The Recording Academy doesn’t necessarily have the best track record when it comes to bestowing Grammy Awards on all-around impressive and culturally important music; this should come as no surprise. Obvious case in point: Macklemore’s The Heist being awarded Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City in 2013. One was genre- and generation-defining, taking on issues of systemic racism and cultural appropriation, while the other was literally a white man capitalizing on a historically African American art form. But I digress.
All of that said, both The Heist and Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City at least held their weight in terms of relevance in the cultural landscape of 2013, making them appropriate choices for nomination in the category of Best Rap Album. However, just over five years later, looking at the nominations for the 61st annual Grammy Awards, it appears that the Academy didn’t even attempt to listen to relevant rock music in 2018, instead looking through the list of the year’s releases and saying “oh, that name looks familiar.” I can say this with a fair amount of confidence because I professionally write about rock music and even I have not even considered listening to three out of five of the nominated records.
2018 was a great year for rock music! But epic new albums from the likes of Mitski, Turnstile, Jeff Rosenstock, or Courtney Barnett, all of which received nearly-unanimous critical and fan acclaim, will receive no mention on Music’s Biggest Night. Even a Grammy mainstay like Jack White is mysteriously absent from the pool of nominees. Instead, nostalgia and comfort in the familiar reign supreme once again in 2019, naming a reincarnated grunge group minus their legendary singer (Alice In Chains) and a reincarnated classic rock group minus all of their members (Greta Van Fleet) as the torch-bearers of the genre.
Let’s break down the 2019 nominations in the category of Best Rock Album.
Alice In Chains — Rainier Fog
Many would have thought it appropriate for Alice In Chains to call it a day after their legendary singer Layne Staley tragically passed away in 2002 from a speedball overdose. But the band soldiered on, and Rainier Fog is their second album fronted by new singer William DuVall, apparently delivering a similar glory to “Man In The Box” and “Rooster” that is chock full of riffs and splintering solos. The continued existence of the band after Staley’s death is news to me.
Fall Out Boy — M A N I A
Fall Out Boy was nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy in 2005 after the release of their seminal sophomore album From Under The Cork Tree (the one with “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” and “Dance, Dance“). It took thirteen years, a breakup, a reunion, and a 180-degree sonic shift that took the punk out of pop-punk for the band to be nominated for their second award. M A N I A features not a single song that I have heard.
Ghost — Prequelle
The only band here that doesn’t rely on mainstream name-recognition, Ghost’s inclusion on this list is something of a triumph. Prequelle is a truly impressive metal album, featuring epic riffs, dramatic swells, and almost Victorian instrumental breaks. They follow in the footsteps of Black Sabbath, while never trying to stand in their shoes. The result is an incredibly original and theatrical array of direction and sounds that test the boundaries of the genre.
Greta Van Fleet — From The Fires
They didn’t even nominate the album that got the now infamous Pitchfork pan! Instead, From The Fires, the eight-song precursor to Anthem Of The Peaceful Army, received the nod for sparking the flame that remade classic rock for the 21st century. There is so much to be said about Greta Van Fleet, but now is neither the time nor the place.
Weezer — Pacific Daydream
None of Weezer’s iconic catalogue — which spans largely from 1994’s Weezer (The Blue Album) to 2001’s Weezer (The Green Album), but also stretches time and space to include the 2005 single “Beverly Hills” — ever received any recognition for a potential Grammy. Now, even though Weezer doesn’t even want to please those old-school fans anymore, the borderline unlistenable Pacific Daydream which features a song titled “La Mancha Screwjob” has received the tip of the hat. Was the Academy threatened by Matt Damon or something?
All told, the 2019 Grammy nominations are basically presenting us with a bizarro time-warp reality in which there is only a single “modern rock band” (Ghost) nominated for an award in the Best Rock Album category. In the mind of this writer at least, that makes Ghost naturally the most deserving of the accolade… right? That said, the likelihood that Ghost’s Prequelle actually takes home the award is realistically slim to none, because most voters have probably not familiarized themselves with the Ghost canon (which is very impressive!). There is a much higher chance that we will instead watch Greta Van Fleet take the Grammy stage to accept an award that Led Zeppelin themselves didn’t receive until 2014 with their Celebration Day reunion concert album.
But after reviewing the list of nominees, it becomes more evident than ever that the true loss here is the lack of recognition for the newer artists paving the way in today’s musical landscape. While Weezer’s Pacific Daydream was universally panned by critics, an album like Mitski’s Be The Cowboy was universally lauded, placing very highly on many year-end lists, including ours.
The gap between the Recording Academy and the general music-listening public grows wider with every passing year. And since the Academy requires that new members have “At least 12 credits in the category for which you’d like to qualify, with at least one credit occurring within the previous five years,” it becomes more and more likely that eligible voters actively diving into the oft-underground world of new, inspired, boundary-pushing rock music become fewer and further between.
We’ll just have to sit back and wait to be spoon-fed the committee’s strange definition of rock when the 61st annual Grammy awards air on Sunday, February 10.