HITS Daily Double

This year’s Grammy nominations put hip-hop and R&B in the foreground as never before, while further diversity was shown with a strong female presence in top categories and the ubiquity of Spanish-language monster “Despacito.” Here are a few random observations as the nods sink in.

Many observers feel Jay-Z’s Album of the Year-nominated 4:44 is his best work in years. Others, meanwhile, say this is akin to a “lifetime achievement” honor, insofar as its recognition reflects not only the album itself but the 21-time Grammy winner and Songwriters Hall of Famer's decades-long contribution to the form. Much as Steely Dan were recognized for a later-period set rather than their groundbreaking ’70s work—though perhaps Martin Scorsese’s Oscar for The Departed is a more suitable analogy—the nom might represent the totality of his work. Jay-Z is also the “Grammy Salute to Industry Icons” honoree at Clive Davis’ and the Recording Academy’s annual pre-Grammy gala.

It’s also interesting to note that different songs from Jay’s set earned nods for Record of the Year (“The Story of OJ”) and Song of the Year (“4:44”).

Certainly the biggest snubs of the day were the lack of top-tier nods for Ed Sheeran, whom most biz-watchers expected to be a contender for Album, Song and Record (he did snag two Pop category nods), and Harry Styles, whose widely admired solo debut was shut out entirely. In a larger sense, a whole genre was snubbed at the top: Country is entirely absent from the Big Four for the first time in 14 years. It’s especially striking that Miranda Lambert was also left out of Country Album, though she earned a Country Solo Performance nom.

The Best New Artist category was particularly loaded, so those who made it in deserve extra congratulations. SZA and Khalid, both of whom scored five total nods, were strongly tipped to make the cut, as was Julia Michaels, whose songwriting bona fides helped elevate her standing. Perhaps the biggest surprise there is that no country artists were tapped. But the big story among the nominees is Alessia Cara, who was passed over by the committee last time, and was included in a make-good this year. Between her own work, her contribution to Logic’s smash and the Moana soundtrack, Cara built her brand in a huge way over the last year or so.

Every year, one Album of the Year nominee makes the cut because, in addition to being acclaimed and good, it’s cool (think Beck and Arcade Fire). This year that album is Lorde’s Melodrama. The Kiwi singer/songwriter deservedly owned the cool market this year.

Logic’s suicide-hotline anthem “1-800-273-8255” featuring fellow nominees Cara and Khalid, in addition to being a giant smash, had the timeliness to earn a spot as a Song of the Year contender. The timeliness of Kesha’s “Praying” was also noteworthy, and though she didn’t get a top-tier nod, the comeback kid of 2017 earned two nominations and has Grammy cred for the first time in her career. Any nomination is a good nomination, and we’re glad to see her recognized.

Speaking of any nod being a good one, Lady Gaga also takes two Pop noms, despite having been shut out of the top-tier categories. The committee seemed to feel Gaga was out of sequence this time, but her inclusion is well deserved.

Childish Gambino, cruising to greater glory after his Emmy triumph as the creator/star (aka Donald Glover) of Atlanta and visibility as a movie star, is now a major Grammy player. All the more impressive that he did so with an album that recalls the most adventurous work of Funkadelic and Sly Stone.