UPDATE: Taylor Swift took home the Album of the Year for folklore. For more, check out our review from July.
It’s Grammys Sunday, and artists both new and established will actually be heading to the Staples Center for some semblance of an in-person awards ceremony. One of the biggest awards of the night is Album of the Year, and this year’s pool of nominees runs the gamut from pop to rock to soul. Need a primer before the big show? Have a look (and a listen).
Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition), Black Pumas
This psychedelic soul duo, made up of guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada and singer/songwriter Eric Burton, formed in Austin in 2017. The nomination is for the deluxe version of their self-titled debut, which was recognized last year, when the band was nominated for Best New Artist. Black Pumas’s music is stirring while measured, contemporary while well-inspired by their predecessors in soul. The B-side of Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition) also contains four live-version tracks as well as impressive and singular covers of 20th century classics “Fast Car,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Ain’t No Love in the Heart Of The City.”
Chilombo, Jhené Aiko
Jhené Aiko describes Chilombo as a “free-flowing jam session.” The album, her third, is a series of freestyle pieces recorded in Hawaii with the island as her muse. Rich with interludes and featured guests—John Legend, H.E.R., and Aiko’s recent ex Big Sean—the album incorporates the sounds of singing bowls into Aiko’s ambient R&B. It is a record about relationships in the aftermath of a breakup, exploring pain (“Triggered”), ennui (“Tryna Smoke”), and persistence (“LOVE”). Aiko has plowed forward with her music since Chilombo, with the release of a new album, Sailing Soul(s), just a few days ago.
Djesse Vol. 3, Jacob Collier
London-based 26-year-old musician Jacob Collier is already a four-time Grammy winner for his intricate vocal and instrumental arrangements. His third studio-recorded album, Djesse Vol. 3, is no exception, covering an immense range of timbres and styles including jazz, funk, R&B, and soul, while maintaining a through-line of steady beats evoking a more avant-garde Tom Misch. His technical versatility and prowess place him alongside mainstream pop stars like Taylor Swift and Post Malone, and draw collaborations with artists as varied as Lianne La Havas, Kimbra, Ty Dolla $ign, dodie, and JoJo.
Everyday Life, Coldplay
British pop-rock stalwarts and seven-time Grammy winners Coldplay released this double LP of two parts, Sunrise and Sunset, at the end of 2019. Unlike their mostly poppy and sentimental crowd favorites, the songs on Everyday Life tend to plunge into the soft, the wandering, the climactic, the abrasive, and the instrumental—as in the intro “Sunrise” and the second half of “Arabesque.” The album’s final and eponymous track, however, is more familiar to the casual listener’s ear, offering steady piano chords, Chris Martin’s rousing vocals, and gently building strings in the background. The music generally feels firm yet experimental, and its overall effect is somber and humanizing. Though the band is long acquainted with the Grammys, Everyday Life is their only nod this year.
folklore, Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift shocked fans with this surprise pandemic record, halting her country-to-pop trajectory and taking on a more indie-folk sound. Critics praised the albums sparer, more intimate production (with help from the National’s Aaron Dessner) as well as Swift’s shift away from diaristic reflexivity toward more imaginative “folklore.” While upholding Swift’s hallmark of whimsy and charm, these new songs approach youth, love, the sweet, and the bitter with a more measured maturity through fantastical new narratives. This is the first time since 2014 that Swift has been nominated for Album of the Year; if she wins, it’ll be her third time taking home the award, a feat accomplished only by Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Frank Sinatra.
Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa gave us the party we so desperately craved this past year. Future Nostalgia contains all of the reliably dancey beats and catchy tunes that the British pop singer used to fill nightclub and FM speakers with. The record goes further to bemoan the impossibility of men in “Boys Will Be Boys,” to explore the true meaning of being friends with benefits in “Good in Bed,” and to writhe out of heartbreak toward the daunting hope of a new relationship in “Love Again.” Her “at-home” Tiny Desk Concert, in fact complete with coordinated outfits, incredible backup vocalists, and a backdrop that looks like the inside of a papaya, finds a cheerily personable Dua Lipa performing gorgeous, stripped-down renditions of songs from the album.
Hollywood’s Bleeding, Post Malone
Hollywood’s Bleeding follows Post Malone’s largely successful first two albums, Stoney and beerbongs & Bentleys, the latter of which was also nominated for Album of the Year. Like his earlier music, the songs on the new record are frustrated, catchy, and often gripping. There’s a comforting affect to his music, as in “Circles,” which is also up for two Grammys this Sunday. “Sunflower,” recorded with Swae Lee for the acclaimed animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, was equally popular, with its catchy melody and magnetic beat. Other tracks feature the likes of DaBaby, SZA, and Young Thug.
Women In Music Pt. III, HAIM
HAIM’s most critically hailed and musically versatile album yet, the tongue-in-cheek WIMPIII’s R&B, rock, folk, and synth-pop sounds feel like a perfect fit in today’s increasingly genre-free musical landscape. The Los Angeles-based sister band has won only one Grammy in the past, for Best New Artist following the 2013 release of their debut pop-rock album “Days Are Gone.” Since then, they’ve established a creative partnership with director Paul Thomas Anderson, collaborated with artists from Thundercat and Mura Masa to Charli XCX and A$AP Ferg, and will be performing live at the award ceremony. WIMPIII seizes the possibility of catharsis as one navigates love and depression, often at the same time. It’s also fantastic music to walk to.