The 2023 Grammy Awards nominees were announced on Nov. 15, and at first glance, there are no surprises (like the classic Radiohead Grammy-deserving-but-never-got-one song
). Beyonce, Adele, Kendrick Lamar — all the usual deserving suspects make several appearances throughout the nominees list. However, there are some questionable choices among the nominees which definitely undermines the value of the award.
The three top categories, whose winner is the most anticipated announcement in the music industry, are Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. An important thing to note here is that while Record of the Year and Song of the Year are an award for a single, the difference between the two categories is roughly that Record of the Year focuses on production and performance and awards the entire team behind the single and Song of the Year awards only the songwriter(s) for their work.
Beyonce, Adele, Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo and Harry Styles dominate across all three main categories. A wonderful addition to the overall expected list is Brandi Carlile, whose latest album is a heartfelt and musically complex storytelling piece. ABBA are also in all three categories, most probably out of the mass nostalgia that the music industry is going through, in my opinion. That’s surely why Mary J. Blige is also a regular.
Bad Bunny is the hot topic in town because of his numerous nominations, making him the first Latin artist nominated for Album of the Year. Un Verano Sin Ti is definitely not your typical Latin/Reggeaton record, being more open and experimental with different genres and themes, so there is for sure merit in it being on the biggest award category.
However, the big unexpected elephant in the room is the nomination for Song of the Year for the song “abcdefu” by GAYLE. The song is not just an old TikTok trend — it was created for TikTok, through TikTok, almost by TikTok. And while it is a cute tune with nice wordplay elements, why is it nominated for a Grammy? A Grammy is supposed to be an award given to a musical piece of exceptional quality, perhaps even one that’s moderately revolutionary in the way it was produced and performed. What about “abcdefu” ticks these boxes for the jury escapes me. One other nominee in the same category has quite a similar account: “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy (from which most people really only know about five seconds).
The case of GAYLE’s and Steve Lacy’s records raises a bigger question that we have avoided to acknowledge for a while: to what extent are winners determined by the mass popularity of the act? But also does this mass popularity diminish its artistry? The first question can be answered through a quick skim of the overall Grammy nominations and the conclusion is that, yes, choices are quite influenced by their acquired fame. This is especially evident in the choice for Song of the Year out of the albums selected for the Album of the Year — it is usually the most-listened-to single.
As for the second question, the answer shall remain a mystery. Determining the merit of art has always been and will probably always be a controversial topic. Is art meant to be enjoyed by the most people or is it supposed to be understood by a select few intellectuals to be valuable? Is artistry measured in how many people relate to it or in how effectively an artist expressed themselves without appealing to their audience to relate? There really is no correct answer to these questions, but in the case of awards, I do believe there is a correct way to evaluate — it should not be by popularity, because that only shows the jury is probably more influenced by the award’s capitalist ability to receive as many views as possible.
The only exception might be Jack Harlow’s album, nominated in the rap genre, even though it was not that well received by practically everyone.
In the whole star-studded nominee list, quite a few names are overshadowed by their rivals, even though they are truly deserving of their nominations. Such is the fate of EDM trio RÜFÜS DU SOL, whose latest album Surrender is an elaborate record with almost cinematic musical storytelling qualities. In the alternative categories, the big returns of some of the greats in the genre, such as Bjork, Florence + the Machine, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and even Arctic Monkeys, also remain out of the spotlight even though that’s where they should be.
A lot of people wouldn’t scroll this far down the nomination list, but Tank and the Bangas, an alternative RnB band, are worth the listen (and the award in this category). The one category I feel very strongly about this year is Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, which Remy Le Beauf’s Assembly of Shadows with Architecture of Storms absolutely has to win, being one of the most unique takes on instrumental jazz for orchestra I have ever listened to. Severely underappreciated is the category Best Americana Album, where this year the jury has nominated truly some of the most innovative albums, including Raise the Roof by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The most fun category might be Global Music, where Burna Boy just has to dominate.
Overall, this year’s Grammy nominations are much of the same old in the main categories, which remain focused on popular releases and are less representative of the development of music as art than they perhaps should be. The Grammy’s, despite all these obvious marketing strategies, are still quite an accurate measure of what the music industry stands for and is currently most interested in — namely 80s disco and EDM.
Yana Peeva is Deputy Columns Editor. Email her at email@example.com