There is a longstanding and compelling argument that a significant proportion of people who tune into showbiz awards ceremonies do so with a certain schadenfreude. They’re less interested in seeing glitz and glamour or deserving artists being justly rewarded than seeing events going wrong or wildly off-piste. It’s an argument that has been reinforced over the past week, with discussion of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars showing no sign of abating as opinion pieces and blog posts on the subject are churned out.
This week’s big awards ceremony thus finds itself struggling to make itself noticed in the aftermath of last week’s big awards ceremony. The Grammys has valiantly plodded on, making announcements about what it has in store, without dislodging Smith and Rock from the headlines: what price the hot news that Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s retro-soul outfit Silk Sonic are opening the show, that the Foo Fighters’ appearance has been replaced by a hastily convened tribute to their late drummer Taylor Hawkins, or indeed the saga of Korean boyband BTS – two of whom have Covid, and may or may not perform – compared with one Hollywood star lamping another on live TV?
Anyone tuning in for that sense of schadenfreude can always cling to the prospect of Kanye West attending – barred from performing as a result of his latest social media meltdown, he has nevertheless received five nominations for his album Donda – and the fact that the event is hosted by Trevor Noah, the subject of a recent Instagram tirade by West that included racial slurs.
Under the circumstances, it’s probably best to try to drown out the chatter and concentrate on the music. The winner before the winners are announced seems to be Jon Batiste, who has 11 nominations thanks to his score for the Pixar animation Soul and his album We Are. That said, it’s worth noting that competition in the album of the year category is strong and not just because it includes Taylor Swift touting the follow-up to last year’s album of the year winner and the hugely successful debut by Olivia Rodrigo – herself the recipient of seven nominations, which feels very much like her coronation as the new queen of teen and tweenage pop. The previous incumbent, Billie Eilish, also has seven nominations, although her album Happier Than Ever was relatively coolly received, which given how much of that album was devoted to exploring the ghastliness of fame, possibly came as a relief.
Also among the album nominees lurks Love for Sale, the second collaborative effort from Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett: the latter is 95 and living with Alzheimer’s, and you can never underestimate the willingness of the Grammys to wax sentimental and treat an award as a kind of long-service medal.
Nevertheless, Batiste should win something. He’s an endlessly fascinating artist – his background is in jazz, although he declines to label his own music as such; his desire to connect with a broader audience has led him to do everything from record entire albums on subway trains to leading the house band on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. And We Are is an exceptional piece of work: urgently political, packed with fantastic songs and genre-defying, as evidenced by the fact that his name turns up in categories devoted to jazz, R&B, traditional R&B and American roots music. HER should also be rewarded – another artist with multiple nominations and a great album in the shape of Back of My Mind. She won last year’s song of the year Grammy for I Can’t Breathe, a feat it’s not inconceivable she might repeat with Fight for You, a song that’s already won an Oscar.
Elsewhere, it’s tough luck for Justin Bieber: his game demand that the Grammys consider him an R&B rather than a pop artist appears to have fallen on deaf ears. However, he has managed to rustle up eight nominations with the meagre album Justice, which should bring some consolation.
Meanwhile, patriotic onlookers in search of evidence that British pop is flourishing across the Atlantic have a rather thin time of it. Ed Sheeran gets a nomination for the omnipresent single Bad Habits and nothing for its accompanying album =, which was subject to a noticeably more muted commercial reception in the US than elsewhere. Arlo Parks is an outrider in the best new artist category, while Glass Animals perhaps have a better chance: they’re bigger in the US than at home, thanks to the old-fashioned expedient of relentlessly touring. That said, the chances of them triumphing over the ubiquitous Olivia Rodrigo look slim – indeed, there’s a decent chance she could sweep the board.