If the 58th Grammy Awards nominations were intended to demonstrate the diversity of contemporary listeners’ musical palettes — and the increasing irrelevancy of rock — they succeeded. Rap, R&B, pop and country dominate the field of nominees announced Monday.
In each of the Grammy Awards’ major, multigenre category — record, song and album of the year, and best new artist — rock managed no more than one nominee at most. And that’s only if the broadest possible definition of the term is employed. Unless you consider singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” to be rock — and you probably shouldn’t — no rock song released between late 2014 to late 2015 was deemed worthy to compete for song or record of the year.
And the closest thing to a rocker in the best new artist category is Australian indie-rock darling Courtney Barnett. She does, in fact, wield an electric guitar from time to time, but her deadpan vocal style and quirky approach — her debut album is titled “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” — aren’t exactly designed to electrify arenas.
Her fellow potential Best New Artists include country/R&B hybrid hitmaker Sam Hunt, singer-songwriter Tori Kelly (“Nobody Love”), British singer-songwriter James Bay (who opened for Taylor Swift on the European leg of her “1989” world tour) and “All About That Bass” breakout sensation Meghan Trainor.
As expected, rapper Kendrick Lamar, alternative R&B hitmaker The Weeknd, and country sweetheart turned pop superstar Taylor Swift amassed the most nominations.
Lamar, who headlined the closing night of the 2015 Essence Festival in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, scored 11 nods. His much-acclaimed second full-length album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” is up for album of the year, among other accolades. It should also best the latest from Drake, Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj and J. Cole in the rap album competition.
In the absence of an obvious watershed album of the year — as Adele’s “21” was in 2011, and as her “25” likely will be a year from now — the Grammy nomination process nonetheless produced five solid candidates, and no outright embarrassing entries.
The Weeknd, he of the huge hair, enjoyed a massive 2015, capped off by his recent appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone — he’s likely the only Canadian-born R&B singer of Ethiopian descent who will ever have that honor. His left-of-center “Beauty Behind the Madness,” with its nods to Michael Jackson nostalgia, was the right album at the right time. Consequently, he’s up for a total of seven Grammys.
So is Taylor Swift. Her first full-fledged pop album, “1989,” confirmed that Nashville could not in fact accommodate the full breadth of her talents. If anything, her commercial clout has only grown more formidable since her literal and symbolic move to New York.
In terms of combined album and ticket sales, she outsells just about anybody, in any genre.
By contrast, fellow album of the year nominee Chris Stapleton manages just fine in Nashville, thank you very much. After writing dozens of songs recorded by the likes of Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley, Stapleton finally stepped up to the front of the stage with his debut album, “Traveller,” which, not surprisingly, yielded a slate of tradition-minded, stone-cold country hits.
Alabama Shakes’ “Sound & Color” ranks as the most alternative of the album of the year nominees — and is also nominated, appropriately, in the “best alternative music album” category. That latter category also includes contributions from My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Tame Impala — all of whom deploy guitars, sometimes prominently — and Bjork, who does not.
While it may be (another) tough year for rock, Louisiana artists fared decently. The creation of the regional roots music category opened the door for artists with relatively small commercial footprints — i.e. most acts that live and work in Louisiana — to get a foot in the door at the Grammys. Two Louisiana-based acts will vie for this year’s regional roots music Grammy. Jon Cleary, the British-born keyboardist and singer who settled in New Orleans decades ago to immerse himself in the city’s funky aesthetic, scored his first-ever Grammy nod for his most recent album, “Go Go Juice.” He’s up against savvy southwest Louisiana combo the Revelers, whose members weave elements of Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop and Americana into their musical tapestry.
New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard, no stranger to Grammy gold, is nominated yet again. His “Breathless,” his first project with his E-Collective combo, is up for best jazz instrumental album.
Two other New Orleanians are nominees-by-association. Rapper Lil Wayne, who now calls Miami home, is featured on a pair of nominated Nicki Minaj tracks, “Truffle Butter” and “Only.” And local singer and keyboardist PJ Morton, son of gospel vocalist and preacher Bishop Paul S. Morton of Greater St. Stephen Church, is nominated as a member of Maroon 5 in the best pop duo/group performance category for the song sugar.
Winners will be announced during the live Grammy Awards telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 15.