Neil Portnow got more than he bargained for when he told women in the music industry to “step up” if they wanted recognition on the Grammy stage. Last year’s James Corden-helmed telecast was confusing enough on its own without the Recording Academy President’s shortsighted and sexist remarks. Thankfully, if the past year in music is any indication, this Sunday’s ceremony has a full-scale, women-led reckoning on its hands. Female artists old and new to the industry dominated charts and delighted critics in 2018, sending a message to Portnow, Grammy voters, and the American people that women in music aren’t just “stepping up.” They’ve been here and they’re taking over.
Album of the Year: Dirty Computer (Janelle Monáe)
From start to finish, Janelle Monáe’s futuristic fourth album is a masterpiece. It showcases her prowess as a multifaceted and mega-talented performer — who is just as comfortable rapping “If she the G.O.A.T. now, would anybody doubt it?” on “Django Jane” as she is whisper-singing the dream-pop chorus of “PYNK.” The album contains powerful odes to black womanhood (“Django Jane”), queerness (“Make Me Feel”), and radical self-love (“I Like That”), with infectious beats and mesmerizing melodies to boot. “Dirty Computer” cements Monáe’s genre-defying musical dominance, and the if the Grammy voters value high-quality sound with real substance you’ll see her take home the night’s biggest prize.
Best Pop Vocal Album: Sweetener (Ariana Grande)
While Ariana Grande may be making headlines this week for a different album (her second of the past six months) her 2018 LP “Sweetener” is almost certain to receive some Grammy love on Sunday evening. The defiant single “No Tears Left to Cry” marked Grande’s fourth straight top 10 lead single, followed by the enchanting “God is a Woman.” In previous years, being nominated in a category alongside Taylor Swift has meant near-certain defeat — not even Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” was able to top “1989” for Album of the Year in 2016 — but victory is looking pretty unlikely for Swift’s “Reputation” this year. Grande’s voice truly shines on “Sweetener,” just as bright as the Grammy she’ll accept for it Sunday.
Best Rap Album: Invasion of Privacy (Cardi B)
Cardi B said it best on “I Do”: “My little fifteen minutes lasting long as hell, huh?” Any person who questioned whether or not Cardi B had the staying power to follow her smash hit “Bodak Yellow” has since eaten their words. All 13 tracks on the Bronx-born artist’s debut album hit the Billboard 100, and rightfully so. “Invasion of Privacy” is an infectious collection of endlessly quotable songs about love, money, sex, and fame that is just as empowering as it is entertaining. From the idgaf attitude of “I Do” to the fed-up frustration of “Be Careful,” the tracks on “Invasion of Privacy” prove that Cardi B is a savvy performer whose “fifteen minutes” will garner her not just a hit album, but a certain future in the music industry and some Grammy Awards to boot.
Record of the Year: I Like It (Cardi B)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ve probably heard “I Like It” on the radio no less than thirty-seven times, and for good reason. Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin’s Latin trap masterpiece was the artist’s history-making second Billboard No. 1. All three artists are confident and charismatic on their infectious, alternatingly English and Spanish verses, tied together by the chorus’s brilliant, looped sample of Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like It Like That.” Cardi raps on the track: “I like texts from my exes when they want a second chance.” While “Bodak Yellow” may not have taken a prize at last year’s ceremony, Cardi B is sure to be ready and willing to accept a trophy for “I Like It” on Sunday.
Song of the Year: The Joke (Brandi Carlile)
If you haven’t heard Brandi Carlile’s achingly beautiful post-election anthem “The Joke,” now is the time to listen. The folk-rock singer is the most nominated woman at the Grammys this year, and her brilliantly raw and insightful 10-track album “By the Way, I Forgive You” nabbed nominations for Album of the Year and Best Americana Album, and its lead single picked up nominations in four different categories itself. Carlile’s voice crescendos on “The Joke” from soft, poetic verses to a heartbreaking, howling chorus. By the time she belts “And the joke’s on them” to close out the song when she performs on Sunday, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. For her to leave unawarded for the single would be crime.
Best Alternative Music Album: MASSEDUCTION (St. Vincent)
St. Vincent is the ultimate performer, one of the few who could put out six albums in just over ten years, each one just as good as, if not better than, the last. “MASSEDUCTION” is the notoriously private alternative rocker’s most personal album yet. Her signature guitar, assisted by delightful electro-pop production, shines on the tracks “Los Ageless” and “Masseduction,” but St. Vincent proves herself again to be so much more than a one-trick pony. Her sorrowfully sweet piano ballad “New York” and the haunting farewell of “Slow Disco” draw attention to her softer side — which is front and center on her acoustic re-imagining and re-release of the same album dubbed “MassEducation." St. Vincent took home the top alternative prize for her self-titled album in 2015 and it’s hard to imagine her leaving Sunday’s ceremony without taking home another.
—Staff Writer Allison J. Scharmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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