This year’s Grammy nominations are relatively non-awful.
Just look at Album of the Year, which pits mugged-by-Macklemore Grammy-deserver Kendrick Lamar’s excellent DAMN. against elder statesman Jay-Z’s best full-length in years and a fantastically garish and inventive pop record from token white person Lorde.
You could argue the relative merits of each, and you could name better albums that were released this year, but these are indisputably worthy competitors. And you could say something similar about the contenders in almost every 2018 Grammy category. (The full list of nominations is here.)
But let’s complain anyway.
In my younger, more histrionic and extreme days, I’d rant against each of the artists below as a blight upon popular music and contemporary culture and the human spirit. Now I’m older. I’m wiser. I’m more judicious. And I would only say those things about Ed Sheeran.
If you want to be nice about it, let’s just say these people don’t need any more encouragement.
Nominations: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance
Sure, he’s a classy, talented little guy, and if I’m ever required by law to watch a football halftime show (you're not! I looked it up!) I hope he’s onstage. But 24K Magic is little more than a collection of well-rehearsed retro impressions varnished with a glitzy showbiz sheen. All Bruno adds is star power, which you could mistake for charisma, and enthusiasm, which you could mistake for soul. You know what they say: Those who do not learn music history are doomed to hear “Uptown Funk” at every wedding reception they attend for the next 20 years.
Nominations: Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album
First, the good news: Though he dominated the Billboard charts this year, everycritic’s favorite punching bag got shut out of the major categories. No Album of Year nomination for Divide; no Song of the Year or Record of the Year nod for “Shape of You.” (And think: These decisions were made before anyone heard Ed rap on the new Taylor Swift album.) But if Sheeran wins Best Pop Solo Performance, a category that includes four qualified female artists, I promise to smash myself in the nuts in solidarity with wronged women everywhere.
Nominations: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best Traditional R&B Performance, Best Urban Contemporary Album
After a series of cleverly irritating rap albums, Donald Glover went the full P-Fake on “Awaken, My Love!" Maybe it’s very cool and ambitious of Glover that for his R&B move he wishes he was George Clinton instead of just turning out an album of whiny, heavy-breathing foreplay. But he also sounds like he wants a pat on the head for being so tasteful, and it doesn’t get much more un-Funkadelic than that. And the album title's in quotes because he's not saying anything that hasn't been said before.
Nominations: Best New Artist, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
Between a vocal turn on Logic’s suicide hotline anthem “1-800-273-8255” and her own self-esteem ballad “Scars to Your Beautiful,” Cara probably did more to uplift depressed teens in 2017 than the entire pharmaceutical industry – not unnecessary in a year her Best New Artist opponent Lil Uzi Vert was drearily droning “all my friends are dead.” So give her a humanitarian award. The glorious SZA and the sharp young singer/songwriter Khalid are more promising new artists. “Don’t die” is good advice. “Let’s live” is better art.
The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
Nominations: Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
“Something Just Like This” is the anthem to male mediocrity that 2017 absolutely did not need. Imagine if Billy Joel had written “Just the Way You Are” in the voice of a girlfriend reassuring him that he didn’t need to try harder to be a better man. Now imagine the Chainsmokers’ version of that. Coldplay also got a Best Pop Vocal Album nomination for the Kaleidoscope EP. (An EP? Talk about not trying harder.) They’ll lose to Ed Sheeran. That’s what passes for good news these days.