In the years that I have been actively following the music industry, I am usually somewhat let down by the artists, tracks, and albums the Grammy nominations tend to reward. Maybe my expectations are set too high (somehow) by the Oscars: for the most part, the Academy focuses on genuine achievement, artistry, and mastery displayed in films and hands out awards accordingly. With music, however, the Grammys actively ignore the most influential art of the year and give out awards based on commercial success. This year, this problem can be seen at its worst: the nominations in several categories range from head-scratching to absolutely laughable—there are multiple snubs in almost every major category. So, let’s take a look at the most egregious offenders of the year. Buckle in.
Album of the Year – Scorpion: Drake
This album was, overall, critically-panned. I recall listening to the entire album on the morning it came out during my commute to work last summer, and I remembered nothing from it. Actually, scratch that – I remember Drake defending being a deadbeat father, the album seeming to go on forever, and speeding down the highway so I could get to work faster and not have to listen to the album anymore. There are a couple of legitimately amazing tracks: “Nice for What” features a slick, high-hat driven beat, and a fantastic sample of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.” But one or two tracks out of a whopping twenty-five does not make Scorpion a good album. Ugh.
Song of the Year – “The Middle”: Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey
“The Middle” is a cool song. It’s fun to play at parties and dance to. I’ll occasionally listen to it while I work out. It has a fun beat and an O.K. vocal performance. It’s played every day on the radio and practically at every Penn party. If that’s how songs get nominated now, I’m a bit confused why “Mo Bamba” isn’t at the top of every category.
Best Pop Vocal Album – Reputation: Taylor Swift
Taylor is intent on showing the world that she’s not an innocent country singer anymore by reviving dead beef with Kanye while he’s busy masterminding the brutal assassination of Drake via Pusha-T and producing like 10 albums. There are almost no memorable tracks on Reputation, and the album’s lead single (“Look What You Made Me Do”) was boring, flat, and didn’t make great use of Swift’s best tool: her voice. “Delicate” is a certified banger, but just as with Drake’s Scorpion, one good song does not make a ‘Best Album’. PS: Didn’t this album come out over a year ago?
Best Rap Song – “God’s Plan”: Drake
This category was stacked, and the fact that this song was nominated over so many other fantastic songs from fantastic projects makes me a little annoyed. Lil Wayne came back. Kanye released five projects with solid rap performances from himself, Kid Cudi, and Nas. Earl Sweatshirt returned with genre-bending performances, musing about depression, drugs, suicide, and death. Milo came through with a fusion of legitimate poetry, philosophy, and rap in his album, budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies. A$AP Rocky released an album that was admittedly not fantastic, but had a few standout tracks. Young Thug collabed with Elton John. The list goes on and on, yet “God’s Plan” was deemed worthy of a Grammy nomination? It’s not a bad song, necessarily, and it’s not the worst snub, but it makes my list purely for taking the spot away from projects that deserved it far, far more than any song off Scorpion. It’s not even that I don’t like Drake, it’s just that he’s being lauded by the Grammys for probably the worst project of his career.
Album of the Year – Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
I don’t have much to say about this snub. It’s one of the best albums of the year, possibly the decade. It’s a combination of rap and rock in a psychedelic delight. Every verse by Kid Cudi and Kanye is intentional and well-performed. It’s the antithesis of Scorpion. Where Scorpion feels directionless and meandering, KSG feels pointed and planned. Where Scorpion separates its two styles into two different sections on the album, KSG infuses so many genres and styles in every song it practically stands in its own category. Where Scorpion is bloated and overly long, KSG has absolutely no fat and no weak spots. Where Scorpion dodges fair questions raised at Drake, KSG features brutally honest performances by two mentally-tortured individuals. The Recording Academy can, and should, do better. Post Malone, Cardi B, and Drake have pretty good albums. Kid Cudi and Kanye West have a masterpiece.
Song of the Year – “Mo Bamba”: Sheck Wes
Not even kidding on this one, if “God’s Plan” and “The Middle” are going to be nominated because they were popular with the youth, than it’s absurd that “Mo Bamba” is being ignored. Play this song, out loud, anywhere, and by the time Sheck Wes screams out “I got hoes,” everyone will be on their feet right there with him. As Sheck Wes once said, “Fuck, shit, bitch.”
Best Urban Contemporary Album – Hive Mind: The Internet
In my opinion, this was the worst snub of the entire Grammys. In 2016, the Internet earned a nomination in this category for their album Ego Death, and Hive Mind is an objectively better album. It’s not like this year is a super stacked year for the category, either. Last year, the category was absolutely packed with Khalid’s debut, the Weeknd, SZA, 6lack, and Childish Gambino. This year, however, the category doesn’t have nearly the same depth. Every single member of the Internet upped their game for this album. Syd’s vocal performance? Way better. Steve Lacy? Much more present, with slick guitar riffs and sexy vocals. Patrick Paige II? Delivering some of the hottest bass lines of the year. It’s so disappointing that a band improving so much doesn’t get the recognition they deserve.
Best Rap Song – “Purity”: A$AP Rocky ft Frank Ocean and Ms. Lauryn Hill
Testing was not a fantastic album. I think I liked it more than a lot of people, simply because I like experimental hip-hop a lot, and the production on the album was quite edgy and genre-pushing. This track, however, is gorgeous. It presents a haunting, three-chapter meditation on self-doubt, implosion, and fame. A slowed-down, pitched-down sample of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind” opens the track, juxtaposing her original live performance of the song, which has a much faster, more hopeful sound. Here, the sample makes Hill sound like she’s pleading, begging to find her own peace before she loses herself entirely in the public eye. Then, Frank Ocean takes lead of the track, delivering dizzying verses about his fear of being famous, of losing himself in the spotlight. Finally, A$AP Rocky closes the track with his depressing reality of dealing with death after death after death, alcoholism, and isolation from his family. Throughout the track, the production is relatively minimalist but fantastic, enhancing the pure vocal performances of the three artists. The verses are engaging, deep, and spin three related tales of the pitfalls of fame. But best of all is Rocky’s genius pairing of Frank Ocean and Ms. Lauryn Hill: two artists who intentionally live extremely private lives despite their massive influence and popularity in their respective decades. The intentional choice to use these two artists enhances the meaning of the track by grounding the lyrics in the reality of Ocean and Hill’s lives.
Kali Uchis – multiple categories
I was shocked when I didn’t see a single mention of Kali Uchis, anywhere. I figured she would at least be an easy lock for the ‘Best New Artist’ category, but clearly, I was wrong. Isolation, her debut album, is a fantastic blend of R&B, funk, and Latin pop, and most major music publications lauded it with acclaim. It’s probably one of my most played albums of the year, and I wrongfully assumed she would snag a nomination, somewhere, for this monstrous debut in the industry.
THINGS I LIKED
“This Is America” – multiple categories
Everyone knows this song and everyone knows the music video. It fully deserves the recognition it gets. It’s a darkly wonderful critique of American media sensationalism, race relations, and functions both as a solid hip-hop/soul song and social commentary.
Producer of the Year – Kanye West
Kanye has had a whirlwind of a year. Although I criticized his misleading marketing of Yandhi in an earlier article, he still produced 5 amazing albums, and has been (hopefully) working on projects with Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, and others. Let’s hope we can see Watch the Throne 2, Good Ass Job, and Yandhi actually release in 2019.
Best Pop Solo Performance – “God is a Woman”: Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande has proven for the past few years that almost no one can touch her, vocally. Her range is absurd, her voice is gorgeous, and she performs with a passion and talent that few have had in the industry, period. Her Broadway background is evident as her live performances are just as good as her recorded ones. “God is a Woman” is still one of my favorite songs of the year. It’s a fun, empowering anthem, and Ari absolutely deserves this nom.
Agree? Disagree? Any other snubs or bad noms you think I missed? Let me know in the comments!