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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Is this the year the Grammys rediscover their mojo?

Ahead of the seemingly revitalised Grammys, we break down the hottest nominees and acts to look out for onstage and predicts the top winners

Kendrick Lamar performs during the Festival d'ete de Quebec in Quebec City, Canada. Amy Harris / Invision / AP
Kendrick Lamar performs during the Festival d'ete de Quebec in Quebec City, Canada. Amy Harris / Invision / AP

The 60th Grammy Awards, held Sunday night in New York (early on Monday morning in the UAE), may actually be good this year. A harsh statement, perhaps, but the ceremony has suffered from a string of questionable decisions dating back nearly two decades; from Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature pipping Eminem’s genre-defining Marshall Mathers LP for 2001’s Album of the Year, and Herbie Hancock’s genteel River: The Joni Letters claiming the same gong over Amy Winehouse’s modern-soul classic Back to Black in 2008, to last year’s inexplicable snub of Beyoncé from the major awards.

By the time the curtains closed on last February’s ceremony, the general consensus was the Grammys had lost all credibility and relevance. Hence the immediate decision to overhaul the voting process. Some of the changes enacted are mind-boggling in their inclusion, such as the introduction of online voting – prior years had Grammy members sending votes by post. Think about that for a second.

Another major change is an audit of member’s engagements – those who haven’t released music or deemed not involved in the industry for a certain number of years lose voting privileges. Another major development is the creation of award committees (of artists, producers and industry executives) for all four major categories – Record of the Year (for artist and producer), Song of the Year (to the artist), Album of the Year and Best New Artist – to ensure it doesn’t slide into a popularity contest.

The surgery has already borne fruit with this year’s nominations a more accurate snapshot of the state of play in the music industry. Hopefully, the new direction will convince broadcasters in our region to snap up the rights to screen the ceremony next year.

Who is singing?

Hosted by British chat-show host James Corden, the Grammys are as much about the music as the handing out of those gilded gramophones. This year’s edition has a bumper list of eclectic performances. On the pop music front, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee will be on hand to wheel out their global smash hit Despacito once again; Bruno Mars and Cardi B will perform their 90s-tastic Finesse; Lady Gaga will also take to the stage with her delicate Million Reasons; while Pink should perform her latest hit What About Us. On the hip-hop front, Kendrick Lamar should get the crowd moving with his blistering anthem Humble, while Logic will team up with fellow nominees Alessia Cara and Khalid for his stirring 1-800-273-8255, which is named after a suicide prevention hotline in the United States. U2 will also be on hand to remind us that they are still kicking and back with their new album Songs of Experience.

Hip-hop is in the building

Love it or hate, you can’t deny the cultural juggernaut that hip-hop has become.

A cursory glance through all the major international music festivals – not to mention Abu Dhabi’s Formula One After Race Concerts – in the past few years reveals a string of rappers as headliners. Now, after years of being shunted off to genre categories, this year’s more knowing Grammys judges have included them in the running for the big awards.

Jay-Z leads the nominations with eight nods, including for Record of the Year (The Story of OJ) and Album of the Year (4:44). He is followed by Kendrick Lamar with seven nominations, including Album of the Year (Damn), while Childish Gambino and Logic are up for Record of the Year and Song of the year respectively. With three of the five nominees being rappers, this could be the first time a hip-hop release wins the prestigious Album of the Year since OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004. We think it will be Lamar’s Damn. It personifies the best of the genre: technically virtuosity, fierce and socially relevant lyrics, plus adventurous production.

The new breed

From The Beatles, Tom Jones and Adele and to Christopher Cross and Marc Cohn, the Grammys has a chequered history in picking Best New Artist winners that would go on to become superstars. This year’s batch is interesting in that all gave their respective genres a welcome dose of freshness. Canadian singer Alessia Cara’s soulful vocals and direct lyricism is garnering a multigenerational fan base. Rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s colourful delivery and personality is expanding hip-hop’s range, while R&B singer and songwriter Khalid’s debut album, American Teen, was last year’s surprise success. In a compelling field, this could be Cara’s year. She has the songs and momentum to cement her standing in 2018.

The Despacito effect

Will the Despacito tsunami finally come to its fitting conclusion on Sunday night? After sweeping all the major categories of the Latin Grammy Awards last year, Fonsi will surely walk away with at least one gong for the infuriatingly catchy reggaeton number.

So let’s start by what he should win: The Best Pop

Duo/ Group performance should be a shoo-in for his work with fellow Puerto Rican star Daddy Yankee on the track. However, when it comes to Record of the Year and Song of the Year, he faces stiff competition from the legion of in-vogue rappers and pop-prince Bruno Mars. The diminutive singer has two songs in play for the major awards, including 24K Magic and That’s What I Like (Record of the Year and Song of the Year, respectively) in addition to Album of the Year.

The tears

Kesha’s upcoming appearance at RedFest DXB on February 9 could be a celebratory gig if all goes well on Sunday. After years mired in a legal battle against pop-producer and mentor Dr Luke, whom she accused of sexual assault and abuse (he denied the claims, then countersued) and in rehab for substance abuse and eating disorders, the 30-year-old channelled all the pain in her powerful third album Rainbow, which is up for Best Pop Vocal Album, and single Praying is shortlisted for Best Pop Solo Performance. If she wins, expect tears and a standing ovation from fellow colleagues, many of which whom view her as one of the heroines of the #MeToo movement. Another emotional moment could arrive if the late Chris Cornell wins Best Rock Performance for The Promise. The lamenting track was his last official solo release before committing suicide in May last year. Ever since, his wife, Vicky, has been an advocate for mental health within the entertainment industry, so it would be a deeply resonant acceptance speech.

Rock and a hard place

There has been plenty of commentary recently on rock ‘n’ roll’s decline, when it comes to both quality and sales. This year’s awards are a reflection of this. No rock acts are up for any of the major awards, instead consigned to genre-specific fields. Even then, the nominees are not an inspired bunch. When it comes to the aforementioned Best Rock Performance, also included are perennial nominees Foo Fighters for Run and the oddly placed You Want It Darker by the late Leonard Cohen. Metallica deserve to win Best Rock Album for the late-career high Hardwired...to Self-Destruct, while the dark majesty of Sleep Well Beast should make indie-rockers The National a favourites to claim the Best Alternative Music Album prize.

For more details go to www.grammy.com

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Read more:

Jay-Z, Bruno Mars lead Grammy nominations in top categories

Grammys 2018: how this year's nominees tackled the issue of mental health

Remembering South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela

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