On Friday, the Recording Academy announced its nominations in all 84 categories for the Grammy Awards.
Not surprising: Kendrick Lamar scored more nominations than anyone else. Drake nabbed six, as did Brandi Carlile. Cardi B, Lady Gaga, H.E.R., Maren Morris and Childish Gambino each pulled in five.
Let's be honest: It's a better list than it has been in the past.
But there's room to improve.
Because awards are an important thing that everyone should take very seriously and care about to the point where it affects their daily lives and personal music taste, I took a look at every category and the hundreds of nominations contained therein.
» Kendrick Lamar made a soundtrack to a superhero movie — not historically a goldmine of good material — and ended up with one of the best albums of the year. He deserves his nominations and the (hopefully) armful of trophies he'll take home in February for "Black Panther."
» Childish Gambino had exactly one eligible release: the song "This Is America." The track's incredible music video — which amplifies the song's message about pop culture distracting from actual issues like guns, violence, poverty and death — earned a nomination, as did the song itself for record of the year, song of the year and best rap/sung performance. I hope it wins them all.
» Women actually got nominated. A lot. Remember last year when the awards broadcast made an effort to include women wherever possible despite the awards being, well, very light on the female side? This year, five of the eight nominees for album of the year are women — Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, H.E.R. and Brandi Carlile. And that continues down the list.
» Brandi Carlile is amazing and deserves everything. Just sayin'.
» The Grammys expanded its top categories — song, album, record and new artist — from five nominees to eight. This is dumb. I can't recall any time where a deserving album was just out of the running, and this move seems more like a way to draw attention to the Grammys by nominating more famous artists than it is to actually make the awards competitive or inclusive.
» Maybe it's great in the movie (I haven't seen it), but Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's "A Star Is Born" single, "Shallow," doesn't deserve its song or record of the year noms. Its dissonant mishmash of grizzled-singer-songwriter-collabs-with-vocal-acrobat-Lady-Gaga may be a fine metaphor for the film itself, but it makes for a hilariously all-over-the-place song. Pass.
» The Backstreet Boys got a nomination. Somehow. For a terribly generic pop ditty whose title it stole from a famous duet, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." I don't even know, you guys. I guess it's just further proof that anyone can get nominated for a Grammy.
» Post Malone is garbage. He continues to be so while simultaneously being massively popular and, now, Grammy-nominated. Because he needed that tacked onto his ego. Lacking rhythm, dimension and any real talent, he now has four nominations based off a simple sing-song hook of singing "like a rocksta-a-ar" over and over and over and — wait, are my ears bleeding? He will likely get an 8-minute segment of the broadcast, too, at which point I will switch the channel to "Seinfeld" reruns.
» The Grammys still don't have their stuff together in the rock categories. Ghost has been placed into rock, not metal. Beck was nominated in pop and rock. St. Vincent is in rock, not alternative. Who picked these? Can I help next time?
» The country categories once again lean heavy on the Nashville country music machine, giving loads of nominations to Maren Morris, Keith Urban, Dan + Shay, Little Big Town and Florida Georgia Line. Some of those could be (or should be) nominated in pop categories. And while there are deserving noms for Chris Stapleton, Loretta Lynn and Kacey Musgraves, the Americana and folk categories produced far better country music.
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This retro rock 'n' roll holiday record from Oklahoman JD McPherson is easily the season's best, and it doesn't have a single "classic" song on it. Every swinging song is by McPherson and his band, and it'll having you pulling grandma off the couch to dance to "All the Gifts I Need," hopping around while you decorate the tree to "Every Single Christmas," tapping your toes while your roll out cookie dough to "Hey Skinny Santa!" or reveling in your position on the naughty list with "Bad Kid."
Aloe Blacc, “Christmas Funk”
If you want some background music while everyone sits quietly and sips Christmas cocoa, move on. But if you wanna get up and move, Aloe Blacc is your man. It's an old school funk record full of bass groove and popping beats, and it's seriously fun. Blacc's takes on familiar songs are funky. His version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is more like OutKast and, dare I say it, better than the original.
Ingrid Michaelson, “Songs For the Season”
Rather than trying to write a new song and pray that holiday radio stations play it enough to cement it as a new classic, Ingrid Michaelson leaned heavily into the Christmas songs we all know. The album includes covers of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Auld Lang Syne" and even a great take on "Mele Kalikimaka." A pair of duets — the simply beautiful "White Christmas" with pop singer Christina Perri and a lush take on "I'll Be Home For Christmas" with Broadway star and Michaelson's boyfriend, Will Chase — deserve a spot in your rotation.
William Shatner, “Shatner Claus”
Whatever possesses William Shatner to keep making music, I hope it continues to do so. His half-spoken, half-sung (in that perfect Shatner cadence) songs are delightful, especially when he teams up with other great musicians, which he does on all but one song on this 14-track album. Brad Paisley, Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren, Judy Collins and Henry Rollins all make appearances. Whether Shatner and Rollins are shouting a madcap take on "Jingle Bells" or Shatner and Pop sing a surprisingly poignant version of "Silent Night," this record is a treat.
Tyler, The Creator, “The Grinch”
For the reboot of Dr. Seuss' "The Grinch," the rapper made a new version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." But that wasn't enough. Tyler went on to make an entire six-song EP — track titles include "Whoville" and "Cindy Lou's Wish" — inspired by the movie. And it's fantastic. There are jazz compositions and thumping pop jams and spacey noise. I'm not entirely sure how "The Grinch" inspired some of this stuff, but I enjoyed hearing Tyler flex some musical muscle.
John Legend, “A Legendary Christmas”
This is the one everyone's going to be talking about. "Have you heard that new John Legend Christmas album?" they'll ask with a twinkle in their eye. It's a talented singer focusing his considerable charm and vocal talents turning some classic tunes into jazzy big band arrangements. If only each were as understated as "Please Come Home For Christmas" and "By Christmas Eve."
Jessie J, “This Christmas Day”
Though many know her from the pop banger "Bang Bang," Jessie J takes a different approach here. The Brit can sing, and she puts her pipes to work on 11 big band-style holiday songs. (Not a pop anthem in sight.) There's a gorgeous guest spot from Boyz II Men, another from Babyface and a truly beautiful take on "Silent Night."
Engelbert Humperdinck, “Warmest Christmas Wishes”
An earnest Christmas record from the 82-year-old crooner, "Warmest Christmas Wishes" sounds great even if it's not innovative. Humperdinck's best stuff is his traditional songs, including a version of "O Tannenbaum" in the original German.
Hannah Huston, “Believe in Christmas”
On her first release since nearly winning "The Voice," the Nebraska native tackles 11 holiday tunes. There's a sunny take on "Happy Holiday" and a stark guitar version of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Easily the best song is a quiet and contemplative original, "Believe in Christmas," that gazes upon the ghosts of Christmas past. Can it all be magical again?
Eric Clapton, “Happy Xmas”
Clapton should have called this "A Very Bluesy Christmas." It's the master of the Fender Stratocaster jamming his way through a batch of holiday songs. (Surprisingly it doesn't include its namesake, John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)."). The album shines in the spots where Clapton leans hard into the blues, like on the in-the-dumps "Christmas Tears," the chugging "Lonesome Christmas" and some great guitar work on "Merry Christmas Baby." There's also a tragic electronic dance remake of "Jingle Bells" that you can absolutely avoid.
Pentatonix, “Christmas is Here”
You either love Pentatonix, the massively popular vocal group, or you find their brand of a cappella music to be like a cement truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant. If you're of the former crew, go ahead and stick around for this 11-song album, which features classic songs and guest spots from famous singers such as Maren Morris and Kelly Clarkson.
The Monkees, “Christmas Party”
Davy Jones may have died back in 2012, but that didn't stop the surviving Monkees from putting out a new Christmas album. (Two songs, "Silver Bells" and "Mele Kalikimaka," feature Jones on lead vocals.) Some of the best stuff is the new songs, including "What Would Santa Do," which was penned by Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, and the titular "Christmas Party," written by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey.
Mike Love, “Reason for the Season”
The Beach Boys' famous Christmas album was released in 1964. If you want an update, this is the closest you'll get. Founding Beach Boy and current head of the band's touring operation recorded an album of sunny, harmony-filled holiday songs (including an unnecessary remake of the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick") with his Beach Boys touring bandmates.
RuPaul, “Christmas Party”
It's a very merry pop Christmas when RuPaul takes the mic. For 11 consecutive songs, RuPaul welcomes listeners to his "Drag Race Christmas." It may also tie into a special episode of his drag queen competition show, "RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-Slay Spectacular." Either way, don't expect any slow songs. This one is a bunch of straight pop jams.
Old 97’s, “Love the Holidays”
Some like a little Christmas crooning. Some like a swinging jazz holiday. But if rock 'n' roll and a Robert Earl Keen Christmas are more your speed, you'll enjoy the hell out of the Old 97's new record up to and including a feedback-filled country version of "Auld Lang Syne."
The Mavericks, “Hey! Merry Christmas!”
The Mavericks always do a little bit of everything: Texas country, rockabilly, soul and rock 'n' roll. This time, they do it with an injection of Christmas spirit. Most of these tracks are brand new, though there are a few covers. (Irving Berlin's "Happy Holiday" is a good one.)
Rodney Crowell, “Christmas Everywhere”
A Grammy-winning songwriter known mostly for his country songs, Crowell penned a whole bunch of new Americana-style songs for the holidays including the silly strummer "When the Fat Guy Tries the Chimney On For Size" and the bluesy "Let's Skip Christmas This Year."