As the Grammy Awards prepare to release their nominations tomorrow, much of the conversation tends to gravitate toward the three most prestigious music categories — Album, Song, and Record Of The Year — as well as Best New Artist.
Album of the Year winners have traditionally been classic rock, mainstream pop, and from the standards world, mixed in with the occasional hip-hop album (OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below) or folk- or blues-leaning effort (the O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack).
In the 2010s, however, Album Of The Year especially has seen several indie-leaning acts prevail: Arcade Fire for The Suburbs (2011), Mumford & Son for Babel (2013), and Beck for Morning Phase (2015). For good measure, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon won Best New Artist in 2011, while Fun nabbed that category and Song Of The Year (for “We Are Young”) in 2013.
These high-profile wins not only gave a mainstream boost to both these artists and the indie world — they proved that the most interesting Grammy nominations aren’t just on the undercard, in the genre-specific and more niche technical categories.
In light of that, here’s how 10 major artists from the indie world might fare in this year’s Grammy Awards field. (Note: This year’s eligible music was released between October 1, 2018, and August 31, 2019, which was a shorter-than-usual timeframe.)
The 1975 — A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
Incredibly, The 1975 have exactly zero Grammy nominations to their name — not even a Best New Artist nod — despite their track record for smart, genre-blending albums that detonate formulaic pop conventions. Released in late November 2018, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships deserves at least a Best Alternative Album nod, what with its eclectic sonic approach encompassing gospel-soul, vibrant electro, and throwback rock.
Muse — Simulation Theory
Muse remains one of the brainiest rock bands around, as evidenced by their increasingly ambitious stage setups and conceptual albums such as 2018’s sleek Simulation Theory, which leans heavily on synthesizers and other futuristic programming tricks. A Best Rock Album nod this year seems like a sure bet, especially since the trio has won this category twice before, for The Resistance and Drones.
Brittany Howard — “History Repeats”
Due to the shorter Grammy nominations eligibility period, Brittany Howard’s superlative solo debut Jaime sadly isn’t eligible for any of the album categories, since it was released on September 20. (Don’t be surprised if the full-length earns an Album Of The Year nod next year, however.) However, Jaime‘s lead single, “History Repeats” — a jazz-soul-funk number with a heavy ’70s vibe — was released during the timeframe, and should receive a nomination somewhere. Where exactly that might be, however, remains to be seen: Alabama Shakes’ four Grammy Awards have been in the rock, alternative, and American roots categories — a testament to the band’s boundary-breaking songwriting.
Tegan And Sara — “I’ll Be Back Someday”
Like Brittany Howard, Tegan And Sara’s latest full-length, the September 27-released Hey, I’m Just Like You, just missed the cut for Grammy eligibility. However, the album’s lead-off track, the effervescent synth-pop jam “I’ll Be Back Someday,” could easily land a Best Pop Duo/Group Performance nomination. That Tegan And Sara have only received one other Grammy nod (Best Long Form Music Video for “Get Along”) makes their inclusion even more of a must.
Big Thief — U.F.O.F.
It’s not often that an artist has multiple albums released in a given year, much less multiple excellent albums. Then again, not every songwriter is Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, who excels at excavating life’s darkest times of life and turning them into transcendent songs. Only the May-released U.F.O.F. is eligible for the Grammy Awards this year, but a nomination for Best Alternative Album — or, in a left-field move, Best Folk Album or even Best Americana Album — is within the realm of possibility.
Weyes Blood — Titanic Rising
Besides Big Thief, Weyes Blood (a.k.a Natalie Mering) arguably had the biggest breakout year from an indie act, thanks to the stunning Titanic Rising, an orchestral-pop masterpiece with meticulous, delightful songwriting. Weyes Blood isn’t eligible for Best New Artist, since Titanic Rising is technically Mering’s fourth full-length, although a Best Alternative Album nod would be completely well-deserved.
Vampire Weekend — Father Of The Bride
The Best Alternative Music Album category tends to nominate the same artists multiple times, meaning that Vampire Weekend — which has received two previous nods in the category, winning for 2013’s Modern Vampires Of The City — seems like a shoo-in this year for Father Of The Bride. More intriguingly, there’s an outside shot Vampire Weekend could pull a Bon Iver or Arcade Fire and land an Album Of The Year nomination, since the indie-jam record has received so much positive buzz.
Thom Yorke — ANIMA
Thom Yorke has been nominated for a whopping 21 Grammy Awards, largely for his work with Radiohead, and has won three awards: Best Alternative Album (twice, for Kid A and In Rainbows) and Best Alternative Music Performance (OK Computer). And so while it wouldn’t be surprising if Yorke’s 2019 solo electronic album ANIMA earned a nod in this realm, the full-length also has a left-field shot at a Best Dance/Electronic Album nomination. This particular category has always taken a broad approach to the genre — winners in recent years include Aphex Twin, Flume, Justice, Kraftwerk, and Daft Punk — and tends to nominate indie-leaning electro acts (e.g., Tycho, Sophie, and Caribou). For added supporting evidence: ANIMA also reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s Dance/Electronic Albums chart.
Jenny Lewis — On The Line
There are few things the Grammys love more than sophisticated, tasteful albums released by talented career artists. And so don’t be surprised if Jenny Lewis’ On The Line — a beloved collection putting a modern, heartbroken spin on ’70s rock and folk songwriting — has a presence at this year’s ceremony. Incredibly enough, Lewis has never been nominated for a Grammy Award, either with Rilo Kiley or as a solo artist, meaning a nod for Best Alternative Album is long overdue. On The Line is also one of the year’s most gorgeous albums from a sonic standpoint, meaning a technical nomination in, say, the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical category — which was won last year by Beck’s Colors — is also possible.
Bon Iver — i,i / Bruce Hornsby — “Cast-Off”
At the 54th annual Grammy Awards, Justin Vernon earned perma-meme infamy (“Who is Bon Iver?”) after winning Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album for 2011’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Curiously, he’s had minimal presence at the awards since: 2013’s 22, A Million only received a Best Alternative Music Album nod, and his multiple collaborations with Kanye West have been shut out. (And that was before he had some choice awards for notable Grammy winners.) Still, the well-received, haunting i,i more than deserves a Best Alternative Music Album nomination. The introspective Bruce Hornsby song “Cast-Off,” on which Vernon guests, could also be recognized in the relatively new Best Rock Vocal Performance category, which has historically been amenable to collaborations.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.