In a time of political uncertainty, the Grammy nominations offered a clear mandate: innovation over tradition, the future over the past.
With barely a glance into the rear view mirror of pop music, the Recording Academy announced hundreds of nominees spread over 84 categories on Dec 6 and clearly emphasised musicians who are actively shaping the sound of popular music on radio, YouTube, Spotify and social media platforms.
In years past, the top categories frequently included career-recognition nominations for veteran stars such as Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and Steely Dan. But this year’s greying contenders, including Paul Simon, David Bowie and Sting, were snubbed for a slate dominated by millennials.
Beyonce received nine nominations (making her, at the ripe old age of 35, the eldest top nominee). Kanye West, Rihanna and Drake each got eight and Chance The Rapper seven, a remarkable number for any newcomer, doubly so considering that his music is available solely through streaming services, which before this year would have made him ineligible.
The Recording Academy modified its rules earlier this year to recognise the new reality of the streaming era: Today, many recordings are no longer released in physical form or as paid digital downloads, which historically was the bar by which music was deemed legitimate for Grammy consideration.
“We need to be, want to be and believe we are up to the moment and as accurate as possible in the reflection of the year in music,” Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said. “We never want to be in a position where music that deserves to be in the mix is usurped by some technicality in the process.”
The 23-year-old Chicago rapper, born Chancellor Johnathan Bennett, released his debut album Coloring Book in May as a free stream rather than on physical CD or as a paid download. For the first two weeks, it was available only on Apple Music before being made available through other streaming and download services.
The rule change, and Chance’s nominations (including for best new artist) reflect an ongoing evolution of the awards process inspired in part by stinging rebukes to the Recording Academy in past years offered by a famously contentious constituency.
The last year’s biggest blockbuster album, Adele’s 25 (which has sold more than nine million copies in the US since its release late last year), yielded five nominations for the British singer-songwriter.
She is competing in all three of the general categories for which she’s eligible – album, record and song – a testimony to her unequalled reach across age, gender and stylistic boundaries.
In the Record Of The Year category, which lauds song writing, vocal performance and production, the other nominees are Adele’s heartbreak-apology Hello; Danish group Lukas Graham’s 7 Years, which recounts turning points in life; Rihanna featuring Drake’s Work exploring romantic disillusionment and betrayal; and Twenty One Pilots’ ode to millennials’ mounting sense of real-life pressures in Stressed Out.
Millennial icon Justin Bieber’s Album Of The Year nomination for his Purpose collection signalled the growing maturity of his music, but it still surprised many, especially since it came at the expense of Paul Simon’s widely acclaimed Stranger To Stranger late-career album that had been an odds-on favourite.
Along with Adele, Beyonce, and Bieber, the album category also includes Canadian rapper Drake’s hit collection Views and country-Americana singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson’s critically lauded A Sailor’s Guide To Earth.
Chance The Rapper’s new artist competition are country singers Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, Oxnard-reared musician-producer Anderson Paak, and New York City-based electronic act the Chainsmokers. But icons and artists of a certain age were not overlooked entirely; Barbra Streisand faces off against Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban in the traditional pop vocal album category.
Still, the Grammy nominating committees’ penchant for posthumous recognition was held in check despite the recent parade of high-profile deaths including Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Merle Haggard, Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, Mose Allison, Juan Gabriel, the Weavers’ Fred Hellerman, rapper Shawty Lo, Bobby Vee, pop-jazz singer Kay Starr, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell and Leonard Cohen.
Bowie appears posthumously in four categories: alternative music album for Blackstar, which he recorded last year while dealing with terminal cancer; rock song and rock performance for the title track; and another for engineered non-classical album.
Awards will be announced during the annual Grammy Awards telecast from Staples Centre in Los Angeles, scheduled for Feb 12.
A complete list of nominees is available at the official Grammy website, www.grammy.com. – Tribune News Service/Randy Lewis