Friday, December 04, 2015

2016 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Album of the Year & Song of the Year

Call me whatever, but the first week of December has always been an exciting time for me. There's so much that the Grammys could do to improve the integrity of their award, yet I still come back every year to take a crack at guessing who will get nominated where. It's the most important game in town when it comes to music awards. My infinite optimism, for better or worse, allows me to keep thinking that they'll eventually get it right one day. Regardless, it's always fun to take a look back at the year in music.

The nominations for the 58th Annual Grammy will be announced on Dec. 7 during CBS' This Morning and the actual hardware will be handed out Feb. 15, 2016. Back in June, I took a look at the Big Four categories and now I'm ready to walk the tightrope without a net and declare my final predictions for all the world to see. For this post, I'll be examining the fields for Album of the Year and Song of the Year. I also took a look at Record of the Year and Best New Artist, which you need to check out as well.

Album of the Year

I alluded to it a bit in my post for Best New Artist, but it's becoming harder and harder to create new stars. All this means is that the field becomes easier to predict and there is a shallower pool of contenders to choose from. This category has always tried to reward albums that have sold well and are also critically acclaimed. With sales being in a downward trend, it makes it harder to come up with a consensus choice on what could be a potential Album of the Year nominee.

Right now, we're at the precipice of the digital sales cliff before streaming becomes the dominant format. The definition of what we consider success will eventually transition from how many consumers are willing to buy a record to how often consumers are willing to listen to your music. When the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) will catch up to this trend and accurately reflect it in the nominations is unknown, but it may be coming sooner than we think.

This year I think will still play by the old rules, which means you can reserve a spot for Taylor Swift's 1989. Three #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and solid reviews are some of the key ingredients to landing an Album of the Year spot. The fact that Swift is the closest thing we have to a musical juggernaut, aside from Adele, assures her of plenty of Grammy nominations every year as long as she can deliver the quality.

The inclusion of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly will be significant for a number of reasons, but the one that's most intriguing from a business aspect is that it will be the first AOTY nominee to make as much noise for first week sales as well it did for streaming numbers. Glossy stats aside, the album stands as one of the most critically acclaimed of the year and was as culturally relevant as any mainstream album released in the past decade. I'd consider him a lock.

Going further along with the sales + acclaim equation, The Weeknd's Beauty Behind The Madness seems like another obvious fit. This category is often seen as a reward for being dominant over the course of a calendar and The Weeknd has had a hit that stayed on everyone's radar nearly every step of the way. "Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey)", "Can't Feel My Face" and now "The Hills" have all shown great legs, which should bode well for his chances. Reviews have also been positive and his sound is contemporary, which will help the NARAS sleep well at night with their decision. Plus, the kids aren't going to tune in to your awards show unless they see some names they recognize.

If there aren't enough popular acts, the blue ribbon panel—which is the secret committee that decides upon the Big Four nominees based on the top 15 vote-getters among submissions—will try to come up with a few albums that bring some integrity to the category.

Rock always appears to be the equivalent of quality at the Grammys and seen to be a driving force in making great music, even as it's now being outsold by other key genres. Although great rock albums still exist, they don't exactly drive the culture like they used to, yet the NARAS feels its mandatory to always include something from the genre. Nine out of the past ten years have seen a rock album get nominated here, with hip hop following up with six and only three country albums in that same span.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

2016 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Record of the Year & Best New Artist

You have no idea how happy I get during this time of year. Poring over a list of songs and artists in order to determine who will get nominated for an award that's perpetually behind the curve, but still the most important in its industry, truly gets my neurons percolating. It's like trying to solve a puzzle that not many have the passion to attempt and why I do it every year.

The nominations for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards will be announced on Dec. 7 during CBS' This Morning, with the actual ceremony on Feb. 15, 2016. I'm here once again to give my final predictions as to who will be nominated in the general field. Over the summer, I examined the contenders and where they stood at the moment, if you want further insight into my thought process. For this post, I'll only be taking a look at Record of the Year and Best New Artist, with Album of the Year and Song of the Year to follow in a separate post.

Record of the Year 

The first thing to do when analyzing this category is revisit some of the biggest hits of the year. Over the past five years, sixteen of the thirty-one nominees reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, with last year's group dominating the summit for a combined total of 19 weeks.

I think you know where I'm going this.

There was no bigger song than Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk," truly the only track this year to unite a nation. Its place in Record of the Year is a foregone conclusion, so let's just get that out of the way.

Taylor Swift manages to dominate the general field conversation whenever she's eligible. This year should be no different, but I'll admit to being slightly worried since timing and momentum played a huge part in the nominations for "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "Shake It Off." But it's Taylor Swift. Time doesn't exist to her. She's on a different plane than the rest of us mere mortals. Save a spot for "Blank Space" as well, despite it being a full year old.

One doesn't always need to reach #1 in order to make a huge impact. Sometimes, just hovering around in the top ten for months will do the job, which is why I like Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" to grab a spot here as well. It's no secret that the Grammys love acknowledging male vocalists who also happen to be musicians. Strap an acoustic guitar onto a man and everything he coos is automatically going to be "deep." At least that's the perception that's been ingrained into our collective conscience for the past half-century. Sheeran has been nominated in each of the general field categories except for ROTY. Now that he has an actual money song that mostly all of America has heard of, the path to him landing a nod here should be laid out nice and smoothly.

If we're still on the subject of songs that never seem to die, Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" was a prime example of such in 2015. In one of the most organic rises in recent memory, "Trap Queen" went from being a Soundcloud sensation to knocking on the door of being the #1 song in the country. In an era where there are few ubiquitous songs that everyone can agree on (Can your mother sing the words to OMI's "Cheerleader"? Didn't think so.), it can't be taken for granted when a song had the kind of the legs this one did. Plus, you know things are major when Taylor Swift gives you a co-sign.

For all intents and purposes, "Trap Queen" should be a Record of the Year nominee. But it probably won't. The blue ribbon panelthe secret committee of industry folk who are chosen to determine the Big Four categories each year from the top 15 submissions—may not be ready to welcome someone as rough around the edges as Fetty Wap to their party. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences doesn't usually have the greatest understanding of the latest trends in hip hop, but they're cagey enough to recognize those that are obviously talented (Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Outkast, Kanye West, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis). Therefore, I think there's probably an elitism that might prevent certain kinds of hip hop that's lacking in lyrical dexterity or seen as "too street" from ever getting a major nomination.