Arts and Entertainment

Stuy’s Take on the 2018 Grammys

Reading Time: 9 minutes

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By Anika Hashem

Held in New York’s very own Madison Square Garden, the 2018 Grammys come at a time when the lines between politics, art, and advocacy are more blurred than ever. The annual Grammy awards not only provide a platform for artists from all genres to share their music with millions across the country, but often reflect the social and political issues at the forefront of the national zeitgeist. Both a competition between the country’s preeminent musicians and a celebration of music as both art and activism, The Grammys conclude the previous year and set the tone for the coming year in music. While music may not be emphasized at Stuy, it is an integral part of many students’ lives and perspectives. Below are analyses of major Grammy categories, identifying and breaking down major trends, likely winners, and what the nominees say about the state of the genre.

Air Date: Sunday, January 28, 2018
Time: 7:30PM - 11PM
Network: CBS

Record of the Year: Hip-Hop Strikes Back, by Miranda Lepri and Jevina Wong

Who to root for: “HUMBLE.”

Rap and hip-hop have historically never been favored for Record of the Year, but the diverse nominees heading into the 2018 Grammys promise to set this year apart from its predecessors. No matter the outcome, these Grammys have already succeeded in resisting the status quo.

One of the top honors of the night is awarded to the Artist and producers of a single record. The category is stacked with juggernauts like Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” featuring Justin Bieber. As a Spanish-language hit, it is significant that the Grammys are acknowledging the track in such a major category.

This is the first time the list has been dominated by R&B and hip-hop, a refreshing and exciting change from such a pop-heavy category. Though a nod should be given to Bruno Mars’s “24K Magic,” Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.,” off of his profound and honest album “DAMN.,” cannot be ignored and is a shoo in for the honor—especially considering the 58th Grammys, when many criticized the way “To Pimp a Butterfly” was passed over in favor of Taylor Swift’s “1989” for Album of the Year. “HUMBLE.” brings to the table both the social relevance in its discussion of rap culture and objectification of women and widespread popularity, making it a favorite for the award.

Nominated too is Jay Z’s “The Story of O.J.,” a cutting and potent commentary on the injustice and dehumanization facing the black community as a whole regardless of individual differences, giving him a total of eight nominations. Capping the list is Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” featuring a mellow beat and unique soulful twang, a clear contrast to its dancey upbeat peers.

Album of the Year: Art as Activism, by Shray Tripathi

Who to root for: “DAMN.”

Among the iconic lyrics and groovy tunes that define 2017 are notes of musical, political, and social change. These distinguish the five nominees for the upcoming Album of the Year award: "Melodrama" by Lorde, "4:44" by rapper Jay Z, "DAMN." by Kendrick Lamar, "Awaken, My Love!" by rapper Childish Gambino, and "24K Magic” by Bruno Mars.

Jay Z, Childish Gambino, and Kendrick Lamar share roots in rap, but each of their albums use the medium differently, with songs that are smooth and jazzy or intense and awakening. Bruno Mars is the romantic standout, and songs in “24K Magic” expand and diverge from his characteristically funky, post-disco style. The nominated albums are extremely diverse musical explorations, and a win for any of them could inspire unique change for the music industry altogether.

Lorde’s name is, among the crew, fresh but not unheard: she is the same star that swept the music industry at age 16 when her hit song “Royals” won a Grammy award in 2014. But this time, she’s four years older, and “Melodrama” shines with her fuller experiences of love, social situations, and young adulthood.

A win for Lorde would be extremely similar to Adele’s win last year for the painful album “25,” which (to popular dismay) beat out Beyoncé’s profound “Lemonade.” This year, Lamar’s “DAMN.” might be in the same position. His album expresses themes of racism and black identity and even calls out FOX News’s Geraldo Rivera in “YAH.” The Academy’s tendency to lean away from art that explicitly addresses race and identity might not do justice to his art, but this should not lessen its importance.

No matter who ends up holding the trophy, all of these artists have zeal and meaningful messages to share.

Song of the Year: Pop Surrenders Its Throne, by Tiffany Chen

Who to root for: 4:44

This year’s nominations for Song of the Year are catchy and soulful, ranging from Luis Fonsi’s and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” to Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like.” Though this songwriter's award traditionally goes to pop hits like Adele’s “Hello” and Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” it’s refreshing to see an R&B nomination, Bruno Mars’s “That’s What I Like” on the list of nominees, showing the growing prevalence of R&B in popular music. Also much beloved by critics is Jay-Z’s “4:44,” a thought-provoking, raw, and masterfully produced ode to his relationship with Beyoncé following her critically acclaimed 2016 album Lemonade. Both albums have gained meaning since Jay-Z confessed to cheating on Beyoncé in an interview with The New York Times.

Also nominated is the woke “1-800-273-8255” co-written by Logic and Alessia Cara, among others. While the recording academy hasn’t favored the rap genre or songs that bring up difficult and often dark themes like “1-800-273-8255,” the song’s candid message of hope and redemption may redeem it in the Academy’s eyes as well.

Perhaps not on par with the rest of the field is Julia Michaels’s “Issues.” Similar to the nomination of Mike Posner's “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” last year, “Issues” is an emotional, beautiful song, but comparatively less powerful than the other nominations.

Best New Artist: Surprises Aren’t So Surprising, by Emma Linderman

Who to root for: SZA

With such a wide variety of genres making up the 2018 nominees, it’s difficult to predict which artist will take home the award. The 2018 nominees are made up of artists SZA, Alessia Cara, Lil Uzi Vert, Khalid, and Julia Michaels. After “Ctrl,” her debut album, garnered widespread attention, R&B singer SZA stands out as this year’s most nominated woman. A New Jersey Native, SZA’s soaring voice and plaintive, often painful themes of love, acceptance, and coming of age, have made her a favorite of many R&B fans.

Also popular is Canadian pop vocalist Alessia Cara. Nominated for three other Grammys including Song of the Year with Logic for “1-800-273-8255,” Cara is not the only nominee with a notable past; R&B/pop artist Khalid has already been named “Best New Artist” at this year’s MTV music awards.

Up for an award shown to be inclusive to rap musicians (Chance the Rapper took home the award last year), Lil Uzi Vert stands out as having created music that incorporates elements from several genres, including rock, rap, and emo. In a category that is known for surprises, from jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding taking home the Grammy over Justin Bieber in 2011 to current legends like Lauryn Hill and Mariah Carey winning the title at the outset of their careers, it is almost impossible for any nominee to be ruled out or ensured a win.

Best Pop Solo Performance: Less is More, by Andrew Ng

Who to root for: “Shape of You”

The nominees for best Pop Solo Performance this year range from overplayed summer hits to newer pop gems. The stand out song amidst the nominees is “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran. An upbeat, party song with an immediately catchy tune which topped the Billboard Hot 100, a feat none of the other nominees managed to accomplish.

With the nominations of “Praying” by Kesha and “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga, the Recording Academy seems to have taken a liking to stripped down pop ballads that have recently gained massive popularity. Kesha’s vocals are not hidden behind overproduction as she belts with strong emotions about moving forward and forgiveness. Gaga similarly approached “Million Reasons” with the same idea: less production is more.

Other nominees include “What About Us,” a run-of-the-mill P!nk song and “Love So Soft” by Kelly Clarkson, an upbeat, R&B-influenced pop song which is far and away the funnest song of the five with its swanky, fast-paced beat.

Overall, the song most likely to take the Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance is “Shape of You” because of its mass appeal, but “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga and “What About Us” by P!nk also are strong contenders.

Best Urban Contemporary Album: No One’s in “Ctrl”, by Cheyanne K. I. Lawrence

Who to root for: All of them

This year’s Grammy nominations for Best Urban Contemporary Album are arguably the best albums of 2017, all pitted against each other. 6LACK’s debut, “Free,” is a moody, lyrical masterpiece that fuses emotional R&B with trap beats. SZA’s “CTRL” is a lively R&B album with standout hip-hop influences dealing with themes of love, sex, individuality, and navigating adolescence. In the same vein, Khalid’s “American Teen” is an upbeat chronicle of youth, with love songs like “Young, Dumb and Broke” that took mainstream radio by storm.

Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!” is stylistically the most creative Album of 2017 with the hit song “Redbone” that dominated the charts for months. The sound of this album is almost impossible to pinpoint. The Weeknd’s “Starboy” is simultaneously gloomy and cheery but always poetic. He displays strong hip-hop influences and plenty of rap features as well as vocal growth since his album “Beauty Behind the Madness” which won the category in 2015; his vocal deliverance is more advanced than any of his previous albums.

Present among all the albums are distinctive sounds, masterful production, and influences from genres ranging from alternative to hip-hop. Urban Contemporary was a category created in 2013 by the Recording Academy as a space for Black artists that don’t quite fall into rap or R&B. By definition, the albums cannot confined to a single genre and the category continues to provide a platform for innovative Black artists to help their music reach a larger audience.

All of the albums nominated have very distinct sounds and are the products of some of the most talented Contemporary Urban artists to date. Predicting a winner is almost impossible.

Best Rock Song: Calm Before the Storm, by Thomas Chen

Who to root for: “Run”

Though rock music may not be as relevant as it once was decades ago, which is evident through the notable lack of rock nominees for Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best New Artist, this year’s contenders for the Best Rock Song are still as competitive as ever.

The 2018 nominations for the Grammy are Metallica’s “Atlas, Rise,” K.Flay’s “Blood in the Cut,” Nothing More’s “Go to War,” the Foo Fighters’ “Run,” and Avenged Sevenfold’s “The Stage.” Of these nominees, Nothing More’s “Go to War” and the Foo Fighters’ “Run” are the strongest contenders for the Grammy. “Go to War” is Nothing More’s first Grammy nomination, but it’s clear that it is one well-deserved—alternating between gentle, softer singing and dynamic, passionate belting at a constant, fast-paced tempo, complemented by bass riffs; “Go to War” is nothing but raw and intense.

Similarly, the Foo Fighters’ “Run” juxtaposes Dave Grohl’s slightly melancholic, inspiring singing with a frenzy of guitar, drums, and screaming, ultimately creating a genuinely energetic, compelling piece. “Run”’s vaguely political themes and heavy sound differentiate it from the Foo Fighters’ past music and help it stand out from the rest of the crowd. However, K.Flay’s “Blood in the Cut” (interestingly, the only female solo rock act to have earned a nomination this year) certainly is not one to be ignored, with Flay’s moody voice gradually growing more furious with the louder drumming and guitar.

Best Rap Song: Old School vs. New Wave, by Carter Ley

Who to root for: “The Story of O.J.”

This year’s Grammy nominations for Best Rap Song, a songwriter award, feature a few standout hits including Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar’s sweeping and pointed critique of beauty standards and hip-hop stereotypes in “HUMBLE.” (from his recent album, “DAMN.”) and Cardi B’s fiery single that reached near ubiquity this fall, “Bodak Yellow.” While nominated in the same category, these songs represent a growing rift in rap between old school lyricism and a new wave of catchy, yet shallower content.

While not quite as radio-friendly, Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” is equally powerful. Like the rest of his songs in his recent “4:44,” “The Story of O.J.” touches upon a variety of controversial topics and racial stereotypes as he features numerous pop culture references and frequently responds to his wife Beyoncé’s recent album “Lemonade.”

Alongside these popular hits is North Carolina rapper Rapsody’s “Sassy” from her latest album, “Laila’s Wisdom.” You may remember her from a feature on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” in 2015. Finally, Danger Mouse was nominated for his “Chase Me” from the recent film, “Baby Driver” (2017). This year’s Grammy nominations are particularly interesting for rap fans as it is the first year that two individual female artists are nominated for Best Rap Song, which many consider to be an important milestone in the ever-expanding female rap genre. Most critics predict that Kendrick Lamar will win this category with “HUMBLE.” because of its innovative style and controversial social commentary; however, it is possible that Jay-Z’s candidness and heavy-hitting lyricism will push “The Story of O.J.” to victory.