Happy Thanksgiving! Did y'all see those Grammy nominations?
Happy Thanksgiving! This week, Nnamdi reacts to the Recording Academy's latest slate of nominees.
Before we get into it — we at The 97 Demo are so thankful to each and every one of you that read this newsletter and listen to the podcast! Watching our work grow and resonate with more of you has been beyond rewarding.
It makes us so happy to hear you all comment and contribute to our conversations Truly, thank you so much!
Now that the sentimental stuff is out of the way…
This week’s newsletter will be a little shorter because of the holiday, but Nnamdi couldn’t let the Grammy nominations come and go without commenting on it.
He offered his top takeaways from the Academy’s nominations below.
Enjoy the read!
Reviewing An Evening With Silk Sonic:
10 Takeaways from the Grammy nominations
Voters still value traditional music composition, even if Billboard doesn’t
The phrasing may be off, but you know what I mean. Music from artists who show they have a working understanding of music theory. Music from artists who interpolate elements of jazz or classical music in their work. Don’t take my word for it — Jon Batiste, who’s never charted on the Hot 100 before, scored *11* nominations for his masterful, genre-bending, statement-making record We Are. Plus Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga racked up 6 nominations, including Album of the Year for their cover album of jazz classics “Love for Sale.”
H.E.R still has an uncanny lock on the Recording Academy
Look, H.E.R is insanely talented… but her multitude of nominations, year after year, has always felt…well..a tad unearned. You can find our review of her latest effort Back of my Mind here. While songs like “Cheat Code,” “Lucky,” and “Bloody Waters,” show H.E.R at her best, those are just three songs on a largely forgettable 21-track album. Yet the project, like the two that came before it, scored an Album of the Year nomination — one of eight picked up by H.E.R this year. When you consider the number of R&B acts that have never been nominated for Album of The Year, *cough, cough Jazmine Sullivan,* this is again, slightly head scratching.
People still don’t get the problem with Justice
I’ll probably write more on this considering how nuanced this topic may be to some. It’s been gut-wrenching to watch the success of Justice — an album that seemingly attempted to profit off of the cultural climate of 2020 amid rampant calls for racial and criminal justice. He slapped a few MLK samples on an album that could be the soundtrack to a Rom-Com and told the world it was meant to “offer healing.” As cheap and exploitative as that effort was, the only thing worse is how successful he’s been despite it. The LP’s Album of the Year nomination feels like an endorsement of a cheap tactic by an artist that’s long been accused of disingenuously profiting off of Blackness.
Category expansion allows for more variety, even if its the names we’re used to
According to the New York Times, 24 hours before this year’s nominations were released, the upper echelon of the Recording Academy made the decision to expand the number of nominees in the “Big 4” categories from 8 to 10. That change led to the inclusion of Kanye West’s Donda & Taylor Swift’s Evermore in Album of the Year, Lil Nas X’s “Call Me By Your Name” & Abba’s “I Still Have Faith in You” in Song of the Year and Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More” & Brandi Carlile’s “Right on Time” in Record of the Year. It also led to the addition of Baby Keem and Pakistani American composer and vocalist Arooj Aftab in Best New Artist. While the change largely recognized artists that had already received nominations elsewhere, it affords the Academy the ability to honor more artist in its most lauded categories while giving voters more variety in contenders — both good things.
The Recording Academy still manages to highlight the diamond in the ruff
I mentioned him above, but Jon Baptiste’s We Are really is a fantastic album. The Recording Academy’s ability to spotlight Baptiste, despite him being better known for leading the band on “The Late Show” than his actual releases, is impressive. I feel similarly about Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee, which received two nominations. While widely lauded as one of the year’s best rock albums, it came from an artist that may have been a tad too unrecognizable to assume a guaranteed nomination.
The Rap Field is… head scratching this year
The Academy has done a pretty good job at recognizing rappers that exists in the liminal space between underground and mainstream in years past. Pre-Silk Sonic Anderson .Paak, Freddie Gibbs, D Smoke and Jay Electronica scored nominations last year, which made me optimistic that the Griselda clan of Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher could catch nominations for their series of acclaimed projects. That did not happen. The Academy, this year, recognized more well-known commercial acts with Cardi B, Meg the Stallion, Saweetie, Tyler the Creator, J Cole and Lil Nas X among the contenders for this year’s categories.
Kanye’s nomination means The Academy values music over personality
Y’all remember when he did this?
Despite that, DONDA was nominated for Album of the Year over Certified Lover Boy, King’s Disease 2 and The Off Season. Don’t get me wrong — I think DONDA is the most innovative album out of the bunch, but it’s still a bit surprising to see Kanye get shown this much love despite… his disregard for the award.
The Grammy’s do a really crappy job at highlighting artists at their peak
Most evident by prolific pop group Abba, which got their first Grammy nomination ever, *45 years* after their first US #1, “Dancing Queen.”
Could we be in store for another Gen Z sweep?
Olivia Rodrigo scored nominations in all of the general field categories — “Driver’s License” boasting Song and Record of the Year nominations, Sour picking up an Album of the year nomination and Rodrigo herself likely a lock for her Best New Artist nomination. The last musician to win all four awards was Billie Eilish in 2019. Eilish, alongside Gen Z disruptor Lil Nas X, could also sweep the top 3 categories with each catching Song, Record and Album of the Year nominations. As the Grammy works to appeal to younger voters, consistently highlighting the most recognizable artists from the generation could get the job done.
The Legacy of the Weeknd Still Looms Large
The snub of After Hours and its record-breaking, chart-topping single “Blinding Lights” at last year’s Grammys is considered one of the most egregious in the Recording Academy’s 62 year history. The Canadian crooner swore off submitting his work for consideration after the ordeal, but still finds himself with three nominations thanks to his feature on Kanye West’s “Hurricane” and Doja Cat’s “Need to Know.” Beyond that, the aforementioned expansion of the general field categories is likely the result of the Weeknd’s exclusion the year prior. It’s safe to assume that had the expansion happened in 2020, the Weeknd would have caught a nomination.
Now for fun, here’s my Big 4 predictions.
Album of the Year — We Are by Jon Baptiste.
Record of the Year - Drivers License by Olivia Rodrigo
Song of the Year - Happier than Ever by Billie Eilish
Best New Artist - Olivia Rodrigo
Find the full list of nominations here.
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