Indie

Reimagining The Grammys If They Only Honored Independent Artists

With the 62nd Grammy Awards Show coming up on Sunday, we decided to take on a little “independent” exercise and created a list of Grammy nominations from another dimension. You see, much like the nearly 80% of the music market today can come from major labels and their subsidiaries, most of the Grammy nominees fall under that major label umbrella. So we took a blue pill of sorts and have reimagined what the Grammy Awards would look like comprised only of music and artists on independent labels.

That means any artist signed to one of the three majors — Sony-BMG, Universal Music Group (UMG), and Warner Music Group — as well as one of their subsidiaries like Columbia (Sony-BMG), Atlantic (Warner), Republic (UMG), etc.. won’t qualify for our Awards. So among others, no Billie Eilish (Interscope), no Lizzo (Atlantic), no 21 Savage (Epic), no Rosalia (Sony) and no Vampire Weekend, since Father Of The Bride (Columbia) was their major-label debut. Sorry if this bums you out, but hey, this is our fake Awards show, capisce?

Our “Independent Grammy Awards” consists of 11 of the most notable categories, including one new one that we created ourselves, in Best Alternative Song. We’ve kept any actual 2020 Grammy Award nominees that are signed to independent labels in our nominations as well, because if there was ever a reflection of how triumphant it is for independent releases to get recognized by the Recording Academy, they’re it.

Like the Grammy Awards, all music eligible for one of our awards, must have been released between October 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019. So without further adieu, here are your 2020 Uproxx Independent Label (Fake) Grammy Awards Nominees and Winners!

*denotes holdover as an actual GRAMMY

Best Alternative Music Album

*Thom Yorke – Anima (XL)
*Bon Iver – i,i (JagJaguwar)
*Big Thief – U.F.O.F. (4AD)
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)
Wilco – Ode To Joy (dbpm)

The Recording Academy did a pretty decent job in this category as it stands and we have no problem with Bon Iver, Thom Yorke, and Big Thief as the three holdovers (and before you ask, Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors missed the cut-off date by four days.) Weyes Blood’s incredible undertaking on the complete Titanic Rising gets her an easy nod here and Wilco, still on top of their game and with their already six Grammy noms, play into the “once you’re in you’re in” awards show mechanism we described last year.

WINNER: Thom Yorke – Anima. Few artists are as impactful on every single release that they’re involved with and we’re making sure Thom doesn’t go home empty-handed.

Best Alternative Music Song

Big Thief – “Not” (4AD)
Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen” (Jagjaguwar)
Julia Jacklin – “Pressure To Party” (Polyvinyl)
Kurt Vile – “Bassackwards” (Matador)
Bon Iver – “Hey, Ma” (Jagjaguwar)

We created a category! How exciting! It’s surprising that with the explosive growth in the “indie” genre, that this isn’t the case already with the essentially interchangeable “Alternative” label the Recording Academy uses. Either way, While Big Thief’s Two Hands album didn’t come out in time, its lead single, “Not”, did. Kurt Vile is an amazing songwriter who deserves the shine in our awards, “Hey, Ma” and “Seventeen” are behemoths and Julia Jacklin emerged with one of the year’s most important albums (Crushing) and best songs, in “Pressure To Party.”

WINNER: Big Thief – “Not.” We couldn’t be more certain of our winner of the inaugural Best Alternative Song category. With “Not,” Big Thief found lightning in a bottle for arguably the best song of 2019 and they’re also up for more awards later in our Independent Grammy Awards.

Best Pop Solo Performance

SirBabyGirl – “Heels” (Father/Daughter)
Clairo – “Bang” (Fader Label)
Toro y Moi – “Ordinary Pleasure” (Carpark)
Blood Orange – “Dark & Handsome” Feat. Toro y Moi (Domino)
Jamila Woods — “Zora” (Jagjaguwar)

We’re proud of what a diverse representation of pop music these nominees are. With SirBabyGirl’s bubbly queer-pop, Clairo’s emotional bedroom musing, Toro y Moi’s shapeshifting groove, Blood Orange’s masterful identity consciousness, and Jamila Woods’ live hip-hop triumph, this is truly a representation of the many faces of independent pop music.

WINNER: Jamila Woods. Vocally, she’s beginning to enter Erykah Badu territory. This an incredibly musical meeting of hip-hop, rock and pop and from Chicago to the world, this has true global appeal.

Best Dance Recording

*Bonobo – “Linked” (Ninja Tune)
*RÜFÜS DU SOL – “Underwater” (self-released)
MJ Cole – “Serotonin” (892 Recordings)
Hot Chip – “Hungry Child” (Domino)
Matthew Dear – “Horses” Feat. Tegan And Sara (Ghostly)

We kept Bonobo and RÜFÜS DU SOL as holdovers and for what it’s worth, Bonobo’s music just keeps getting better with every album. MJ Cole’s “Serotonin” is a smoothed out callback to the well-produced garage/drum and bass the UK producer has been making for over 20 years, Hot Chip’s “Hungry Child” is ripe for remixes and is a standalone dancefloor banger in any concert hall or club and Matthew Dear’s collab with Tegan And Sara is one of Dear’s best productions and a feather in the cap of the influential Ghostly International label he helped found.

WINNER: Matthew Dear. This is the perfect combination of pure pop, avant-pop, and one of the most prolific voices and producers in electronic music for the past decade.

Best Dance Electronic Album

*Tycho – Weather (Ninja Tune)
*Flume – Hi This Is Flume (Future Classic)
*Apparat – LP5 (Mute)
Flying Lotus – Flamagra (Brainfeeder)
Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy (Domino)

Three holdovers here from what’s actually a delightful Grammy category slate. We added in Flamagra, yet another triumph for Flying Lotus that straddles the beat scene, jazzed out experimental hip-hop and diverse and accessible collabs with Little Dragon, Anderson .Paak, and Denzel Curry. Across seven impeccable albums, Hot Chip only have a single Grammy nom (for “Ready For The Floor” in 2009), and as they approach legacy territory, we’re giving them another one.

WINNER: A well-deserved parade around the sun for Hot Chip. They’ve never put out a bad album and are a bastion of how we grow alongside dance music and its many forms.

Best Rap Song

Flying Lotus – “Black Balloons Reprise” Feat. Denzel Curry (Brainfeeder)
Megan Thee Stallion – “Cash Shit” Feat. DaBaby (300 Entertainment)
Danny Brown – “Best Life” (Warp)
Noname – “Song 32” (self-released)
Rexx Life Raj – “No Permission Needed” Feat. Bas (EMPIRE)

A full revamp here of nominees as all 2020 Grammy noms were majors. Q-Tip producing Danny Brown is unreal, same goes for the “Black Balloons” pairing. Rexx Life Raj’s versatility is ever-present with a boost from Bas on “No Permission Needed,” Noname brings it every time as a glowing representation of Chicago’s hip-hop creatives, while Megan Thee is a major label star in the body of the slyly independent 300 Entertainment label.

WINNER: FlyLo & Denzel. The deeper you look under the hood of this one and how it’s the cherry on top of Curry’s impactful “Black Balloons” trilogy, the more apparent it is that it was the best rap song of the year.

Best Rap Album

Rapsody – Eve (Jamla)
Denzel Curry – Zuu (Loma Vista)
Danny Brown — Uknowhatimsayin (Warp)
Little Brother – May The Lord Watch (EMPIRE)
Pivot Gang – You Can’t Sit With Us (self-released)

Anyone who says 2019 was a down year for hip-hop, hasn’t spent time with albums like Uknowhatimsayin or Eve. While it was a slow year for rap’s titans, independent hip-hop is flourishing. Rapsody is one of the finest lyricists in the business, Pivot Gang appealed to purists and new rap fans alike with a well-produced canvas for top-notch wordplay, Denzel Curry is a reflection of the demented moment we’re living in today, and it’s about time Phonte Coleman and Little Brother got the respect they deserve as one of the last great legacy hip-hop acts.

WINNER: Rapsody. Like…hello? This is bar none one of the best rappers out there today and she’s not getting the shine she rightfully deserves in a steadily male-saturated hip-hop landscape. Rapsody mops the floor with all of ‘em.

Best New Artist

*Black Pumas (ATO)
*Yola (Easy Eye Sound)
Jamila Woods (Jagjaguwar)
Nilüfer Yanya (ATO)
Angie McMahon (Dualtone)
Fontaines DC (Partisan)
Megan Thee Stallion (300)
Theon Cross (Gearbox)

We really like Black Pumas and Yola as current Grammy nominees. Jamila Woods is all over our nominations so she’s a natural in this category as she’s really rounding into one of today’s most exciting artists. Megan Thee Stallion had as good of a year in hip-hop as anybody, tuba player Theon Cross gets our nod in the jazz realm, while Brit Nilüfer Yanya and Aussie Angie McMahon emerged as two incredible voices in their own unique brand of indie. Irish punks Fontaines DC get our final nod for their pleasantly abrasive debut that’s taking the world by storm.

WINNER: Yola. We just can’t say enough about how important her voice as a female person of color is for the future of roots music and Americana.

Song Of The Year

*Tanya Tucker – “Bring My Flowers Now” (Fantasy)
Purple Mountains – “All My Happiness Is Gone” (Drag City)
Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen” (Jagjaguwar)
Angie McMahon – “Keeping Time” (Dualtone)
Big Thief – “Not” (4AD)
Yola – “Faraway Look” (Easy Eye Sound)
Blood Orange – “Dark & Handsome” Feat. Toro y Moi (Domino)
Weyes Blood – “Everyday” (Sub Pop)

We focused heavily on the best songwriting in our nominees here and brought the timeless Tanya Tucker on board as the lone independent holdover. “Not” and “Seventeen” were the two entries that worked so well for both Record AND Song Of The Year, while “Faraway Land” gives our Best New Artist winner, Yola, a second nomination. Lyrically, Angie McMahon’s “Keeping Time” ranked among the year’s best and Blood Orange’s “Dark & Handsome” is more rousing songwriting by Dev Hynes. It pleases us to recognize the genius poetry of the dearly departed David Berman on Purple Mountains’ “All My Happiness Is Gone,” while Weyes Blood’s “Everyday” is stunningly constructed.

WINNER: Big Thief. “Not” is about as perfect as music gets and Adrienne Lenker is immaculate on this one. It’s the best song she’s written to date and in a year where Big Thief changed the game with TWO poignant LP releases (only one eligible) it builds a lot of excitement for the future of what might just be the best damn band in America.

Record Of The Year

*Bon Iver – “Hey, Ma” (Jagjaguwar)
Big Thief – “Not” (4AD)
Brittany Howard – “Stay High” (ATO)
Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen” (Jagjaguwar)
Jamila Woods – “Zora” (Jagjaguwar)
The National – “Rylan” (4AD)
Matthew Dear – “Horses” Feat. Tegan And Sara (Ghostly)
Flying Lotus – “Black Balloons Reprise” Feat. Denzel Curry (Brainfeeder)

Record Of The Year is about hits and the complete production package. “Hey, Ma”, “Not,” “Seventeen,” and “Stay High” are essentially consensus picks on the year’s best music, independent or not. “Rylan” shows The National as one of the most complete musical, lyrical, and recorded figureheads in independent music that they are, while “Zora” is a fluent collision of hip-hop, rock and roll, and more that Jamila Woods has absolutely nailed. Having Tegan And Sara on board for “Horses,” is almost cheating from Matthew Dear as it works on every level, while Flying Lotus and Denzel Curry have an apocalyptic symbiosis on “Black Balloons Reprise” that FlyLo has only achieved before with Kendrick Lamar.

WINNER: Sharon Van Etten. It all just clicked for the Jersey native this year. She’s grown from a coy-but-impactful singer into a full-blown powerful force. On “Seventeen,” producer John Congleton found every inch of Van Etten’s fierce feminine energy in a song that’s brimming with the nostalgia within us all.

Album Of The Year

*Bon Iver – i,i (Jagjaguwar)
Big Thief – U.F.O.F. (4AD)
Rapsody – Eve (Jamla)
Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy! (JagJaguwar)
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Ancestral Recall (Ropeadope)
Flying Lotus – Flamagra (Brainfeeder)
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)
Thom Yorke – Anima (XL)

Bon Iver is the only holdover from the Grammy noms here. U.F.O.F. is Big Thief’s breakthrough into the upper echelons of independent artists and Eve is yet another crowning achievement for Rapsody. Legacy! Legacy! sees Woods channeling the essence of The Roots and Badu in one of the year’s best start-to-finish endeavors while Ancestral Recall is a prime example of the resurgent jazz movement for a new generation. It seems as though Anima narrowly escaped the actual Grammy Best Album noms, but that won’t be the case with us, while Weyes Blood gets a nod for some of the most gorgeous music to come out of 2019 on her best album to date. Flamagra is Flying Lotus’s most accessible work ever and shows that he is indeed a master collaborator across multiple musical styles; he’s much more than a singular force.

WINNER: Bon Iver. This is the culmination of a marquee independent music success story and Justin Vernon is wildly deserving of this honor. i,i doesn’t just illustrate what an amazing year the Jagjaguwar label has had, it also shows that it’s possible for independent music to sit at the table with the majors. It’s a tough proposition for artists as they grow to leave the independent label pastures for the vastly more well-funded greenery of the major label scene, but i,i is proof that even a quaint folk singer from Eau Claire, WI can grow on a little label from Bloomington, IN who works their ass off to put out music that’s as memorable (and commercially successful) as anything on a major label.

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