Music News: Grammy nominations make strides in representation

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Brandi Carlile in concert at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.
Brandi Carlile performs at the State Theatre in Minneapolis on Nov. 29, 2018. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
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After years of withering criticism over their lack of diversity, this year's Grammy nominations have gone some distance to close the gap. Kendrick Lamar leads nominees with eight nods, followed closely by Drake. Further, female nominees predominate in all four top categories.

After Thursday's Golden Globes nominations, two of the year's biggest movies look poised to have a big showing at both the Grammys and the Oscars. The Black Panther soundtrack, curated by Lamar and featuring his own work on several tracks, was nominated for Album of the Year. "All the Stars," a collaboration between Lamar and SZA from the soundtrack, also earned nods for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

A Star is Born, the fourth version of that movie, might just outshine all the others. "Shallow," performed by stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, was also nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Drake's Scorpion lifted him to seven nominations, second only to Lamar. It was nominated for Album of the Year, with "God's Plan" earning nods for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. It's unclear whether he'll even show up, though: he's been publicly dismissive of the Grammys, and hasn't attended either of the past two years. Adding to the ambiguity of Drake's relationship with the Recording Academy, he's been nominated dozens of times but only won three Grammys.

The women who fill the majority of the slots in the four big categories range from relatively familiar faces like Janelle Monáe (Dirty Computer, Album of the Year) to much lesser-known artists like H.E.R., an R&B singer who was nominated for Album of the Year (H.E.R.) and Best New Artist. Two singer-songwriters in the Americana vein had breakthrough nominations: Kacey Musgraves got an Album of the Year nomination for Golden Hour, and Brandi Carlile landed nods for Album of the Year (By the Way, I Forgive You) as well as for Record of the Year and Song of the Year for "The Joke."

Other artists who had huge years and landed in the top categories include Cardi B, who shot to sudden fame and became the highest-profile female solo rapper since Missy Elliott; her Invasion of Privacy is nominated for Album of the Year, and her Bad Bunny/J Balvin collaboration "I Like It" got a nom for record of the year. Also, Childish Gambino was nominated for Record and Song of the Year for "This Is America," one of the year's most-discussed songs.

Picking winners will be tricker than ever this year, though, with the number in nominations in each of the top categories expanded from five to eight. It's also far from clear whether the general pool of Grammy voters will be as adventurous as the people who picked the nominees. If you had to put money on what song will grab the big prizes, you'd probably want to bet on "Shallow."

The biggest snub? Easy: Taylor Swift. Her Reputation, which received mixed reviews, was only nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album. There was also a collective sigh of relief among many music fans when XXXTentacion, the wildly popular but hugely controversial late rapper, didn't get any nominations. Kanye West, who was all over the headlines for various shenanigans but musically focused on producing short releases for other artists, was nominated only for Best Producer.

The biggest surprises? Those huge nominations for Brandi Carlile and H.E.R., who are not widely known despite both having fiercely devote fan bases.

"Reflection, reevaluation, and implementation have been the driving forces at the Recording Academy over the past year," said outgoing Academy president Neil "Step Up" Portnow in a statement. "From convening our Task Force on Diversity & Inclusion and launching our new community-driven membership model, to increasing the number of nominees in the General Field, and to playing a leadership role in the successful passage of the landmark Music Modernization Act, the Recording Academy has reaffirmed its commitment to music creators across all facets of our industry."

This year's Grammys will be handed out on Feb. 10. (New York Times, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Billboard)

Remembering Pete Shelley, 1955-2018

Yesterday, news broke that Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks has died at age 63, of a suspected heart attack. He co-founded the British punk band in the mid-1970s, becoming lead singer and guitarist for their biggest years in the second half of that decade. The band put a pop spin on the new punk sound, beloved for singles like "What Do I Get?" and "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)." After Buzzcocks broke up in the early '80s, Shelley pursued a successful solo career; Buzzcocks, with Shelley, got back together in 1989.

In tribute, the Guardian wrote that Shelley's songs were "complex but immediate, packed with melodic hooks and waspishly funny lines, they were the kind of songs that artists spend their whole careers striving towards."

In Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield called Shelley "one of the most humane, compassionate, emotionally raw songwriters punk rock ever coughed up, not to mention the funniest. He twisted all the gender codes of rock & roll, casually shrugging off the masculine clichés punk inherited, pouring his heart out into three-minute vignettes."

When Buzzcocks visited The Current for a session in 2006, they talked about the band's enduring appeal.


Songs sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
Kendrick Lamar and SZA: "All the Stars"
Drake: "God's Plan"
Brandi Carlile: "The Joke"
Childish Gambino: "This is America"
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper: "Shallow"
Buzzcocks: "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)"


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