Sports enthusiasts have the Super Bowl. Movie buffs have the Oscars. And we music aficionados have music’s biggest night of the year—the 61st Annual Grammy Awards—to expel all that pent–up competitive energy into the universe. See how Street’s staff picks for some of the Grammy’s biggest awards measure up against your predictions and that sadly falsified list of leaked winners that surfaced on twitter last week.
Album of the Year: Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe takes this award, and it shouldn't even be a question. Dirty Computer is the singer’s magnum opus and one of the best albums of the decade, 48 pure minutes of musical nirvana. The album is an eclectic mix of pop, hip hop, and soul, with standout tracks such as “Crazy, Classic Life” and “Django Jane." A few of the other nominees come close to matching Monáe’s cohesive masterpiece, but Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves and Black Panther: The Album by Various Artists don’t quite have the impact of the singer’s socially conscious lyricism.
Record of the Year: “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Record of the Year is the musical equivalent of the MVP award—it commends songs that do more than entertain or slot nicely into a playlist. It rewards songs that shake you to your core, stirring emotions listeners never knew they had. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga do exactly that with “Shallow,” the soon–to–be timeless ballad from the A Star is Born remake. Cooper brings the perfect amount of folksy acoustics, while Gaga’s powerhouse vocals deliver a performance that is somehow both controlled and unrestrained. Combined, the pair captures what falling in reckless love sounds like.
Song of the Year: “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA
Although “Shallow” wins Record of the Year for Gaga and Cooper's outstanding performances, Song of the Year goes to Kendrick Lamar and SZA for the songwriting of “All the Stars.” As a composition of music, nothing can top this collaboration between the new leaders of hip hop and soul—Kendrick’s fiery verses and SZA’s chorus form a seamless whole that blows the competition in this category out of the water.
Best New Artist: Greta Van Fleet
Greta Van Fleet sounds like a thrift store leather jacket— a tribute to the golden age of rock and roll updated for the current age. Lead singer Josh Kiska constantly fields comparisons to certified rock god and Led Zeppelin vocalist, Robert Plant, and for good reason. Kiska’s voice shines on tracks like “Highway Tune” and “When the Curtain Falls,” with a tinge of classic rock and roll vibrato and an undertone of vulnerability. Add in a band that mastered the guitar riff well before the release of their first album, and it’s clear why Greta Van Fleet deserves this award.
Best Pop Solo Performance: “God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande
“God is a Woman” is Ariana Grande at her best—braggadocious, playful, and just a little bit sultry. Thanks to a minimalistic beat, Grande’s voice flows over the baseline like water. Whether she’s reminding us that God, in fact, probably is a woman or flexing her skills in the bedroom, Grande is in control with a contagious independence. Compared to the other nominees, “God is Woman” breathes air into a diminishing pop genre with a vibe that unites R&B fans and Twitter stans alike.
Best Pop Vocal Album: Sweetener by Ariana Grande
The Pop Vocal Album was full of hits this year—both Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes released huge self–titled records—but the one that beats the others on sheer quality has to be Grande’s Sweetener. With breathtaking, emotional singles such as “No Tears Left to Cry” and “God is a Woman,” the singer nails the pop game on every level—her versatility and range are off the charts. It feels like you’re constantly floating throughout the album, melting into Grande’s soprano as she extols female empowerment and overcomes personal struggles.
Best Rock Performance: “Four Out of Five” by Arctic Monkeys
For a song that’s literally about a taco joint opening on the moon, “Four Out of Five” delivers a palatable complexity. It’s both a scathing commentary on social media’s inherent instant–gratification and Alex Turner at his best, just shooting the shit with a slinky backing beat. Reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys' older slow jams like “No. 1 Party Anthem” and“I Wanna Be Yours,” “Four Out of Five” offers a new perspective to mainstream rock—one where you don’t have to be loud to say a lot.
Best Rock Album: From the Fires by Greta Van Fleet
From the Fires fits better in the discount bin of your favorite record store than it does in this year’s lineup of Best Rock Albums—and that’s a good thing. With this release, Greta Van Fleet returns to the brand of rock ’n’ roll your parents listened to, full of winding guitar riffs, impactful drums, and voices with a little gruffness. Standouts include “Safari Song,” “Talk on the Street,” and breakout single “Highway Tune,” which meld lead singer Josh Kiska’s dynamic vocals with the rest of the band’s rhythmic prowess.
Best R&B Performance: “Summer” by The Carters
Straight from the king and queen of music, “Summer” is a beautiful love ballad by Beyoncé complimented perfectly by her husband, Jay–Z. The production is soothing and soulful as Mrs. Carter flexes her vocal range, while the rapper’s slow, emotional verse neatly matches the tempo. It’s a breath of fresh air from these long–standing leaders of their respective genres, epitomizing the greatness of R&B in one short piece.
Best R&B Album: H.E.R. by H.E.R
Although it’s a compilation album of her previous EPs with a few additional songs, H.E.R establishes her place on the national R&B stage with her self–titled debut record. Shining through tracks such as “Losing” and “Best Part,” the singer’s expression of love and lust seeps into the cracks of your emotions, standing out amongst mundane competition.
Best Rap Performance: “King’s Dead” by Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future, and James Blake
This is perhaps the weakest set of nominees for Best Rap Performance in years, so “King’s Dead” almost wins by default. Although “Sicko Mode” stormed radio waves for the latter half of 2018, “King’s Dead” is the only song among the choices that features its artists at their best, and truly feels like a brilliant performance of rap in itself. Jay Rock is rock solid with his flow, Future delivered one of the most memorable lines of the year in his signature auto–tune, and Lamar’s complex lyricism was on full display in a scorching concluding verse.
Best Rap Album: Daytona by Pusha T
At seven tracks and slightly over 21 minutes in length, Pusha T’s Daytona is a compact, coherent tour de force of hip hop at its finest. Although both Swimming by Mac Miller and Astroworld by Travis Scott are also full of brilliant production, lyricism, and content, Daytona takes these central tropes of rap and elevates them to a new level, courtesy of Pusha T’s top–notch emceeing and incredible production by Kanye West.
Best Country Solo Performance: “Butterflies” by Kacey Musgraves
“Butterflies” distills the feelings of your first crush in a bite–sized three–minute–and–41–second long package. It’s light and airy, reminiscent of a lullaby, and chock–full of Musgraves’ signature one–liners. “Butterflies” is country music for people who don’t like country music, reinventing the genre with a healthy dose of wit and earnestness. It’s a song that turns country into an attitude, not just a sound—elevating itself well above the other nominees.
Best Country Album: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
Golden Hour is easily the most cohesive album up for a golden gramophone, with each track seamlessly rolling into next. Musgraves’ knack for scathingly sweet burns dazzles on tracks like “High Horse” and “Wonder Woman,” while songs like “Velvet Elvis” and “Lonely Weekend” feel silky, like something you could slot into a road trip playlist or a sentimental mixtape. Once again, Musgraves is rebuilding country into something both recognizable and totally uncharted, bridging the gap between the genre and the rest of the world.