By Delaney Willson
It's almost that time of year again. We gather around the TV with a few of our favorite friends and audiophiles to yell at the screen when our favorite indie artist inevitably gets beaten out by another teen heartthrob. But still, the spectacle of it all is enticing enough for us to tune in year after year. Last year we witnessed a brilliant theatrical performance by Kendrick Lamar, saw Taylor Swift shake off the haters with a big win for her pop album "1989", and witnessed awesome collaborations by artists like James Bay and Tori Kelly. The best part? This year is set up to be just as dramatic and mesmerizing. It is showbiz after all.
This year's record of the year race pits superstar Adele's "Hello" against fellow icon Beyonce's "Formation." Rihanna has an outside chance with "Work" along with newcomer Lucas Graham while alt rockers 21 Pilots look to break the stranglehold that pop and hip hop have had over the category in recent years. Now none of these tracks are among my favorites, but like most people, I love a good underdog story. Here's hoping I'll be surprised come February 12.
It'd be almost impossible to run down every award up for grabs in one blog post, so I'll do my best to give you the most interesting stories of the year. First off, it's worth noting that many of the flagship awards are dominated by the same artists. However, sometimes an unforeseen contender slips into the mix to make things interesting. Take Sturgill Simpson's "A Sailor's Guide to Earth," nominated for album of the year along with Adele, Beyonce, Drake and Justin Beiber. It doesn't take a keen ear to realize that this Americana album is a little out of left field when considering it's competitors. You never know how the voting is going to turn out in these crazy industry run shows, but we here at Olivia Management certainly would love to see a win for the Nashville native.
Another war of opposites seems to be going on in the Best New Artists category. Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris of country stardom are squaring off against Chance the Rapper and Anderson .Paak who represent a new wave of lyrically driven hip hop. Also in the mix is the DJ duo The Chainsmokers. Regardless of your thoughts on each artist, this category undoubtedly represents a crossroads of American music. At the very least it's an interesting contest between twangy electric guitars, intricate stream of consciousness wordplay, and synthesized beats. I say the world is a better place with a little bit of all three, but I do have one gripe with this whole concept of "New Artist." All of these artists have been performing professionally for at least three years. Maybe a better name would be Best Artist to Recently Hit Number One.
Now that you have a lay of the land, I'll reveal some of my own wishful thinking for this year. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it's no different for music. Well, you listen with your ears instead of your eyes but you get the point. So love or hate my picks, I want to hear your thoughts!
- Record of the Year - Sturgill Simpson (A Sailor's Guide to Earth)
- In a contest filled with pop melodies and commercial music, Sturgill is a breath of fresh air. His album is framed as a note sent home from a sailor at sea in the Navy, which is about the coolest concept album somebody could conceive. And if that wasn't cool enough, he included a haunting version of Nirvana's "In Bloom."
- Best New Artist - Chance the Rapper
- Atlanta often gets credit for being the rap capital of the world, but we ought to be paying close attention to the uprising of impressive lyricists and producers taking place in Chicago, helmed by none other than Chance the Rapper. Chance does things differently. He's climbed to the top of festival hatch print posters without ever having signed a record deal, and while offering features to his friends and fellow Chicagoans along the way. His lyrics move your soul while his horn filled productions move your feet. There's really just nothing bad I can say about this guy.
- Best Pop Solo Performance - Justin Beieber (Love Yourself)
- I know I dissed the teen heartthrob image earlier in this post, but I'm only human. My favorite track he's done in a while is probably "Cold Water" with Major Lazer, but "Love Yourself" is a close second. I'm not saying I hang with Justin, but I'm willing to bet that the tagline was originally made with another four letter word, and that wordplay alone should earn this song a Grammy.
- Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album - Bob Dylan (Fallen Angels)
- The man won a Nobel Prize in Literature this year. Need I say more? I say we add a Grammy to make it one of the most impressive years on record.
- Best Rock Album - Cage the Elephant (Tell Me I'm Pretty)
- These Nashville transplants have rocked our Live on the Green festival more than once and they never disappoint. This new album has a softer side and it really lets frontman Matthew Schulz's lyricism shine through. Rock and Roll is all about telling it like it is, and Cage the Elephant paints a picture of consciousness and societal expectations like nobody else could.
- Best Alternative Album - Bon Iver (22, A Million)
- This album is just nuts. Give it a listen, seriously. Once you're able to decipher the hieroglyphic names of the songs, you'll immediately be swept off your feet by the tuned vocals and vast soundscapes that dominate the record. Only a virtuoso like Justin Vernon could so delicately retain the emotion in each line while simultaneously emulating cyborg voices and delayed harmonies. I just don't even know how to describe this album. It's as much science as art, and it's all the more beautiful for it.