When Grammy nominations roll out, it's usually pretty easy to guess which names will show up in the big categories. We've all been listening to Lemonade and Coloring Book on repeat for months, and you’ve heard that Twenty One Pilots song on the radio enough times to know it was going to get a nomination. And sure, Ariana Grande feigned shock on Twitter when Dangerous Woman got a shout-out in the Best Pop Vocal Album category, but that girl had to know she had a nomination in the bag.
But every year, there are a few genuinely surprising names hidden in the Recording Academy's list — Grammy nominees who truly didn't think they'd nab a golden ticket (and who might not have even wanted an invitation to the party). From indie-rock stars who couldn't care less about charts and certificates to legendary folk singers who’ve been left out of the competition for decades, MTV called up six unexpected 2017 Grammy nominees to find out how they feel about being honored, how they're preparing for the big night, and whether they're even going to the ceremony.
Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts
Nominated For: Best Recording Package
Why That's Surprising: The New York–based post-punk band gets its first-ever Grammy nod not for any of its music ... but for the packaging of its album, Human Performance?! Lead singer Andrew Savage, who's also a trained painter, did the work himself — a rare case for the art directors typically nominated in this category.
Savage says: "Every painter's dream, the Grammys! I'm totally fine with the Best Packaging nomination — I'd rather lose to David Bowie's art director than to Blink-182's shitty music, so this is really the best category I could be in. No offense to the organization that just nominated me, but as far as rock music goes, [the Recording Academy] is not exactly known for nominating cutting-edge material. The [Best Rock Album] category is kind of a graveyard right now. And hell yeah, I'm going! I'm gonna ask the cute girl I have a crush on and try to find something sharp to wear. I have some groovy-looking, patent-leather black sneakers, just a little thing to subvert the typical notion of a black-tie event. You have to find subtle ways of rebellion where you can."
Stranger Things composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
Nominated For: Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media
Why That's Surprising: A TV theme has only been nominated twice before in this category: Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme in 1991, and David Schwartz's Northern Exposure theme in 1993. So even though for an entire month last summer you couldn't even go online without seeing a Barb meme, this is still a bit surprising!
Dixon says: "It's weird, because I never would have guessed this would be happening a year or even six months ago. There's no way to tell [if] something is going to take off like Stranger Things [did]. I feel like everyone else is a lot more excited about it than I am! [laughs] If I go anywhere and run into someone, they want to talk about it. It's going to be a bizarre event. I've been joking about wanting to meet Future there."
Stein says: "I feel like I haven't even digested it yet. Someone will tell you some news and you're like, Wait, what does that mean? Then it's like, Oh, shit, a Grammy. I'm more excited for the parties leading up to the ceremony than the event. It's a pretty long ceremony. Maybe I'll just take a four-hour nap behind some sunglasses."
Nominated For: Best Folk Album
Why That's Surprising: The folk singer, who has released more than 25 albums since the 1960s and penned seven books about her career, had been passed over by the Grammys since 1976, when she was nominated for a little song called "Send in the Clowns." This year, she's nominated for Silver Skies Blue, her duets album with singer Ari Hest.
Collins says: "I'm thrilled and surprised! I hadn't heard from them in a while, and if your friends don't call you, you think they've forgotten you. [laughs] I don't work to get a Grammy, I work to make a living and to make art I feel happy about. Music has always led the way politically and socially, and it's always paid attention to the issues of the times. It's important that the industry recognized the pairing of two artists from two generations doing something creative and challenging. This year I'll be bringing my granddaughter to the awards. I don't think the Grammys will have changed much [since the ’70s], and it's great that it's had the luck and the structure to survive. Talent shows have existed from the beginning of time. If you're watching the Grammys, you're basically watching a talent show from 1957."
John Doe of X
Nominated For: Best Spoken Word Album
Why That's Surprising: In the 1970s, John Doe and his bandmates in X were key figures of the Los Angeles punk scene immortalized in the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, along with acts like Circle Jerks and Black Flag. As a resolutely uncommercial artist, he's steered clear of the Grammys for most of his career, but this year he's being recognized for the audiobook version of his memoir, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk.
Doe says: "I'm shocked. I mean, we're certainly the dark horse at this point. I think that competition in art is really weird. It's contrary to the spirit in which art is made, whether it's the Emmys or the Oscars or Grammys or whatever. However, once you're in there, you have to be gracious and say, 'Cool, I hope we win!' So I'm definitely going and looking forward to winning, if that happens. I'd like that, I won't lie. And I think spectacle is interesting. I went to see Miranda Lambert a few months ago, and it was fun! I certainly like going to the movies and eating popcorn. To have this punk scene recognized by the Grammys, it's like Opposite Day. [laughs] But I'm happy that L.A. gets to have a seat at the table, just like New York and London have. Punk rock is a state of mind, not just a style of music, and that state of mind is bleeding into other forms of music today. It's still representing freedom and going to a club when you're 18 and getting a black eye. It's the spirit of youth and saying, 'Fuck off.'"
Nominated For: Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best Americana Album
Why That's Surprising: Bell has been making music for nearly six decades, writing some of soul's most enduring songs, and has helped keep the traditions of Memphis, Tennessee's Stax Records alive long after the label's original heyday. But these are Bell's first nominations ever — including one for Americana, a genre that has been criticized for underplaying the contributions of black artists.
Bell says: "I've been to the Grammys for other artists — I was there for Billy Idol when he performed 'To Be a Lover' in the 1980s — but this is the first time for William Bell proper. It's rewarding to know that people are still noticing your work. And to be nominated in both categories, that's super. I'm a singer, firstly, and a soul artist because of my church background and starting out with Stax Records. But to then have the Americana [Music] Association endorse my music feels good. At home, my family is excited about the nomination, but they're not doing backflips. I'm still 'William who takes the garbage out.' [laughs] I'll be at the ceremony with bells on, as they say, and keeping my fingers crossed. I'm looking forward to catching up with friends and getting to meet some of the newer artists. I'd like to meet Beyoncé."
Nominated For: Best Metal Performance
Why That's Surprising: This category, created in 1990, has traditionally been dominated by big names like six-time winners Metallica, two-time winners Slayer, and nine-time nominees Megadeth — and, OK, there was also that time in 2015 when Tenacious D won for some reason. But the innovative, independent metal played by Baroness is far from an obvious choice for the nominating committee. We spoke with singer-guitarist John Baizley about the nomination.
Baizley says: "When the nominations were announced, I thought it was a mistake or maybe somebody playing a prank on us. We're all going to the ceremony, because we just assume this will never happen again. [laughs] It's hard to say this without dissing myself, but I was operating under the assumption that the type of music Baroness plays would put us at a disadvantage for awards like this. When I look at Grammys history, it's typically bands who have reached a sales status that we haven't. I hope it shows that the nominations, even within this niche category, are being taken more seriously. One of the primary reasons I became a musician like this is because I enjoy certain aspects of spectacle, so I'm excited to go. The weirder, more over the top, the better."