The rock and alternative fields in the GRAMMYs tend to go hand-in-hand. Since there are no performance or songwriters’ awards in the alternative fields, most alternative artists have their songs submitted to rock.
Furthermore, it isn’t clear what the Academy considers “alternative”. It is defined as a “non-traditional” genre that exists “outside of the mainstream music consciousness”. In that case Beck who competed in the Alternative Music Album for years, was moved to the rock field last year. Jack White, as a member of the White Stripes, won three times the best alternative album category. His first solo album, however, competed
in rock and last year his second album was switched back to alternative. In the alternative field you’d also find pop, R&B, and folk artists.
In past years, the rock field was dominated by veterans and “mainstream rock” bands. But this year’s nominees represent a wide variety of sub-genres of rock music. Also, there are four brand new artists and a much larger female representation. An unusual scenario that hasn’t occurred since the late 90s.
Let’s now take a look at the odds for each category:
Best Rock Performance
- Alabama Shakes — “Don’t Wanna Fight”
- Elle King — “Ex’s & Oh’s”
- Florence + The Machine — “What Kind of Man”
- Wolf Alice — “Moaning Lisa Smile”
- Foo Fighters — “Something From Nothing”
Since there are four female-fronted acts among the nominees, it would look awkward if the award is given to the all-male band, the Foo Fighters (maybe a #GrammysSoMale hashtag on Twitter would spur). The Foos are indeed the only former winners in this category, but since they were snubbed for Album of the Year (AOTY) and even more surprisingly for Rock Album. It is quite clear that Sonic Highways didn’t get a lot of love from the Academy and that is why a twelfth win for the Dave Grohl-band is unlikely to happen.
The front-runner in this category is without a doubt, Alabama Shakes. This is their third appearance in rock performance and they are also AOTY contenders. Vocalist Brittany Howard will then become the first female winner since the category was introduced in 2012. The other three contenders are debutantes in this field.
Florence + the Machine had been regular contenders in the pop field but this is their first appearance in rock. The English band, however, have a lot of competition.
In a distant second place is Elle King. King happened to get heavy airplay just in time for the nominations. The fact that she collaborates with GRAMMY-winners, Jeff Bhasker and Patrick Carney means she has a strong support within the Academy and it wouldn’t be a surprise if she wins. Just for the record, she is also the daughter of actor Rob Schneider.
British grungy band Wolf Alice surprised everyone with their nomination for “Moaning Lisa Smile” off their debut album. A win could be pretty shocking (it’s my personal choice, though).
Best Metal Performance: There hasn’t been much discussion for this category. I believe Slipknot with “Custer” will win. They won here before and they are also nominated for Best Rock Album.
Best Rock Song
- “Don’t Wanna Fight” — Alabama Shakes
- “Hold Back the River” — Iain Archer and James Bay (James Bay)
- “What Kind of Man” — John Hill, Tom Hull and Florence Welch (Florence + The Machine)
- “Ex’s & Oh’s” — Dave Bassett and Elle King (Elle King)
- “Lydia” — Highly Suspect
The most interesting thing about this group of nominees is that they are first-timers for a songwriter’s award. Three of them; James Bay, Elle King and Highly Suspect are first-time nominees. In conclusion, we will have brand new winners in this category.
The winner for Best Rock Song is usually the winner of the performance category. However the last two recipients were not even nominated for Best Rock Performance just like Bay and the hard rock trio, Highly Suspect aren’t but their winning chances are slim.
Once again Alabama Shakes with their blues-rock tune “Don’t Wanna Fight” are the favourites. If they win, they will be the first “alternative” act to do so since 2004 when Jack White won for the White Stripes.
Best Rock Album
- Muse — Drones
- James Bay — Chaos and the Calm
- Death Cab for Cutie — Kintsugi
- Slipknot — .5: The Grey Chapter
- Highly Suspect — Mister Asylum
This year’s nominees for Best Rock Album represent all sides of the rock music spectrum. From blues/folk-rock (James Bay); through alt-pop/rock (Death Cab for Cutie); progressive rock (Muse); to hard rock (Highly Suspect) and all they way to heavy metal (Slipknot). All the voices of rock were heard when determine the list but who will eventually take the prize?
British band Muse seems to have the edge. Their dystopian concept album Drones, co-produced by four-time winner, Robert John “Mutt” Lange, was considered one of the best albums of the year. Muse are also the only former winners. They won for The Resistance in 2011.
The second favourite is another British artist: James Bay. Some believe that Bay could take this because he’s got two other nominations including Best New Artist in the general field. His BRIT Award-nominated album, Chaos and the Calm is also his debut record and the only “new” artist to win this category had been Alanis Morissette for her blockbuster Jagged Little Pill, who also won AOTY in 1996. Bay’s album might also not be considered rock enough as it fits better within the “American roots” field.
Much like Beck, Death Cab for Cutie are one of those acts that had been switched from “alternative” to rock. Their album Kintsugi was met with mixed reactions. However, keep in mind that mastering engineer and two-times AOTY winner, Bob Ludwig is involved in the production.
The last two nominees have lesser chances. Former GRAMMY-winners, Slipknot are the only the second metal band (the other being Metallica) to be nominated for Rock Album. The Massachusetts trio Highly Suspect are first-time nominees and suffer the same fate as Bay. Unlike Bay they don’t have any general field presence.
Best Alternative Music Album
- Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
- Björk — Vulnicura
- Tame Impala — Currents
- Wilco — Star Wars
- My Morning Jacket — The Waterfall
An AOTY nomination does not necessarily translate into a win in the field album category (remember Arcade Fire in 2011?) but it is hard to imagine the Alabama Shakes losing this one. Their album Sound & Color is also up for production and engineering. Ironically enough Alabama Shakes are competing in this field for the very first time but that didn’t prevent St Vincent (2015) or Gotye (2013) for winning.
If the Shakes don’t win, the only other possible winner seem to be the Icelandic iconic singer/songwriter, Björk for her ninth studio album Vulnicura. Her last seven albums had all been nominated before but she is yet to win the award. This album (her first in four years) not only appeared on almost every “best albums of the year” lists, it also received heavy promotion. An acoustic/strings-only version of the album and a series of remix had been released alongside a worldwide tour.
In a distant third place we find Australian mastermind and multi-instrumentalist, Kevin Parker and his Tame Impala project. Currents was also one of the best albums of the year and it sure is a very alternative and versatile album with elements of rock, pop, R&B, and funk. This is Tame Impala’s second nomination.
Former winners, Wilco and former nominees My Morning Jacket have virtually no chances. Their albums were also critical acclaimed but it is impossible for them to beat the heavy production behind Alabama Shakes’ album or the worldwide promotion from Björk.
What do you think? What are the winners going to be like for the rock and alternative fields?