One of the esoteric thought bubbles I like to share on Twitter is whether music award ceremonies count. There are so many of them, and then so many different award categories inherent, that surely not all of them can possibly count. The American Music Awards do not count. The MTV Music Video Awards do count. The J Awards don’t really count. The ARIA Awards kinda count. The Brit Awards and Mercury Music Awards count, though the latter less so. The Latin Grammys and the Golden Guitars do not count. The one that counts more than any other, the award that can even get Radiohead caring about winning, is the Grammys (sans adjective).
There are three main Grammy Awards out of a field of quite literally several hundred: Album, Record and Song of the Year.
Album of the Year is for the best album, as we tend to know it in modern parlance, that is, a collection of, say, 9-to-14 songs available in a single purchase. This award goes to the artist, featured artists, producers and engineers.
Record of the Year is an artist award for the best single piece of music — the best recording — and it is presented to the artist, featured artists, producers and engineers.
Song of the Year is a songwriting award and it is presented to the writers of the music and lyrics (if different) of a single piece of music. Often the performing artist will be listed next to the Song of the Year nominees but this simply for referencing purposes; the artist is not credited with winning this Grammy unless they also contributed to its writing.
Nominations for the 2016 Grammy Awards (the 58th edition) will be announced on 7 December 2015 ahead of the awards ceremony on 15 February 2016. To be eligible for consideration for these Grammys, music had to be released or come to prominence between 1 October 2014 and 30 September 2015.
Album of the Year
The most prestigious Grammy of them all tends to be won by a middle of the road or jazz act that was relevant 20 years ago, viz Beck, Robert Plant, Herbie Hancock, U2, Ray Charles, Steely Dan, Santana and Bob Dylan all winning this gong in the not too distant past. Littered among these, however, have been some contemporary, even hip, artists like Lauryn Hill, Mumford & Sons, Daft Punk and Arcade Fire. More often than not, though, these cooler acts receive sufficient prestige simply by being nominated alongside geriatrics like Dave Matthews. And the Grammys does have a fairly good record of nominating some zeitgeist-capturing episodes in brilliance, like Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness; OK Computer; Channel Orange, El Camino and Good Kid, MAAD City all being raised up, even if Smashing Pumpkins did end up losing to Celine Dion.
In the official awards guide for Album of the Year, the Grammys says this award will be chosen “without regard to album sales or chart position” but the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences tends to exercise a healthy degree of realpolitik, and is cognisant that if well-known, popular releases aren’t being included throughout the show, no-one is going to bother watching. I like Paul Simon as much as the next person but seriously no-one is listening to his new stuff. The three guiding lights, therefore, to forecasting the nominees are: in-the-now critical darlingness, commercial success and superannuated respectability.
1989 — Taylor Swift: Megazillion selling album (5.4 million, to be precise) from this generation’s It Girl, plus she has Grammys form on the board, having won for Fearless in 2010 and lost with Red in 2014. NOMINATED
To Pimp A Butterfly — Kendrick Lamar: This much loved follow-up shattered all those Difficult Second Album cliches and kept us moving to a string of hits like i, Alright and King Kunta. The charged political and social tensions for African Americans through 2015 is reflected with poise and cutting insight in Lamar’s lyrics, adding a degree of artistic realism. NOMINATED
Uptown Special — Mark Ronson (and friends): It was a year ago so it has been flushed from a lot of our consciousnesses, but there was no escaping Uptown Funk at the end of 2014, and that track, along with Ronson’s collegiate sounds featuring Kevin Parker, Mystikal and Andrew Wyatt, should make Uptown Special a contender.
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful — Florence + The Machine: The first US #1 album from this now iconic voice of feminist London sensibilities is set to earn Florence her debut Best Album nomination.
Before This World — James Taylor: JT is an old man with Grammy priors from the Nixon administration singing adult contemporary dirges with titles like “Stretch of the Highway” and “Today Today Today” so you just know he’s going to be in the mix.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late — Drake: Best surprise drop of the year from the 20th most followed person on Twitter.
Sound & Colour — Alabama Shakes: Assured new record from one of the most distinctive voices in blues rock, a genre favoured by Grammy voters. NOMINATED
Wilder Mind — Mumford & Sons: There’s still a lot of love around for this monoauralistic collective (and Marcus and Carey Mulligan are going for the rare Best Album/Best Actress awards double).
Title — Meghan Trainor: Big debut LP from the new queen of Blue Eyed Soul, choc full of catchy, cheeky numbers to complement megahit All About That Bass (bout that bass, no treble (sorry, it’s in my head now)).
Pageant Material — Kacey Musgraves: Female country singers have been a staple of this category and Kacey could follow Shania, Taylor and the Dixie Chicks with a nod.
Currents — Tame Impala: Super good third album from the West Australian band has been a hit with US audiences, debuted at #4 on the US Billboard 200 and slowly but surely built up a lot of momentum heading into the voting process. Lonerism was nominated for Best Alternative Album (losing to Modern Vampires Of The City, an album I adore) and Currents is a solid outside chance of stepping up to the main stage.
Also nominated but not predicted: Traveller by Chris Stapleton & Beauty Behind The Madness by Weeknd.
Record of the Year & Song of the Year
Although these two categories are distinct they are conceptually similar and each year the venn diagram of nominees tends to have a sizable ellipse. Here are the tracks nominated for both Song and Record of the Year over the past 10 years (* = won both awards):
2015: Stay With Me*, Chandelier, Shake It Off, All About That Bass (4)
2014: Royals, Locked Out Of Heaven (2)
2013: We Are Young (1)
2012: Rolling In The Deep*, The Cave, Grenade, Holocene (4)
2011: Need You Now*, Fuck You, Love The Way You Lie (3)
2010: Poker Face, Use Somebody, You Belong With Me (3)
2009: Viva La Vida, Chasing Pavements (2)
2008: Rehab*, Umbrella (2)
2007: Not Ready To Make Nice*, Be Without You, You’re Beautiful, Put Your Records On (4)
2006: We Belong Together (1)
Five out of 10 years the same song wins both Song and Record of the Year, while a mean of 2.6 and a median of 2.5 out of five nominated songs are shared between each category. Looking back at this past decade broadly reveals that Record noms tend to be more pop-oriented chart toppers: you’ll know nearly all of these songs, even if some of them are only by osmosis. Song of the Year can be a tad more niche, with low sales or esoteric fanbases not inhibiting songs performed by Rascal Flatts, Ray LaMontagne, Miguel and Maxwell being recognised. To put it bluntly, Record of the Year can veer populist while Song of the Year is more artistically nuanced.
Uptown Funk — Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars: I’m tempted to call this a certainty because if this infectious pop contagion isn’t nominated in both categories I’ll walk to Jackson, Mississippi. Fourteen weeks at #1 in the US proves this track was much loved and Bruno is a past master in these categories. The Black Caviar, or should that be American Pharoah, of chances. NOMINATED (Record)
Blank Space or Bad Blood — Taylor Swift (& Kendrick Lamar): You can’t be nominated twice in either of these categories so this will come down to which track best fits the category and piques the interest of voters. Blank Space is a work of pure bubblegum pop perfection, complete with some acerbic lyrics to cement Swift’s place as the nonpareil self-aware lyrical raconteur of her generation (co-writer Max Martin, the Norse God of #1 Hits has thrice been nominated and never won Song), while Bad Blood had that music video and a cameo from rapgod Kendrick Lamar to camouflage its two dimensionality and that ghastly half rhyme of blood with love. I can see Blank Space getting a Song nod and Bad Blood going for Record. NOMINATED — BLANK SPACE (Record & Song)
See You Again — Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth: Sentimentality over Paul Walker’s demise and a furiously successful film franchise catapulted Wiz and Charlie to the top of the charts, and with reason: this is a superb conflation of Wiz’s unique urban stylings with Charlie’s syrupy vocals, piercing eyes and anachronistic quiff. Leaning more to Record than Song but a strong chance of both. NOMINATED (Song)
Thinking Out Loud — Ed Sheeran: Anyone who has been to a wedding in the last 12 months will have heard “we found love…right…where…we…are” enough times for a lifetime. Ed is a Grammys darling and while he hasn’t won a major award yet the Academy knows nominating a wildly popular if unlikely heartthrob will generate a lot of interest. NOMINATED (Record & Song)
Earned It (50 Shades Of Grey) or Can’t Feel My Face — Weeknd: The latter was the bigger hit but it was Earned It (50 Shades Of Grey) that introduced Abel Tesfaye’s instantly recognisable sound (and hairdo) to a wide audience and that could be enough to push it into Record and Song contention. If not, Weeknd will have to make do with a Best New Artist selection. NOMINATED — Can’t Feel My Face (Record)
FourFiveSeconds — Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney: A pared back vocal jousting by two of the hottest acts of the modern era with an ex-Beatle on guitar? This is what’s known in the game as Grammy Bait. This song really started to get on my nerves after FourFiveMonths, which is the only reason it’s highly likely and not a near certainty, lest the judges concur.
Let It Happen — Tame Impala: A long, multivalent recording that appeals to people who appreciate musicianship.
Cheerleader (Remix) — OMI & Felix Jaehn: Reggae crossover hit that shows simplicity sells. More Record than Song contender.
Fight Song — Rachel Platten: Catchy and pleasant track from the singer/songwriter who has really paid her dues over 15 years to finally achieve success.
Hotline Bling — Drake: Drizzy’s viral smash seemingly came out of nowhere and perfectly set the mood for a Netflix and Chill or whatever the kids are calling hooking up these days.
First — Cold War Kids: This is a superbly constructed song about one of CWK’s most frequent subjects: the devastating effects of alcoholism.
Pedestrian At Best — Courtney Barnett: Rolling Stone magazine called it the best song of the first half of 2015 (and that’s despite U2 releasing singles) and Barnett’s broad accent describing relationship ennui — and that chorus — will have special appeal to American ears. Gotye, Kimbra and Lorde have proven that antipodean artists can get the job done in these categories.
Also nominated but not predicted: Really Love by D’Angelo and the Vanguard (Record) & Alright as performed by Kendrick Lamar and Girl Crush as performed by Little Big Town (Song)