Grammy season is finally here, and in a year when the world was practically turned upside down, the music business was no exception. In an unprecedented year for music distribution and consumption, we figured it was easy to miss out on a lot of great music that got nominated, and we created this playlist to help.
“For Her” – Fiona Apple
To me, Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is the album of the year. It’s an extraordinary album that uses experimental-like sounds — it has strange mixtures of traditional and non-traditional musical objects, with Apple’s incredibly relevant and hard-hitting lyrics. While “Shamekia” is fantastic and worthy of its Best Rock Song and Performance nomination, “For Her” is the true standout of the album. It’s an angry anthem against men who constantly take advantage of women with such a hard-hitting bridge. It’s absolutely insane to me that “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is not nominated for Album of the Year — it should have no competition.
“3 AM” – HAIM
I was very excited to see HAIM’s “Women in Music Pt. III” nominated under Album of the Year. It’s such a fun blend of sound and genres, from traditional pop rock to country rock, from the pop band. There’s a number of great tracks from the album, but “3 AM” is my favorite. A total great lo-fi vibe that is incredibly infectious and catchy. If you haven’t listened to “Women in Music Pt. III” you need to change that.
“august” & “invisible string” – Taylor Swift
There is no denying Taylor Swift’s talent as a lyricist and “folklore” is the greatest example of it. So much of the album is about memories, and both “august” and “invisible string” utilize them in different ways. “august” is remembering a love that wasn’t real, and “invisible string” is remembering how a love started and blossomed. Swift can tell a story with her lyrics and these songs, completed with their instrumentals, make for some of her best music to date. It wouldn’t surprise me if this won Album of the Year, through who knows how that reaction will go.
“Don’t Make It Harder On Me” – Chloe x Halle
Honestly, it’s hard to pick just one song from Chloe x Halle’s album “Ungodly Hour.” The R&B album from the sister duo is filled with so many great tracks that it’s insane to think that only one track really gained big traction, “Do It,” and that was mostly due to TikTok. “Don’t Make It Harder On Me” has this great sound that feels both retro and modern and is further complemented by both of the sister’s harmonies. Another example of something that feels like it should be nominated for Album of the Year, but somehow isn’t.
Am I looking forward to a live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid?” No. Do I at least want to hear Halle Bailey kill “Part of Your World?” Duh.
“She” – Harry Styles
Although “Fine Line” is nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album, it’s really Harry Styles’ soft rock songs that win me over. Truthfully, I haven’t been able to think objectively of him since he wrote the iconic line of “she lives in daydreams with me.” The guitar solo in this song is one of the most satisfying music sequences to rock out to. “Fine Line” is an emotionally raw album that still manages to give us energetic pop songs such as “Watermelon Sugar” and “Golden,” or emotional ballads like “Fine Line” and “Falling” to cry to. Despite the pandemic halting his tour, Styles consistently released music videos throughout the year for his second solo album.
“Babylon” – Lady Gaga
“Chromatica” is Gaga’s sixth album, competing with Styles in the Best Pop Vocal Album category. I genuinely enjoyed the fantastical pop songs that were a tribute to house — the album is expertly crafted into three parts that are vulnerable as they are upbeat. “911” is one song from her album that quickly became my go-to workout song. Unfortunately, her monochromatic Oreos garnered more attention than her music did, so I don’t know if we’ll see her win any awards tonight as she’s also nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
“What’s New” – Megan Thee Stallion
Despite the tumultuous year this pandemic has brought us, we’ve always been able to rely on Megan Thee Stallion to deliver another phenomenal verse. She’s one of the most in-demand rap artists right now, and for good reason. Whether it be with Ariana Grande, Beyonce or SZA, Megan only knows how to write top hits. If anyone got us through 2020, it was Megan. She has four Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Best New Artist and Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Savage,” which dominated our social media for months last year. It’s Megan’s world, we’re just living in it.
“Lockdown” – Anderson .Paak
“Lockdown” is going to get my vote for Best Melodic Rap Performance because Anderson .Paak is one of my favorite artists nominated this year for a Grammy. I have been following his music since his album “Malibu,” released in 2016, and each release following has kept me hooked. Paak’s musical prowess, coupled with his smooth vocals, would make me believe he could cover any song I did not like and turn it into something groovy. He is an artist that whenever I see his name pop up on my recommended listening, I click on his name. This was probably my easiest vote to cast this year for my personal favorites.
“Dior” – Pop Smoke
I’m dropping my vote for Best Rap Performance in the “Dior” by Pop Smoke box because I was surprised by its nomination, pleasantly surprised. It was one of those songs that I would imagine being played at every party you went to, if 2020 had those still. This category was competitive for me too, because I really enjoy every song in it. So since I found a song that I wasn’t expecting here, it took my vote. I don’t have any deep understanding or knowledge to impose on this song other than this song goes, and that’s how I feel regarding all of the songs nominated in this category.
“Don’t Start Now” – Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa’s song “Don’t Start Now” is up for the three awards Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be mad if this one song won all three, with the one exception of my affinity for Doja Cat’s song “Say So,” which is up for Best Pop Solo Performance as well.
I think that this song does what her album, “Future Nostalgia,” is setting out to accomplish perfectly. This song makes me feel nostalgic with its funk-influenced bassline and 2000’s pop-era keys, but wrapped into a modern package that still feels like it came out in 2020. When I think of Grammy nominations and awards in the pop genre, I think of songs that are going to be remembered forever and I think this falls into that category for sure.
“Something to Rap About” – Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist Ft. Tyler, the Creator
As I’ll later explain when talking about another song on my list, I’ve been pretty down on the nomination pool for Best Rap Album this year. If I had a say, there’s a chance the entire list would be scrapped, save for Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist’s “Alfredo,” which manages to pack a heavy punch in just 35 minutes.
“Something to Rap About” is my favorite track on the Grammy-nominated album by a pretty decent margin, which is saying a lot for an album as polished as “Alfredo” is. Like mostly every other song on the album, Gibbs’ boisterous gangster raps are accompanied by a mellow Alchemist beat, but here the difference in style between the two creates a song that feels both urgent and soothing at the same time. The modest guitar sample that plays on loop throughout makes me believe I’m sunbathing on a yacht with both eyes closed, and the braggadocious feature from Tyler, the Creator brings this vision to life.
“Happiness Over Everything” – Jhene Aiko ft. Miguel & Future
Jhene Aiko’s “Chilombo” was one of my most listened-to R&B albums of 2020, and it’s certainly deserving of its Best R&B Album nod. If “Happiness Over Everything” were a group project, all three artists would receive an A. Jhene allows Future and Miguel to breathe life into the record as the featured artists, but still makes her presence felt with her background vocals. Future returns the favor, sprinkling his “Freak, freak, freak, freak” ad-libs over the track while Jhene captivates listeners with her melodic whispers. This song is impossible to hate.
“The Bigger Picture” – Lil Baby
The 2021 selection committee dropped the ball this year with the Best Rap Album category. My biggest issue is that the albums nominated don’t accurately reflect the impact of hip-hop over the past year. As glad as I am that hip-hop in 2020 embraces older acts as opposed to abandoning them once they reach 40, I feel like not having a nominee younger than 35 is a problem. Why is it ok for Roddy Ricch and Lil Baby to perform at the awards, but not have their bodies of work recognized as the best and most influential in the field?
There’s not much I can say about the importance of a protest song like “The Bigger Picture” that hasn’t already been said, but it’s the only thing Lil Baby is nominated for in a year when he dominated music and it’s certainly worthy of inclusion on our list.