2014 Album of the Year Grammy surprises

grammEvery year, one or more Grammy categories offer some particularly bewildering nominees. This year, the contenders for Album of the Year may have provided the most confusion for those attempting to predict the results.

The complete list of nominees included The Blessed Unrest (Sara Bareilles), Random Access Memories (Daft Punk), good kid, m.A.A.d city (Kendrick Lamar), The Heist (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis), and Red (Taylor Swift).

But Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest sold only 68,000 units in its first week of release and received mixed reviews. The single “Brave” may have spawned the Katy Perry copycat “Roar” and earned consistent radio play, but between low sales and middling reviews, the album as a whole hardly seems as deserving of the recognition as its competitors.

In another unusual move, the candidates include three artists (Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Taylor Swift) who released their albums October 2012, more than a year ago. In the fast-paced music industry, that’s ancient history, especially with artists like Lorde, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, and Drake who offer much more recent and equally successful releases.

Although Taylor Swift’s Red seems like a fairly obvious choice with the most sales of any album since Eminem’s The Eminem Show in 2002, the album as a whole still provides a point of interest as well.

Generally, artists begin with more generic music to appeal to the masses in order to build a fan base.

At that point, they often embark on more creative exploration, one recent example of this including Kanye West’s Yeezus last June. By contrast, Red inverted this trend by marking Swift’s artistic transformation from her country roots to a more standard, pop-like sound.

Notably, both albums from Kendrick and Macklemore mark two occasions on which artists refused to bend to industry demands and insisted on their own artistic creation. The New York Daily News pointed out their “Macklemore and Lewis aren’t interested in recycling rap clichés,” while the Huffington Post lauded Kendrick for “defying the odds” with his structured storytelling and genre-bending sound.

But although both of these albums remain two of the best-reviewed of all, the fact that both hip-hop records appear in this category does hurt the chances that one of them will win. Still, fact that both of these albums earned recognition in the Grammys could signify a new trend among future Album of the Year nominations.

On the other hand, the French duo Daft Punk reinforced the idea that anyone can gain recognition in the music industry with enough money and talented friends. Especially with their recent movie scores, the most popular of these including the Tron soundtrack, they have solidified their place in pop culture and achieved enough monetary success to hire any musicians imaginable.

But regardless of the money spent on hiring others to contribute to their efforts, Daft Punk’s album still remains one of the best-selling and best-reviewed records of the year.

The Examiner noted that this category “is a tough one to nail down because there’s no overwhelming favorite.” With the possible exception of Sara Bareilles, who remains most noteworthy for a single that Katy Perry ripped off, each act brings a distinct element to the table in one of the most interesting categories this year.

– Amy Lauren Jones, A&E Editor


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