Opinion | The Grammys’ ‘Big 4’ Category nominations are nonsensical

By Paul Beer, Staff Columnist

Grammy nominations are a highly contentious subject, as people love to debate who was treated unfairly or who deserved specific nominations. 

The Grammys has had their fair share of slip-ups in the past few years, including snubbing The Weeknd from every category for his monumental “After Hours” in 2021, continuing to nominate problematic artists like Chris Brown and Dr. Luke as well as moving artists like Nicki Minaj from one genre to another without clear explanation. 

It’s clear that the Grammys are not perfect, but one would expect to still see high-quality music selected by their esteemed “academy” of artists and critics. However, this year’s selection of nominees in the Big 4 Categories are downright nonsensical. 

Record of the Year

Record of the Year rewards almost everything that has to do with the creation of a song — vocal performance, songwriting, production and mixing. A song nominated in this category should display greatness in creating a song as a whole unit. 

Adele, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar are hitting career strides, riding on the success they have already achieved throughout the past decade. Adele offers a new glimpse into her personal life with the deeply moving “Easy on Me.” Beyoncé takes a new direction, and a very successful one, in displaying the Black roots of 70s disco mixed with modern electronic dance and hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar gives the best iteration of “The Heart” yet in “Part 5,” offering a stunning American timepiece. Finally, newcomer Steve Lacy landed on the best way to combine chart-topping success with a record that offers emotional depth, trendy production and meaningful lyrics. 

Meanwhile, it seems Harry Styles and Lizzo are here simply because they are chart-toppers. Compared to Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul,” which incorporates some great disco trends while also modernizing them, Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” feels more focused on radio play in comparison. “As It Was” focuses on a clear sample, similar to “Break My Soul,” but where Beyoncé reimagines it as the beat to the song, Styles just relegates the melody to the chorus with no further direction. 

ABBA and Mary J. Blige represent “legacy picks,” artists with established careers that just so happened to also put out a halfway-decent track this year. It’s not unfair to assume that without the career that ABBA and Blige had already established, they would not have received these nominations. 

Brandi Carlile’s nomination represents the notion of a “Grammys sweetheart,” someone who gets a disproportionate number of nominations compared to their critical acclaim. In recent years, this title was given to H.E.R., receiving eight nominations in 2022. 

Doja Cat’s nomination is another odd case, because the album that “Woman” is from, “Planet Her,” was nominated for Album of the Year at last year’s Grammys. Fairness is always brought into question when an artist simply re-releases an album or song in the hopes of garnering more attention or more nominations.

Song of the Year

Song of the Year is more specific than Record of the Year — it’s a songwriter’s award. 

Sadly, more than half of the nominations in this category are pure repeats from Record of the Year. These repeats by Beyoncé, Lamar, Lacy, Adele, Styles and Lizzo don’t need to be recognized twice, and repeating so many nominations diminishes the distinction between Record of the Year and Song of the Year. 

Other songs from these artists could serve as better replacements in this category, particularly swapping Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” for “Cuff It” or “Virgo’s Groove.” For artists like Adele and Steve Lacy, where the emotional songwriting is so crucial to the appeal of the song, their nominations should’ve been placed in this category only, leaving more space for other artists to shine across the board.

On a positive note, Taylor Swift and Bonnie Raitt are exciting picks for this category. Swift gave us her magnum opus, the 10 Minute Version of “All Too Well,” on the re-recorded version of “Red,” which has some of the best pop storytelling in recent memory.

Leading the most questionable nominations this year are DJ Khaled and Gayle. One of the greatest sins the Grammy could ever commit would be to hand DJ Khaled the world’s most prestigious songwriters’ award. Not only are the verses along this eight-minute track lazy and unrelated to the “message” of the song, Khaled’s credit as the lead artist — when he’s a glorified arranger — diminishes all legitimacy of the nomination. 

Separately, Gayle being nominated for the TikTok-trending song “ABCDEFU” is an egregious failure for Grammys legitimacy. “Let me spell it out, A B C D E F YOU” she screams, the most cliché punchline in modern songwriting. 

Album of the Year

Despite some great albums with critical acclaim making this list, none, with the possible exception of Beyoncé, put out their best work this year. 

This slate of nominations is just plain boring. Long gone are the days when juggernaut albums like “DAMN.” and “Melodrama” went head-to-head — only to lose to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic”… scoff. Instead of repeating the same names in “The Big 4” categories or wasting slots on artists far past their peak — like Coldplay — the Grammys should consider great talents nominated for smaller categories. 

The Grammys got a few of these nominations correct: Adele’s “30,” Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti,” Lamar’s “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” and Beyoncé’s “Renaissance”.

The rest of these albums do not read as Album of the Year material, both in their critical acclaim and status as repeats across the other categories: Coldplay’s “Music of the Spheres,” Styles’ “Harry’s House,” Lizzo’s “Special,” ABBA’s “Voyage,” Carlile’s “In These Silent Days” and Blige’s “Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe).”

Best New Artist

Despite the word “new” being in the title of this award, the newness of the artist is purely subjective. Sadly, though, many great artists are missing from this list. 

There are some near-household names like Latto on this list, pitted against more underground acts like Muni Long and Samara Joy. Consider that the past four winners are commercial success stories, such as Olivia Rodrigo, Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa. If the Grammys intends to follow its typical trend, then Latto almost certainly wins this award. Where’s the fun in that?

Plenty of commercially successful artists are missing from this list, and adding them would have given the award more excitement. A few great picks would have been Joji, Mitski, Tate McRae, Rina Sawayama and MUNA. 

Paul Beer writes about political affairs and reads too many album reviews. Write back to him (or send music recommendations) at [email protected].