The nominations for the 2016 Grammys are out. Let’s take a look at the major categories and note a few things from the rest of the field.

2016 Grammys: Record of the Year

“Really Love” — D’Angelo
“Uptown Funk” — Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
“Thinking Out Loud” — Ed Sheeran
“Blank Space” — Taylor Swift
“Can’t Feel My Face” — The Weekend

Swift: Image provided by Allmusic

The nominees for the best single include four of the past year’s biggest hits and a song from an artist you didn’t even know had a new album out. D’Angelo snuck his first album in 14 years into the crowded Christmas season in December 2014. It got great reviews, but didn’t sell much. “Really Love” was a middling performer on the R&B charts, peaking at #43, and had no Pop crossover. So yes, observers can be forgiven for the shock of seeing the song in the field’s biggest category. Does it have a chance?

Well, stranger things have happened. “Thinking Out Loud” is the best song in the group, probably the best thing affable Brit Sheeran has recorded. “Uptown Funk” dominated the charts for months. “Can’t Feel My Face” catapulted The Weekend to the A-List. And “Blank Space” solidified Swift’s formal embrace of the “Pop” label. All four dominated Pop radio and any would be a worthy winner.

It comes down to whether the secondary constituencies of the four hitmakers can help push them over the top. Will Alternative support Sheeran? Will the R&B block go for The Weekend? Does Swift still have enough credit with the Country crowd to get their votes? Has EDM grown big enough to boost Ronson? It’s very easy to imagine a scenario where the four leading candidates cancel one another out and D’Angelo emerges with a surprise win. Probably the toughest race to call.

2016 Grammys: Album of the Year

Sound & Color — Alabama Shakes
To Pimp A Butterfly — Kendrick Lamar
Traveller — Chris Stapleton
1989 — Taylor Swift
Beauty Behind the Madness — The Weekend

You know what all five nominees are thinking: Thank God that Adele didn’t release 25 until after the 2016 Grammys’ deadline.

The Weekend: Image provided by Allmusic

The Album of the Year nods are a solid mix of critical acclaim and sales muscle. Swift is the biggest seller for her official move into Pop. 1989 got good reviews and has spawned a stream of big hits. Beauty was a big breakthrough for The Weekend. It’s songs have kept him firmly ensconced in the Top 10 at multiple formats. Former Steeldrivers frontman and successful Nashville songwriter Stapleton has nearly achieved gold status with his strongly-reviewed solo debut. Lamar has had a big year at R&B and Alabama Shakes may be one of the most respected acts in the modern Alternative arena.

This probably comes down to a photo finish between Swift, as a reward for being the music world’s biggest star, and the rapturously regarded Alabama Shakes. But don’t be shocked if Grammy favorite Lamar sneaks past them both for the win.

2016 Grammys: Song of the Year

“Alright”: Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears & Pharrell Williams (Kendrick Lamar)
“Blank Space”: Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift (Taylor Swift)
“Girl Crush”: Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna & Liz Rose (Little Big Town)
“See You Again”: Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth & Cameron Thomaz (Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth)
“Thinking Out Loud”: Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge (Ed Sheeran)

Sheeran: Image provided by Allmusic

There’s less cross-over between Record of the Year and Song of the Year than in some years. Only “Blank Space” and “Thinking Out Loud” landed in both categories. Both are leading contenders here. The timeless quality of the latter will be especially appealing to more tradition-minded voters. And don’t underestimate the influence of Martin and Shellback.

The other three songs are strong challengers, though. Lamar is a Grammy favorite who’s continued to push the boundaries of Rap and Hip Hop. The cheeky “Girl Crush” broke out of Country to get a lot of attention for Little Big Town. “See You Again” has to have a lot of support, though. It’s pulled from the latest entry in the Fast and Furious movie franchise and was a tribute to late star Paul Walker that dominated radio this summer. It probably has the best chance of sneaking past “Blank Space” or “Thinking Out Loud,” though the latter still has to be considered the frontrunner.

2016 Grammys: Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

Trainor: Image provided by Allmusic

So, if your first reaction to these nominees was “Who the hell is Courtney Barnett?” you are not alone. The Australian singer/songwriter got strong reviews for her full-length debut this past Spring. But her album sales were low and none of her singles made an impression at any radio format. How’d she make the final cut? Because this category loves producing “WTF?” moments.

That leaves four very strong contenders. Bay scored a huge hit at Alternative radio with “Hold Back the River” that got him Pop crossover and a lot of good reviews. Hunt is Country radio’s breakout of the year and has a lot of support behind him. And Kelly has been building a loyal audience for a few years that nicely set up her Pop breakthrough this year.

But it will be a shock if Trainor doesn’t go home cradling this award. She already had strong industry bonafides as a successful songwriter. Her stream of hit singles and strong-selling debut album of bright, retro-influenced pop give her a lead that will be hard for the others to overtake.

2016 Grammys: But What About…

Elle King got nominated elsewhere, but her lack of a Best New Artist nomination is a mystery. Also among the missing: “Cecilia and the Satellite” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness; “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon; “First” by Cold War Kids; “Bright” by Echosmith; and “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.

2016 Grammys: Women Rock

Alabama Shakes: Image provided by Allmusic

Ever since the “Rock Vocal — Female” category disappeared years ago, and then when the solo and group categories were folded into one “Rock Performance” category a couple years back, the Rock categories have not been kind to women. Shocker.

So it’s something of a nice surprise to see that 4 of the 5 slots in the Best Rock Performance category went to female voices: “Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes; “What Kind of Man” by Florence and the Machine; “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King; and “Moaning Lisa Smile” by Wolf Alice. It’s apt recognition for the strong work done by a diverse group of female rock artists. Try not to be too shocked when the fifth nominee (“Something From Nothing” by Foo Fighters”) wins the category.

Rock women did well in a couple other categories. “Fight,” “Ex’s” and “Man” all landed in the Best Rock Song Category, too. The Best Alternative Album nominees included Sound & Color from Alabama Shakes and Vulnicura by Björk.

2016 Grammys: Category Madness

Carlile: Image provided by Allmusic

Despite earning nods in the Rock categories, the Academy once again thought Florence and the Machine also belonged in the Pop Duo/Group category, this time for their driving Alternative hit “Ship to Wreck.” That category also included a pair of songs that seemed more appropriate for R&B: “Uptown Funk” and “See You Again.” Florence and the Machine also landed in the Best Pop Album category.

Didn’t everyone assume that Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s album No One Ever Tells You was some kind of gag? No one told Grammy voters. It got a nod in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album category.

When you think of Rap, you think of Paul McCartney, right? The knighted Beatle has landed two nominations in the Rap categories for “All Day,” his collaboration with Kanye West.

The Roots/Americana categories probably could stand better definition. They can be used as overflow from the Country categories (see: Don Henley’s nod for Best American Roots Song for the Merle Haggard duet “The Cost of Living” off of Henley’s Country/Pop release Cass County). They’re also a haven for the artists left in the cold by the disappearance of the Contemporary Folk category (Brandi Carlile landed in the Best Americana Album race for her stellar The Firewatcher’s Daughter).

A nomination for Patti Smith isn’t a shock. Even that it comes in the Best Spoken Word Album category wouldn’t be odd; Smith is a well-known author and poet. That the nomination is for the audio of Jo Nesbø’s Blood on Snow novel? That’s a twist we didn’t see coming.

Originally published at on December 7, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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