Huh? Oh, hello.
So I hear that the 65th Grammy Awards take place this Sunday.
Yep! “Music’s biggest night,” they say. The Oscars of the recording industry. The “G” in EGOT. The ol’ gold speaker-horn.
If a person wanted to watch the show, where/when/how might they do that?
That depends on how deep you really want to go here. The show-show will be broadcast live from 8 to 11:30 p.m., and boring old Luddites can tune into CBS while tech-savvy youths can stream it on Paramount+, on CBS.com, or via the CBS app. (Real Luddites, meanwhile, can head to Los Angeles in person and take their chances sneaking into the timelessly-named Crypto.com Arena.)
What do you mean, “the show-show”? Is there another show?
And how. There are 91 awards being handed out this year, in categories that include best contemporary classical composition, best album notes, and best improvised jazz solo. You know that those are all worthy categories, and I know that those are all worthy categories, but Paramount Global shareholders beg to differ. So the majority of the awards — the vast majority — will be handed out before the official broadcast. But here’s where the modern age works in our favor, because you can watch that portion of the festivities (dubbed the Premiere Ceremony) by streaming it on live.GRAMMY.com or on the Recording Academy’s YouTube channel starting at 3:30 p.m. If you don’t care about all the other foofaraw and just want to see winners, then there’s your hook-up.
So if most of the awards are handed out before the show, then … what’s the show, exactly?
Despite being billed as an awards show, the Grammys are really a 3½-hour advertisement for the music industry. Expect performances to outnumber the awards, as nominated artists do their darndest to wow you into buying a concert ticket or at least streaming their song a few dozen more times.
So who are we talking about here?
Trevor Noah, late of “The Daily Show,” is hosting for the third time, while announced performers include, as of this writing, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Mary J. Blige, Brandi Carlile, Luke Combs, Steve Lacy, Lizzo, Kim Petras, and Sam Smith.
Oooh, I like at least one of those artists.
Yes, exactly. That’s what they’re counting on.
Who’s up for which awards?
Again: 91 of them. But the big ones are album, record, and song of the year, and Adele, Styles, Lizzo, Beyoncé, and Kendrick Lamar are nominated for all three. Blige, Carlile, and ABBA, meanwhile, are up for both best album and record, and Lacy is nominated for best record and song. Duking it out in the other spots are Coldplay and Bad Bunny (album); Doja Cat (record); and Gayle, Taylor Swift, DJ Khaled (featuring Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, John Legend, and Fridayy), and Bonnie Raitt (song).
Hang on, did you say ABBA?
Yeah, ABBA released its first album in four decades in November 2021, which falls within the eligibility window for this year’s Grammys. (Don’t ask.) Fun fact: If “Voyage” wins — not outside the realm of possibility! — the team that gets the award will be the smallest of the night, with Anni-Frid, Benny, Björn, and Agnetha joined only by engineer Bernard Löhr and mastering engineer Björn Engelmann. The resulting stage spectacle will be either BABBAB or ABBBBA, I haven’t decided yet.
Any chance history might be made this year?
Oh, yes, and there are at least three different opportunities for it to happen just within the competition for album of the year. First, there’s Adele, who with “30″ is poised to join Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and Swift in the elite club of artists who’ve won the category three times. Then there’s Beyoncé, who is tied (rather conveniently) with Jay-Z for the most lifetime nominations, holds the record for the most Grammy wins by a woman, and is up for a whopping nine awards this year. If she takes home four of them — fewer than half, piece of cake! — she’ll surpass Sir Georg Solti to become the all-around champion.
If “Renaissance” does take the trophy, it’ll be her first-ever win in the album category after four nominations. But even losing would put her in select company: She or Lamar (or both) are going to tie Kanye West and Lady Gaga’s joint record for most album of the year nominations without a win. And then there’s Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti,” which is the first-ever Spanish-language album nominated in this category, and winning would make it [checks notes] the first ever Spanish-language winner in this category.
So who’s going to win?
Oh, no, I’m not falling for that trap. The Grammys are wildly predictable, except when they’re not. Sometimes you get unstoppable blockbusters like Adele’s “21″ and Swift’s “1989,″ and sometimes you get a winner completely out of left field like Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” or Beck’s “Morning Phase.” What I will say is this: Given how she’s paid her dues, has become a Grammy magnet and kingmaker of late, and is nominated with an album that people love and happens to be really, really good, I would not be surprised in the least if Carlile takes album or record of the year.
OK, but I’m bored with all the old categories. I need something new.
First, that’s not a question. Still, you’re in luck. This year marks the debut of five new categories: songwriter of the year (non-classical), best score soundtrack for video games and other interactive media, best alternative music performance, best Americana performance, and (now separated from the audiobook category) best spoken word poetry album. There’s also a special best song for social change award, which instead of being voted on by National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences membership at large will be chosen by a “Blue Ribbon Committee.” If you’ve watched the Academy attempt to grapple with social change over the last decade, you know that this could be a popcorn-worthy cringefest.
Any local acts in the running I should care about?
If tribalism is your thing, then sure. There’s Lori McKenna, the pride of Stoughton, who’s up for country song, a songwriter’s award; she’s won three times already and a win for co-writing “I Bet You Think About Me” with Swift would make her the all-time record holder. Aoife O’Donovan is up for three in the folk and Americana categories, while local blues kingpin Tom Hambridge is up for two (for producing records by Buddy Guy and Keb’ Mo). The Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Boston Symphony Orchestra both have nominations, as do Newton North High School graduate/admitted sex pest Louis C.K. (for comedy album) and Harvard alum Amanda Gorman (for spoken word poetry album). The Berklee College of Music is amply represented across the board; previous Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington shares two nominations for instrumental jazz album, Molly Tuttle is up for bluegrass album and new artist, while a whopping seven of the 10 album of the year nominations feature the work of alums, including Lucius members Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig as well as songwriter of the year (non-classical) nominee Amy Allen. ATTENTION PARENTS OF BOSTON MUSICIANS: This is not a comprehensive listing.
Who of the above will I see on TV?
Probably Lucius, given the likelihood that Carlile’s spotlight will include record of the year nominee “You and Me on the Rock,” which also features the duo. And you’ll at least catch a glimpse of Tuttle during the best new artist presentation (and more than that if she wins). The chances of Allen’s and McKenna’s songwriting categories making it to the primetime broadcast are lower, though not outside the realm of possibility. For the others, you’d do best to watch the Premiere Ceremony to catch them.
Are there any categories that seem particularly interesting or competitive?
As mentioned above, trying to get in the heads of Grammy voters as a group is a fool’s errand. But the Americana album category looks like it could be a wild shootout. There’s Carlile, Raitt, and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, all Grammy darlings who’ve won this category before. Given that the latter’s “Raise the Roof” didn’t get an album of the year nomination when its predecessor “Raising Sand” won that category in 2009, this might be where voters make amends. But Dr. John was working on “Things Happen That Way” right up until his 2019 death, which should give it a sentimental boost.
For the thousandth time, what’s the difference between album, record, and song of the year?
It’s actually very straightforward when you unpack it. Album of the year is, of course, for albums, self-contained collections of songs, and the award goes to more or less the entire crew who made it: the artist and any featured artists, the production/engineering/mastering teams, and the songwriters. (In the case of Beyoncé's “Renaissance,” that could mean upward of 100 people taking the stage to thank their agents.)
Record of the year is for a single track, with the emphasis on the sound recording, and the award going to the artist and the production/engineering/mastering crews.
Song of the year is also for a single track, but it is the songwriter’s award. This means, of course, that someone could perform the song of the year but not themselves win song of the year, though the last time that happened was in 2003, with Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why.” Don’t worry about her, she was fine.
This is all very helpful to prep for Sunday, thank you. One last question: Is Kanye West invited to the ceremony?
Do you think it would stop him if he wasn’t?
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc