I will keep this one short and sweet: Migos weren’t nominated for anything. The Beatles, on the other hand, have been nominated for 25 awards in their 50-plus year career, winning eight. The Migos are already on their second album, and have no nominations of any kind. But I will move onto more positive news.
The Grammys are not typically respected for their decisions, and that notion seems to get truer and truer every year, especially with the rise of hip-hop as one of the more dominant mainstream genres, along with R&B. The real way to tell that nobody at the Grammys has any idea what’s going on is to look at the categories for nomination.
Rock and alternative were especially messy, with categorically “alt-rock” acts like Radiohead and Panic at the Disco nominated for mainstream rock categories. Even Metallica, whose name has the word “metal” in it, were not nominated for metal, but rather for rock.
Additionally, acts like Twenty One Pilots and Rihanna were nominated in multiple genres for songs off of the same album. All this does is highlight the insufficient labels for categories that don’t really dominate the music scene anymore, like rock. And the hip-hop, R&B and “urban contemporary” (what is that?) were equally messy. Why is there only one hip-hop label for a genre when there is such a diversity of sound? Where does Drake fall into all of this? Why was “Hotline Bling” nominated this year when it was clearly a hit of last year, robbing songs, like Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam,” of the spotlight they deserve for being innovative and interesting THIS year?
Unfortunately, the Grammy ceremony did little to answer any questions, and only reinforced the biggest question of our time: What on earth does Beyonce have to do to win album of the year? This is her third time being nominated for a category, losing to Taylor Swift, Beck, and, most recently, Adele, who said in her acceptance speech that she too believed that Queen B was more deserving.
In 2014, Beyonce dropped her self-titled album out of nowhere, and the record was a huge sonic departure from her earlier stuff. It was widely praised and sold very well. It didn’t win, so, paradoxically, she releases an even more inventive album that sells even better and receives even better critical acclaim! And still nothing. This is not a matter of blind Beyonce adoration – I enjoy her music but I don’t think she is the best – but a matter of investigating what the Grammys represent. Is it sales? Beyonce has that. Critical acclaim? She has that too.
This is not to undermine the work of any of the people who beat her – Adele’s album sold better, and Taylor Swift won her breakout year – but nobody looks back on that Beck album thinking, “Wow! This was so impactful to culture at large and I can definitely name more than one song off that album.” Beck put out “Morning Phase,” in 2014, and it won Best Rock Album! It didn’t appear widely admired or sold enough to be deserving of Album of the Year as well.
Album of the Year is supposed to represent the collective work of everybody who helped put it together, including producers, writers and featured artists. Beyonce seems to lose a lot of credit for how many people help her with her music, but that’s the whole point of Album of the Year: her collaborators are essential to what makes her progress as an artist, and the AOTY award is a good way to acknowledge her collective. Just because she works with others doesn’t mean that she isn’t a worthy singer by herself, but she is hardly the first mainstream artist to use songwriters, and yet she is unfairly criticized.
There is also something to be said about heavy critical favorites who do not make pop music – and who aren’t white – being nominated for Album of the Year, and not winning, despite interesting and moving collaborations.
For example, in addition to Beyonce, Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar have been nominated and lost to white artists – Lamar twice for two of the most revolutionary modern hip-hop albums. The Grammy ceremony itself, however, is usually an interesting performance event. All sorts of musicians performed and appropriate tributes to Prince and George Michael were well done. But moments like the Chainsmokers accepting an award on behalf of David Bowie call into question whether the Grammys really care about anything.