Grammy nominations favor popular tastes, bestsellers
In announcing the nominations for the 57th Grammy Awards, the Recording Academy pulled a familiar card on Friday: If you had a hit song or bolstered the music industry with major sales, you will be recognized and potentially rewarded.
That’s been the case in recent years, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating success. 2014’s bestsellers are all accounted for, from Taylor Swift’s pop crossover to the polarizing path Iggy Azalea blazed in hip-hop, and to Sam Smith’s journey to soulful soft rock.
The ceremony takes place Feb. 8 and will be broadcast live from Los Angeles.
There are, as usual, some surprising shutouts. Beyoncé turned up in the R&B and urban categories for last December’s “Beyoncé,” but she didn’t crack the coveted fields of song or record of the year. Neither did Lana Del Rey, whose latest album, “Ultraviolence,” didn’t spawn any hits but was certainly one of this year’s more prominent releases. She got nothing. (The nominations cover albums released between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2014.)
What’s truly missing is an element of surprise. Sitting at the top of the charts, you could easily see this year’s nominees a mile away. And certainly you could argue lesser-known artists are worthy of Grammy recognition beyond household names. Rising alt-R&B singer FKA twigs’ outright absence is a major oversight.
The nominations were rolled out Friday in a clever social-media campaign that started bright and early on “CBS This Morning,” followed by a steady stream of video and photo announcements on Twitter. Nominees for the final category, Album of the Year, were announced at the end of “A Very GRAMMY Christmas,” televised by CBS on Friday night.
Among Grammy-nominated artists with local ties is Meghan Trainor, the Cape Cod native whose breakthrough hit, “All About That Bass,” was inescapable this year. Hometown hero Louis C.K.’s “Oh My God” was nominated for best comedy album, and the Pixies’ “Indie Cindy” is up for best recording package.
In the jazz field, Chelsea-born Chick Corea earned a nod for best improvised jazz solo, as did New England Conservatory faculty member Fred Hersch. Both men were also nominated for best jazz instrumental album. Artists on the formerly Massachusetts-based label Rounder Records were recognized in the American roots, folk, and bluegrass categories.
Among classical music categories, the Boston Early Music Festival garnered a nomination for best opera recording for Charpentier’s “La Descente D’Orphée Aux Enfers.” The chamber orchestra A Far Cry is nominated for best chamber music/small ensemble performance for “Dreams & Prayers,” which includes compositions by Osvaldo Golijov, who teaches in Worcester, and Boston-based Mehmet Ali Sanlikol. And a recording of a concerto by Stephen Paulus, by UMass Amherst trumpet professor Eric Berlin and the UMass Wind Ensemble, was cited in the best classical contemporary composition category.
One more noteworthy nominee with local ties: Senator Elizabeth Warren received a nod in the best spoken word category for the audiobook version of her political memoir, “A Fighting Chance.”
RECORD OF THE YEAR
“Fancy,” Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX
“Stay With Me (Dark Child Version),” Sam Smith
“Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift
“All About That Bass,” Meghan Trainor
If we’re honoring songs that made a commercial dent, you can’t beat this roundup of perfectly polished anthems. It’s safe, sure, but it’s also representative of the year’s Top 40 soundtrack. That said: Go, Meghan, go!
SONG OF THE YEAR
“All About That Bass,” Meghan Trainor and Kevin Kadish
“Chandelier,” Sia Furler and Jesse Shatkin
“Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Shellback
“Stay With Me,” Sam Smith, James Napier, William Phillips
“Take Me to Church,” Andrew Hozier-Byrne
This category honors the songwriter instead of the performer, but in every case here the artist was also one of the writers. Irish singer-songwriter Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” is a refreshing dark horse, a deeply felt critique of the Catholic Church dictating how we should live and whom we should love. It’s arguably the only pop song here with a spiritual message.
BEST NEW ARTIST
This continues to be the most adventurous category, which I wish would become a blueprint for other fields as broad as, say, best rock album. All five made considerable strides in their genres, especially Azalea, the only female in the otherwise male-dominated rap categories. Don’t count out Clark; in a year riddled with bro-country, this whip-smart songwriter elevated the game.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Beck, “Morning Phase”
Ed Sheeran, “X”
Sam Smith, “In the Lonely Hour”
Pharrell Williams, “GIRL”
At the end of “A Very GRAMMY Christmas,” right after Sam Smith tenderly sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” atop the iconic Capitol Records building in Hollywood, the young English crooner was named among the nominees for album of the year. Cited with dark-horse contenders by Beck and Ed Sheeran, Smith, Beyoncé, and Pharrell Williams ended the day with six nominations apiece.