Grammy season is upon us, and whether you take the award show’s picks as gospel or not, “Music’s Biggest Night” is always worth talking about. Here are some of our favorite nominees, along with the artists and records we would’ve nominated if given the chance.
Record of the Year
Our pick: “bad guy” — Billie Eilish
At the age of 18, Billie Eilish has already become a household name, leveraging a brand of edginess that is both intriguing and accessible to mainstream audiences. Album opener “bad guy” is one of the most polished earworms of the year, a perfect introduction to Eilish’s undeniable humor and precision.
Pat’s nomination: “Juice” — Lizzo
While “Truth Hurts” dominated the charts this summer, the best production on Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You” can be found elsewhere on the track list. “Juice” is an infectious, punchy pop track with the catchiest chorus of the year. Lizzo’s vocals blend perfectly with the colorful production to create a hook guaranteed to get caught in your head.
Gabby’s nomination: “Frontier” — Holly Herndon
Inspired by the Sacred Harp tradition of Holly Herndon’s Southern childhood, “Frontier” employs a transfixing vocal ensemble that includes Spawn, an AI trained to process and respond to music. The resulting sound, both clearly augmented and unmistakably human, speaks to the themes of technology, physicality and transience woven into Herndon’s latest album, “PROTO.”
Album of the Year
Our pick: “Norman F*****g Rockwell!” — Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey’s maximalist pop has never shined as bright as it does on the unquestionable album of the year, “Norman F*****g Rockwell!” This is one of the most visually evocative albums of the decade, and Del Rey’s growth as a songwriter and performer suggests the possibility of a career yet to reach its prime.
Pat’s nomination: “I Need a New War” — Craig Finn
In both his solo releases and his work as the frontman of The Hold Steady, Craig Finn has focused on telling stories about good people with deeply flawed lives. With standout tracks like “Magic Marker” and “Something to Hope For,” his most recent effort has cut out the inconsistency that defined his earlier records and found the best version of his unique storytelling voice.
Gabby’s nomination: “MAGDALENE” — FKA twigs
FKA twigs, already an innovator from the start of her career, blossomed in 2019 when she released a marvelous studio album while raising the bar for live performance. “MAGDALENE” is beautiful as a whole, but tracks “home with you” and “cellophane” elevate it to Album of the Year status; both have the same emotionally vulnerable, cinematic quality that suggests they’ve never been written down.
Song of the Year
Our pick: “Truth Hurts” — Lizzo
Could it really be any other song? Lizzo’s unbelievable rise to stardom over the last year was propelled first and foremost by “Truth Hurts,” her four-times platinum single that took the world by storm and made her a household name. Originally released in 2017, the track was re-released in 2019 as a bonus track on critically acclaimed album “Cuz I Love You,” and it seems that the second time was the charm.
Pat’s nomination: “When Am I Gonna Lose You” — Local Natives
Focusing on the anxiety that accompanies any long-term relationship, “When Am I Gonna Lose You” is a triumph of power pop that pounds through your headphones at its most intense moments. The slow build of the second half’s crescendo is liable to give you chills. In a year of failed attempts by indie-pop bands to reinvent their sound, Local Natives succeeded with flying colors.
Gabby’s nomination: “Hot Girl Summer” — Megan Thee Stallion (feat. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign)
Summer 2019 belonged to Megan Thee Stallion and the Hot Girl ethos, which brought fans together via the rapper’s Instagram for LA parties and bikini beach cleanups. Released Aug. 9, “Hot Girl Summer” quickly climbed the charts, inviting some dark climate-related humor and proving that Stalli’s influence will outlast the changing of the seasons.
Best New Artist
Our pick: ROSALÍA
Rosalía Vila Tobella is by no means a new artist, but the past two years have seen her take new leaps toward pop stardom. 2018’s “EL MAL QUERER,” which infuses Top 40-worthy songcraft with the traditional styles of ROSALÍA’s native Spain, finally saw the artist’s aesthetic vision fully realized. The singles she’s released this past year, including the intense “A Palé,” the simultaneously sweet and biting “Milionària” and reggaeton hit “Con Altura,” have proven her potential to enliven the landscape of mainstream American pop, adding new shades to a sonic palette that often seems homogeneous.
Pat’s nomination: Better Oblivion Community Center
Indie darlings Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers combined to form Better Oblivion Community Center and released an album of the same name, filled to the brim with introspective lyrics and fundamentally sound songwriting. Standout tracks “Dylan Thomas” and “Didn’t Know What I Was in For” are raw, emotional attempts to understand sadness and cruelty through an empathetic lens.
Gabby’s nomination: Orville Peck
Orville Peck may have ridden pop culture’s “yee haw” zeitgeist into 2019, but upon hearing the masked singer-songwriter’s work, it’s clear he’s internalized the sound and vision of country-western as a genuine influence. Fashion fads come and go, but Peck’s Marty Robbins-style vocals, heartfelt lyrics and commitment to both tradition and subversion have marked him as a bona fide cowboy.
Best Pop Solo Performance
Our pick: “SPIRIT” — Beyoncé
While Ariana Grande and Lizzo delivered stellar vocal performances this year, the songs nominated for this category don’t showcase their talents as well as some others. Beyoncé’s vocals are predictably strong on “SPIRIT,” written for “The Lion King” and controversially snubbed for an Oscar.
Gabby’s nomination: “Birthday” — Tami T
Swedish artist Tami T creates glittering synth pop in the vein of Charli XCX and MARINA, but the almost childlike quality of her blunt, confessional lyrics sets her apart from industry giants. Her plaintive delivery on “Birthday” captures the heartbreaking essence of a long walk home from an empty night out.
Pat’s nomination: “So Hot You’re Hurting my Feelings” — Caroline Polachek
A synth-pop banger in the vein of Charli XCX, “So Hot You’re Hurting my Feelings” is the catchiest song off of Caroline Polachek’s excellent 2019 album “Pang.” The production is tight and groove-filled while Polachek’s vocals capture the desperation of missing a partner who offers you something no one else can.
Best Rock Song
Our pick: “Harmony Hall” — Vampire Weekend
I wouldn’t necessarily classify Vampire Weekend as rock, but it’s hard to argue that it’s anything less than the best song on the list. The lead single off of the band’s long-awaited album “Father of the Bride,” “Harmony Hall” sounds like Paul Simon started a jam band, in the most complimentary sense.
Pat’s nomination: “953” — black midi
It’s hard to describe black midi, as their most defining attribute is that they don’t sound like anybody else. “953” features pounding guitars and ridiculously complex drum lines in between vocals inspired by David Byrne. The result is a beautiful mess that encapsulates both the violence of punk and the musical talent of the best rock bands of the ’80s and ’90s. Oh, and they’re all teenagers. Hopefully, black midi is just getting started.
Gabby’s nomination: “Cemetery” — Brutus
It seems ridiculous to file Belgian post-metal power trio Brutus into the Grammys’ frustratingly vague rock category, but the group’s most recent album, “Nest,” is absolutely one of the year’s most powerful. “Cemetery” features gripping vocals from singer Stefanie Mannaerts and a pounding, transcendent progression that repeats after each chorus. It stuns me every time I hear it.
Best Alternative Album
Our pick: “U.F.O.F” — Big Thief
Big Thief’s “U.F.O.F” may be the highlight of a discography comprised entirely, so far, of modern classics. The band brings its melodic gifts to a cohesive, delicately rendered world of cattails, fruit bats’ eyes and cool autumn rain, and is an album you’ll want to keep revisiting as a whole instead of plucking out key tracks.
Pat’s nomination: “Purple Mountains” — Purple Mountains
While the decade has brought a slew of albums attempting to contribute to a greater understanding of mental health struggles, few have been capable of finding the line between melodrama and mockery as well as Purple Mountains’ self-titled album. It’s a tragedy that the album serves as a final effort for singer David Berman, who took his own life shortly after the release, but “Purple Mountains” is an empathetic and powerful look at living with a woefully misunderstood illness such as chronic depression.
Gabby’s nomination: “Caligula” — Lingua Ignota
Lingua Ignota’s “Caligula,” an apocalyptic portrait of feminine rage, employs a palette of disparate sources: baroque ceremonial marches, Billy Bragg, black metal, Frank O’Hara and the Jonestown death tape. Musician Kristin Hayter has long taken an academic approach to music, and her attention to detail shines through in her finest work yet, a thesis on righteous anger and suffering.
Best Rap Song
Our pick: “Suge” — DaBaby
Known for his goofy persona and creative videos, DaBaby rose to stardom this year with two great albums and a slew of acclaimed guest verses alongside Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Lil Nas X and more. Suave and minimal, “Suge” encapsulates the rapper’s appeal as one of 2019’s most fascinating figures.
Pat’s nomination: “Blood of the Fang” — clipping.
Arguably the best political song of the year, “Blood of the Fang” tackles police violence and the underappreciated experience of being a black man in the United States. This track is coursing with chaotic energy and is built off of an incredibly creative sampling from a 1970s horror film.
Gabby’s nomination: “Cold” — Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats
Album opener “Cold” begins with a robotic voice asking, “Hey, you there. Aren’t you tired of the same old thing?” Rapper Rico Nasty, whose sharp wit and Riot grrrl energy have paved her way to prominence, quickly offers an alternative as the song explodes into braggadocious mayhem.