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The 2017 Grammys Preview

Linda Banks Photo, Courtesy of Flickr
Linda Banks Photo, Courtesy of Flickr

On Dec. 6, the nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards were announced after months of speculation.  Artists and fans alike anticipate hail the Grammys as music’s biggest night, and they anticipate the Recording Academy’s picks for the year’s best music.  While the divide between a critical and commercial success is usually somewhat large, the Academy sought to bridge that gap this year.

The 2017 nominations reflected the tastes of mostly popular and commercial music, with heavyweight performers like Beyoncé represented the most.  In fact, after releasing her sixth studio album “Lemonade,” which featured an accompanying film premiered on HBO, Beyoncé leads all categories with nine total nominations.  The album, which was one of the best-selling of the year, is nominated for the most coveted award of the night, Album of the Year.

Laura Dorney Photo, Courtesy of Flickr
Laura Dorney Photo, Courtesy of Flickr

Three other of the year’s bestsellers are also competing for the same award: Drake’s “Views,” Adele’s “25,” and Justin Bieber’s “Purpose” (the eligibility period is from October 1, 2015 – September 30, 2016)The only surprise in the category is Sturgill Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” since it is not nearly as popular as the other contenders.  With four out of the five nominees constituting 2016’s bestsellers, the Grammy’s are seemingly awarding commercial success over critical acclaim.

 

In an article titled “The Grammys Stop Fighting the Future with 2017 Nominees,” Billboard writer Andrew Unterberger explores the implications of what these nominations mean for the industry.  One of the biggest implications is “vindication for Top 40,” meaning that mainstream music is now able to be recognized for awards that were previously deemed superior to the format.  In Bieber’s nod for Album of the Year, a choice that “would have seemed about as unimaginable as Cannibal Corpse a few years ago,” the Recording Academy is finally acknowledging pop music as a respectable genre and relying more heavily on relevant “music that moves the cultural needle.”

This phenomenon is seen in the fact that the nominees for Song of the Year and Record of the Year are all Billboard Hot 100 top ten hits.  Rihanna’s nine-week number one “Work” featuring Drake was a poorly reviewed—critical disaster.  Yet, its cultural dominance and radio takeover somehow permit its inclusion in the Record of the Year category.

Kristopher Harris Photo, Courtesy of Flickr
Kristopher Harris Photo, Courtesy of Flickr

The biggest showdown of the night is undoubtedly between Beyoncé and Adele.  The artistic expression of “Lemonade” traces the mentality of a woman who learns of her lover’s infidelity, from denial to anger to forgiveness.  Though not necessarily based on the singer’s relationship with husband Jay-Z, “Lemonade” proved to be a remarkable success for Beyoncé’s creativity, both visually and sonically.

The cultural dominance of the album is unmatched, with it ranking at number one on Rolling Stone’s roundup of 2016’s best albums.  There, the magazine looks at the album in the post-election perspective, viewing the split Beyoncé sings about not in relation to Jay-Z, but instead, of the divisiveness of the country at large.

All the while, Adele’s third studio album “25” was the biggest blockbuster in the U.S. in over a decade, remarkably at a time when album sales are almost nonexistent.  Adele’s collection of songs about maturation and adulthood was just certified diamond. Selling over 10 million copies, the album completed a feat almost unheard of in this day and age.  Her ubiquity was heard this year in smash singles like the ten-week number one hit “Hello” and Billboard Top Ten hit “Send My Love (To Your New Lover).”

Twitter Photo, Courtesy of Flickr
Twitter Photo, Courtesy of Flickr

Elsewhere, the acceptance of pop music came at the expense of rock and hip hop honors.  Even Beyoncé was nominated in a rock category, by way of her Jack White collaboration, “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”  And although Kanye West received eight nominations, he was snubbed from the “Big Four” general categories.  Nevertheless, rising acts like Twenty One Pilots and Chance the Rapper have made huge cultural impacts this year, earning them both multiple nominations, including some major category nods.

The Grammys 2017 are the first step towards the inevitable commercial triumph over critical acclaim.  With the prominence of pop in the major categories, the Recording Academy has legitimized the merit of the genre and has given more power to the voices of the mainstream.  It will be interesting to see the long-term response in music in the coming years; for, just as much as pop will prevail, a pushback will certainly emerge.

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    Linda BrownJan 30, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    Great Article Matthew! Well Done!

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The 2017 Grammys Preview