If there’s anything I’ve learned in 4 + years of closely studying and following the Grammy awards, it’s to expect the unexpected. That’s part of the appeal to me.
I was surprised that Ed Sheeran’s Divide album did not get nominated for Record, Song, or Album of the Year. Usually there is one album per year who’s hit and staying power automatically lands them an Album of the Year nomination and I thought Divide was this year’s album. It was #1 on the Billboard 200 for two weeks, it spawned a massive #1 hit single (“Shape of You,”), another Top 10 single (“Castle On The Hill”) and a third single (“Perfect”) that’s beginning to ascend right now. That excludes any merit based on artistic integrity or critical praise which Divide had plenty of.
“Shape of You” was one of two ubiquitous hit songs this year. Perhaps the Recording Academy recognized it as piggybacking onto the fading calypso beat trend. But usually a song that was a Billboard #1 single for 11 weeks will at least be nominated. That’s a bit confusing to me.
Why was Sheeran excluded? Well, perhaps the Academy simply got Sheeran fatigue given his widely nominated Multiply album and his 2016 win for Song of the Year. It might have simply been a case of wanting to “spread the wealth.” There are possible artistic reasons for his exclusion as well. I thought Divide was really good but it was nonetheless a lateral album songwriting wise for Sheeran. It hardly broke any new ground for him. There’s also something to be said for the charged times we live in and the fact that Sheeran’s album was decidedly separate from any of it. In fact, one of the songs is called “What Do I Know?” that’s about ambivalence. Personally, I like when music provides that kind of escape. At the same time I couldn’t see the Grammys rewarding that kind of album this year. Maybe the Recording Academy recognized this as well and spared Divide an “‘atta boy” nomination.
It’s hard for me to argue for excluding anyone who was nominated for Album of the Year. Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic was equally successful (also, Mars was controversially not given an AOTY nom for Unorthodox Jukebox and the Grammys are famous for make up calls). Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, and Childish Gambino are critics darlings who by all accounts have put out great work. Lorde is an incredible artist as well.
But with all the commercial success of Divide it’s nonetheless fascinating that Sheeran was not offered a seat at the table. The Grammys take an increasing amount of heat for being too predictable and biased yet the fact that it’s that flare for controversy that keeps me and many other interested year after year.
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