THE BEST OF THE GRAMMYS 2021 NOMINATIONS ( YES, THERE WERE SOME)

The story of the 2021 Grammy nominations isn’t the one we expected. Mediocrity actually got promoted to the forefront in major categories while some of the most obvious choices were erased out of the competitive slate.

However, I, like many of you, am happy that some deserving spots went to the right choices therefore imbuing the nomination process with a semblance of credibility. In fact, it’s our love for these following artists and their songs that makes us happy for them. So while there’s only one name that gets called out for the winners’ batch, let’s wish some of our favourites all the very best.

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First and foremost, there’s the incredible Brittany Howard and her alchemy on her debut solo album of repute titled JAIME. I give out that information to all the uninitiated listeners and music lovers because inspite of being the frontwoman of another eclectic unit in the form of ALABAMA SHAKES, Brittany continues to be underrated.

By gifting her with six nominations, better minds at the Recording Academy have prevailed indeed. It’s perfect for this set of nomination roll as she holds fort across six different genres. So STAY HIGH makes it to ROCK PERFORMANCE and ROCK SONG list of honours, GOAT HEAD finds space on R&B PERFORMANCE, SHORT AND SWEET( the one that miraculously seems to be a reincarnated Nina Simone solo performance) grabs a spot in the American Roots Performance while the album itself is up for BEST ALTERNATIVE ALBUM as well as a well deserved BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM( NON-CLASSICAL) berth for its production. Multiple writers and music lovers called JAIME ‘diverse’ and inter-generic and this whole, collective set of nominations do them justice. The album is all that and more, pure and untethered, raw in its musicality. Without the support of that loyal fan base, musicians just cannot evolve and I’m glad some of the voters chose to be rational and exercise their right with due discretion and fairness.

Though I still believe JAIME deserved to be up for contention in the major categories, I am not ultimately complaining. This slew of recognition will only boost this multifaceted, personal album’s imprint. More power to Ms. Howard and her trailblazing career ahead.

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TAYLOR SWIFT’S FOLKLORE is the album that was tailor-made for universal acclaim. Her forays into the more accessible, often dumbed down pop realms of years past and album cycles of 1989, REPUTATION and LOVER were not ripe for the kind of attention that awards constantly showered them with, Grammys included. In the midst of that whole era of reinvention, I never doubted her songwriting or the focal finesse of her best years on FEARLESS, SPEAK NOW and RED. Those are veritable classics. She built her mystique and brilliance, took a shot at diversifying her own possibilities and we understand that.

But the true artist in her burst out of the cocoon after a momentous decade in which she conquered all fronts to become a global totem. That’s the FOLKLORE story for us all and getting released out of the blue, in a year where everything turned to dust, helped us as listeners grasp the silent strength of its pure soundscape, mostly acoustic, and intimate production, like an echo reverberating through our current moment in time.

CARDIGAN, EXILE( with BON IVER), BETTY, THIS IS ME TRYING, ILLICIT AFFAIRS, THE LAKES are all stories that were told with finesse and complexity. So whether it’s SONG, ALBUM, POP VOCAL ALBUM, RECORD, POP COLLABORATION or POP SOLO PERFORMANCE, Taylor has earned her stripes on each category, showing us that this is the mark of her popularity adjunct with her ear for melodies and unmistakable lyrical prowess. Kudos to her. She won us over, again in 2020, more than ever before.

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DUA LIPA’S FUTURE NOSTALGIA shines bright as a best album contender and reference point in any given year. In 2020, she cut short the myth of a sophomore slump and took us boogieing back to the basics, on such retro and yet contemporaneous sonic textures of DON’T START NOW, PHYSICAL, BREAK MY HEART, LEVITATING, HALLUCINATE et al.

Being up on the nomination pedestal for SONG, ALBUM, POP VOCAL ALBUM, POP SOLO PERFORMANCE, RECORD OF THE YEAR is richly deserved for her because she spelt out hope and joy like none other of her ilk. Also, can we acknowledge the durability of the bass on each of her classic tracks from the album? They gave us life and a spring in our feet( and overall spirit)

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An ALBUM OF THE YEAR nod for the ever dependable COLDPLAY vis a vis EVERYDAY LIFE is welcome. It’s kind of underrated. But afficianados will uphold the bounty of Chris Martin’s humane vocals which are supple and emotionally resonant than ever, the global nature of the unit’s productivity to go with the lyrical simplicity and depth of standout tracks like the title one and especially DADDY, which I see as an excellent ode and simultaneous elegy to every migrant child separated from her/his roots. On the other hand, ORPHANS and CHAMPION OF THE WORLD pay heed to the classic Coldplay sound and hold reserves of pure innocence and celebration of the human spirit.

Some may see it as unnecessary in terms of nominations but EVERYDAY LIFE is more potent and unifying as an album than one thinks so my congratulations for this recognition from the Academy are due.

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My heartiest congratulations also are reserved for the beloved LADY A( formerly Lady Antebellum) scoring a Country Song nomination for OCEAN, a proper and heartwarming piano ballad, one of my favourites, with beautiful lyrics that simply flow with the emotions. Also MAREN MORRIS scoring a Country Song berth for THE BONES and the luminaries LITTLE BIG TOWN having their best album NIGHTFALL validated with a Country Album nod as well as a Country Song nomination for the excellent SUGAR COAT. Last but not the least, I am happy that the rising crest of H.E.R. reached new heights, with I CAN’T BREATHE getting a SONG OF THE YEAR nod. In the year of George Floyd, that song is apt and timely.

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So congratulations to all these nominees and may the best one win.

GRAMMYS 2021: SOME OTHER OMISSIONS IN IMPORTANT CATEGORIES

Some of the omissions are in the Rock and Country categories.

ROCK

EVANESCENCE- how can the Academy commit the grave mistake of ignoring Amy Lee’s soaring, timeless vocals and by extension the collective punch of her ensemble for EVANESCENCE, a band that chose to prefer quality than sheer volume and came up with two knockouts in WASTED ON YOU and USE MY VOICE?

Both ideally deserve a Best Rock Performance/ Rock Song but since they are veterans in the field now by the Academy’s twisted logic, they were shown the door. Both songs stay true to the alchemy of composition and vocals central to Evanescence’s classic sound and the urgency and empowerment of a post Trump world rampant on USE MY VOICE needed to be recognized.

THE WHO – the timeless band’s eponymous album can remind avid fans of their greatest hits with songs like DETOUR, BALL AND CHAIN, BREAK THE NEWS, ROCKING IN RAGE and STREET SONG. Which is why a Best Rock Album nomination was to be on the horizon.

BLIND LEADING THE BLIND by MUMFORD AND SONS- Another energetic ROCK PERFORMANCE contender that was not considered in the final list.

LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN by ROLLING STONES- I mean this was vintage Stones to a t and fit perfectly with our current circumstances lyrically so a ROCK PERFORMANCE/ ROCK SONG nod would have been nice and fair.

RETROGRADE by PEARL JAM- this was melodically superior and with its emphasis on a better world order and tribute to Greta Thunberg, it was ripe for a ROCK PERFORMANCE/ROCK SONG approval. The lyrics were absorbingly effective.

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COUNTRY

WHEN LIFE IS GOOD AGAIN by DOLLY PARTON – why was this not considered? It’s perfectly suited as a clarion call for hope and even tempers in such a trying year. It’s Ms. Parton to our rescue with her optimism but nothing sways an obstinate Academy.

SAM HUNT’S HARD TO FORGET or YOUNG ONCE – if these two could not make it, nothing good can for a Best Country Solo Performance/ Country Song berths. They were the best bets for a fair field.

NEXT TO YOU, FOREVER AND A NIGHT or PROBLEM CHILD by LITTLE BIG TOWN- this beloved band has scored a deserving COUNTRY ALBUM nod and Country Song nomination for the excellent SUGAR COAT but a more nuanced choice would have come from the above three, with their detailed, effortless harmonies and lyrics making them frontrunners.

NOBODY BUT YOU by BLAKE SHELTON and GWEN STEFANI- one of the best love- drenched collaborations of the year didn’t make it to the Country Group/ Duo Performance although I think it had a fair shot for the Best Pop Collaboration too.

HER WORLD OR MINE by MICHAEL RAY- this should ideally win the Country Song or Country Solo category and a lack of nomination for this beautifully sung, sublime meditation on taking difficult choices in the course of personal disintegration, extending to a couple’s kindred too as per its moving lyrics, was totally illogical.

RESENTMENT by KESHA and STURGILL SIMPSON or even COWBOY BLUES- it would have been genuinely thrilling to have both of these compete for the COUNTRY DUO/ GROUP COLLABORATION and COUNTRY SOLO berths respectively, to show Kesha’s resurgence as a versatile, vocally astute artist. But nothing satisfies the Academy after all.

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In other categories, we have omissions beginning with TONI BRAXTON getting the exit point for R&B even with the uplifting DANCE or the soulful GOTTA MOVE ON feat. HER from her latest album SPELL MY NAME. The latter boasts especially of a swooning guitar solo by H.E.R. and opening minutes punctuated by strings, not to mention sensuous vocals befitting Braxton’s iconic oeuvre.

They could have easily made it to an R&B PERFORMANCE nod.

THANKS FOR THE DANCE by LEONARD COHEN made the cut for only a BEST FOLK ALBUM nod? Surely the Bard’s spoken word gravitas and the instrumental transcendence of most of the songs on this album deserved to have it contend in an ALBUM OF THE YEAR berth, in an ideal world. Even a Vocal Album nod would have sufficiently sufficed. Just listen to the title track, IT’S TORN, HAPPENS TO THE HEART, THE GOAL, LISTEN TO THE HUMMINGBIRD or THE HILLS and you’ll know why.

MURDER MOST FOUL by BOB DYLAN- This epic narrative of a nation’s eventful panorama clashing with definitive milestones pitched the good with the bad, to paint a portrait of humanity and for the Nobel laureate should have ensured a Song of the Year nod. It was simply poetic and profound.

THE HIGHWOMEN for ALBUM OF THE YEAR or COUNTRY ALBUM, COUNTRY SONG ( for IF SHE EVER LEAVES ME though they have scored a nod for CROWDED TABLE which is good enough) ; I feel the album deserved a more holistic reception in major categories.

HIGHER LOVE by KYGO/ WHITNEY HOUSTON- this had to score a definitive Dance Recording nod, it was a perfect way to salute a Whitney classic of yore and Kygo brought it to the current era without tinkering with its beats or innate sound.

FALL ON ME by A GREAT BIG WORLD and CHRISTINA AGUILERA – this was obvious for a Pop Group/ Duo Performance and is as beautifully effective as their previous chart smashing, Grammy winning SAY SOMETHING(2013)

MAGDALENE by FKA TWIGS- this album pushed sonic boundaries and showcased FKA TWIGS as a powerhouse who could juggle diverse vocal turns swiftly and make every song transformative, like on MIRRORED HEART, THOUSAND EYES, MARY MAGDALENE, SAD DAY, HOME WITH YOU and the biggest standout in CELLOPHANE. A Vocal Album nod was in her stride. Even an Alternative Album consideration went past her unjustly. Cellophane, above all, definitely merited a Solo Performance backing from voters. It was such a beauteous turn and structured in line with the lyrical intensity she detailed throughout.

AND OF COURSE, THE WEEKND- I never thought that it was possible to deliver this verdict on AFTER HOURS, an album cut out for wins galore whether it was for RECORD, SONG, POP VOCAL ALBUM, ALBUM, POP SOLO PERFORMANCE( for any song among BLINDING LIGHTS, IN YOUR EYES or SCARED TO LIVE), R&B PERFORMANCE, R&B SONG and PROGRESSIVE R&B ALBUM. It happened and it’s stupefying to believe in such a gross omission for one of the biggest hits of recent years, leave alone 2020. Be it his perfect live performances or his embodiment of the blood soaked, red coat clad, sunglass wearing protagonist from the album, he is an artist and a showman who has reached his peak and the Recording Academy chose to give him nothing. The joke’s on us.

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GRAMMYS 2021: the artists and albums that were left in the cold.

I have already published an article last night that addressed the rampant unfairness and rather foolhardiness of the nominations that had absolutely no regard for ‘real music’. Music that meant so much in terms of songwriting and experimentation, aesthetics and overall outreach was left in the cold and that too at a juncture in our culture where we thought that previous oversights would be rectified and meritocracy will spring back to action.

Here, I share the artists, songs and albums that were treated unjustly by the behemoth we know as Recording Academy. In my honest opinion, they all deserved nominations at the very least as a mark of due acknowledgement for them and their overall teams’ contributions.

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Some of the glaring snubs/ omissions were reserved for the Best Pop Solo Performance, a category that has over the years awarded and initially nominated works with no real merit whatsoever in that field. I was aghast hence when ANYONE by Demi Lovato, which began its emotional spell on us with a live rendition at the 2020 ceremony itself, did not find favour, given the studio cut was flawless and detailed the singer’s brush with loneliness and a near death experience. She laid her soul bare, quite literally and it clenched ours, in turn. With just a spare piano as accompaniment, ANYONE exemplifies a solo performance and Demi is an extremely beloved artist so how it fell off the ‘voters’ radar, in the manner it did, is baffling and excruciatingly unjust.

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THE LUMINEERS’ 3

The Lumineers’ members have been collectively nominated as Best New Artist and for their breakout hit HO HEY but I believe their true artistic melifluence as an unit reached peaks on CLEOPATRA which went unnoticed by the Grammys and now their third album was again snubbed completely, given that it continued its streak of poetic lyrics and melodic whole plus Wesley Schultz’s vocal beauty merited nods for songs like DONNA, JIMMY SPARKS, MY CELL and the sombre and poignant SALT AND THE SEA. They could have merited an ALBUM OF THE YEAR, VOCAL ALBUM, BEST GROUP/DUO PERFORMANCE nods for any of the above songs and the album as an entity in itself. Neglecting them is absolutely unnecessary. I am mourning their no show. I understand that they will be thought of as an alternative act or folksy to mainstream voters. Hence, it’s high time they recognized music without pigeonholing categories through the prism of pre-conceived notions.

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BLOWBACK, LAND OF THE FREE by THE KILLERS

IMPLODING THE MIRAGE deserves to be up for ALBUM, VOCAL ALBUM considerations in an ideal world, in fact I would have loved to see their names up for a Group/ Duo Performance for anything from CAUTION, MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING to the underrated LIGHTNING FIELDS and MY GOD. Being seen as a predominantly rock outfit by voters, it’s imperative to understand that this album was pop and retro, timeless and enjoyably infectious so pushing it into one categorical niche would be unfair.

BLOWBACK and LAND OF THE FREE(live) needed to be considered as they are beautiful lyrically and sonically. We have awarded HEY, SOUL SISTER by THE TRAIN and Adele’s SET FIRE TO THE RAIN for their live iterations; so why not for the latter choice in this case? It’s a downer that Song of the Year nominations eluded Brandon Flowers and his team’s sincere and always productive efforts.

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HEAD ABOVE WATER, IT WAS IN ME by AVRIL LAVIGNE

Avril Lavigne is an icon and each one of us has embraced one or the other of her eras or collective discography through almost two decades. Is that the excuse for shutting doors on either of her excellent, accessible vocal and lyrical turns on HEAD ABOVE WATER and IT WAS IN ME for Pop Solo Performance or Song of the Year? She deserved to have a shot with her victorious comeback. If Ed Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project can make it to Pop Vocal Album list, then HEAD ABOVE WATER as an album needed to rightfully be up for consideration. It’s a cruel omission.

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NORAH JONES’ PICK ME UP OFF THE FLOOR

I suspected this could happen given she has won multiple times before. My fears were validated when her excellent new album was blocked out for anything: VOCAL ALBUM, POP SOLO PERFORMANCE for works like I’M ALIVE, TRYING TO KEEP IT TOGETHER, TO LIVE, HOW I WEEP and especially the sensuous, elegant FLAME TWIN or even a SONG OF THE YEAR nod. She has one nomination in AMERICAN ROOTS PERFORMANCE berth for a collaboration with the legendary Mavis Staples this time. But unlike me, it will be skipped by most who only have eyes towards the more mainstream categories.

This album was made for more glory than the Recording Academy afforded it. Not to mention, her consistent output with her live sessions from home throughout these months has captivated us.

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THE LET GO by ELLE KING

A controlled, diverse vocal turn, that too live, by ELLE KING needed to be considered for a Solo Performance. All those cohesive highs and lows of the overall song, alas, fell on deaf ears.

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LETTER TO YOU, GHOSTS by BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

These two songs too should have atleast had a chance to contend in the Song of the Year category as both personalize and universalize their central lyrics and testify to the Boss and his E Street Band’s longevity above anything. The time-tested ‘legends are above mere awards’ argument will be presented as a defence in this instance but we are not buying it.

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THE LAKES by TAYLOR SWIFT

FOLKLORE deserves all accolades and I’m happy with its overall tally in the major categories. Taylor Swift truly managed to curate a refined confection of lilting melodies that put this year in perspective and played to her songwriting strengths, harkening back to her heyday of FEARLESS, SPEAK NOW and even her Hunger Games standout SAFE AND SOUND.

THE LAKES, however, could have been the honoured one among the Song of the Year and Pop Solo Performance nods as it’s still underrated owing to it featuring as a bonus track. As far as songwriting goes, it’s golden.

That would have been a profound choice. But Taylor has come back to earth after reaching stratospheric heights in popularity and any kind of triumph is welcome.

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CAM’S THE OTHERSIDE

No. This had to be Cam’s moment as she delivered flawless lyrics on REDWOOD TREE, TILL THERE’S NOTHING LEFT and the beautifully revisionist DIANE that was the gentle, progressive flipside to Dolly Parton’s legendary JOLENE. Even CLASSIC was all kinds of peppy while FORGETTING YOU was wistful, charmingly produced and sung. I had stood steadfast by her labours on all these and in an ideal world, SONG OF THE YEAR, VOCAL ALBUM( pop is a word that needs to go from this category since true singing merits no one train of thought or stringent terminology) and ALBUM OF THE YEAR would have been in her reach.

The added insult to injury is that she holds no pride of place in the country echelons as well. It’s difficult to see her be snubbed so outrightly as she’s among the best artists in the industry at this moment. THE OTHERSIDE is clearly among the casualties of this nomination cycle. I mourn that as an avid listener and champion of her musical gifts.

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MIDNIGHT SKY by MILEY CYRUS

They could hold the nerve to consistently ignore the alchemy of Miley Cyrus and on a classic sounding track like this. Tragic.

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BAD FRIEND, CHOSEN FAMILY by RINA SAWAYAMA

Rina Sawayama has been championed by the likes of SIR ELTON JOHN and she’s clearly a hit with fans worldwide. Her debut album surely then deserved more love, atleast in regards to Pop Solo Performance with BAD FRIEND or CHOSEN FAMILY. Also, a career boosting Best New Artist acceptance was in store. But it wasn’t so.

If it’s tantamount to her U.K. roots then it’s baloney. She has as many takers, if not more across the Atlantic as scores of music reactors, writers and commentators have looked out for her evolution. Why did the Academy not fall in line? We will wait for an explanation that may never come.

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No love for CELINE DION’S COURAGE or MANDY MOORE’S SILVER LANDINGS

Celine Dion is a living legend and that may be the possible explanation for a no-show for COURAGE from a Pop Solo Performance nod; it doesn’t hold water because each work should be taken separately, in the present without the halo of what came before, no matter how esteemed. The album could have also passed muster.

It’s another tale with beloved star Mandy Moore’s restrained, beautifully written work on SILVER LANDINGS, especially FIFTEEN and TRYING MY BEST, LOS ANGELES. She has always been around and with THIS IS US’ phenomenal success skyrocketing her fortunes, she turned to her first love: music. It’s hard for me to fathom how her solo turn from A WALK TO REMEMBER, that is ONLY HOPE, an exceptionally sweet, celebrated melody didn’t get marks for a Solo Performance or Visual Media stamp of approval back in 2003. This was surprising, given the film’s cult status. The Academy has repeated the same oversight as SILVER LININGS hits one like a breath of fresh air, calming and holding fort for her vocals. She deserved a shot with atleast a Vocal Album nod.

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WRONG DIRECTION by HAILEE STEINFELD, FIRST MAN by CAMILA CABELLO, ALICIA KEYS’ RAISE A MAN or UNDERDOGS.

These are all soulful melodies, piano ballads that could have been in the running for Pop Solo Performance. The final song by Alicia Keys is further a token of hope that is joyful and Zen in its approach, just like the singer. All got crossed out perhaps before we could even raise expectations for them.

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GLASGOW(NO PLACE LIKE HOME) by JESSIE BUCKLEY

This gem from the WILD ROSE O.S.T. is a showcase for the singer-actress in her prime. With Oscars too choosing to sideline it, I thought Grammys will be kinder to an exceptional songwriting( courtesy iconic actress Mary Steenburgen) and vocal feat. Our hopes were dashed but this melody will always be special and hauntingly beautiful for us. A Best Song From Visual Media nod was due.

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YOU SHOULD BE SAD and FINALLY/ BEAUTIFUL STRANGER by HALSEY

When Halsey showed the world she could trump notions of her pop ascendancy with an inter-generic highlight( YOU SHOULD BE SAD) and bring guitar gravitas to a simple and sonorous melody(FINALLY/BEAUTIFUL STRANGER), the Academy looked the other way. It ain’t fair, at all because her clever wordplay alone was ripe for a Song of the Year nod or the vocals could have fit snugly in the Pop Solo Performance category.

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WASTELAND, BABY by HOZIER

A Vocal Album consideration, atleast, for the always reliable HOZIER’s output with NINA CRIED POWER( featuring Mavis Staples), MOVEMENT, the title track and the gripping, beguiling DINNERS AND DEATRIBES was sought after. He was met with silence from a so called ‘body of experts’

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FALLING by HARRY STYLES

This piano melody should have been on the Pop Solo Performance list than the mediocre WATERMELON SUGAR. I fail to understand why the Academy chooses to shut out genuinely good songs over the seemingly popular ones? It’s maybe a rule now.

MY FUTURE

The same logic applies to MY FUTURE being replaced by EVERYTHING I WANTED when the former is clearly the superior one, its first two minutes of vocals alone warranting a nod.

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ORVILLE PECK

Orville Peck’s career crest has been solidified. A deserving BEST NEW ARTIST nod passed him by but several of his songs merited a Solo Performance stamp, such as DEAD OF NIGHT, TURN TO HATE, QUEEN OF THE RODEO, SUMMERTIME, NO GLORY IN THE WEST; a Vocal Album would have been wonderful too. As for his cowboy persona and timeless vocals, Country echelons could have called out to him, with a Best Duo Performance nod for LEGENDS NEVER DIE, his accessible and utterly bewitching duet with the iconic Shania Twain, at the least. A void greeted him hence across the board.

(More than the academy, hosts like JIMMY KIMMEL and JIMMY FALLON have done more to promote him and Rina Sawayama)

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ABOVE ALL, NO LOVE FOR HAYLEY WILLIAMS’ PETALS FOR ARMOUR?

Hayley Williams has been no stranger to Grammy nominations or wins as leader and vocalist of the highly acclaimed PARAMORE. So when she transferred her personal strength and unconventional sonic palette to her debut solo album PETALS FOR ARMOUR, we thought it was a given she will get away with a Pop Vocal Album nod, at the very least. No, that didn’t happen. And we are indeed heartbroken. Be it SIMMER, LEAVE IT ALONE, DEAD HORSE or CINNAMON, the textures and instrumentation balanced moments of restraint with energy, contemplation with stirring personal narratives. It was all for nothing for the Academy; it will obviously be a huge setback for all her admirers and champions.

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DAISIES

Katy Perry fully, wholeheartedly deserved a Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year nods each for one of her best written and vocally delivered songs. It had to be also because she was the most consistent star creating one memorable live arc after another, in the middle of a pregnancy and a pandemic. For me, she is a clear-cut Entertainer of the Year. It’s a shock the Grammys again put her out of the league tailor-made for her.

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NOTE: another article on the same issue will be out by Sunday. For now, read this one and share your own thoughts.