The Grammys are in decline. First, in the streaming age, TV shows don’t get the viewership they did 15 years ago. You don’t need to watch a 3-hour telecast to find out who wins – Twitter will brief you. Second, the Grammys have long been criticized for being out of touch with the public. Grammy voters (comprised mostly of old, white men) award the safest, vanilla projects. I don’t mean to say the projects awarded are bad, but we’re looking for the best. Alessia Cara beating SZA? 25 beating Lemonade? Bruno Mars beating any of the other nominees? Still not over it. Third, the Grammys are a snoozefest. Recently, A-listers have declined to perform or are absent all-together, meaning the performances we are left are boring. Childish Gambino and Drake are skipping. Ariana Grande is boycotting after producers vetoed her performance choice. The fact that artists are shrugging their shoulders at the self-proclaimed “biggest night in music” shows that artists (not just music fans) are frustrated with The Recording Academy.
Does this mean the Grammys are over before they begin Sunday at 8 p.m.? Not necessarily. There is still much to be analyzed regarding the monetization, politicization, and socialization of art. Over 1,000 new members from largely underrepresented communities were added to this year’s voting committee. Further, the number of nominees in general fields were increased from five to eight in order to provide a diverse pool. These changes have already opened the door to more interesting nominations than in years past. But how will everything pan out on Sunday? Who wins – and more-so who doesn’t – will say a lot. Below are my analysis and predictions in the General and Pop fields.
Album of the Year (AOTY)
Winner: Kacey Musgraves • Golden Hour
Alternates: Janelle Monáe • Dirty Computer / Kendrick Lamar • Black Panther
I can hear it now: #GrammysSoWhite. While I agree that the Grammys have a deeply-rooted prejudice that often rewards White artists with weaker projects, I don’t think that narrative fits here. Am I “rooting for everybody black” as Issa Rae once said? Of course. But Golden Hour is a country-ish album (and I don’t even like country) that holds up really well against Black Panther and Dirty Computer.
Golden Hour is probably the album I came back to the most out of all eight nominees because it made me feel, but it is still accessible. The lyrics are deeply personal and make me swell with emotion every time I listen (see: “Slow Burn”, “Lonely Weekend”, “Happy & Sad”, “Golden Hour”), but the melodies and production are oddly relaxing at the same time. Additionally, Musgraves has an interesting narrative and awards shows are all about narrative. She is forward thinking in a genre that is usually closed-minded and which often rejects her for it. She is loud-mouthed, shows off her body, openly takes LSD while making music, and advocates for queer country artists and country artists of color. Musgraves is no country princess.
However, other narratives in this category are stronger and IMO more important. Janelle Monáe is unapologetically Black, pansexual and gender non-conforming on Dirty Computer. She is also political and fires back at the Trump administration more than once. See “Screwed” for a double-entendre about sex and America’s fate – which she addresses forwardly on “Americans”. See “I Got the Juice” for a warning on the pussy grabbing back or “PYNK” for an ode to it. See literally any track on the album for enlightenment packaged in tight harmonies, pounding production, and effortless rap-singing. Monáe is a talent unlike any other. She has a vision that creates magic and I am glad to see her finally get mainstream recognition.
In the last 20 years, only one soundtrack has been nominated for Album of the Year (it won). Soundtracks rarely make it into the top category because they are hard to judge since they go along with a film. However, Black Panther stands alone. Many of the songs are sonically different, but they are tied together by lyrics that speak to Black divinity, strength, and wealth – in general, not only as they appear in the film. The soundtrack is uplifting and captures the breadth of Black music. When people listen back in 50 years they will understand the artistic, political, and social state of America in 2018. Further, since Black Panther was curated by Kendrick Lamar, should it win it will provide the Grammys an opportunity to redeem themselves after robbing him of Album of the Year not once or twice, but thrice.
I would rather see Lamar or Monáe win, for the culture, but Musgraves had the most critically acclaimed album of the year and it is likely the splitting of votes between Lamar and Monáe will give her a still deserved win. As for others?
- Brandi Carlile • By the Way, I Forgive You
- Cardi B • Invasion of Privacy
- Drake • Scorpion
- H.E.R. • H.E.R.
- Post Malone • Beerbongs & Bentleys
Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You is hauntingly beautiful. The album is Americana, a genre I don’t typically listen to. So, I don’t see myself coming back to it often, but there are certain songs (See: “The Joke”, “Party of One”) that blend with orchestral music which I would listen to again. Given her lack of name recognition, Carlile is this category’s dark horse and if there is an upset, she would be the one to pull it.
As a Dominican, I root for Cardi B always and Invasion of Privacy is a solid album. It is the kind of blockbuster I was hoping women in rap would get because it brings their narratives to the forefront (See: “Get Up 10”, “Be Careful”, “I Do”). The singles “Bodak Yellow” and “I Like It” are anthems. But was quality really strong enough for a nomination? No, because I think every single featured artist shined more than Cardi. However, because of the strong narrative, I am happy to see Cardi in here.
At 22 tracks, H.E.R. is long and the songs often blend together. The production and vocal delivery are very chilled, which is why I think the album sometimes suffers. The album gets its footing in H.E.R.’s storytelling which captures every aspect of relationships: the passion, the pain, the performance. I found myself relating to many tracks (See: “Best Part”, “Every Kind of Way”, “Focus”, “Losing”, “U”). H.E.R.’s nomination is a formidable representation of R&B, but with her newness, I can’t see her winning – now.
I can’t tell you why Drake’s Scorpion and Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys are here other than that they were the two most commercially successful albums of 2018. The albums have highlights here and there where the artists get more personal (See: Drake’s “March 14” or Posty’s “Paranoid). But overall, the only narrative I get is that they have hoes and money. Boring. But the frat parties will always give them an audience.
Record of the Year (ROTY) and Song of the Year (SOTY)
These awards are often mixed up, so let me explain the difference. Record is awarded for the musical and vocal production on a track. Song is awarded for the lyrics and songwriting. The nominees often overlap (six of eight this year), so I am going to analyze them together.
Winner (ROTY): “This Is America” • Childish Gambino
Alternates (ROTY): “All The Stars” • Kendrick Lamar & SZA / “I Like It” • Cardi B
Winner (SOTY): “Shallow” • Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper
Alternates (SOTY): “The Joke” • Brandi Carlile / “This Is America” • Childish Gambino
- “All The Stars” • Kendrick Lamar & SZA (record & song)
This track is beautifully pieced. The orchestra that swells in the back while SZA sings. The transition to Lamar’s truth-telling verse. The subtle Afrobeats and bleeps in the back of the verses. The track manages to make you feel like you are in fact in another dimension, amongst the stars, and it is a strong contender for ROTY.
- “Boo’d Up” • Ella Mai (song)
I love this song, but there’s nothing fresh about the songwriting. “Biddy-da-dum, boo’d up”? Selena did this in 1994 with “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and she did it better.
- “God’s Plan” • Drake (record & song)
God’s Plan is an ok track, but I don’t think the production is musically diverse enough to stand out from other nominees. Drake’s delivery is kind of lazy compared to his other tracks and there isn’t an interesting narrative in the lyrics. The strongest thing the track has going for it is how massive it was: #1 song of 2018. But at the Grammys that shouldn’t be enough for a win.
- “In My Blood” • Shawn Mendes (song)
I was surprised by this nomination. The songwriting is strong and Shawn word for word describes what I feel or think when I have an anxiety attack. However, because Shawn still has this teen-heartthrob image I don’t see voters taking him seriously enough for a win.
- “I Like It” • Cardi B, Bad Bunny, J Balvin (record)
Colombia, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico came together and created the song of the summer for the 2nd year in a row. In 2017, it was “Despacito”. The Latin explosion is still burning and this can be an opportunity for the Grammys to acknowledge it.
- “Rockstar” • Post Malone (record)
This song is sleek and vibey, but I don’t have much else to say about it. It is the oldest of the nominees (having come out in 2017), so I don’t foresee it coming away with the win.
- “Shallow” • Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper (record & song)
This was one of my most played tracks of 2018. Who knew Bradley Cooper could sing? He does a great job, but of course, the standout is Gaga with her unmistakable voice. The bridge and final chorus are everything. The concept of the deep/shallow is one that has won big before (See: “Rolling in the Deep”) and the Grammys are very favorable to these kinds of love songs. A shoo-in for SOTY.
- “The Joke” • Brandi Carlile (record & song)
This is track is incredibly beautiful. Carlile’s voice soars over a sweeping orchestra that only gets bigger and bigger with each verse. The track itself is short, but it conveys so much in its few lyrics. Whether intentional or not, its a feminist and queer anthem about “the joke” being on your oppressors. Brb, crying.
- “The Middle” • Zedd, Marren Morris, and Grey (record & song)
I frankly don’t know why this track is nominated for either of these categories. Is it a bop? Yes. However, we have heard this kind of generic dance song millions of times before.
- “This Is America • Childish Gambino (record & song)
No other track this year caused so much conversation. Sure, to fully grasp all the complexities of the message you need to watch the video, but the record is too important and quality to overlook it for that reason. Besides, even without the video, the message is there. It is in the title. It is in the production. It is in “get your money black man”. Can any other record really win ROTY?
Best New Artist
Winner: Dua Lipa
Alternates : Chloe x Halle / H.E.R.
- Bebe Rexha
She is in no way new and I have been hearing her since I was a junior in high school over 5 years ago. But the Grammys have weird rules about who is “new” and since she dropped her first full-length, Expectations, in 2018 she has snuck her way in.
- Chloe x Halle
These sisters made heavenly, buttery-smooth music on The Kids Are Alright. They are also younger than me – 20 and 18. Yet, they are poised and wise beyond their years. Being that they are Beyoncé’s protegés, and Beyoncé has the record for female Grammy wins, they have a big shot.
- Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa really exploded onto the US music scene in 2018, but she has been big in Europe since 2016 (the US is just always late). She took home Best New Artist at her country’s BRIT Awards and she is well positioned to pick up that same award here, considering she is the biggest name. I am a big fan, but I don’t think her music pushes the envelope enough to warrant that win.
The AOTY nomination definitely positions her as a frontrunner in this category as no other Best New Artist nominee has a major category nomination.
- Jorja Smith
A unique, once-in-a-generation voice is how I would describe Smith. Her debut album Lost & Found was on repeat this summer. Lyrically it is incredibly beautiful. However, I don’t think she has enough name recognition and there are worthier R&B representatives in this category.
There are three other Best New Artist nominees: Greta Van Fleet, Luke Combos, and Margo Price. I gave their music a listen and I see why they are up here. All of them are formidable talents within their genres of country and rock. However, I don’t listen to those genres enough to comfortably give any opinion. I also don’t think either of the three will pick up this award. My take is: Dua Lipa will win, as artists like Chole x Halle, H.E.R., and Jorja Smith who should win will split the vote.
Best Pop Vocal Album
Winner: Ariana Grande • Sweetener
Alternates: Taylor Swift • Reputation / Shawn Mendes • Shawn Mendes
Sweetener was released following the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing that killed 22 of Ariana Grande’s fans. Many would have dealt with tragedy by releasing an album that was somber in tone. The album’s opening, “raindrops”, is. But after that Grande delivers an album where she opens up about mental health while staying hopeful and positive (see: “the light is coming”, “breathin”, “no tears left to cry”, “get well soon”). The tracks are made to cry to on the dance floor. In the two months following Sweetener‘s release, Mac Miller died and her engagement to Pete Davidson dissolved. In keeping with Sweetener‘s vibe, she released an uplifting anthem, “thank u, next”. While that song came after the Grammys cutoff, it adds to the narrative that no matter what life throws at Grande she can turn it into music gold. The more honest, the better and bigger she gets.
Taylor Swift’s Reputation was met with a mild response, both critically and commercially, in comparison to her other albums. A usual Grammy darling, this nomination here is the only one Swift got for Reputation. Since she has been able to pick up Grammys left and right before, I wouldn’t rule her out of pulling an upset. However, I think this single nomination shows the Grammys may be as over her as we are.
Shawn Mendes’ self-titled album is a strong one. It is pop at its core, but it flirts with some R&B and rock that demonstrate maturity in his musical style. Further, the songwriting is strong, as proven by his SOTY nomination for “In My Blood”. All this being said, I wouldn’t call it a strong contender on its own. Were Shawn Mendes to win, I believe it would because he is the sole male nominee in the category and the similarities of the other female nominees would split their votes.
- Camila Cabello • Camila
- Kelly Clarkson • The Meaning of Life
- Pink • Beautiful Trauma
While these were all good albums time is going to hurt the chances of either winning. Camila is a newbie to the scene (at least as a solo artist) and while she made a big splash in 2018, she needs more time to find her unique sound. Kelly Clarkson has won in this category twice before and Pink has been nominated several times, but they are veteran nominees that are mostly here out of respect. Further, with rap being the dominant genre of 2018, not many pop albums made a huge impact this year.
Best Pop Solo Performance
Winner: “God Is A Woman” • Ariana Grande
Alternates: “Colors” • Beck / “Havana” • Camila Cabello
- “Better Now” • Post Malone
- “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin?)” • Lady Gaga
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
Winner: “Shallow” • Lady Gaga & Bradly Cooper
Alternates: “The Middle” • Zedd, Marren Morris, Grey / “S Wonderful” • Tony Bennet & Diana Krall
- “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” • Backstreet Boys
- “Fall In Line” • Christina Aguilera ft Demi Lovato
- “Girls Like You” • Maroon 5
- “Say Somethin” • Justin Timberlake ft Chris Stapleton
To view the rest of the Grammy nominations visit: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2019-grammy-awards-complete-nominations-list.