The Grammy nominations fulfilled several long-term predictions—big hauls for Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift and The Weeknd, for starters—and offered a spate of surprises. Let’s take a look at how the major categories shook out.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
While the aforementioned trio were considered a lock for this category, Chris Stapleton’s Traveller (Mercury Nashville) was propelled into the ring by momentum following his CMA performance, which turned into two #1 weeks on the album chart and consistent sales thereafter. His big Grammy nod should keep that momentum rolling.
Meanwhile, Alabama Shakes’ nomination finds the Academy stepping up for rock in a year that found the genre virtually unrepresented in the major categories. Brittany Howard and bandmates won scores of new fans and critical accolades with their Sound & Color (ATO/Caroline), and have stayed on the radar in those crucial months leading up to the noms (a big Apple spot certainly didn’t hurt).
RECORD OF THE YEAR
The surprise here is D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s “Really Love.” While the RCA soul artist earned great reviews for his 2015 album, Black Messiah, the set vanished quickly and D’Angelo didn’t resurface subsequently in the mainstream. “Really Love,” which is also nominated for Best R&B Song, is the only song in the category that wasn’t a commercial hit. But this category’s wild card does up the cool factor. Props to Grammy Whisperer Paul Grein for talking up Black Messiah in his mid-year assessment of the field.
It’s worth noting that Drake’s massive “Hotline Bling” was not submitted, due to a clerical error on the part of label Cash Money. That huge hit might well have been a multiple-category contender but for this goof.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” (Capitol Nashville), which first became a story due to Country radio’s resistance to its alleged gay subtext, defied Music City’s more conservative gatekeepers and had a huge impact on the marketplace—it’s now nearing 2m in single sales. Expect its inclusion here to keep this resonant song (penned by Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose) crushing.
BEST NEW ARTIST
The Academy honored an array of commercial acts—pop breakout Meghan Trainor, Nashville crossover phenom Sam Hunt, troubadour James Bay and big-voiced siren Tori Kelly, all widely predicted—and gave the wild-card spot to Aussie indie Courtney Barnett, who won big critical swoons earlier in the year. Some thought the spot might go to Hozier, but our sense is the Academy felt too much time had elapsed since his debut. Though they didn’t make the cut, Leon Bridges and Elle King were certainly in the final conversation after worthy breakthrough years.
The Academy was clearly glad not only to be able to rectify last year’s Rap Album flap but to give Album of the Year recognition to one of the best hip hop records in recent memory, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (TDE/Interscope).
Don Henley getting shut out of the major categories was a surprise, as was the other categories’ overall snub—the Eagles frontman earned a single nod, for Best American Roots Song (“The Cost of Living”).
Team Republic has to be feeling particularly gratified with its 42 nods, especially as 10 of these were for the two acts the House of Lipman had announced were its breakout priorities for 2015, The Weeknd and James Bay. Add Taylor’s big haul and at least one pony in every major-category race, and the ethos is strong.
Mike Dungan’s Universal Nashville is another big label winner, with topline nods for breakouts Sam Hunt and Chris Stapleton and four of the five Best Country Album nominees (those two plus Little Big Town and Kacey Musgraves).
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