The nominations for the Grammy Awards always seem to lead to more arguments than any other music awards shows’ choices do. That’s inevitable, since the Grammys’ list of categories is so vast and sometimes confusing, and the criteria by which the nominating committee settles on its selections is often inexplicable.
The announcement of the list of potential Grammy winners last night was no different, and it starts at the top: Jay Z lead all artists with nine total nominations, even though his 2013 release Magna Carta…Holy Grail was considered tepid at best (an adjudication Jigga himself seems to share). What’s even stranger is that none of those nine nominations are in the Big Three categories: Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Record of the Year. He also shares a couple of those nominations with Justin Timberlake for “Suit & Tie.” So Jay taking home the most nominations is a little deceptive — it’s not like the year Adele scored a boatload of nods and then dominated the proceedings.
That’s only the beginning. Here are nine more confusing snubs and pleasant surprises embedded within the Grammy nominations.
Surprise: Justin Timberlake
Weep not for JT; he picked up seven nominations across a multitude of categories, including Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
But it’s a little bit shocking that he did not find his way into any of the big three categories: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Album of the Year. Based on past Grammy love (and his overwhelming haul at the American Music Awards a few weeks ago), any of his singles or the entirety of The 20/20 Experience could have picked up some nods. This isn’t necessarily a snub, because on balance a lot of the material Timberlake put out this year was problematic, but considering his ubiquity it’s mildly shocking he didn’t walk away with more potential gold.
Snub: Lorde in Best New Artist
Again, Lorde still had a pretty good night, snagging four nominations including one each for Record of the Year and Song of the Year (not to mention delivering a killer performance of “Royals”). But in the one category where she seemed like a slam dunk—Best New Artist—she was shut out. Her eligibility was fine and all of the dates of her releases qualified, so she was not left out on some sort of weird Grammy technicality.
Perhaps voters thought Best New Artist was already beneath a girl who had a number one hit? Except that logic didn’t extend to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who did get a Best New Artist nod and have topped the Hot 100 twice. Lorde may have actually dodged a bullet, since the Best New Artist award still seems mildly cursed, and she’ll be a frontrunner for Song and Record of the Year anyway.
Surprise: Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest
Album of the Year remains one of the key categories in the Grammys even though nobody buys albums anymore, and four out of the five titles nominated make perfect Grammy sense: Taylor Swift’s Red is a well-reviewed commercial juggernaut, Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.a.a.d. city is their annual “cool” choice, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist is a great narrative surrounding independence and positivity, and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories scores points for being both forward-looking and a throwback. The fifth choice is a head-scratcher, as Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest is by no means a bad album, but feels very unremarkable. In that light, Lorde’s Pure Heroine and Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox feel like mild snubs.
Snub: Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball”
Miley Cyrus’ 2013 album Bangerz came out too late in the year for it to be eligible for consideration, but both of her massive singles were sitting right there, waiting to be drafted. Sure, Cyrus has been a bit of a lightning rod, but that shouldn’t have stopped voters from tapping into either of these songs—especially “Wrecking Ball,” one of the defining tunes of 2013.
Surprise: Kendrick Lamar
Mark this one down as one of the Grammys’ most pleasant surprises; Lamar is one of the best new MCs working, and his album Good Kid, m.a.a.d. city is an instant classic. The Grammys tend to pick out one cool kid every year, and it’s a relief that they chose such a fine representative. All told, Lamar is nominated for seven prizes, including Album of the Year. He probably won’t win the big one (that seems reserved for Taylor Swift), but it probably means he’ll get some performance time in January, and on stage is where Kendrick eats.
Surprise: “Roar” vs. “Brave” in Best Pop Solo Performance
OK, so now the Grammys are just trolling us. Not only did Bareilles snag the Album of the Year nomination, but she also picked up a second nod in the Best Pop Solo Performance category for “Brave.” Her competition includes Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and as the Internet pointed out earlier this year, those songs sound remarkably similar.
Snub: Every good comedy album
This is a pretty low-level snub, but the category for Best Comedy Album is a travesty. Outside of Tig Notaro’s genuinely funny and deeply affecting Live, the entire field—Kathy Griffin, Bob Saget, Craig Ferguson, and Ron White—is horrible, especially when you consider that the past year was a killer year for comedy albums. Along with Notaro, the nominees should have included Pete Holmes’ Nice Try, The Devil, Kumail Nanjiani’s Beta Male, Kurt Braunohler’s How Do I Land? and Maria Bamford’s Ask Me About My New God. Who would have thought Grammy voters would have no sense of humor? (Oh, everybody? Okay.)
Surprise: Best Rock Performance might be the best category in the field
There’s no real rock to be found in the upper echelon of the Grammy nominations, which should not come as a surprise considering what a weak year is was for rock and how little the Grammys seem to care about it anyway. But the Best Rock Performance category might be the best mix of nominees in the entire field. Queens of the Stone Age’s “My God Is the Sun,” Alabama Shakes’ “Always Alright,” David Bowie’s “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” and Jack White’s “I’m Shakin” all made it seem like a killer year for guitars, and the only thing that sours the category is the nomination for a live version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” which is 38-year-old tune that was performed poorly on Zep’s deeply overrated concert film Celebration Day.
Snub: Sound City
Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City should have been catnip for Grammy voters; it took a loving look at classic recording techniques and the makings of cornerstone rock albums from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. But it didn’t get a nod for Best Music Film, which feels like a slight. The argument against Sound City is that it’s an amazing documentary that completely falls off a cliff in the final 20 minutes while Grohl works with people on making new music, but that was apparently the voters’ favorite part, as the film’s soundtrack Sound City: Real to Reel got a nod for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media and the song “Cut Me Some Slack” (Grohl’s melding of the surviving members of Nirvana and Paul McCartney) got a Best Rock Song nod.
Readers, what’s your take?