Best Comedy Album
Lisa Lampanelli – Back to the Drawing Board
Wyatt Cenac – Brooklyn
Jay Mohr – Happy. And a Lot.
Craig Ferguson – Just Being Honest
Louis C.K. – Live at Madison Square Garden
Who should win: Louis C.K. – Live at Madison Square Garden
Who will win: Louis C.K. – Live at Madison Square Garden
Unfortunately, the competition to dethrone Louis C.K. as the modern king of comedy ended when the final nominees were announced. With no disrespect to the talented likes of Lisa Lampanelli, Wyatt Cenac, Jay Mohr, and Craig Ferguson, some of the year’s finest stand-up comedy is missing in this category, leaving the door wide open for Louis C.K. to continue his reign. Comics like Kyle Kinane (I Liked His Old Stuff Better) may not have the name recognition of other nominees, but ask any comic working today, and they’ll tell you he’s at the top of their list. Likewise, heavyweights like John Mulaney, Amy Schumer, and Aziz Ansari all released televised specials, rendering them ineligible for Grammy recognition. And don’t worry about Eugene Mirman and his utterly brilliant I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome) – it came out after the September 30, 2015, cutoff and thus can’t be nominated until next year.
Complaints and caveats aside, none of this is to say that Louis C.K. isn’t fully deserving of the gold. He continues to push boundaries in his material, saying things about mortality, his own children, social stigmas, and so forth that comics are hesitant to tackle or afraid to embrace for their comedic potential. C.K. has also made great strides for artist and fan equality against ticketing behemoths like Live Nation and major distributors like Netflix by releasing his last few specials for $5 through his own website and selling his own tickets to his live dates as well. For that effort alone, the Grammy should be all his. See you in 2017, Eugene. –Zack Ruskin
Best R&B Album
Who should win: D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah
Who will win: Leon Bridges – Coming Home
Much like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, D’Angelo’s comeback album is a masterpiece, but also challenging for many listeners, packed to the brim with ideas, arguments, and themes. If the album were stacked up against some solid, if unexceptional competition, that might not be enough to hurt his chances. But, the Best R&B Album category also happens to feature one of the most crowd-pleasing albums of recent memory: Leon Bridges’ sublime Coming Home. While Black Messiah has more social weight and throws it around to amazing results, Bridges delivered a pitch-perfect representation of classic R&B stylings, the kind of thing that’s as sweet to new listeners as it is to those hankering for the good, old days of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. No one will be offended, challenged, or confused by Coming Home. Some might fall into each of those categories for D’Angelo. Add in the fact that Black Messiah dropped much longer ago, fading in the memory, and you’ve got the recipe for a Bridges win. –Adam Kivel
Best Urban Contemporary Album
Who should win: Miguel – Wildheart
Who will win: The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
This one might just be a no-brainer. The Weeknd is easily the most recognizable name of the bunch, with a few mega-smash radio hits more than the rest of the pack combined. This category is always the most difficult to figure out — it always has the most drastic gap between the biggest name and the smallest. Last year, Pharrell and Mali Music shared nominations, and you can guess which of them won. That said, had Miguel’s album gotten as much attention as The Weeknd’s, it’d reveal similar hook ability and oozing sex appeal, but with a little less glossy pop overriding the eccentric angles. Miguel’s album is sexier intrinsically, but The Weeknd’s is sexier in the business sense. Sorry, Miguel. –Adam Kivel
Best Dance Recording
Above & Beyond featuring Zoe Johnston – “We’re All We Need”
The Chemical Brothers – “Go”
Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
Galantis – “Runaway (U & I)”
Skrillex and Diplo featuring Justin Bieber – “Where Are Ü Now”
Who should win: Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
Who will win: Skrillex and Diplo featuring Justin Bieber – “Where Are Ü Now”
Flying Lotus’ excellent LP You’re Dead! saw the electronic musician and producer delve into some serious jazz influences. When combined with one of Kendrick Lamar’s hottest verses to date (well, at least before To Pimp a Butterfly came out), the song explodes. But it doesn’t stop there. FlyLo shows off his talent by shifting gears post-Kendrick verse the only way you can: insane keys, double-time bass drum, and unrelenting hand claps. Eventually, it’s all swallowed up in massive swelling synth and choral hums, fading to a beautiful, passionate outro. It’s a hell of a collaboration. There’s no denying that.
Let’s not forget “Where Are Ü Now” is in the mix. It’s a dream team of two Grammy-winning musicians and one Grammy-nominated musician. Together, they made an electronic song that you can hear in a mall and not feel like smashing your head against a wall. Sure, that weird electro-flute-sounding sample may get bothersome when stuck in your head for too long, but its other elements are too soothing to make an issue of it. It’s a neutral, comfortable, pleasing track. It also has half a billion plays on YouTube alone. The Grammys are, most often, for famous musicians congratulating themselves on being so famous. This is one of those trifectas — and it’s built to win. –Nina Corcoran
Best Dance/Electronica Album
Who should win: Jamie xx – In Colour
Who will win: Disclosure – Caracal
There’s no denying 2015 was a strong year for dance music. When the contenders for the category include Caribou, The Chemical Brothers, Disclosure, Jamie xx, Skrillex, and Diplo, you know there’s bound to be some close calls with the votes. Those who have done their homework know standout In Colour is the one that’s still grooving in 2016. Jamie xx outdid himself on his long-anticipated debut LP. After taking some time away from The xx, he handcrafted the dance album that pleases all types of listeners. It’s downtempo enough to listen to in the morning, quick enough to get you dancing at night, and innovative enough for you to hear two measures and immediately know he’s behind the board. Paired with memorable graphics and aesthetically pleasing videos, the entire In Colour package is a dance treat the music world wasn’t ready for but sure as hell devoured with happy ears and eyes.
Is Jamie xx going to win? Not when he’s paired against the comfortable familiarity of longtime favorites The Chemical Brothers (who have won twice already) or dudes even your parents know, like Skrillex (who also won twice, but his awards came back-to-back in 2012 and 2013). After losing to the unbeatable Daft Punk in 2014, Disclosure are due for a late win, even though Caracal is the stale one of the bunch. After all, the category for Best Dance/Electronic Album was only brought into the mix in 2005. Expecting Grammy voters to know their stuff isn’t that reasonable — though last year’s Aphex Twin win may signal a shift in the category. –Nina Corcoran