Music

Reevaluating The Last Decade’s Major Grammy Awards

Welcome to 2020, where life is a Justin Timberlake album most don’t like anymore and hindsight is all the rage. We are at the start of a new decade, and it must be noted that beginnings are important. They are a time to take a minute and reflect on where we’ve been, so we can learn from the past as we soldier ever boldly into the future. It’s also a keen opportunity to clown on the Grammys for (almost) never getting it right.

Yes yes yes, making fun of the Grammys is in fact even easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Easier, in fact, than shooting fish in a barrel when the fish have been given codeine and serenaded with a Piano Chill playlist. But then one remembers that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave the Grammy for Best Rap Album Macklemore & Ryan Lewis instead of Kendrick Lamar, and one’s inclination to be reasonable and mature dissipates. Just because it’s an easy target doesn’t mean it’s not a deserving one.

I’ve traveled through time (or at least the previous decade) to put right what once went wrong by looking over the awards in the Grammys Big Four categories (Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, and Best New Artist) and offering not-particularly humble suggestions about what should have won instead. The criteria I’ve employed is an impossible to quantify balance between which pick best summed up that year’s general mood and the state of music, as well as that ever tricky bastard, personal taste. Of course, all opinions are subjective, but these opinions are still more correct than what the Academy came up with.

2011

Album Of The Year

Winner: Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

Also Nominated:
Lady Gaga — The Fame Monster
Lady Antebellum — Need You Now
Eminem — Recovery
Katy Perry — Teenage Dream

Who Should Have Won: Arcade Fire — The Suburbs

Look, a broken clock flashing “12:00” over and over is still right twice a day, and the Grammys somehow made the right call here. It might have been a case of the Academy recognizing that on this album the Montreal outfit made the leap from indie darlings to the heir apparent to U2 and Bruce Springsteen, or it might have been that Katy Perry and Lady Gaga split the pop vote. Either way, The Suburbs remains one of the key albums of the decade, a (read a book once voice) series of John Cheever-style meditations on home as a place you can never find again once childhood fades. That said, shout out to Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. Though she’s certainly had her issues in recent years, that title track remains a beast, and don’t front like “Fireworks” has never given you a feeling. Also, praise be to Lady Gaga’s hyper-efficient pop workout The Fame Monster, in which the classic rock devotee recognized that albums should only be eight songs long.

Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Winner: Esperanza Spalding

Also Nominated:
Justin Bieber
Drake
Florence And The Machine
Mumford & Sons

Should Have Won: Esperanza Spalding

Let’s put aside the fact that the exploratory jazz-musician Esperanza Spalding was several albums deep into her career when she won this award on the strength of her breakout album Radio Music Society. It’s true that she hasn’t been a commercial force on the level of Justin Bieber or Drake, but she’s also never worn on our collective patience like either of them. She’s had a critically acclaimed, interesting career and has been helping to make jazz relevant to a new generation, and going with a left-field pick like this is something the Academy should do more often.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott — “Need You Now” as performed by Lady Antebellum

Also Nominated:
Ray LaMontagne — “Beg Steal Or Borrow” as performed by Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs
Brody Brown, CeeLo Green, Ari Levine, Philip Lawrence & Bruno Mars — “F*ck You” as performed by CeeLo Green
Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin — “The House That Built Me” as performed by Miranda Lambert
Alexander Grant, Skylar Grey & Marshall Mathers — “Love The Way You Lie” as performed by Eminem Feat. Rihanna

Should Have Won: Tom Douglas & Allen Shamblin — “The House That Built Me” as performed by Miranda Lambert

Country music has always been a songwriter’s medium, so it’s fitting that Nashvillians tend to do well in this category. Lady Antebellum is a fine choice and all, and it’s much less cloying than a lot of what is in this category, but Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin deserve this award for giving Miranda Lambert a song about reconciling with your past that’s both detail-rich and universal, a tough balance to get right. That Miranda Lambert would go onto become a stranger to this category even as her own songwriting sharpened exponentially is, obviously, an outrage and more proof that the Academy doesn’t value its tomatoes enough.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Lady Antebellum — “Need You Now”

Also Nominated:
Jay Z — “Empire State Of Mind” Feat. Alicia Keys
CeeLo Green — “F*ck You”
Eminem — “Love The Way You Lie” Feat. Rihanna
B.o.B — “Nothin’ On You” Feat. Bruno Mars

Should Have Won: Jay Z — “Empire State Of Mind” Feat. Alicia Keys

None of these songs are particularly good. But that’s how this category tends to go. But it could be worse: CeeLo’s irritating and gimmicky proto-meme or Eminem’s borderline domestic abuse apologia could have won. Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” was perfectly serviceable, but Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys’ “Empire State Of Mind” was more bombastic, cheesier, and emblematic of the soon-to-be-dashed hopefulness of the early ‘10s and therefore a more fitting choice. Also, Alicia Keys’ “New Yooooooooooooork” hook really should have put this one over the top.

2012

Album Of The Year

Winner: Adele — 21

Also Nominated:
Lady Gaga — Born This Way
Rihanna — Loud
Bruno Mars — Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Foo Fighters — Wasting Light

Who Should Have Won: Adele — 21

21 turned Adele from a popular artist into a worldwide icon, and contains “Rolling In The Deep,” perhaps the most iconic Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned song of the century. Plus (spoiler alert for a list I guess?) we’re taking her other Album Of The Year Grammy away from her later on, and it would be rude to leave her empty-handed. Also, it should be noted that because Dave Grohl is always up in our business doing something or ’nother, it’s easy to take Foo Fighters for granted, but Wasting Light is one of the ever-reliable band’s strongest albums (this is just a beast of a power ballad) and would have made for a fine alternate choice.

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Best New Artist

Winner: Bon Iver

Also Nominated:
The Band Perry
J. Cole
Nicki Minaj
Skrillex

Should Have Won: Nicki Minaj

This is a tough one. Bon Iver was just under the radar enough for this to be an exciting pick. Even though he was on his second album at the time, Bon Iver, Bon Iver proved a willingness to move beyond the bare-bones folk of his debut (which many people would have loved for him to keep remaking) to something bolder and denser, presaging one of this decade’s most rewarding runs. Nicki Minaj has never made an album that is as front-to-back great as Justin Vernon, as even her best efforts have clunky moments and often strain under the pressure for commercial hits. (No shade to “Starships” tho, that’s a banger.) But when she’s on, her best songs can move popular culture like few others, and that gives her just a slight edge.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth — “Rolling in the Deep” as performed by Adele

Also Nominated:
Jeff Bhasker, Stacy Ferguson, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter & Kanye West — “All Of The Lights” as performed by Kanye West featuring Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie
Ted Dwane, Ben Lovett, Marcus Mumford & Country Winston — “The Cave” as performed by Mumford & Sons
Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Bruno Mars & Andrew Wyatt –“Grenade” as performed by Bruno Mars
Justin Vernon — “Holocene” as performed by Bon Iver

Should Have Won: Jeff Bhasker, Stacy Ferguson, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter & Kanye West — “All Of The Lights” as performed by Kanye West Feat. Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie

I’m hesitant to show even the slightest bit of disrespect to Adele, because after hearing “Rolling In The Deep” I know full well the fury she is capable of unleashing, and I would hate for it to be trained on me. But we must take a moment here to correct an injustice. Back when we still more or less loved Kanye West, he dropped his masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It dominated Best Of The Year lists, but wasn’t nominated for Album Of The Year, which was widely seen as a sign that the Academy still doesn’t take America’s most popular musical genre seriously. It won for Best Rap Album, but that was a consolation prize, a way of keeping Kanye away from the more respectable categories. Balderdash. “All Of The Lights” was the most majestic moment on the platonic ideal of a majestic album, and respect is due.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Adele — “Rolling In The Deep”

Also Nominated:
Mumford & Sons — “The Cave”
Katy Perry — “Firework”
Bruno Mars — “Grenade”
Bon Iver — “Holocene”

Should Have Won: Katy Perry — “Firework”

I like to listen to vinyl, grow facial hair, drink IPAs, and rank Paul Thomas Anderson movies. But even I can’t put “Holocene” at the top, as magnificent as it is. And truly, “Rolling In The Deep” felt timeless then and timeless now. And that’s why it doesn’t quite work here. Adele could have existed and thrived in any era, whereas Katy Perry’s second-best single was more emblematic of the early ‘10s. This was the time when people were struggling to find their way in the Great Recession, when the It Gets Better movement implored LGBTQ youth to hold on a bit longer, when Instagram exploded with a thousand inspirational messages. It was the era of the pop music pep talk, and Katy Perry gave some of the best “buck up, champ” bops around. Also, the first time I heard this song I thought she said “you don’t have to feel / like a waste of paint” instead of space, and for a long time I appreciated the nod to an extremely depressing Bright Eyes song I am glad I no longer intensely relate to.

2013

Album Of The Year

Winner: Mumford & Sons — Babel

Also Nominated:
Jack White — Blunderbuss
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
The Black Keys, El Camino
Fun., Some Nights

Should Have Won: Frank Ocean — Channel Orange

So many jokes have been made at the expense of Mumford & Sons that even one more would feel hacky and superfluous. The banjo-slinging folk-rock quartet was absolutely huge at the time of their win, so this win was inevitable. (And as Uproxx’s Steven Hyden pointed out, now that the group has gone in a more generic rock radio direction, it’s strangely easy to miss their more distinctive original sound, even if you found it irritating at the time.) But come on: Channel Orange people! Terms like “generational defining debut” are a cliche that gets thrown around, but here it fits, as this was an accessible but adventurous song-cycle about young love and self-acceptance and that left no heart unbroken. Also, shout out to El Camino. Say what you want about the Black Keys, but “Gold On The Ceiling” will steal your beer and get your brother pregnant.

Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Winner: Fun

Also Nominated:
Alabama Shakes
Hunter Hayes
The Lumineers
Frank Ocean

Should Have Won: Frank Ocean

The temptation to write “Duh” and be done with this paragraph is strong, but I have a job to do. While Fun’s Jack Antonoff has gone onto be a ubiquitous commercial force, Fun as a unit flamed out shortly after winning this nomination, and ultimately they were never quite the sum of their parts. Frank Ocean is Frank Ocean, which is to say one of the most closely followed and influential artists in the world, and one who we will likely be obsessing over for years to come.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker & Andrew Dost — “We Are Young” as performed by Fun Feat. Janelle Monáe

Also Nominated:
Ed Sheeran — “The A Team” as performed by Ed Sheeran
Miguel Pimentel — “Adorn” as performed by Miguel
Tavish Crowe, Carly Rae Jepsen & Josh Ramsay — “Call Me Maybe” as performed by Carly Rae Jepsen
Jörgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin & Ali Tamposi — “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” as performed by Kelly Clarkson

Should Have Won: Tavish Crowe, Carly Rae Jepsen & Josh Ramsay — “Call Me Maybe” as performed by Carly Rae Jepsen

Fun and Janelle Monáe created the decade’s defining prom song, and it almost certainly soundtracked plenty of one-last-bash high school parties, so good for them. But they also ended up spawning the pop trope of “there’s one last party ever so we need to enjoy it because we’re dying tomorrow morning,” a microgenre that became so pervasive John Mulaney clowned it. When America’s greatest comic is calling out your defining work, it’s a sign that it has aged poorly. So let’s give it to “Call Me Maybe,” which is first-rate artisanal bubblegum that hasn’t aged a day, a lovely introduction from our beloved cult pop queen. I bet right now that string section sample is cascading through your mind, which is as good an argument as any.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Gotye — “Somebody That I Used To Know” Feat. Kimbra

Also Nominated:
The Black Keys — “Lonely Boy”
Kelly Clarkson — “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”
Frank Ocean — “Thinkin Bout You”
Taylor Swift — “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
Fun — “We Are Young” Feat. Janelle Monáe

Should Have Won: Gotye — “Somebody That I Used To Know” Feat. Kimbra

We got three icons in the mix here (I’m including Monáe, Ocean, and Swift) and three trusty pop professionals (Fun’s Antonoff, Clarkson, and The Black Keys) that defined much of how mainstream pop sounded in 2013. I couldn’t name another Gotye song or his album without Googling, but screw it, I love the fact that this total one-hit wonder pulled an upset before fading into obscurity. It makes this whole category much more fun. It’s also a much smarter song than you might remember, with a kinda-feminist exploration of both sides of a failed relationship and an explosive vocal turn at the end that probably clinched the award. The only downside is this song augured a Peter Gabriel Appreciation Renaissance that never occurred, and we are all the poorer for it.

2014

Album Of The Year

Winner: Daft Punk — Random Access Memories

Also Nominated:
Sara Bareilles — The Blessed Unrest
Kendrick Lamar — Good Kid, MAAD City
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — The Heist
Taylor Swift — Red

Should Have Won: Kendrick Lamar — Good Kid, MAAD City

Daft Punk’s long-awaited comeback album isn’t bad per se, it was just too overhyped at the time, and as the years have gone by it’s been revealed to be far too overblown and pretentious. It’s also easy to resent the album for spawning “Get Lucky,” a song we’ve all heard far too much and will continue to hear at every wedding we attend for the rest of our lives. But… it does take a certain kind of skill to make that sort of modern standard, so respect is due? (Also, the Julian Casablancas collaboration features some of the most tender vocals on record from the ever-arch Strokes leader.) But come on: Good Kid, MAAD City people! Like Channel Orange the year before, it’s the other generation-defining debut from one of the decade’s other lead musical figures. What poolful of liquor did the Academy dive into before making this call?

Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Winner: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Also Nominated:
James Blake
Kendrick Lamar
Kacey Musgraves
Ed Sheeran

Should Have Won: Kendrick Lamar

Duh, Part Two. History may well prove that we were somewhat too harsh to the generally amiable and well-meaning Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who at least respected the history of hip-hop culture and tried to do right by it. But the idea that these guys have had even a tenth of the cultural impact of Kendrick Lamar is absurd, and it is to Macklemore’s eternal credit that he almost certainly agrees.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Joel Little & Ella Yelich-O’Connor — “Royals” as performed by Lorde

Also Nominated:
Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess — “Just Give Me A Reason” as performed by Pink Feat. Nate Ruess
Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars — “Locked Out Of Heaven” as performed by Bruno Mars
Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter — “Roar” as performed by Katy Perry
Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis — “Same Love” as performed by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Feat. Mary Lambert

Should Have Won: Joel Little & Ella Yelich-O’Connor — “Royals” as performed by Lorde

We have praised Lorde previously, and let us praise her again. What’s remarkable about Lorde’s opening salvo was that everything that made her an icon was all right there, from the ear for unusual arrangements, the dry wit, the world-weary wisdom only the young can summon, the all-consuming empathy for underdogs, and the (often uncommented upon) class consciousness and antipathy for the wealthy. She had it all figured out right away, no learning curve required. Everyone else in this category looked like peasants by comparison.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Daft Punk — “Get Lucky” Feat. Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers

Also Nominated:
Robin Thicke — “Blurred Lines” Feat. T.I. & Pharrell Williams
Bruno Mars — “Locked Out Of Heaven”
Imagine Dragons — “Radioactive”
Lorde — “Royals”

Should Have Won: Lorde — “Royals”

For geriatric, closer to the grave that the cradle music fans who first fell in love with The Neptunes via their trash-compactor future-funk production for Clipse and N.O.R.E or wilding out on their own with N.E.R.D., it’s been a bitter pill to swallow, watching Pharrell Williams gain his highest levels of mainstream fame and chart success for his adult contemporary Catalina Wine Mixer jams. Time is a goon. At least he won for the charmingly corny one and not the one that seemed to promote rape culture. It also seems we’ve forgotten that when “Royals” hit, some people were mad at Lorde for obliquely criticizing the gaudy materialism of hip-hop. Truly wild, the things we used to argue about on Twitter before Trump. Truly wild, the idea that there was ever a time when our Lorde and savior was less than completely beloved by all her subjects.

2015

Album Of The Year

Winner: Beck — Morning Phase

Also Nominated:
Beyoncé — Beyoncé
Pharrell Williams — Girl
Sam Smith — In The Lonely Hour
Ed Sheeran — X

Should Have Won: Beyoncé — Beyoncé

In 1997, Beck was up for Best Album for his prescient, mind-blowing pop-collage Odelay. He lost to Celine Dion’s Falling Into You. Which… no. (I’ve heard that Celine is very nice and she certainly has the range and all but… no.) Two decades later, he won for a very lovely album that isn’t in his top tier but is more adventurous than it’s given credit for. (No album that houses the overwhelming dread of “Wave” needs to justify itself.) That said, this should have gone to Beyoncé. Obviously. We don’t need to recap again how it changed the way albums were released or how it signified the feminist awakening of our greatest pop star or how it’s simply wall-to-wall hits. Instead, let us hold a space in our heart now for the bright young thing who, twenty years from now and after we’ve stopped climate change, will lose their deserved Grammy to a respectable but second-tier late-career release from Ms. Carter when the Academy decides to make this right. All of this has happened before and it will happen again.

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Best New Artist

Winner: Sam Smith

Also Nominated:
Iggy Azalea
Bastille
Brandy Clark
Haim

Should Have Won: Haim

In retrospect, Sam Smith is the Pete Buttigieg of pop. Progressives can feel great that an openly gay and non-binary person can be a pop star and it’s not that big a deal, and we can all be proud of how far society has come. But (extreme voting for Bernie Sanders voice) wouldn’t it be nicer if they were just a bit more interesting and forward-thinking? But Sam Smith’s inoffensive adult contemporary tunes likely made the pop charts ready for bolder LGBTQ artists such as Troye Sivan and King Princess. But as far as who has made the most interesting music this decade, it’s without a doubt the ever-stylish Haim sisters, who have never been seen in public without a lethal hook or spiffy coordinated dance routine.

Song Of The Year

Winner: James Napier, William Phillips & Sam Smith — “Stay With Me” (Darkchild version) as performed by Sam Smith

Also Nominated:
Andrew Hozier-Byrne — “Take Me To Church” as performed by Hozier
Sia Furler & Jesse Shatkin — “Chandelier” as performed by Sia
Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift — “Shake It Off” as performed by Taylor Swift
Kevin Kadish & Meghan Trainor — “All About That Bass” as performed by Meghan Trainor

Should Have Won: Sia Furler & Jesse Shatkin — “Chandelier” as performed by Sia

Strong lyric writing isn’t really a strict requirement for the pop blockbuster world Sia moves in, and that’s not a slam. But with a writerly economy of (did I mention I read a book once voice) Raymond Chandler, she tells a vivid tale of addiction, desperation, and trying to keep the pain at bay while dancing through the night. Never has the command to knock ‘em back sounded more ominous.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Sam Smith — “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)”

Also Nominated:
Meghan Trainor — “All About That Bass”
Iggy Azalea — “Fancy” Feat. Charli XCX
Taylor Swift — “Shake It Off”
Sia — “Chandelier”

Should Have Won: Sia — “Chandelier”

Simple process of elimination here: Sam Smith has a voice that is technically accomplished but lacks personality, like a contestant who loses in the final round of a singing competition. The idea that they were going to be a lasting icon was foolish. Meghan Trainor and Iggy Azalea were a punishment for poptimism. Even Taylor Swift fans hate “Shake It Off.” But Sia doesn’t just win through of war of attrition, as she wrung pathos out of every single syllable of her titular light fixture during her climactic vocal run, selling the pain of her wounded party girl narrative, proving that she had more charisma than most of the pop stars she song doctored.

2016

Album Of The Year

Winner: Taylor Swift — 1989

Also Nominated:
The Weeknd — Beauty Behind The Madness
Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly
Chris Stapleton — Traveller

Should Have Won: Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp A Butterfly

As someone who generally likes Taylor Swift but doesn’t want to make enjoying her music an all-consuming lifestyle (no offense Swifties), 1989 stands to me as her best album. It has her funniest lyrics, the most interesting production, and is the last album she’s made that didn’t feel forced or reactionary. But deep in her heart, even Swift likely knows that this award should have gone to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, the best album of the ‘10s. It’s a masterful examination of Black pride amid white supremacy, one that flaunts dazzling jazz-influenced arrangements and avant-beats, as well as some of Lamar’s biggest pop moments. “Alright” became a new Civil Rights almost immediatly upon release, and as the world has become increasingly insane since 2015, Lamar’s cautious hope has continued to bring comfort to millions in a way that no other artist of his stature can quite claim.

Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Winner: Meghan Trainor

Also Nominated:
Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly

Should Have Won: Courtney Barnett

Even when “All About That Bass” was cruelly inescapable, Meghan Trainor felt like a gimmick, and in a previous era she would have faded away like any other novelty act. (It certainly is wonderful that the internet and stan culture won’t ever let anything go.) Everyone else on that list is too anonymous to pick out of a line-up, so the only correct answer is Courtney Barnett, a charming storyteller and firecracker performer who somehow just gets wiser each year. Yes, this is a snobby critic’s choice. And that’s because snobby critics often know what they are talking about.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Ed Sheeran & Amy Wadge — “Thinking Out Loud” as performed by Ed Sheeran

Also Nominated:
Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears & Pharrell Williams — “Alright” as performed by Kendrick Lamar
Max Martin, Shellback & Taylor Swift — “Blank Space” as performed by Taylor Swift
Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna & Liz Rose — “Girl Crush” as performed by Little Big Town
Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth & Cameron Thomaz — “See You Again” as performed by Wiz Khalifa Feat. Charlie Puth

Should Have Won: Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears & Pharrell Williams — “Alright” as performed by Kendrick Lamar

This was a pretty weak year for this category, but at least Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar came through. Taylor Swift’s best song can’t hope to compare to the modern-day equivalent of “We Shall Overcome” and “Lift Every Voice And Sing.” (One hopes she is self-aware enough to realize this just isn’t a level she can operate on.) “Alright” felt like the song of the decade upon release, epitomizing resilience, strength, and hope against oppression in all its forms. It famously became the unofficial anthem of Black Lives Matter, and as life has continued to get tougher for a lot of people, a lot of people have turned to Kendrick for reassurance that this too shall pass. It will, right?

Record Of The Year

Winner: Mark Ronson — “Uptown Funk” Feat. Bruno Mars

Also Nominated:
Taylor Swift — “Blank Space”
The Weeknd — “Can’t Feel My Face”
D’Angelo & The Vanguard — “Really Love”
Ed Sheeran — “Thinking Out Loud”

Should Have Won: Taylor Swift — “Blank Space”

Let’s point out that D’Angelo is a genius and we’re lucky he chose to grace us with his presence. He’s also a born album artist and wasn’t ever very likely to get this award. But really it comes down to the best Bruno Mars single versus the best Taylor Swift single. Both are diamond-hard dancefloor bombs, with every beat and hook placed just so. Immaculate work all around, really. The difference is that Mars is a professional who always gives 110% to the cheap seats… and so is Swift. But here, she pulls back a little bit, allowing some truly eerie empty sonic space in the arrangements, while offering up a wry smile and lyrics that knowingly riff on her maneater-persona. It’s a campy, preemptive self-own that Mars just isn’t capable of, and that gives Swift the edge.

2017

Album Of The Year

Winner: Adele — 25

Also Nominated:
Beyoncé — Lemonade
Justin Bieber — Purpose
Sturgill Simpson — A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
Drake — Views

Should Have Won: David Bowie — Blackstar

We all love Adele. It’s one of the only things we can all agree on. That upward key change on “Hello” will push your heart right out of your chest cavity. But even Ms. Adkins knows she didn’t quite deserve this award. Lemonade shines head and shoulders above all the nominated albums, as Beyoncé moved through the entire Kubler Ross cycle over a dying relationship, venting her volcanic anger and grief before finding acceptance and forgiveness, proving in the process that there isn’t a single musical style she can’t conquer. Including country music. But truly, this award should have gone to an album that wasn’t nominated, David Bowie’s final statement Blackstar, in which one of the greatest artists to ever step into a recording booth stared death in the face and reported back with what he learned. Also boo to the lazy nomination of Views, which proved that Drake could make hit singles for days but had finally lost any interest in editing himself ever again.

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Best New Artist

Winner: Chance The Rapper

Also Nominated:
Kelsea Ballerini
The Chainsmokers
Maren Morris
Anderson .Paak

Should Have Won: Chance The Rapper

Let’s leave aside the fact that by 2017, Chance The Rapper was headlining festivals and several albums deep into his career. Of the acts nominated, he is the most interesting and important. While Chance is currently in the midst of a backlash after the mixed response to The Big Day and general overexposure, it would be silly to write off an artist with his level of charisma and determination; he just needs to dial down his dadness, find some new producers, and he’ll be fine. Don’t call it a comeback etc. etc. Also, shout out to the multi-skilled Anderson .Paak, who already has several Grammys and can likely look forward to many more in his future.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin — “Hello” as performed by Adele

Also Nominated:
Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles & Michael Len Williams II — “Formation” as performed by Beyoncé
Mike Posner — “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” as performed by Mike Posner
Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran — “Love Yourself” as performed by Justin Bieber
Lukas Forchammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard & Morten Ristorp — “7 Years” as performed by Lukas Graham

Should Have Won: Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin — “Hello” as performed by Adele

Grammy Awards are not subject to the laws of transitive math. Adele’s 25 didn’t deserve to beat Beyoncé’s Lemonade, but Adele’s lead single from said album deserves to beat Beyoncé’s lead single. “Formation” is a universe-size flex, an effortless taunt to the five remaining doubters on planet earth, a meme generator par excellence and more proof that Beyoncé can assert her dominance whenever she chooses. I don’t want to say this sort of thing is easy… but it does feel like the kind of move she can make whenever she wants, and for most of us, unapproachable power just isn’t as relatable as vulnerability. Adele and Greg Kurstin went deep with “Hello,” taking the blame for what went wrong in a relationship while admitting that as much as we might want to, there’s some pain we just don’t know how to let go us, and damned if we ever know why.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Adele — “Hello”

Also Nominated:
Beyoncé — “Formation”
Lukas Graham — “7 Years”
Twenty One Pilots — “Stressed Out”
Rihanna — “Work” Feat. Drake

Should Have Won: Twenty One Pilots — “Stressed Out”

I don’t know if I like Twenty One Pilots that much. I’m not sure if I get them, as much as I try. I get their basic pitch: super-wavy, super earnest, sorta Christian, hip-hop via Warped Tour aesthetics, sweaty high-art name dropping. I’m just not sure why that works for so many people. But I can’t deny that their vibed-out, numb-the-pain away is the defining mood, and their drive to throw rap, pop, and alt-rock in a blender and throw a blanket over became the de facto soundtrack of American youth. They’ve had a huge (if largely unacknowledged) impact on everything from Post Malone to Soundcloud/emo rap to Billie Eilish, who has even copped their (and Tyler The Creator’s) predilection for wearing ski masks on stage. (True, they might have got that look from Spring Breakers, but I’m not sure these guys watch smutty movies). I like the Beyoncé and Adele songs more, but they didn’t point the way forward like “Stressed Out” did (it’s even got a timely anti-capitalist undertone), so respect is due.

2018

Album Of The Year

Winner: Bruno Mars — 24K Magic

Also Nominated:
Childish Gambino — Awaken, My Love!
Kendrick Lamar — Damn
Jay-Z — 4:44
Lorde — Melodrama

Should Have Won: Lorde — Melodrama

Bruno Mars is without question a hardworking, talented guy with a very obvious appeal. To its credit and detriment, 24K Magic often feels like a Broadway Jukebox recreation of the most populist moments of the 1980s: a dash of Lionel Richie here, a dollop of The Police over there, and as much Michael Jackson as possible. It’s too well-executed to get mad at, and too clinical to get excited about. As even the goddamn Pulitzer Prize nomination committee would argue, Damn was a far more daring, rewarding work. But I’ve already given Mr. Duckworth two Grammys, and my socialist heart demands fair distribution of awards. Jay-Z’s 4:44 is the sort of lion in winter statement we’ll be seeing more of as the hip-hop generation starts to age a bit, and it showed a maturity and sense of remorse that made for Sean Carter’s best album in years. But this award could only have gone to Lorde’s Melodrama, a bold, wounded, and joyful coming of age statement for the ages.

Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Winner: Alessia Cara

Also Nominated:
Khalid
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels
SZA

Should Have Won: SZA

No disrespect to Alessia Cara. She seems like a nice person, and “Here” is certainly a nice, relatable song. In fact, it’s so relatable as to be borderline-suspicious, the sort of song written for the express purpose of giving people lyrics to post to their Instagram page, another manifestation of the #ItMe-iffication of pop. This is hardly the most venial sin, but compared to the innovative, introspective indie-soul of SZA’s Ctrl and the promising future it portends, Alessia Cara just feels like the Academy playing it too safe.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip — “That’s What I Like” as performed by Bruno Mars

Also Nominated:
Ramón Ayala Rodríguez, Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton Jr — “Despacito” as performed by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Feat. Justin Bieber
Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson — “4:44” as performed by Jay-Z
Benjamin Levin, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter — “Issues” as performed by Julia Michaels
Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Khalid Robinson & Andrew Taggart — “1-800-273-8255” as performed by Logic Feat.. Alessia Cara & Khalid

Should Have Won: Ramón Ayala Rodríguez, Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton Jr — “Despacito” as performed by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Feat. Justin Bieber

Bruno Mars’s hit embodies one of the most disheartening trends of pop songwriting in the age of no attention spans. Many pop songs have gone from merely being repetitive (no great sin) to feeling as though a producer CTRL-V’d one hook 30 times in a row and called it a day. It gets wearying. I’m strongly tempted to reward Jay-Z for “4:44,” in which he showed a candor about his flaws and a perspective about his own weak masculinity that I wouldn’t have pegged him capable of, not just in his advanced years, but ever. But I have to give it up to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. They didn’t need to sing a word of English to conquer America or (as I can personally attest) the cabs of New York. Respect.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Bruno Mars — “24K Magic”

Also Nominated:
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee — “Despacito” Feat. Justin Bieber
Kendrick Lamar — “Humble”
Childish Gambino — “Redbone”
Jay-Z — “The Story Of O.J.”

Should Have Won: Kendrick Lamar — “Humble”

A lot of solid work here, from Mars’ glossy flossing to Luis Fonsi and company helping to break Spanish-language pop in the US to Jay-Z’s wise old man’s musings about the way that your bank account might change but racism stays the same. But as ever, Lamar cuts through the white noise. Kendrick Lamar is the only person who can tell Kendrick Lamar to keep his feet on the ground lest he loses the grounded perspective that makes him special. If anyone else tried to deliver that message, they wouldn’t be Kendrick Lamar, so he wouldn’t need to take their pleas for humility seriously. Kendrick need only heed Kendrick.

2019

Album Of The Year

Winner: Kacey Musgraves — Golden Hour

Also Nominated:
Cardi B — Invasion Of Privacy
Brandi Carlile — By The Way, I Forgive You
Drake — Scorpion
HER — HER
Post Malone — Beerbongs & Bentleys
Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
Various Artists — Black Panther OST

Should Have Won: Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer

Last year the Grammy’s dramatically increased the number of nominations, leading to one of the oddest slates in recent memory. Let’s just say things could have gone terribly wrong in this category and leave it at that. It’s completely impossible to be mad at the Grammys for giving the award to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, the cosmic warm blanket we all desperately needed in these ever stressful times, brought to us by one of the most likable performers of the ‘10s. But Janelle Monáe’s relentlessly brilliant Dirty Computer would have been an even better choice, as there’s no one out there chopping up genre, identity, and all-around freaky-funky brilliance with her effortless ease.

Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Winner: Dua Lipa

Also Nominated:
Chloe x Halle
Luke Combs
Greta Van Fleet
HER
Margo Price
Bebe Rexha
Jorja Smith

Should Have Won: Dua Lipa

Let’s leave aside retro-rockers Greta Van Fleet, who felt like a punchline upon entry, and HER, who is undeniably talented but (so far) excessively tasteful in a way that only a Grammy voter could love. This category is full of pop upstarts, which means it all comes down to has the best bops. And clearly, that means Dua Lipa wins, because no one else here can step to “IDGAF” or “New Rules.” Look, she has the biggest bops so she wins. Those are just the (new) rules.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Donald Glover, Ludwig Göransson & Jeffery Lamar Williams — “This Is America” as performed by Childish Gambino

Also Nominated:
Kendrick Duckworth, Solána Rowe, Al Shuckburg, Mark Anthony Spears & Anthony Tiffith — “All The Stars” as performed by Kendrick Lamar & SZA
Larrance Dopson, Joelle James, Ella Mai & Dijon McFarlane — “Boo’d Up” as performed by Ella Mai
Aubrey Graham, Daveon Jackson, Brock Korsan, Ron LaTour, Matthew Samuels & Noah Shebib — “God’s Plan” as performed by Drake
Teddy Geiger, Scott Harris, Shawn Mendes & Geoffrey Warburton — “In My Blood” as performed by Shawn Mende
Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb, Phil Hanseroth & Tim Hanseroth — “The Joke” as performed by Brandi Carlile
Sarah Aarons, Jordan K. Johnson, Stefan Johnson, Marcus Lomax, Kyle Trewartha, Michael Trewartha & Anton Zaslavski — “The Middle” as performed by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey
Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando & Andrew Wyatt — “Shallow” as performed by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper

Should Have Won: Sarah Aarons, Jordan K. Johnson, Stefan Johnson, Marcus Lomax, Kyle Trewartha, Michael Trewartha & Anton Zaslavski — “The Middle” as performed by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey

I love Donald Glover and hope he does the Community movie and I need more Atlanta right away and I don’t want to relitigate earlier shortcomings about his music. “Shallow” is more of singer’s showcase, and “Boo’d Up” has its charms, but ultimately, Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey created the platonic ideal of the genreless monogenre, the default sound of life in the Spotify-core age, and that deserves acknowledgment. I’m not saying you have to like this, but “The Middle” is how 2018 sounded, and how pop will sound for the next few years, and assuming we pull back from the brink of climate change (please?), two decades from now some director (who is only 12 years old at the moment) will use Morris’ plea for understanding in the climactic scene of their 2018-era romantic comedy when the cute couple finally kisses already. Monogenre pop demands that every song be a little bit of everything, and this one time that was enough for everyone

Record Of The Year

Winner: Childish Gambino — “This Is America”

Also Nominated:
Kendrick Lamar & SZA — “All The Stars”
Drake — “God’s Plan”
Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin — “I Like It”
Brandi Carlile — “The Joke”
Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey — “The Middle”
Post Malone — “Rockstar” Feat. 21 Savage
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper — “Shallow”

Should Have Won: Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper — “Shallow”

Is it really that much of a #hottake to say that Donald Glover is a brilliant actor, writer and performer, and a passable songwriter? “This Is America” won this award on the strength of the most iconic music video of the ‘10s, but while the mayhem and message Glover and director Hiro Murai whipped up is enthralling on YouTube, it’s a far less gripping experience on Spotify. There’s a lot of era-defining work in play here, but I have to go with the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper jam that launched a thousand memes. It had been such a long time since a power ballad had conquered America that many young people have no idea they used to be this nation’s main musical currency. Cooper and Gaga did Journey, Foreigner, and the rest of the MOR Gods proud with this tale of love on the run and broken hearts getting put back together by rock ‘n’ roll, featuring all ya-ya-yas Gaga could muster, which turned out to be quite a lot of ya ya yas. From the day we first heard this song, not a day has gone by where it has failed to light up a karaoke room somewhere in this great nation.

2020

Album Of The Year

Winner: Billie Eilish — When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Also Nominated:
Bon Iver — i,i
Lana Del Rey — Norman F*cking Rockwell!
Ariana Grande — Thank U, Next
HER — I Used To Know Her
Lil Nas X — 7
Lizzo — Cuz I Love You
Vampire Weekend — Father Of The Bride

Should Have Won: Lana Del Rey — Norman F*cking Rockwell!

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about “Meditations In An Emergency,” the final episode of the second season of Mad Men. It takes place during the Cuban Missle Crisis, as all the characters spend several days wondering if everything is about to end. I personally feel like this all the time these days. When Lana Del Rey first came into our lives, it felt like she had just stepped out of an episode of Man Men, replete with all of the glamour of JFK’s Camelot, and as her career has deepened, she’s focused on many of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s pet themes: the hollowness of the American Dream and the difficulty of true human connection. Lana Del Rey’s masterstroke is her “Meditations In An Emergency,” a reflection of a country and a planet on the brink, a lullabye for a generation that never had a chance.

Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Winner: Billie Eilish

Also Nominated:
Black Pumas
Lil Nas X
Lizzo
Maggie Rogers
Rosalía
Tank And The Bangas
Yola

Should Have Won: Lizzo

Oof, this is hard. There’s a lot of talented people here, as Maggie Rogers and Rosalía are two to keep an eye on, and we all have to thank Lil Nas X for saving the summer of 2019 and informing us about proper equine storage. But truly, this has to come down to Lizzo versus Billie Eilish, two of the brightest new stars we’ve seen in ages. They both already feel like icons, they both ruled the charts, and they both have upended the way pop songs sound, feel, and chart. Lizzo even scored hits for songs that weren’t on her 2019 album Cuz I Love You. Tough call, but this isn’t The New York Times, we don’t do chickensh*t ties over here. So ultimately, we go with Lizzo, as her album is stronger front to back than Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, which has great singles but is a lot patchier than many of us want to admit. (That song that’s just a sample of The Office set to a beat gets old, quickly.) It also helps that Lizzo’s joyful, make-the-world dance energy feels infectious and genuine while Eilish’s disaffection often feels a tad labored and performative.

Song Of The Year

Winner: Billie Eilish O’Connell & Finneas O’Connell — “Bad Guy” as performed by Billie Eilish

Also Nominated:
Natalie Hemby, Lady Gaga, Hillary Lindsey & Lori McKenna — “Always Remember Us This Way” as performed by Lady Gaga
Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth & Tanya Tucker — “Bring My Flowers Now” as performed by Tanya Tucker
Ruby Amanfu, Sam Ashworth, D. Arcelious Harris, HER & Rodney Jerkins — “Hard Place” as performed by HER
Taylor Swift — “Lover” as performed by Taylor Swift
Jack Antonoff & Lana Del Rey — “Norman F*cking Rockwell” as performed by Lana Del Rey
Tom Barnes, Lewis Capaldi, Pete Kelleher, Benjamin Kohn & Sam Roman — “Someone You Loved” performed by Lewis Capaldi
Steven Cheung, Eric Frederic, Melissa Jefferson & Jesse Saint John — “Truth Hurts” as performed by Lizzo

Should Have Won: Steven Cheung, Eric Frederic, Melissa Jefferson & Jesse Saint John — “Truth Hurts” as performed by Lizzo

Lizzo is the only 100% bitch on this list. I don’t think Lewis Capaldi is even 8% that bitch. 2019 was Lizzo’s year, as she became the self-help coach we didn’t know we desperately needed, urging us all to become the bitch we always hoped we could be. Even when she’s ragging on some dude who isn’t worth her time, she does so with a sense of good cheer that makes it clear she’ll be just fine, and by extension, so will we all.

Record Of The Year

Winner: Billie Eilish — “Bad Guy”

Also Nominated:
Bon Iver — “Hey, Ma”
Ariana Grande — “7 Rings”
HER — “Hard Place”
Khalid — “Talk”
Lil Nas X — “Old Town Road” Feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
Lizzo — “Truth Hurts”
Post Malone & Swae Lee — “Sunflower”

Should Win: Lil Nas X — “Old Town Road” Feat. Billy Ray Cyrus

Thanks to the success of “Bad Guy,” you can look forward to a lot of skittery, minimalist depression bangers during the next year or two. That almost gives Billie Eilish the edge here. But as much as “Bad Guy” upended the music industry with a historic run this summer, it didn’t quite upend everything as gloriously as Lil Nas X did. In a historically unpleasant year, it was a life-affirming spectacle to watch Lil Nas X’s sui generis country jam climb the charts, infuriating genre purists while rebuffing titans such as Taylor Swift from their attempts to regain the No. 1 position they’ve grown accustomed to. Each new meme and remix affirmed that there was no one in 2019 who was having as much as fun as Lil Nas X, though he was always generous enough to let everyone feel like they were in on the gag.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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