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How We’d Fix Two Decades of Grammy Atrocities

Music’s biggest night has a reputation for not quite getting it right, and nowhere is that more apparent than in its marquee category, Album of the Year. From Beyoncé to Eminem to Taylor to lots and lots of Kanye, two Ringer staffers try to right the Recording Academy’s most egregious wrongs.

Sam Taylor

The Grammys are Sunday night. We’re sorry you had to find out like this. This year’s Album of the Year slate is pretty bonkers, which is only appropriate, as the Grammys historically screw up Album of the Year every year. To prove this, and to right these various baffling wrongs, join us now as we relitigate the past 20 years of AOTY victors, from 2000 to our harrowing present, and name new victors in all but two cases, one of which happens immediately, because Santana is still a pretty rad guy all things considered. (Side note from Rob at least: I hate the Grammy eligibility window. I wish it ill. Make it just the normal calendar year like normal people, you absolute dinguses. I will have my revenge.) Good luck to all the nominees, and better luck next year to us all.

Ceremony Year: 2000

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 1998 – Sept. 30, 1999

Winner/Nominees

Santana, Supernatural
TLC, FanMail
The Chicks, Fly
Backstreet Boys, Millennium
Diana Krall, When I Look in Your Eyes

Should’ve Won

Nah, it’s cool

Should’ve Been Nominated

Juvenile, 400 Degreez
Eminem, The Slim Shady LP
Moby, Play
Tom Waits, Mule Variations

Rob Harvilla: Wow, Charles, what a blessing that we get to kick off this accursed project with one of the most Grammy-feted albums of all time. Santana’s Supernatural won eight awards during the first Grammys of the 21st century, tying the one-night record set by Michael Jackson with Thriller. (Sheryl Crow, accepting her Best Female Vocalist award: “First, I want to say thanks to Carlos Santana for not being in this category.”) Old-guard rock star + spry young hitmakers (the Rob Thomas jam “Smooth” won both Song and Record of the Year) = one of the Grammy-est albums that ever Grammy’d. Are you going to stand for this? Am I sincerely proposing that we kick off this accursed project by declaring The Slim Shady LP the true Album of the Year?

Charles Holmes: “Smooth” is more of a jam than anything on The Slim Shady LP. Of all the times the Grammys have gotten something wrong, I’m not mad at this pick. If there’s any travesty, it’s Juvenile’s 400 Degreez not getting a nomination. In terms of influence and staying power, Juvie’s third album is one of the most foundational pieces in popular music. The Slim Shady LP might’ve been more commercially successful, but when you look at the Billboard charts two decades later, musicians owe a lot more to Juvie than they do to Marshall.

Rob: Totally agree that “Ha” is a bigger jam than even “Smooth.” I’m tempted to argue for either the Chicks (Fly is better than the Chicks album that actually won AOTY) or Moby’s Play (critics and advertisers both loved it), but the Chicks can handle it, and Moby now bides his time writing creepy memoirs. Whereas “Smooth” is forever. Eminem would never change his life to better suit your mood.

Ceremony Year: 2001

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 1999 – Sept. 30, 2000

Winner/Nominees

Steely Dan, Two Against Nature
Beck, Midnite Vultures
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP
Radiohead, Kid A
Paul Simon, You’re the One

Should’ve Won

Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP

Should’ve Been Nominated

D’Angelo, Voodoo
Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles
Dr. Dre, 2001
Fiona Apple, When the Pawn…

Charles: It’s a sad state of affairs that of all the musicians nominated for the 2001 award, I’m about to cape for Eminem, but The Marshall Mathers LP is too dominant a force to deny. If I had to make an educated guess, Rob, I can see you campaigning for Kid A over The Marshall Mathers LP, but I got to the Google Doc first.

Rob: So Steely Dan winning is the funniest thing that ever happened. Just the contempt for youth here. I love it. I will grudgingly cosign Eminem, though “Kim” is usually a deal-breaker for me, which is such a Lame Grammy Voter thing to say. As much as I love Radiohead and respect the Kid A mythos, I might actually prefer Beck’s Midnite Vultures, which is goofy and vibrant as hell, plus we’ll be stealing an AOTY Grammy back from Beck in a little while and I feel bad. But really, this is all about Steely Dan: I just refuse to believe this happened. Here are some bars from the lighthearted, incest-themed Steely Dan tune “Cousin Dupree”:

She turned my life into a living hell
In those little tops and tight capris
I pretended to be readin’ the National Probe
As I was watchin’ her wax her skis

BARS. Charles, for posterity, please briefly share your thoughts on Steely Dan.

Charles: I’m not going to hold you up, Rob. For me to share my thoughts on Steely Dan would mean I’d have to willingly think about Steely Dan. Thankfully, I’ve avoided thinking about them outside of being forced to listen to “Reelin’ in the Years” on long car rides with my father.

Ceremony Year: 2002

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2000 – Sept. 30, 2001

Winner/Nominees

Various Artists, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
India.Arie, Acoustic Soul
Bob Dylan, Love and Theft
Outkast, Stankonia
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind

Should’ve Won

Outkast, Stankonia

Should’ve Been Nominated

The Strokes, Is This It
Jay-Z, The Blueprint
Daft Punk, Discovery
Missy Elliott, Miss E… So Addicted
Destiny’s Child, Survivor

Charles: When people ask why I get so irrational and angry about the Grammys, it’s because of decisions like this. There have been nights I’ve yelled at no one in particular about how useless the Grammys are as a critical statement, especially for years like 2002. How in the world does an album that contains “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Ms. Jackson,” and “B.O.B.” lose? Also, why are we giving out nominations to U2 when Daft Punk and Missy Elliott are breaking their genres open wide?

Rob: Yeah, the O Brother rampage was wild: As a Coens guy and an Alison Krauss guy, I get it, and five months after 9/11 I suppose it was awfully tempting to revert to some idyllic slapstick bluegrass past that never quite existed, but on the other hand, yes, “B.O.B.” Shit. What’s worse is I guarantee you Outkast got the fewest votes: That U2 album had “Beautiful Day,” that Dylan album probably has a song about Cousin Lust that I forgot about, and Indie.Arie was a classic “the Smooth & Soulful Grammy ethos distilled into a person” situation. (Her modern equivalent is H.E.R.) But Outkast! “Humble Mumble” too! Shit.

Also, sheesh, that’s a wild list of exclusions. What’s your pick there? “Hard to Explain” vs. “Song Cry” vs. “Digital Love” vs. “Get Ur Freak On” vs. “Bootylicious.” Shit. I’m voting Daft Punk but I’m all conflicted about it.

Charles: The correct answer is “Survivor” the song and album. Destiny’s Child could make a “Hard to Explain” or “Digital Love,” but the Strokes and Daft Punk couldn’t pull off a single Destiny’s Child song.

Ceremony Year: 2003

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2001 – Sept. 30, 2002

Winner/Nominees

Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
Eminem, The Eminem Show
The Chicks, Home
Nelly, Nellyville
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

Should’ve Won

The Chicks, Home

Should’ve Been Nominated

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf
Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights

Rob: Ah, yes, the Norah Jones rampage. Five wins! All the major categories! One of those classic Sheepish Armful of Grammys photos! The Grammys aren’t quite the Grammys if a soft-rock phenom doesn’t just absolutely kick everyone’s asses every half-decade or so, and maybe we oughta let Norah be the same way we did Santana. But Home is low-key the best Chicks album, and this is the single best Chicks song, and Natalie Maines mildly criticized George W. Bush from the stage less than three weeks after this ceremony, and I don’t know, maybe I’m naively trying to retcon history beyond Grammys history. Is this an egregious down year overall or is it just me? I respect the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot mythos, too, but quite frankly, I spent this entire Grammys Eligibility Window playing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, eating Taco Bell, and air-drumming to Songs for the Deaf. It was a dark time, Charles, or was it?

Charles: Norah Jones was peak Borders music and no one can make me believe different, but there’s a more pressing question. You wasn’t bumping Nellyville on the way to ‘ye old Taco Bell? We can’t get any “Dilemma” love? I am so hurt.

Rob: Mistakes were made, Charles.

Ceremony Year: 2004

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2002 – Sept. 30, 2003

Winner/Nominees

Outkast, Speakerboxxx / The Love Below
Missy Elliott, Under Construction
Evanescence, Fallen
Justin Timberlake, Justified
The White Stripes, Elephant

Should’ve Won

Evanescence, Fallen

Should’ve Been Nominated

50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Beyoncé, Dangerously in Love
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell
The Postal Service, Give Up

Charles: Part of me wanted to kid myself and act like 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ deserved this award, but I have to speak my truth. Evanescence’s Fallen is just a flawless record. As much as I love the singles that came off Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, both of the discs are widely uneven.

Rob: I love that Evanescence pick for us; Amy Lee has the range. What a chaotic Grammys year overall, though. Beyoncé won five awards but no major ones—if you mostly see the modern Grammys as a doddering and/or outright racist institution hell-bent on shunting off the biggest rap and R&B and pop stars into genre categories, this is arguably the night that machine kicks into high gear. To wit: Somehow “Crazy in Love,” “Hey Ya!,” “Work It,” “In Da Club,” and “I’m With You” (Avril Lavigne has the range also) all missed out on Record/Song of the Year. Yeesh. I suppose the Speakerboxxx / The Love Below win is a straightforward makeup call for biffing on Stankonia, but it kept JT from winning, so god bless.

I can’t decide whether I’m trolling by suggesting that the Postal Service should’ve been nominated. Charles, please just tell me whether or not I’m trolling.

Charles: You mean the band whose singer soundtracked some of the biggest moments on Scrubs? I plead the fifth.

Ceremony Year: 2005

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2003 – Sept. 30, 2004

Winner/Nominees

Ray Charles & Various Artists, Genius Loves Company
Green Day, American Idiot
Kanye West, The College Dropout
Usher, Confessions
Alicia Keys, The Diary of Alicia Keys

Should’ve Won

Usher, Confessions

Should’ve Been Nominated

Madvillain, Madvillainy
The Killers, Hot Fuss
Arcade Fire, Funeral
Franz Ferdinand, Franz Ferdinand

Charles: There won’t be many times during this piece when I give the Grammys credit, but in 2005 they mostly got it right. Genius Loves Company shouldn’t have won, but the posthumous bump for Ray Charles makes sense.

The real winner in my heart and on the charts is Usher’s Confessions. Very few albums manage to be as artistically fulfilling as they are commercially successful. Confessions arrived like an R&B tsunami the minute Usher threw his U chain in a circle during the “Yeah!” video. Every subsequent single—“Burn,” “Confessions Part II,” “My Boo,” “Caught Up”—kept the momentum going. It’s a perfect album and one of the last monolithic events in music—especially for R&B. Usher ruled radio and TV airwaves, award shows, and magazines. If anyone should’ve robbed him, it was Ray Charles, but there’s not enough praise I can give for Confessions.

Rob: Hard agree on Usher, who also eases us into the Kanye era without making us actually talk about Kanye yet. The Grammys love an all-star cast and a lifetime-achievement award disguised as a present-tense award, and the Ray Charles nod is so pure: Nobody’s mad at it, and nobody’s actually listened to that album. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past 45 minutes imagining an MF Doom acceptance speech for Madvillainy and it’s the most fun I’ve had all day.

I am definitely trolling by even typing the words Franz Ferdinand, by the way. Actually, Charles, let’s put it this way. FMK: Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, the Killers.

Charles: Coitus with the Killers. Murk Franz Ferdinand. Marry Arcade Fire.

Ceremony Year: 2006

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2004 – Sept. 30, 2005

Winner/Nominees

U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
Mariah Carey, The Emancipation of Mimi
Paul McCartney, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard
Gwen Stefani, Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
Kanye West, Late Registration

Should’ve Won

Kanye West, Late Registration

Should’ve Been Nominated

Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
M.I.A., Arular

Rob: God dammit, it’s obviously Kanye. This is the one and only time I’m going to agree with Kanye about anyone being snubbed for anything. I don’t want to talk about Kanye, though. In lieu of talking about Kanye, I’m just gonna listen to “We Major” again.


Mariah Carey has won only five Grammys overall: That’s funny. Gwen Stefani got an AOTY nomination: That’s funny. (Fun fact: M.I.A. opened for Gwen on an arena tour, and everybody at Oracle Arena in Oakland, at least, was totally confused.) John Legend won Best New Artist over Fall Out Boy: That’s funny. The U2 album with “Vertigo” on it beat out Late Registration: hilarious. OK, fine, let’s talk about Kanye. Does anything change, substantially, on the Kanye West timeline if he had won this award he obviously should’ve won? I associate so much of his discography after this with fury and resentment, and I can’t help but suspect that if we’d just given him the validation he deserved immediately, he would’ve chilled out and started making genial Ray Charles–style duet albums, and by now he’d be secretary of state.

Charles: Late Registration is one of my least favorite Kanye albums, but it’s the one most suited to clean up at the Grammys. Between the orchestras and Jon Brion, it’s the most pandering of West’s early efforts. But the real winner that night should’ve been The Emancipation of Mimi. I’d put the singles off that album (“We Belong Together,” “It’s Like That,” “Shake It Off”) up against any other project that came out that decade. Between the Emancipation of Mimi snub and not giving Confessions its flowers, I’m starting to think the Grammys have it out for Jermaine Dupri.

Rob: He might consider collaborating with Santana.

Ceremony Year: 2007

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2005 – Sept. 30, 2006

Winner/Nominees

The Chicks, Taking the Long Way
Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
John Mayer, Continuum
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium
Justin Timberlake, FutureSex / LoveSounds

Should’ve Won

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex / LoveSounds

Should’ve Been Nominated

Madonna, Confessions on a Dance Floor
Beyoncé, B’Day
Ghostface Killah, Fishscale
TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain

Rob: Charles, I need you to talk me out of giving this to JT. The Chicks sweep here to fete their big comeback after their Actual Cancellation (“Not Ready to Make Nice” won both Song and Record of the Year) was as strong a political statement as the Grammys are capable of making, and Taking the Long Way is certainly preferable to that Red Hot Chili Peppers double album that had “Hump de Bump” on it, but IDK man. JT plus Gnarls Barkley mouthpiece CeeLo plus John Mayer is quite the impressive Doofus Trifecta. “My Love” is noncancelable, but should we shock the world and crown Ghostface?

Charles: Who of us has not soured on JT as time has moved on? Between FX’s new Britney doc and Timberlake getting invited back to the Super Bowl after throwing Janet Jackson under a bus, I’ve exorcised him from my life. But FutureSex / LoveSounds is a phenomenal record that simultaneously tries way too hard, but miraculously pulls it off. Y’all don’t love “LoveStoned” into “I Think She Knows (Interlude)”? Do the people want me to lie and say I don’t adore the little breakdown that comes at the end of “What Goes Around.../ ...Comes Around”? I’m sorry, but I have to live my truth.

Rob: Oh god, that “LoveStoned” transition is the best. Fine. Fine. Justin Timberlake can pick up his statue just as soon as he Venmos Janet and Britney $5 million apiece. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here awarding Ghostface’s “Back Like That” eight other Grammys.

Ceremony Year: 2008

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2006 – Sept. 30, 2007

Winner/Nominees

Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters
Amy Winehouse, Back to Black
Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Vince Gill, These Days
Kanye West, Graduation

Should’ve Won

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

Should’ve Been Nominated

My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade
Feist, The Reminder
LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver

Rob: And here’s how you fuck up a Ray Charles–style Lifetime Achievement Award: By turning a Herbie Hancock record (he rules) of Joni Mitchell covers (she rules also) into the grist for thousands of “Top 10 Grammys Atrocities” blogs. (I sorta wrote one myself!) This sucks, man.

And while I get that historically this became Yet Another Kanye Snub, I remain astounded that Back to Black didn’t win: If the Grammys have ever had a remotely coherent ethos, it’s We wish young people sounded like old people, and Amy Winehouse is the all-universe pinnacle of the form. The only thing anyone remembers about this year is “Herbie Hancock LMAO” and “For my Blake, my Blake incarcerated.” What a shit sandwich.

Anyway, The Black Parade is better than Graduation, and Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is better than both of them. I really appreciate you agreeing with this.

Charles: The Black Parade is 100 percent better than Kanye’s wannabe U2 stadium record. But I’m also not mad at giving the award to Back to Black. Winehouse’s sophomore album is perfect in a way most of the music coming out in the mid-aughts was not. But then again, the Grammys would rectify this mistake by lavishing Adele with a heap of awards throughout the next decade and proving that the only time R&B wins big in the general categories is when a non-Black person is singing it.

Rob: “NA NA NA (NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA.)”

Ceremony Year: 2009

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2007 – Sept. 30, 2008

Winner/Nominees

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
Radiohead, In Rainbows
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
Coldplay, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman

Should’ve Won

Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III

Should’ve Been Nominated

Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
Portishead, Third
TV on the Radio, Dear Science
Adele, 19

Rob: I get that this is also an atrocity. I really do. (I can’t remember if anyone actually thought Lil Wayne had a chance here, but I feel bad for those people if they actually existed.) But as an established Alison Krauss guy, I must dutifully report that I love Raising Sand very much. My oldest son was born in 2011, but this song is the exact moment that I became a dad. I really appreciate you not giving me shit about this.

Charles: I remember getting really into Radiohead’s In Rainbows in high school, after spending too much time on Pitchfork and The Fader. Luckily, that time of my life is long gone and I haven’t bothered to play that album since. I cannot say the same about Tha Carter III. The album isn’t Wayne’s best major label outing, but it’s undoubtedly his most important. In the waning years of the 2000s, nothing sounded more interesting than Wayne’s voice and that’s reflected by his competition for Album of the Year.

(Side note: I love Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent,” which is also better than anything Coldplay and Radiohead dropped in ’07 or ’08.)

Rob: Absolutely true story: I saw Usher (Grammy AOTY winner, 2005) at the Hammerstein Ballroom on November 3, 2008, a.k.a. the night before the first Obama presidential election, and the vibe was jittery and unsettled, and the highlight of the night for me was when the between-sets DJ played Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent.” I refuse to feel bad about this; it was a stressful situation. I’m skipping right past the part where you listened to In Rainbows in high school, as it makes me feel like a granddad. Also: This is the year Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and T.I. did “Swagga Like Us” alongside an extremely pregnant M.I.A., which remains the single coolest thing the Grammys ever did.

Ceremony Year: 2010

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2008 – Sept. 30, 2009

Winner/Nominees

Taylor Swift, Fearless
Beyoncé, I Am … Sasha Fierce
Lady Gaga, The Fame
The Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.
Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King

Should’ve Won

Beyoncé, I Am … Sasha Fierce

Should’ve Been Nominated

Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, It’s Blitz!
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Rob: I’m gonna let you handle this.

Charles: I’m not a Beyoncé fan. I tend to like my music more coarse, experimental, and petty than anything she has ever released. For almost 25 years, she’s built an empire on all-consuming perfection. Beyoncé’s myth is about honing every atom of her being—the voice, brand, choreography, body, music—into impenetrable pop gold.

I Am … Sasha Fierce is undeniable. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” is one of the most important visual artifacts in all of music history. “Halo” is the ideal modern-day ballad, and everyone should’ve given up after hearing it because they knew they’d never make something as good. If an alien came to Earth and inquired what it meant to be hurt, please throw on “If I Were a Boy.”

But hey, what am I getting upset about? That’s the story of the Grammys and recorded music. Black musicians, especially women, have to be more than perfect. They have to create genres, perform groundbreaking choreography, and shatter records just to get a seat at the table. So we know why Beyoncé lost, and more importantly why artists who look like her and sacrifice just as much will continue to lose. The reason celebrity even exists is so we can build up titans only to drag them from their gilded throne. And yet that’s never happened to Beyoncé, because Beyoncé would never let that happen to Beyoncé. She was always more important than Album of the Year.

Rob: Damn, I thought you were gonna lobby hard for Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King, but yeah this all makes sense.

Ceremony Year: 2011

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2009 – Sept. 30, 2010

Winner/Nominees

Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
Lady A, Need You Now
Eminem, Recovery
Katy Perry, Teenage Dream

Should’ve Won

Katy Perry, Teenage Dream

Should’ve Been Nominated

Rick Ross, Teflon Don
Vampire Weekend, Contra
Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Sleigh Bells, Treats

Charles: Now we’re just squarely in the Grammy’s flop era. The Recording Academy ain’t have no love for Teenage Dream? We’re talking about the album with five no. 1 singles that was out here competing with Michael Jackson’s Bad? I ain’t never heard an Arcade Fire song light up a Sweet 16 dance floor. Rob, can you please walk me through the early 2010s’ fascination with Arcade Fire?

Rob: I think Barbra Streisand sputtering The Sssssuburbs?!” sums up the total confusion with which this was received, by everyone, the band included. Mercifully, the Grammys did not flirt with Festival Indie for long, as shock upsets like this left stuffier viewers baffled as well: The goofy “Who Is Arcade Fire?” meme was followed a year later by a jarring Best New Artist win for Bonnie Bear, a.k.a “the white man Bon Iver.”

But, so, look. I saw Arcade Fire play Madison Square Garden around this time, and the vibe was jittery and absurdly triumphant: It was genuinely wild to watch these knuckleheads go from twee critical darlings to haughty rock stars, and I will concede that “We Used to Wait” is the jam, but The Suburbs broadly, and this Grammy scheme especially, is a dire case of taking way too seriously a band that takes itself waaayyyyyy too seriously and now spends its time thinking up intolerable album-promo pranks. I think people were just desperate for a Young Important Rock Band, but Contra holds up way better, Teflon Don holds up way better than that, and yes, this year belongs to Katy Perry. Charles, what is your favorite song on Teenage Dream, and why is it “Peacock”?

Charles: The correct answer is “California Gurls” and I will not be elaborating.

Ceremony Year: 2012

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2010 – Sept. 30, 2011

Winner/Nominees

Adele, 21
Lady Gaga, Born This Way
Bruno Mars, Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Rihanna, Loud
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light

Should’ve Won

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Should’ve Been Nominated

Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Bon Iver, Bon Iver
The Weeknd, House of Balloons
Danny Brown, XXX
Kanye West and Jay-Z, Watch the Throne

Charles: I devoted an entire podcast to unpacking Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, so I’m not trying to relitigate that conversation again. But not getting a nomination speaks to the Grammys’ history of relegating most Black music to fringe categories instead of rewarding them in the general fields. It also didn’t help that the Recording Academy’s old white voting body still had the Taylor Swift VMA fiasco fresh in their heads. Nevertheless, rewarding a Foo Fighters album over MBDTF is funny in all the wrong ways.

Rob: You will never know a love as pure as the Grammys’ for the Foo Fighters. On the surface this is a boring old Adele Rampage Year, inarguable but not terribly satisfying. (Lady Gaga whiffing on three straight AOTY nominations is a drag, and “You and I” is still way more fun than “Someone Like You.”) But yeah, the Kanye snub is this year’s legacy even if I’d rather listen to House of Balloons, or for that matter XXX.

Where do you fall on Watch the Throne, by the way? Because the true 2011 Album of the Year was Funkmaster Flex premiering “Otis.”

Charles: Funkmaster Flex’s “Otis” premiere was more entertaining than anything that appeared on Watch the Throne. That album combines the worst musical impulses of the early 2010s (dubstep, old rappers discovering high art, earnest songs justifying disgusting amounts of wealth, weird movie skits, and Frank Ocean appearing on anything besides his own songs). It doesn’t even belong in the conversation of best albums of 2011.

Rob:

Ceremony Year: 2013

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2011 – Sept. 30, 2012

Winner/Nominees

Mumford & Sons, Babel
Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Jack White, Blunderbuss
The Black Keys, El Camino
Fun., Some Nights

Should’ve Won

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange

Should’ve Been Nominated

Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream
Drake, Take Care
Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel ...
Japandroids, Celebration Rock

Rob: Ahahahahahahahaha. Of all the superstars done dirty by the Grammys—Kanye, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Drake, Ariana, Lorde, Bieber—I find the Frank Ocean saga most fascinating, as it seemed the most, uh, personal. (Fantastic headline.) The 2013 fiasco, which led to Frank not even submitting Blonde for consideration, is the moment when the Grammys vs. Black Superstars rift gets truly ugly, and I’m dismayed that all of this detracts from Gotye’s 2013 Record of the Year victory for “Somebody That I Used to Know,” because that song fuckin’ rules.

Can I tell you honestly, Charles, that I’d have a tough time choosing between Channel Orange and Kaleidoscope Dream? I spent this whole year listening to “Adorn” on the radio and trying not to think about Fun.

Charles: Kaleidoscope Dream is a better album than Channel Orange. I get that Frank’s debut is more “important,” but there isn’t a single “Adorn,” “How Many Drinks?,” or “Arch & Point” on those early Frank records. A couple years later, Frank would go on to make his own once-in-a-generation album—Blonde—but I’m going to defend Kaleidoscope Dream.

Drake’s Take Care getting snubbed is the real travesty. His sophomore album has had more longevity and impact over music’s present than anything the Black Keys or Fun. ever accomplished. He deserved the nomination and win for his second-best album (shout out IYRTITL).

Rob: Don’t you even try to trick me into ranking Drake albums. (Take Care > Nothing Was the Same > More Life for “Passionfruit” alone.) Anyway, wish me luck at my audition to be Mumford & Sons’ new banjo player.

Ceremony Year: 2014

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013

Winner/Nominees

Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
Taylor Swift, Red
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist
Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest

Should’ve Won

Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City

Should’ve Been Nominated

Drake, Nothing Was the Same
Lorde, Pure Heroine
Queens of the Stone Age, ...Like Clockwork
Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

Rob: Here we go. The true victor is Red. Discuss.

Charles: Red isn’t Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. I have spent the majority of my 20s trying to right the critical wrong that was the hyperbolic response to Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, and I’m still offended we’d even utter Red in the same sentence as Kendrick’s first album.

Debut albums were a dying breed in the 2010s, especially in hip-hop. All of Kendrick’s peers—Drake, Wale, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean—released inaugural projects that did more for major labels than for their legacies. The degree of difficulty it took for Kendrick to drop a narrative concept album when piracy, playlists, and streaming were destroying our concept of what an LP is cannot be overstated. GKMC shouldn’t have worked. Kendrick can’t sing, his rhymes are like solving a Rubik’s Cube, and his vocals can be nasally and grating. And still, a cerebral kid from Compton tilted the music world on its axis. Red could never.

Rob: “All Too Well” > “Swimming Pools (Drank),” but OK, I’m convinced, and also I’ll be sending you this text after I win this year’s Ringer fantasy football league.

Ceremony Year: 2015

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2013 – Sept. 30, 2014

Winner/Nominees

Beck, Morning Phase
Beyoncé, Beyoncé
Ed Sheeran, X
Pharrell Williams, G I R L
Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour

Should’ve Won

Rich Gang, Tha Tour Part 1

Should’ve Been Nominated

Rich Gang, Tha Tour Part 1
YG, My Krazy Life
Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce
Eric Church, The Outsiders
Miranda Lambert, Platinum

Charles: The only album that mattered this year was Rich Gang’s Tha Tour Part 1. The world wasn’t ready for the alchemic brilliance of Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan. These two Atlanta upstarts were breaking the forms of hip-hop in real time. Young Thug’s “Givenchy” verse is a labyrinth of alien melodies, otherworldly ad-libs, and complex rhyme schemes. “Flava” has enough musical chemistry between Thug and Quan to light a thousand furnaces for a fortnight. Birdman deserves a Pulitzer for appearing out of nowhere, adding nothing, and still sounding effortlessly cool while doing it.

Thug and Quan could’ve made a “Drunk in Love” or a “Get Lucky,” but could Beyoncé or Daft Punk make a song like “Imma Ride”?

Rob: Love it. Let’s do it. Beyoncé is my favorite Beyoncé album (“XO,” friends) and its triumphant surprise-drop unveiling arguably changed the pop-music industry forever, but the Grammys vs. Beyoncé saga demeans us all, so let’s load this year up instead with genre titans who deserved to cross over: My Krazy Life not even getting a Best Rap Album nomination is still a travesty, that Toni Braxton & Babyface record was absolutely sublime Grammy bait, and Eric Church and Miranda Lambert are both bigger rock stars than the Foo Fighters. Also just as I was typing this our editor offered this insightful note about our Rich Gang pick.

It might be time to lock him out of this Google doc.

Ceremony Year: 2016

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2014 – Sept. 30, 2015

Winner/Nominees

Taylor Swift, 1989
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Should’ve Won

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

Should’ve Been Nominated

Drake, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Jamie xx, In Colour
Future, Dirty Sprite 2
Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife
Young Thug, Barter 6

Charles: I’m glad Kendrick got a Pulitzer, because the Grammys stay robbing him.

Rob: Yeah, I’m pretty sure Kendrick got a Pulitzer specifically for not freaking out about the Grammys (and Macklemore) constantly robbing him.

Charles: I also find 2016 such a dismal year for the Grammys, because this is really an inflection point for hip-hop and the rest of the music industry. Drake is calcifying himself into the creatine, faux-mob boss he’d spend the next half decade perfecting. Future is on a mixtape tear that culminates in one of the greatest music comebacks with Dirty Sprite 2. Young Thug’s Barter 6 is laying an Atlanta foundation that’d help future streaming titans like Lil Baby and Gunna take over the charts. And yet we’re rewarding Chris Stapleton and Alabama Shakes?

Rob: Hard agree that Future and Thug still don’t get half the credit they deserve institutionally and otherwise, and I’d play the Jamie xx album for sheer unadulterated pleasure before I’d get to anything else discussed this year, but I will grudgingly defend Kendrick + Taylor + Weeknd + Alabama Shakes + Stapleton as a pretty decent five-album summarization of the modern Grammys ethos. Whether that ethos is, itself, decent or even tolerable is a separate conversation entirely.

But so: To Pimp a Butterfly is your obvious winner for “Alright” and “King Kunta” alone, though I will say 1989’s win made for a satisfying riposte to the Kanye/“Famous” debacle. (Still on her side there, IDC, IDC.) Beauty Behind the Madness is as good as family-friendly Weeknd is gonna get. Sound & Color is as good as smooth & soulful Grammy bait is gonna get. And Traveller is as good as mega-popular country music is gonna get. (Beats the hell out of the current king of mega-popular country music.) On this doddering institution’s own terms, I can live with this as a starting five if only because there ain’t no Coldplay in it. So let’s go to war with the Recording Academy we have.

Ceremony Year: 2017

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2015 – Sept. 30, 2016

Winner/Nominees

Adele, 25
Beyoncé, Lemonade
Justin Bieber, Purpose
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Drake, Views

Should’ve Won

Drake, Views

Should’ve Been Nominated

Frank Ocean, Blonde
Rihanna, Anti
Mitski, Puberty 2
Jeremih, Late Nights: The Album

Charles: Views isn’t a good Drake album. It’s often a dismal pop album. But no one can argue that it wasn’t the biggest project of that year. The Grammys isn’t a bastion of criticism. As a voting body they’re terrible at recognizing what’s the most important or influential bodies of work in any given year. So if we’re just celebrating a meaningless pageant you might as well celebrate an album that managed to lob “Controlla,” “One Dance,” and “Hotline Bling” into the stratosphere.

Rob: I’ll give you this if you promise I never have to listen to any song on Views that isn’t “Controlla,” “One Dance,” or “Hotline Bling” again. To my mind this is yet another Beyoncé ripoff that even Adele acknowledged from the stage, but as you stated, Beyoncé’s beyond all that now, so I suppose we ought to be too. What I’m prepared to say is that Rihanna winning for Anti would’ve been incredibly funny, and Chance the Rapper actually winning Best New Artist and Best Rap Album is unfortunately getting funnier.

Charles: But the other travesty of this year is the absence of Frank Ocean’s Blonde. I doubt he even put it up for consideration considering his relationship with the Grammys, but Blonde is the album of the decade. Not seeing it in this list makes my heart hurt.

Rob: Frank did indeed take himself out of the running (“I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment”), which arguably slaps an asterisk on this whole year, which arguably was why he did it, so it turns out he’s the winner after all.

Ceremony Year: 2018

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2016 – Sept. 30, 2017

Winner/Nominees

Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!”
Jay-Z, 4:44
Lorde, Melodrama

Should’ve Won

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Should’ve Been Nominated

Migos, Culture
SZA, Ctrl
Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy

Charles: DAMN. is Kendrick’s best album. Awaken, My Love is funk karaoke. 4:44 is more exciting in theory than it is to listen to. Who cares about Melodrama? 24K Magic is a blight.

I’m more upset that an album that contains “Bad and Boujee” and “T-Shirt” got no love. Migos defined the sound of 2017 after most of the industry left them for dead. Watching the entire country fall over themselves to understand the Atlanta trio four years after “Versace” was an incredible sight to behold.

Rob: Ah, yes, the Bruno Mars Rampage Year. You know who got super pissed about this? The white man Bon Iver. Wild. I’d love to wake up one day to a Recording Academy able to wrap its head around Migos’s influence, but the Recording Academy we’re stuck with for now has trouble wrapping its head around, uh, women: I’ll remember this mostly as the year they basically wouldn’t let Lorde perform. (This was the year longtime Academy president Neil Portnow helpfully suggested that women just “step up.”) What I’m saying to you, Charles, is that I care about Melodrama. Give Lorde another chance. She does for sadness what Migos did for ad-libs. Also, I threw in Father John Misty just as a joke I figured Father John Misty himself would appreciate.

Ceremony Year: 2019

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2017 – Sept. 30, 2018

Winner/Nominees

Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour
Post Malone, Beerbongs & Bentleys
Drake, Scorpion
Various Artists, Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired By
Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You
Janelle Monaé, Dirty Computer
H.E.R., H.E.R.
Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

Should’ve Won

No complaints

Should’ve Been Nominated

Eh, give it a rest

Rob: Awesome.

Charles: Scorpion should’ve won.

Ceremony Year: 2020

Eligibility Window

Oct. 1, 2018 - Aug. 31, 2019

Winner/Nominees

Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Lizzo, Cuz I Love You
Lil Nas X, 7
Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
Bon Iver, I, I
Lana Del Rey, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Ariana Grande, Thank U, Next

Should’ve Won

No remaining coherent thoughts

Should’ve Been Nominated

Taylor Swift actually, but seriously, guess the word count on this thing

Rob: Wow, this feels like it happened 15 years ago. Still shocked by this being a Billie Eilish Rampage Year—I would’ve bet Lizzo to sweep if anyone was going to, for the Bruno Mars echoes alone. Lil Nas X getting an AOTY nod for an EP with multiple versions of “Old Town Road” that still couldn’t crack the 20-minute mark is my favorite Grammy flub in recent memory; the snub of Taylor Swift’s Lover will most likely be rectified on Sunday night, so, hey, forget about it.

Charles: 2019 was such a dismal year in music, but the only album I can even remember caring about was Thank U, Next. When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is similar to Evanescence’s Fallen, in that I think it’s a near flawless album that instantly becomes dated when you remove it from the year it was released. I don’t mind Billie winning, but Thank U, Next has the award in my heart.

Ceremony Year: 2021

Eligibility Window

Sept 1, 2019 – Aug. 31, 2020

Winner/Nominees

Taylor Swift, Folklore
Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia
Post Malone, Hollywood’s Bleeding
Haim, Women in Music Pt. III
Jacob Collier, Djesse Vol. 3
Coldplay, Everyday Life
Black Pumas, Black Pumas
Jhené Aiko, Chilombo

Should Win

You, by not watching at all, TBQH

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