This time last year we were perturbed with the Grammys for generating a slate of 2015 nominees that honored a bunch of mediocre white musicians at the expense of black excellence. Even within the bizarre and outmoded musical value system that is the Grammys, it felt like a regression. So it’s especially surprising that the 2016 nominations, which emerged this morning, are pretty much the best possible Grammy nods imaginable — again, keeping in mind that this is the Grammys and not, say, Stereogum’s 50 Best Albums Of 2015. We’ll have to wait until 2/15 to find out who goes home with all the trophies, but as it stands the Grammys seem to be respecting so much artistry this year.
What’s so good about these nominations? For one thing, Kendrick Lamar’s instant-classic To Pimp A Butterfly benefits from (a) the Grammys recognizing its obvious brilliance (b) the Grammys loving jazz bullshit (c) the Grammys overcompensating for completely snubbing Kendrick while celebrating Macklemore in 2014 (d) all of the above. K-Dot leads the field with 11 nominations, including nods for Album Of The Year and Song Of The Year (“Alright”) plus daps for the “Alright” video, “These Walls,” the Flying Lotus collaboration “Never Catch Me,” and the video for Taylor Swift’s Kendrick-featuring “Bad Blood” remix. In a year that has belonged to Kendrick in many ways, it’s exciting to see him set up for a big night.
Even more inevitable but also deserved are the seven nominations apiece for Taylor Swift and the Weeknd, both of whom released blockbuster pop albums with major artistic merit and distinct points of view. In addition to Album Of The Year nods for 1989 and Beauty Behind The Madness, the best song on each album got nominated for Record Of The Year (“Blank Space” and “Can’t Feel My Face,” respectively, with a Song Of The Year nod for “Blank Space”).
This is the first year I can remember when five actually-good albums were nominated for Album Of The Year. Alongside Swift, Kendrick, and the Weeknd are strong titles from Alabama Shakes and Chris Stapleton, and considering the Academy’s biases, none of them seems like a total longshot. It’s also rad to see D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s “Really Love” in the Record Of The Year race — though I’d have picked “The Charade” myself — and among the year’s inescapable hits, Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” (Record Of The Year) and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” (Song Of The Year) are solid picks. Even the Ed Sheeran song the academy focused on, “Thinking Out Loud,” is definitely the best Ed Sheeran song. You didn’t really think you were getting a Grammys without Ed Sheeran for the rest of your life, did you?
The biggest, most pleasant surprise among the major categories has to be Courtney Barnett as this year’s requisite indie rocker in the Best New Artist category. Will Australia’s future poet laureate go on to become the next Bonnie Bear? She’ll have to beat Meghan Trainor to do it, even though Trainor was nominated for a bunch of Grammys last year, which I thought was the reason the Weeknd couldn’t compete in this category. And anyway, who knows: I can just as easily imagine a world where Sam Hunt or Tori Kelly or James Bay swings the upset. Whatever happens, we’re just happy to see NARAS put Barnett on a pedestal.
A few more positives: Although I can think of a few dozen albums that could feasibly compete for Best Alternative Music Album — like, say, Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just sit by Best New Artist nominee Courtney Barnett — there are no real objectionable choices in the existing slate of presumed winners Alabama Shakes plus Björk, My Morning Jacket, Tame Impala, and Wilco. The Best Dance/Electronic Album is eminently strong, too, with only Disclosure’s disappointing Caracal polluting a pool including Caribou, the Chemical Brothers, Jamie xx, and Skrillex and Diplo’s Jack Ü album. Diplo is also up for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical, which seems appropriate given that he really made a leap this year. And it’s cool to see five nods for Florence + The Machine as well as a smattering of nominations in the Rap/R&B/Urban Contemporary categories for Miguel, the Internet, Jeremih, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Jidenna, and Dr. Dre.
There are only so many nominations to go around, so of course the Grammys still managed a few head-slapping snubs. You can make a case that just about any recorded work deserves a Grammy — just ask Omarion — but a handful stood out to us. First off, Stereogum favorites Future and Carly Rae Jepsen were completely shut out; the latter makes some kind of sense considering Jepsen’s E•MO•TION never gained traction commercially, but Future’s DS2 was both a bestseller and a critical juggernaut that deserved to take the place of J. Cole or something in the Best Rap Album category. It also would have been nice to see Run The Jewels get another RTJ2 victory lap, though that never seemed like a genuine possibility. Nor did Grammy love for Sufjan Stevens, but we can dream.
Far more surprising is the relegation of Fetty Wap to the genre ghettos. “Trap Queen” is up for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance, but given Fetty’s omnipresence this year, a Best New Artist nod was really in order. One might think the ’70s-inspired singer-songwriter brigade of Natalie Prass, Father John Misty, or Adele’s friend Tobias Jesso Jr. would have a chance at some nominations, but apparently they didn’t. The Best Metal Performance category remains the least respectable Grammy category; this year Ghost’s “Cirice” battles August Burns Red, Lamb Of God, Sevendust, and Slipknot. And while we congratulate old favorites Death Cab For Cutie on Kintsugi’s nomination, it’s hilarious to see Ben Gibbard’s band competing against the likes of Muse and Slipknot in the Best Rock Album category.
So yeah, plenty to snip about if you so desire, but since this is NARAS we’re dealing with, consider us impressed. Let’s just hope we don’t have to eat our words when Sheeran wins Record Of The Year, “See You Again” claims Song Of The Year, Trainor triumphs as Best New Artist, and anyone but Kendrick wins Album Of The Year.