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GREIN ON GRAMMYS:
17 SURPRISES ON
THE BALLOT

If you’re a Grammy voter, you should have received your first-round ballot. It will direct you to dozens of lists of entries online, the result of months of diligent effort by Recording Academy personnel. As you start to wade through these lists, some things may catch you by surprise. Here’s a quick list of 17 things that leaped out at me.


Paul Simon’s Stranger to Stranger is vying for a nomination in the category of Best Rock Album, rather than Best Pop Vocal Album. Simon has never won a Grammy in the rock field (though, of course, many of his albums pre-date the 1979 arrival of the rock field).

David Bowie’s Blackstar is competing in the category of Best Alternative Music Album, rather than Best Rock Album. This is probably an acknowledgement of Bowie’s pioneering status as a genre-defying musician.


Justin Timberlake
’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” is competing for noms for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, as expected, but it’s not the solo version that debuted at #1. It’s the film version that features 10 other voice actors from the upcoming animated movie Trolls, including Anna Kendrick, Gwen Stefani, James Corden, Zooey Deschanel and Kunal Nayyar. These actors appeared in the song’s first music video. The strategy here may be to put the focus on the film, which comes out 11/4. Timberlake is no doubt hoping for an Oscar nomination for the song, which he co-wrote with Max Martin and Shellback.

Margo Price’s critically lauded debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, is competing for a nom for Best Americana Album, rather than Best Country Album. It was thought to be right on the line between the two genres. On the other hand, Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which was also thought to be right on the line, is competing for a nom for Best Country Album. His 2014 album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, was nominated for Best Americana Album.

Shawn Mendes is competing for a Best New Artist nom. No one would argue with that. The talented teen had a terrific year. But, for the record, Mendes’ debut album, Handwritten, debuted at #1 in April 2015. In the old days, that would have been considered “achieving prominence.”

The Lumineers’ sophomore album, Cleopatra, is competing for a nom for Best Americana Album, rather than Best Alternative Music Album. The group’s 2012 debut, The Lumineers, received a nom in the Americana category. Some thought Cleopatra might compete in the alternative category. “Ophelia,” the lead single from the album, is the year’s biggest alternative hit.

Frank Ocean’s sophomore album, Blonde, wasn’t entered for Best Urban Contemporary Album or Album of the Year. Ocean’s debut album, channel ORANGE, won the urban contemporary award and was nominated for Album of the Year.


Kendrick Lamar
’s compilation, untitled unmastered., wasn’t entered for Best Rap Album or Album of the Year. Lamar’s third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, won the rap award and was nominated for Album of the Year. Evidently, his team wants to take a year off from the Grammy game and wait for his next proper studio album.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ sophomore album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, wasn’t entered for Best Rap Album or Album of the Year. The duo’s debut album, The Heist, won the rap award and was nominated for Album of the Year. The win in the latter category caused them some grief in the press—they beat the critically lauded Lamar.

James Bay’s classy ballad “Let It Go” isn’t competing for Song of the Year. I had thought it would land a nomination. A live version of the song is competing for Record of the Year. (Live versions of songs are rarely nominated in that top category.) Bay was nominated for three Grammys last year, but he didn’t win. And “Let It Go” didn’t compete last year for Record or Song of the Year.

Kelly Clarkson’s team decided to go with a version of “Piece by Piece” that she sang on American Idol, rather than the studio version (which made the Top 10). Her Idol version, you may remember, made judge Keith Urban tear up—which helped make the video go viral. “Piece by Piece (Idol Version)” is contending for noms for Record and Song of the Year.

Fifth Harmony’s 7/27 is competing for a nom for Best Pop Vocal Album, rather than Best Urban Contemporary Album or Best R&B Album. At least the female quintet is somewhere. Tamar Braxton’s Calling All Lovers isn’t competing in any of these three categories.

Eric Clapton’s I Still Do and Mudcrutch’s 2 are competing for noms for Best Americana Album, rather than Best Rock Album.


Ray LaMontagne
’s Ouroboros is competing for Best Rock Album. LaMontagne’s 2010 album God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise won for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

Blink-182’s California is competing for Best Rock Album rather than Best Alternative Music Album. The trio had one of the year’s biggest alternative hits with “Bored to Death.” Several other acts that had top alternative hits this year are also competing for Best Rock Album. Among them: The Strumbellas, Cage the Elephant, Nothing but Thieves and Kaleo.

Esperanza Spalding, the surprise winner of Best New Artist six years ago, is competing for Best Alternative Music Album for Emily’s D+Evolution. Spalding’s previous studio album, Radio Music Society, won Best Jazz Vocal Album four years ago.

Mac Miller’s The Divine Feminine and Ty Dolla Sign’s Free TC are competing for Best Urban Contemporary Album rather than Best Rap Album.


Now, it’s time for you to do your due diligence. First-round ballots are due on 11/4. That’s just 18 days away—and I seem to recall that we have a presidential election stealing some of our focus from the important business of Grammy voting. Good luck. 

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