Ahead of the Grammys we at Brent Music Reviews (aka yours truly Brent Faulkner), examine why each of the five Album of the Year nominees may or may not win come 58th Annual Grammys night on Monday, February 15, 2016. As a refresher, here are the five nominees:
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color (6 nominations)
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly (7 nominations this year; 2 Grammy wins for “i” back in 2015)
Chris Stapleton, Traveller (4 nominations)
Taylor Swift, 1989 (7 nominations)
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The Madness (technically 7 nominations, though “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” was attributed to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack)
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
Why it might win: Alternative albums tend to appeal to the voters. Look over the past couple of years and alternative albums have dominated the album of the year category, even if they weren’t the popular choice to win. Alternative albums that have been victorious in recent years: Beck’s Morning Phase in 2015 (though won the Grammy for Best Rock Album as opposed to Alternative Album), Mumford & Sons’ Babel in 2013 (nominated for Best Americana Album and lost to Bonnie Raitt’s Slipstream), and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs in 2011 (lost in the Alternative Album category to The Black Keys’ Brothers).
But besides the gift of being an alternative album, Sound & Color is an excellent album through and through. The songs are well written, the band’s overall soulful-rock sound is superb, and this was clearly one of 2015’s best.
Why it might NOT win: As good as Sound & Color is, it isn’t the best album of the five. There are no “hits” to be found here, if radio performance/streams come into play; the songs aren’t memorable in that regard either.
Rank of Chance to Win: 1st
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
Why it might win: To Pimp A Butterfly is by far the BEST album nominated for album of the year. Critically, many chose Lamar’s album as their favorite of 2015, awarding it exceptional ratings. To Pimp A Butterfly is also different from Lamar’s first conceptual masterpiece, diving even deeper into various styles, most notable jazz and funk. Still very much a rap album, Lamar didn’t settle on simply sticking to the script of other rap albums, truly opting for a more transcendent, distinct listen. This album SHOULD win and COULD make a bold statement that the Recording Academy will be more receptive to hip-hop albums that they’ve resisted/overlooked over the years.
Why it might NOT win: IT’S A RAP ALBUM and with rap albums comes misunderstanding, particularly to some voters as well as the graphic, profane content that comes along with rap albums. If this were an alternative or rock album, it would be the surefire winner.
Rank of Chance to Win: 2nd
Chris Stapleton, Traveller
Why it might win: This is a solid album that should appeal to more than traditional country fans. The songwriting is strong, Stapleton’s voice is soulful and authentic, and Traveller just feels right. Stapleton has been in the industry for a “minute,” but this is his breakthrough moment and breakthroughs have played well for album of the year nominees in the past. Think of wins by Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me in 2003, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999, or Alanis Morrissette’s classic, Jagged Little Pill in 1996. This could be Stapleton’s time.
Why it might NOT win: As good as Traveller is, the question is, is this album truly transcendent or more magical than others? Yes Stapleton’s breakthrough story is compelling and this album is deserving of a nomination, but does it deserve the “big one?” Eh – it’s debatable. Look for Alabama Shakes to be the first option to pose the seeming upset to Kendrick Lamar or Taylor Swift while Stapleton is likely the second-string option.
Rank of Chance to Win: 4th
Taylor Swift, 1989
Why it might win: Hits, hits, hits! 1989 is this year’s big pop album chocked full of hit after hit. Name them: “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space,” “Bad Blood,” “Out of the Woods,” “Style” and “Wildest Dreams.” Who can top the hits? None of the other nominees! This is by far the “crowd pleaser” and it doesn’t hurt that the crowd pleaser is in the hands of a previous victorious Taylor Swift, who won album of the year back in 2010 for Fearless as a 20-year old. Nothing else considered, 1989 SHOULD be an/the obvious favorite.
Why it might NOT win: It’s a big pop album. Big pop albums aren’t typically transcendent unless you’re Adele’s 21, which is a more eclectic, deeper affair than 1989 could ever hope to be. Also doesn’t hurt that Adele’s voice is one of the best of all time. 1989 is deserving of the nomination and should be in the discussion as a potential victor, but it’s not a better album than Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color, and arguably Chris Stapleton’s Traveller depending upon who you ask. The fact that Fearless won back in 2010 with similar sensibilities as 1989 (even though it was more ‘country’) might put 1989 at a disadvantage.
Rank of Chance to Win: 3rd
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The Madness
Why it might win: Like Swift, The Weeknd’s has hits on his hands with “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey),” “Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills,” and “In The Night.” This album is an urban contemporary album with tremendous crossover appeal in pop circles. The Weeknd also has a distinct voice unlike any other artist, so that helps to distinguish him from others as well.
Why it might NOT win: Though Beauty Behind The Madness is a good album and like the others deserving of this nomination, it’s not necessarily a great album. Both Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift should have a leg-up in the crowd pleasing department, while Chris Stapleton probably has the edge in rankings as far as the long-shot chance to upset the aforementioned big three (Alabama Shakes, Kendrick Lamar, and Taylor Swift).
Rank of Chance to Win: 5th
In conclusion, it would seem if we follow the logic of the Recording Academy in recent years, one of the odd man out will win Album of the Year, hence why Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color was selected as the favorite here. The TRUE favorites are undoubtedly Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and Taylor Swift’s 1989, with Chris Stapleton’s Traveller and The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness feeling like the long shots. Anything can happen, but Alabama Shakes seems to be in the best position with multiple nominations…