The 2016 Grammys will be remembered for a number of things -- Rihanna’s last-minute bail, Adele's weirdly flat performance, and a number of ill-conceived collaborations (Pitbull and Joe Perry, anyone?) --and Taylor Swift's humblebrag as the "first woman to win the Album of the Year award ... twice."
This could have been the most "balanced" set of Grammy nominations in recent memory. This year's Album of the Year nominations -- which are largely regarded as the most important award of the night -- were distributed amongst a healthy mix of artists of different genders, races, and genres. Chris Stapleton's Traveller was nominated in a nod to America's heartland and the stronghold that country music still has in the U.S. Then there were the Alabama Shakes -- a genre-melding twist on the rock tradition.
Kendrick Lamar -- the most nominated and politically charged man at the event -- was nominated for To Pimp A Butterfly, an album whose slick rhymes and jazz-fusion became an implicit rallying cry for social justice in America in the last year. The record’s release dovetailed with the emergence of Black Lives Matter -- a movement, a mantra, and a credo for the kind of social justice that too often evades disenfranchised communities in this country. The import of Black Lives Matter extends so far behind the world of music that it's a miracle it could be so aptly encapsulated by one record -- this one -- and yet, alongside this hefty hip-hop heavyweight came Taylor Swift, whose 2015 was defined by the release of an excellent, cherubic pop record that the Academy practically hand-picked to success.
1989 was a Billboard success that led to a monumental tour -- one that found Swift bringing out fellow musicians and celebrities from all over the map, including Fetty Wap, St. Vincent, Nelly, Kobe Bryant, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, a host of the world’s most visible super models, and the last nominee in this year’s Album of the Year selection: the Weeknd. Swift’s music sits in balanced contrast to that of the Weeknd, whose Beauty Behind the Madness was defined by significantly more sinister impulses: an urbane sexuality whose target demographic found solace in the record’s shadowy predilections and baleful hooks.
Still, Swift defined pop music in 2015 in the way Michael Jackson defined pop music in 1984 -- but the ill-placed humblebrag during her award acceptance speech may have struck a sour note. Though her speech involved a lengthy dedication to emerging artists who feel like other people are trying to take credit for their success, her advice -- which more or less suggested that they should "Shake It Off" -- felt weirdly self-important. Still, there’s no denying that the creative pull of 1989 is huge, with 19 songs that were more or less inescapable in the last year, even if many of us would’ve liked to see Kendrick Lamar win the category. Taylor Swift HAD THE GREATEST TOUR OF ALL TIME, apparently.