Like a lot of music fans, we at InBetweenDrafts had our own thoughts about the nominees for the 65th annual Grammy Awards. The Recording Academy announced the nominees on Nov. 15, and as always there were surprises both positive and negative in the list of artists, songs, and albums that have a chance to win on what is allegedly “Music’s Biggest Night” on Feb. 5, 2023. It’s real easy to make fun of the Grammys – The Simpsons have been doing it since 1993, and pop critics for much longer. The Grammys have a history of getting things wrong or making inexplicable choices, but they also sometimes make interesting or even welcome choices. This year’s nominations are, as always, a grab bag of thoughts. Music editor Ryan Gibbs and music writers Jon Winkler and Mark Wesley have created a list of nine of their biggest takeaways from those nominees.
Mr. Lamar and the Big Single
It’s strange to think that a new Kendrick Lamar album, something the world has been clamoring for over the last four years, could be seen as one of the lesser stories in music this year. Proof of that is not only how Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers only has three nominations this year (Album of the Year, Best Rap Album and Best Melodic Rap Performance for the album cut “Die
Hard”), but that his most nominations for this year’s show is for a song barely on the album. “The Heart Part 5” has five nominations (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Music Video) while sounding entirely separate from the core of the Mr. Morale album (though it was included as a bonus track on streams of the album).
Whereas the songs on Mr. Morale have Lamar laying some personal secrets and thoughts bare, “The Heart Part 5” is a sweeping mission statement on how “the culture” can poison success (especially for Black Americans) and the importance of looking out for each other. In other words, “Part 5” is what made the Grammys and other award shows take notice of Lamar in the first place while Mr. Morale has the tender topics that the Grammys aren’t sure if they’re ready to award. Kendrick is likely a heavy favorite for Rap Album, but the Grammys seem more willing to praise Kendrick Lamar the figure than Kendrick Lamar the man. [Jon Winkler]
Muse goes metal?
The Grammys got off on the wrong foot with heavy metal. No metalhead will ever let the Recording Academy forget when they gave the first Grammy for “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental” in 1989 to prog rockers Jethro Tull instead of Metallica or Jane’s Addiction. The academy promptly split the two awards, but hard rock was discontinued in 2012 and some bands that aren’t outright metal have been nominated since. Maybe that’s what happened this year.
In the years since the 1989 fiasco, the Grammys have done a pretty solid job with both nominating and voting in the metal category, which currently nominates songs instead of albums. Metallica and Tool have won it a bunch of times, and Soundgarden, Deftones, and Nine Inch Nails have all scored wins. In recent years, it’s been pretty on the pulse recognizing and honoring new, cool names in heavy music like Mastodon (who won in 2018), Ghost, Baroness, Gojira, Code Orange, High on Fire (2019 winners), Poppy, and Power Trip. This year, the nominees feature two surprises that jump out from the list of names.
First is a good one: This was a big year for melodic hardcore band Turnstile, who were nominated for a ton of awards in the rock field. Nominated track “Blackout”, a standout from their great 2021 album Glow On, is one of that album’s most metallic tracks and the best song to nominate for this category. The surprise is that Turnstile isn’t ordinarily thought of as a metal band, and I didn’t expect to see them in this category, but I could see how they could fit this award.
More surprising is the nomination of Muse’s “Kill or Be Killed”. Although Muse are best remembered now as a stadium prog band, a true anomaly for alternative radio in the mid 2000s, the band did record some legitimately heavy cuts like “Hyper Music” and “Stockholm Syndrome”. Even at their heaviest, they’ve never come as close to metal as their obvious forebears Rush did. “Kill or Be Killed” really is one of the most metal songs I’ve heard from Muse, I’m just not sure if it’s all the way metal. You could probably say the same thing for Turnstile, but there’s a lot of edge cases between hard rock and metal even though metal eventually gets very distinct from even the hardest “hard rock.” Maybe that’s why the Grammys tried to group them together in the first place. A prog band, and let alone one that isn’t out-and-out prog metal like Dream Theater, and them getting nominated for this award might give metalheads flashbacks to 1988 and that certain flute-driven British band.
I think the most likely winner here is a band that’s on the “softer” end of metal but is still definitively metal, the melodic, spooky Swedish band Ghost who had a great year in 2022 when their catalog cut “Mary on a Cross” went viral on TikTok and gave them their first Hot 100 appearance. Ghost has already won one metal Grammy for “Cirice” in 2016, and “Call Me Little Sunshine” is a solid track that seems like a good bet to net them their second. [Ryan Gibbs]
Black Country, New Road gets shut out
One of the frontrunners for the Best Alternative categories was Black Country, New Road. The London group was hot off the release of their latest opus, Ants from Up There, and the departure of their frontman, Isaac Wood. Ants was a touchstone in the indie community. Not only due to its crushing lyrical content but the band’s instrumentation as a whole. You would be hard-pressed to find an album like Ants from Up There this year.
The album was universally praised by both critics and fans alike. Undoubtedly, it will end up on plenty of end-of-the-year lists. So this begs the question: why wasn’t it nominated for a Grammy? The exclusion of BC;NR was a head-scratcher for many. Especially when a slot within the nominations was given to Arcade Fire, whose frontman Win Butler has been mired in controversy over a series of sexual misconduct allegations.
Looking past the controversy, Ants from Up There is a better album than WE. The dynamic nature of Ants can be felt coursing through the very DNA of the record. The album plays like a one-long slow burn, building its narrative and conjuring imagery of Billie Eilish and Concorde jets. When closer “Basketball Shoes” lands at the record’s conclusion, it feels like a film epic has reached its long-awaited end. Perhaps it was too soon? No one knows for sure. If Black Country, New Road continue creating records of the same caliber of Ants from Up There, they will get their just due. [Mark Wesley]
Stay Home, the Kids Might Boo You
It’s been a year of give and takes for Jack Harlow. “First Class” is one of the year’s biggest songs and earned a Grammy nom for Best Melodic Rap Performance while “Churchill Downs,” Harlow’s collab with Drake, scored a nom for Best Rap Song. Harlow also earned a Best Rap Album nomination for Come Home The Kids Miss You, which is odd considering the near-universal dismissal of that record when it came out back in May. Critical response to the album (and Harlow himself) hasn’t been outright negative, but the consensus is that the Kentucky native’s sophomore effort is too monotonous and forgettable to stand out among other releases in rap this year. Pitchfork’s 2.9 rating was especially harsh, calling the album, “among the most insipid, vacuous statements in recent pop history.” It’s easy to understand “First Class” getting a nomination, but it certainly can’t propel the album it’s part of to level up against fellow Rap Album nominees Pusha T and Kendrick Lamar. The heated response to Macklemore’s win over Lamar back in 2014 would be tame compared to the nuclear heat if Harlow somehow pulled this off. [Jon Winkler]
Best New Artist
As is often the case, Best New Artist is full of surprises, snubs and sure things in the nominations this year. It was a nice surprise to see bluegrass guitar virtuoso Molly Tuttle up for a nod in this category, as pure roots acts whose music isn’t mixed with country or indie rock typically do not get nominations like this. Pitchfork reported that several indie rock names, including a few that aren’t “new”, per se, were submitted for consideration in this category this year including Snail Mail, Black Country New Road, Mitski, Soccer Mommy, Turnstile, and Idles, but none of those got on the ballot. Instead, the genre’s representative in the field this year is Wet Leg, who also picked up nominations in both alternative awards.
The Italian hard rock band Måneskin got a nod for this year, which is interesting considering 2021 felt like their big international breakthrough year and they could’ve easily been nominated last year instead. It is nice to see that the Eurovision Song Contest is finally having an effect on American pop culture that it hasn’t had since ABBA in the ‘70s. (Speaking of ABBA, we’ll get back to them later on).
There’s a couple names that feel like surprising omissions. According to Billboard, Tems, Steve Lacy, and Jack Harlow were ruled ineligible, explaining why those surefire names were left out. Sudan Archives, Em Beihold, Dove Cameron, Joji, GloRilla, The Linda Lindas, and Goose all seemed like plausible nominees and not one of them is there.
Out of the 2023 nominees, the best bets to win the award seem to be either Brazilian pop singer Anitta or the French-American jazz fusion duo Domi & JD Beck. Anitta seems to be the internet’s favorite, and from the moment I heard Domi & JD Beck’s music I thought they were a shoe-in for a nomination. I like them a lot, and as a young act in an oft-ignored style like instrumental jazz, they also seem like an artist that the Grammys would like too. [Ryan Gibbs]
Best Rap Album nominees disappoint
One of the more baffling decisions made by the Grammy committee this year came in the Best Rap Album category. It’s pretty common to have rap fans in a tizzy over these picks. This category is notorious for a good reason, and 2022 seems no different. In a year where both JID and Denzel Curry released career-defining records in The Forever Story and Melt My Eyez, See Your Future, respectively, the nominations were instead occupied by industry favorites – Jack Harlow, Kendrick Lamar, DJ Khaled, and Future. And Pusha T got a nice inclusion too.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers deserved its spot. The album marked Kendrick’s return and showed listeners a new side of the artist that was shockingly vulnerable. Even Pusha T and Future’s inclusions, although somewhat questionable, could potentially be argued.
That leaves us with Kentucky’s own Jack Harlow and pirate radio DJ-turned-Snapchat fitness coach DJ Khaled to fill out the remaining two slots. Both artists have had hits this year; Jack with First Class and Khaled with Staying Alive. But why choose them? More than any other year, the underground has shown that it possesses some real heavy hitters. Artists like Redveil, Joey Badass, Earl Sweatshirt, and the Griselda collective released albums that will end up in many end-of-year lists.
The Grammy’s have shown that they are aware of the underground in some capacity. Their nomination of “Alfredo” by Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist proves that, at times, they will get it right. It’s a shame that in a year of fledgling mainstream rap, the safest options were chosen [Mark Wesley]
The Boomer Rock Double Dip
This year’s Song of the Year category has some expected nominees, with Beyonce, Adele and Kendrick Lamar being the likely favorites. Even some oddballs like DJ Khaled and Steve Lacy joined this year’s crowd. The most random nominee of the bunch, though, is certainly Bonnie Raitt for “Just Like That,” the title track from her first album in six years. Raitt has three other noms this year, all of which are found in the Americana section of noms which aren’t exactly typical favorites for the Song of the Year category…or any of the other major categories.
Raitt hasn’t been a Grammy player since winning Best Americana Album at the 2012 awards so, while a music legend, her placement in the Song of the Year category feels less like genuine recognition and more a way to help the older viewers of the show (if there are any left) have at least one candidate they might’ve heard of in the last year. For even more proof of that motivation, soft rock titan Bryan Adams scored a Best Rock Performance nomination for the Chevy commercial-ready “So Happy It Hurts.” While this particular award has a surprising selection of nominees, from Turnstile and Idles to Ozzy Osbourne and The Black Keys, Adams’ inclusion is somehow safer than the safest pick possible. But whatever, hair loss commercial soundtracks can be art too. [Jon Winkler]
JID shut out of Best Melodic Rap Performance
Let’s be honest. This category should have been a breeze for JID. “Kody Blu 31”, one of the standout tracks from The Forever Story, sees the east Atlanta native crooning and reminiscing about family and friendships. The soulful nature of JID’s singing immediately grabbed the attention of myself and MANY others upon first listening to the album. It was one of many moments on The Forever Story that solidified JID as a staple in modern rap.
The Grammy’s instead opted for two songs that, if we’re being honest, are nothing without their respective samples. “WAIT FOR U” with Drake and Future owes a lot of the song’s success to Nigerian singer Tems. The song samples “Higher” from her amazing For Broken Ears project. While both Drake and Future deliver solid performances, it’s Tems who ultimately creates the song’s backbone. It’s not bad by any means, but you would be hard pressed to explain why this song should be nominated over “Kody Blu 31” or even “Diving Board ” by Redveil.
The most egregious of these nominations goes to Jack Harlow. His song “First Class” relies heavily on Fergie’s 2006 classic “Glamorous” to create its moody, luxurious mood. In the grand scheme of things, Jack contributes very little to the song besides nursery rhyme raps and semen references. Whereas Drake and Future had the foresight to credit Tems, Jack Harlow
Fortunately, the category is still intact. Kendrick’s “Die Hard” and Latto’s “Big Energy” are both fun and have unforgettable moments. It’s just sad that out of everything to come out in the melodic rap lane, we have two questionable songs at best, and dismissive at worst. [Mark Wesley]
Do the Grammys have faith in ABBA?
One thing the Grammys love doing is play catchup. The number of artists who didn’t get their due from the academy until decades later is a long one, especially for the big awards of the night. Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan, and Robert Plant had all won or been nominated for Grammys before they all walked away with a surprise Album of the Year win that should’ve come decades earlier for previous work. From the looks of this year’s nominees, the academy might be setting up another one of these nights for ABBA.
Believe it or not, the legendary Swedish group netted their first ever Grammy nomination last year when their reunion single “I Still Have Faith In You” made the Record of the Year list. ABBA are nominated for several big awards this year for their album Voyage, including Album of the Year and Pop Vocal Album for the record itself, plus Record of the Year and Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Don’t Shut Me Down”. I love ABBA, and I really liked Voyage, but the nominees for those two Big Four categories are so strong that they’re might not necessary be the best choice to win them. Pop Duo/Group Performance seems like the one they’re safest to win, even though Sam Smith and Kim Petras are up for the prize too.
ABBA winning Album of the Year would feel unusual with the strong competition from Beyoncé, Bad Bunny, and Kendrick Lamar, but it would be a very Grammy surprise. After all, did anyone expect Jon Batiste to win that award earlier this year? It’s plausible that they could take one or more of these four awards because it seems like something the Grammys would do. At the very least, everyone loves ABBA, and no one would be especially mad if they finally got their night that would be 50 years in the making.
Also worth noting is that Mary J. Blige is also up for Record and Album of the Year along with ABBA, plus four more nominations in the R&B category. Unlike ABBA, Blige has won Grammys in the past, nine of them to be exact. But like ABBA, 2023 might shape up to be Blige’s biggest Grammy night given her with her own surprise nominations in the Big 4. [Ryan Gibbs]
Featured Image Courtesy of Aftermath/Interscope Records/TDE/PGLang, Polar Records/Universal, Parkwood/Columbia Records, Ninja Tune, and Generation Now/Atlantic Records