the Calm, James Bay
Drones, Muse
.5: The Gray Chapter, Slipknot

My nominees: Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Medicine, Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors
Strange Trails, Lord Huron
Runners in the Nerved World, The Sidekicks
Currents, Tame Impala
The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Titus Andronicus

grammys12Okay, what on earth is going on in this category? I don’t really enjoy Muse, but, okay, fine. But the washed up Death Cab and Slipknot, and two artists I’ve never heard of? I suppose this may mean I’m not tuned in to the rock world, but it seems more likely that the Grammys are just stupid. Let’s be real, Sound & Color is a rock album- it belongs here, not in the Alternative Album category below, which it will win. Tame Impala also belongs here, but it’s weird enough that its Alternative status is understandable. The rest of the category could be filled out by some light rock (Holcomb), folk rock (Huron), emo revival (Sidekicks), and a 29-track rock opera (Titus).


Best Alternative Album

Real nominees: Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Vulnicura, Björk
The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket
Currents, Tame Impala
Star Wars, Wilco

My nominees: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett
Poison Season, Destroyer
Why Make Sense?, Hot Chip
Still Life, Kevin Morby
Short Movie, Laura Marling
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, Panda Bear
Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens
Loyalty, The Weather Station

grammys14This is one of the least offensive categories; there are strong contenders each year, because alternative rock is less affected by the industry’s troubles and continues to churn out great content. I don’t personally like the albums by Björk, My Morning Jacket, or Wilco, but I’m also not personally opposed to them. Strange that they’re recognizing Barnett in Best New Artist, but she failed to secure the nod here. She deserves it, and she’d deserve to win too, if it weren’t for Sufjan’s incredible ode to his parents following the death of his mother. You could make good cases for the rest of the contenders- the Springsteen-like sweep of Destroyer, the electronic ambivalence of Hot Chip, the Dylan-channeling poetry of Morby, the gothic folk of Marling, the indie-rock throwback of Panda Bear, or the chanteuse warbling of The Weather Station- but Carrie & Lowell eclipses them all.


Best R&B Album

Real nominees: Cheers to the Fall, Andra Day
Forever Charlie, Charlie Wilson
Black Messiah, D’Angelo & the Vanguard
Reality Show, Jazmine Sullivan
Coming Home, Leon Bridges

My nominees: Black Messiah, D’Angelo & the Vanguard
Blackheart, Dawn Richard
Reality Show, Jazmine Sullivan
The London Sessions, Mary J. Blige
Wildheart, Miguel
Aquarius, Tinashe

grammys16D’Angelo probably has this locked up, but Leon Bridges (whose album I still haven’t gotten around to…whoops) and Jazmine Sullivan (whose album I just got around to and is excellent) stand a fair chance of upsetting the famous recluse. Strangely, though he has some popular cache, Miguel has been completely ignored this year, even though Wildheart was one of the more ambitious records of the year. And how the Grammys passed up a chance to acknowledge one of their favorite honorees from years past, Mary J. Blige, I’ll never understand. The rest of the roster is filled out by a couple of women just beginning to find some traction in the industry, Dawn Richard and Tinashe.


Best Rap Album

Real nominees: Compton, Dr. Dre
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake
2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole
To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
The Pinkprint, Nicki Minaj

My nominees: March on Washington, Diamond District
If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, Drake
The Art of Joy, Jackie Hill Perry
To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar
Run the Jewels 2, Run the Jewels
Rise, Trip Lee
Barter 6, Young Thug

It was a strong year for rap, though you can feel 2016 beginning to flex its muscles. Kendrick obviously has this wrapped up, but Drake is a worthy second in the real award’s race. Run the Jewels and Young Thug are critically acclaimed enough that it wouldn’t be surprising to see them in this category at some point in the future. Diamond District is pretty off the Academy’s radar, but their March on Washington was one of the most immediate albums I heard last year. But Perry’s Art of Joy and Lee’s Rise were great late additions to 2014, and either of them could have stolen my vote if Kendrick hadn’t released the best album of the past few years.


Best Christian Album

Real nominees (Contemporary Christian Music Album): Love Ran Red, Chris Tomlin
Whatever the Road, Jason Crabb
How Can It Be, Lauren Daigle
Saints and Sinners, Matt Maher
This Is Not a Test, Tobymac

My nominees: Join the Triumph, Citizens & Saints
Carry the Fire, Dustin Kensrue
One Wild Life: Soul, Gungor
Vice & Virtue, Jimmy Needham
Home, Josh Garrels

grammys20Like I said last year, “Christian” isn’t really a genre, but it’s a handy categorization to help me recognize a few more great artists. Tobymac will probably win this on name recognition alone, which is sad since his best years are behind him, but it’s not like the Grammys should be the arbiter for Christian culture anyway. Citizens & Saints released perhaps the best worship album of the year. Former Thrash frontman continues a quality solo career with Carry the Fire. Home is a nice expansion of Josh Garrels’s already unique talent. One Wild Life: Soul was a great return to form for Gungor. But Vice & Virtue gets this one for perhaps the most perfect distillation of Needham’s brand of Christian funk-rock yet.


Best Americana Album

Real nominees (Country Album): The Blade, Ashley Monroe
Traveller, Chris Stapleton
Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves
Pain Killer, Little Big Town
Montevallo, Sam Hunt

My nominees: Fables, David Ramirez
High on Tulsa Heat, John Moreland
Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves
A Light That Never Dies, KaiL Baxley
Southland Mission, Phil Cook
Under Branch and Thorn and Tree, Samantha Crain
Dark Bird Is Home, The Tallest Man on Earth
Love and the Death of Damnation, The White Buffalo

grammys22Here’s the richest category of the year, and the Grammys actually did a pretty good job with it. Little Big Town and Sam Hunt are fine, Chris Stapleton is exceptional, and Monroe and Musgraves are both bringing new blood to the country genre. But look at all those names under my nominees! Crain and Moreland are leading voices in the Oklahoma music scene, telling stories that get under your skin in ways both uplifting and infuriating. Ramirez, Tallest Man, and Buffalo are all talented songwriters who solidified both their musical signatures and lyrical voices with their most recent albums. And Cook went from helping make Bon Iver a household (ish?) name to synthesizing New Orleans blues and folk into a life-affirming gift of an album. Give the Grammy to Chris Stapleton, but someone get Phil Cook a major label deal.


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