2016 Grammy Awards for Album of the Year (Jesus H. Christ!)
Subtitle: Your favorite album ever was probably never even nominated
The Grammys released their choices for Album of the Year today, an annual event that repeatedly makes my blood boil. You can have your Record of the Year, Song of the Year, or Career Death Knell (Best New Artist) categories. The Americana, Rap, Rock, and Metal categories sometimes have some good choices. But the Album of the Year category has the potential every year to award a small list of true artistic statements and, every year, the Grammys fail to make this a truly meaningful category.
The Album of the Year category has a sordid history. The winners for the first few years were comedy albums, soundtracks, and songbooks that were flat, not true statements of an artist at work .The first award was in 1959 for Henry Mancini’s Music from Peter Gunn album, beating out two Frank Sinatra and an Ella Fitzgerald album. Really. The next year, Sinatra won, beating out Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, one of the best live albums ever. Sinatra racked up a few more awards for paltry albums that weren’t even close to his In the Wee Small Hours-era works.
Things changed in 1968 with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band getting the award, an obvious choice for a winner among any nominee. And over the years, there were legitimate winners: Tapestry, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life, Thriller, Joshua Tree, and Graceland. Even Bill Joel’s 52nd St was a decent winner. But, for every one of these winners, there’s a Blood Sweat and Tears beating Abbey Road, a Christopher Cross beating The Wall, and sadly Time Out of Mind beating OK Computer (Not that I don’t love Dylan, but really?).
And of course, consider all the albums that were never even nominated: Blonde on Blonde, What’s Going On, It Takes a Nation of Millions…, London Calling, Nebraska, Plastic Ono Band, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, King of Rock, etc. There have been dozens of legitimate works of art that have made statements and changed lives that weren’t even recognized by the Grammys. It’s obvious that more populist choices were nominated every year to get ratings and seem somewhat relevant to the masses. And some albums and artists have taken time to gain favor and become the album darlings that they are today. How many people owned Fear of Music, Loaded, or Heroes when they were first released?
So, that said, wow, this year’s nominees (holding my breath):
Adele, 25: At least she can sing. Not 21, her best work by far.
Beyonce, Lemonade: The likely winner after she was snubbed for Beyonce, her best work and a truer artistic statement. To be fair, Beck’s Morning Phase was pretty good.
Justin Bieber, Purpose: Ugh. OK, to be fair, I tried to listen to this just now. I really can’t. It’s a bubblegum choice to keep people watching.
Drake, Views: Jesus, really? This isn’t even the best hip hop/rap album of the year, by far. Why is it here?
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth: This is the token nomination for an alternate music act. But Simpson delivered a really great concept album and one of the best records of the year by a mile. But if Simpson wins, Kanye West will probably set the building and Twitter on fire in Beyonce’s name.
A more suitable list would have been Beyonce, Simpson, Frank Ocean or Bon Iver, Chance the Rapper, and Bowie(!). Maybe an Angel Olsen or a Solange nomination would expose them to more people? Wow, the Knowles sisters with nominations would have made for great Twitter fare. Maybe A Tribe Called Quest nomination would be a nod to what might be the only real protest album from the past year. Maybe Radiohead’s fourth Album nomination would have been their Paul Newman award moment (OK, mixed metaphors, but you get the gist).
Ultimately, a piece of art doesn’t need an award. A really great album is its own reward: from the artists and talent who create it to the people who listen to it (and to the record companies brave enough to support it). A true album is a collection of songs — a suite of music — that incorporates the time and space around it and yet remains universal. It isn’t a greatest hits collection or pop musings around a one or two singles. It’s a statement that holds together a musical statement, a theme, and a purpose. In our iTunes-fueled, single-track-purchase world where everyone’s listening to their own KTel album (look it up, kids), just making a definitive statement like an album is a truly miraculous endeavor. So who cares what the Grammys thinks? These albums earn their own merit.
It doesn’t bug me at all… I won’t let it.
Justin fucking Beiber… really?