The Grammys have been too long dominated by major-label mega-artists (and their stan armies) and yet I still find the ceremony to be the only music award show with enough depth of categories to make it vital. The prestige a nomination gives cannot be understated, especially for lesser known artists.
A quick glance through the main categories offers little surprises with Adele, Beyonce, Harry Styles et al nominated. It is good to see Brandi Carlile getting some recognition here for the Americana genre (even though her album is now well over a year old). Overall though you have to say that these categories are filled with choices made based on the popularity of the artist rather than quality of the album itself.
Best New Artist is made up mainly of artists unfamiliar to me (guess I’m just old). However I do love Wet Leg and it would be nice for them to win because how else do we create more female headliners except promoting and rewarding those who have the potential to connect with large audiences? Surprise nominee Molly Tuttle likely has zero chance of winning but it would be great to see her perform and showcase her genius bluegrass guitar playing.
For Best Country Album you have to conclude that many of these nominations are for great artists with average albums that are not stand-outs in their discography (Miranda, Maren, Luke). While Willie Nelson may seem like a sentimental choice it’s a reminder that our legends are still out there, respecting the genre that made them famous and working towards leaving a legacy that offers others a model for how to navigate the twilight of their careers. The final album in this list, Ashley McBryde Presents Lindeville is different, ambitious and engaging from start to finish. But can a side-project step into the spotlight and steal the whole thing? Stranger things happen in small towns every day, so here’s hoping.
Then the Best Country song category makes the inexplicable choice to include an average Taylor Swift song from more than a decade ago. I do have to admire the opportunistic (some may say greedy) way these re-recordings have gamed the streaming services (and her fans) but it feels wrong to be taking away a nomination from new artists working in the country genre. Her overall domination of the music industry is a headache inducing problem – she shows the potential power of a great artist connecting with a huge number of people but when everyone from award ceremonies to professional journalists and even small-time bloggers are running scared of her rabid and sometimes toxic fandom something has to give. What’s to stop her or other artists now re-recording their songs ad infinitum and getting nominated year after year after year? There seems to be no end to the incessant narcissism of this age of modern pop stars.
Carly Pearce was wrongly overlooked last year so it nice to see her gain some overdue recognition with her Ashley McBryde duet ‘Never Wanted to be That Girl’ nominated for best Duo/Group performance. Reba and Dolly also are nominated for a re-recorded song from 1993 which again looks like an extremely safe and conservative choice by the voters. I think it’s also likely that the Krauss/Plant collaboration, which was so popular with Grammy voters previously, could take this one.
Country Solo Performance actually has some artists nominated who are under the age of 30 which is refreshing to see! I doubt Kelsea Ballerini has much chance, although she deserves some credit for trying to carve out a more original and authentic sound lately. The other young pretender is Zach Bryan who has come up through social media to dominate the streaming services. Musically he seems somewhat derivative but at least he’s made a name for himself without the influence of the major labels. Miranda, Maren and Willie also gain nominations here again, and their domination across the categories suggest these are the likely three to beat in the country section.
In the Americana categories we have the added Americana ‘Performance’ award, although this hasn’t really expanded the reach of the nominations to anyone up and coming with veterans like Asleep at the Wheel, Blind Boys of Alabama and Bonnie Raitt receiving nominations instead. I have no idea who Eric Alexandrakis is or where his momentum is coming from so someone needs to explain how that song has ended up in here. So many wonderful artists like Angel Olsen, Caroline Spence, Kelsey Waldon, Erin Rae etc have been overlooked and they would breathe life into these two categories if given the chance.
In the roots and folk categories I am pleased to see Aoife O’Donovan gain recognition with one of my favourite albums of the year. Alongside Anais Mitchell, Sheryl Crow, Madison Cunningham this looks to be a good year for women in terms of the folk nominations. Not sure how Brandi can be nominated in Americana, Roots and Rock categories (like Taylor Swift you have to think it’s a little bit unfair to take nominations from others in this way) but she does certainly deserve to win something after the year she’s had.
Finally in Bluegrass album Molly Tuttle will hopefully take this one home as she is one of only a few artists from these roots/country categories to be also nominated in the main awards. Here we have recognition for a younger, talented relatively unknown artist and this is exactly who the Grammys should be raising up.
Awards like this exist in their own universe so it is hard to really understand from a fan perspective who will win and why but thanks for reading my ramblings! Let me know your thoughts and predictions in the comments or on social media.