Thursday, December 10, 2015

Different, But Equally Important: Kendrick and Taylor Lead Grammy Nominations

My sweet brother Sam has been paying attention to the Grammy's chaos and had a few thoughts on two of the highly juxtaposing albums leading the nods. Have a read.

When the Grammy nominations were announced this week, I was thrilled to see two of the year’s best albums leading the nominations – Taylor Swift’s swagger-filled pop masterpiece 1989 and Kendrick Lamar’s introspective and genre-pushing classic To Pimp A Butterfly

The two pieces of art are a telling statement on the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences realizing, after 2014's hip-hop album of the year incident best known as "the Macklemore," that this is an era when more attention needs to be paid to hip-hop that's potentially less accessible, but historically more important. It's also a statement on music today in general - the artistic spectrum is wide, and what's significant on it, varies.

Taylor comes into her own in a way that makes her deserving of every accolade. Her songwriting is clean and engaging, but, paired with an unapologetic (but long-coming) shift from her country-pop style, she created something memorable.

Kendrick’s TPAB is an artistic achievement unparalleled in recent years. It shares some similarities with Swift and her album - reinvention while staying true to form – but, it is a vastly different body of work. With jarring subject matter, musical experimentation, and no clear single, Kendrick created a beautifully difficult record. They are not the same, but they both deserve respect.

While the Grammy's are about artistic achievement - and Kendrick deserves to be honoured – they also represent the structure he rejects. They are a party and To Pimp A Butterfly is not. Recently, my sister and I were discussing the validity of different genres and how it’s unfair to disregard something based on where it lands on the musical spectrum. She pointed out that, despite its genius and her love for it, if someone put on TPAB at a party she might “kick them the ___ out.” Funny, but not wrong. Out with friends on a Friday, drinks flowing, it is not the album to listen to. There’s power and redemption, but there is no resolution, hooks or answers. It is uplifting, but it is difficult.

Much of 1989 is about rising above, but the content and presentation is easier. It's played at parties and it’s catchy as hell. If Kendrick swept the awards, no doubt some cuts would be played at his celebration. Songs like “Blank Space” and “Wildest Dreams” talk of romantic pain, not of being existentially at war with themselves.

Which are you blasting from a stereo at a BBQ? Just because something isn’t challenging doesn’t mean it's without merit.

Kendrick discovers his place in the world through painful introspection while Taylor shakes her issues off on the dance floor. Both are well-crafted, but I won’t be surprised if 1989 takes home more trophies. Comparing the two is apples and oranges. The Grammy’s are not always a place for difficult; they can be a party and for Kendrick to be nominated is enough. It is an extremely important record, but he wasn’t aiming for the Grammy’s. Conversely, just because Taylor made an accessible album doesn’t mean she should not be recognized. Both records are brilliant and both deserve to be applauded.

- Sam Huddleston

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