Predicting the 2017 Grammys
For music fans, the most exciting part of the Grammys is often the buildup between when the nominees are announced and the actual ceremony. During this period of time anybody with at least one ear to the ground has likely gotten into a debate over who was snubbed and who's going to win. So it's a shame that in a couple of years the Grammys will have become so predictable that this kind of speculation will be pointless.
As a jazz fan growing up, I remember being thrilled when Herbie Hancock won Album of the Year in 2008. Looking back, that must have been a great year for the pre-Grammy barbershop debates. Was Kanye West going to win his first AotY for the widely popular Graduation? Or would Amy Winehouse get the award for her iconic Back to Black? What about rock superstars Foo Fighters or
Breaking Bad creator country legend Vince Gill (who has more Grammys than any other male country musician)? All five nominees deserved the Grammy, and there was no way to tell who was going to win—and that's probably what made the speculation so much fun.
Unfortunately there's a lot less mystery surrounding the buildup to the Grammys nowadays, as year by year the award show becomes easier to predict. Let's look at some previous AotY winners and try to spot the trend. The Grammys describe this award—the most prestigious one of the night—as honoring "artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position." For a while, that last part was true. And thank god; I would hate to live in a world where bestseller More of the Monkees was the 1967 AotY instead of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
But that seems to be the world we've slowly slipped into. In the last five years, four out of five AotY awards went to that year's "More of the Monkees." In 2012, Adele's 21 snagged the award—the bestselling album of 2011 and 2012. The following year Frank Ocean's universally acclaimed Channel Orange lost to Mumford & Sons' Babel. Sure enough, Babel sold more than Orange, at the time setting a record for the biggest sales week in the US. It even shattered the record for most Spotify streams—until the next year, when Daft Punk's Random Access Memories broke Babel's record. And who won AotY in 2014? If you were thinking it would be Kendrick Lamar's critically acclaimed good kid, m.A.A.d city, you'd be wrong; Daft Punk's international chart topper took the award home. Last year was the only outlier in recent memory: Beck caused a lot of turmoil when he beat Beyoncé, despite the fact that his Morning Phase moved the least numbers out of all the nominees (something that baffled Billboard so much they wrote an entire feature about it). There's been a lot of speculation over what led to Beck's win: did he really have the best album or did white privilege help him get the jump on Beyoncé? Personally I believe both are true, but one thing's for certain—his win wasn't enough to stop the Grammys' trend of valuing sales over music. Just this year, Taylor Swift's 1989 (the best selling album of all the nominees) beat Kendrick Lamar's masterful To Pimp A Butterfly, which was widely considered the most deserving nominee.
The Grammys might as well erase "without regard to album sales or chart position" from the official description of the AotY award. They've proven that in their eyes the "best" albums are the most successful ones. Not only does this make the award show disingenuous and dull, but it makes it easier to predict than ever before. Regardless of how good they are, we can be certain that Adele's 25 and Beyoncé's Lemonade will be two of the five nominees for the 2017 AotY. Prime time award shows love giving posthumous recognition to beloved artists, so you can bet that David Bowie's ★ (Blackstar) will snag the third nomination. Thanks to the large portion of Grammy voters rooted in the Nashville music scene, nine of the last ten years have seen one nomination that can be considered either a country or folk album. It's a safe bet that 2017 will continue this trend; so far my favorite such album has been Lucinda Williams' The Ghosts Of Highway 20, but I find it hard to believe that Nashville wouldn't nominate their favorite coal miner's daughter Loretta Lynn for Full Circle. Regardless of what the token country/folk choice is, that leaves only one slot left for an album to get nominated based on merit rather than politics and statistics. And even then it'll probably end up going to a group like Radiohead, given their large critical appeal and popularity among rock voters.
Let's be honest, though—four of these five nominees will be nothing more than formalities, because there's not a chance in hell that Adele won't win the 2017 AotY. The Grammys have shown that nowadays this award goes to the most commercially successful nominee, and it's hard to be more successful than her album 25: it's the first album to sell more than 3 million copies in a single week, it had the first single to sell 1 million copies in a week, it was the bestselling album of 2015, it'll likely be the bestselling album of 2016, and it's the single most successful album since—well, her last album.
When Adele inevitably wins, there will likely be backlash from Beyoncé fans, who have a lot of trouble coping whenever Queen Bey is acknowledged as anything less than royalty. When the 2017 Grammys roll around, brace yourselves for another wave of posts in your newsfeed about how Beyoncé was robbed. No doubt a lot of the outrage will focus on race, since the last two years have seen black AotY favorites get snubbed by white artists (one of whom was Beyoncé herself). And race will surely have something to do with Adele's win. But the "Adele vs Beyoncé" debates that will spread like wildfire after the 2017 Grammys will be missing the whole point: neither of those artists deserve to win. Every year there are tons of little Sgt. Peppers that get released and have no shot at being nominated for AotY let alone winning it, because they didn't sell as many copies as the Adeles and Beyoncés of the world. I miss the excitement I felt back in 2008 when it seemed winning the award was anybody's game. I shouldn't be able to confidently predict this much about the 2017 Grammys in May of 2016 when months' worth of eligible albums haven't even been released. I really hope my predictions are wrong; I'd love to see an Anderson .Paak or a James Blake get recognized. We'll have to wait another seven months before the nominees are even announced, so maybe that's enough time for the Grammys to get their act together and prove me wrong. I have my doubts.