Exclusive: Expert 2018 Grammy Picks

January 7, 2018 Entertainment, Long Read, Music
Old Man Talking

Grammy® Award nominees represent the best of the previous year's music but the Old Man found he recognized few of them. So, experts were called in to help.

January is here which means that awards season is upon us. 2017 saw a lot of artistic offerings across all the major forms of media, but when it comes to individually evaluating those choices only one area is really practical: music.

Sure, I would love to have the time to watch every movie or television program nominated for an award and heaven would be the ability to see every Broadway production so as to make intelligent Tony award predictions. No one is paying me for any of that, however, and the lights don’t stay on by themselves. Music is the only one where we can listen to the nominated songs and make reasonable predictions as to which might win, or which should win.

Pulling up the list of this year’s Grammy nominees, however, I discovered that I had a significant problem: I don’t know who any of these people are! What is a SZA? Why doesn’t Childish Gambino grow up? Why did someone write a song about a very specific time (4:44) and did we really need another song about a phone number (1-800-273-8255) when I still have 867-5349 stuck in my head from 30+ years ago?

That was when I realized that I have a fundamental flaw hampering my ability to judge the quality of music fairly: I’m old. My ears are no longer well-tuned to the sounds and nuances of contemporary music. I expect a discernible melody somewhere in the song. I expect a song to be about something, anything, even if it’s a duck. And, silly me, I really would like it if the people performing the music demonstrated some relationship to humanity.

Obviously, I need some help, an assistant who is younger, more in tune with today’s sounds. Someone who enjoys music and isn’t jaded by what seems to be a descent into a non-melodic hell. Yes, I realize that in typing that statement I sound exactly like my parents did in the 70s.

Fortunately, we have two such beings attached to our family and, on a particular day, we chose to listen to the nominees, an extra being filling the age gap between the first two. Since this is the Internet and not everyone reading can be trusted, we’ll refer to them as Li’l G, age 9, Tipster, age 7, and Extra Kid, age 8. The only question is whether I could get them to listen to music objectively for hours on end?

Knowing children as I do, I only had to say the magic word: party! They were all three instantly ready and eager to participate. Whether they would be able to endure through the duration of the project was uncertain but they were my best shot at getting a reasonably objective opinion even if we couldn’t reach a consensus on which songs are best.

Obviously, I didn’t subject the children to every category that the Grammy’s list. After all, there are 84 categories with five nominees per category. That makes for something in the neighborhood of 420 songs.  We would be here for days, especially considering that a hefty number of those are album categories. We just don’t have that kind of time. I also eliminated categories where the nominated songs were heavily laced with profanity (inappropriate for children) and instrumental genres that would be likely to put the kids to sleep. I also eliminated a couple of categories I knew would leave me heaving into a trash can.

Our end result isn’t necessarily a straightforward prediction of who will win and more of an opinion as to who should win. I tried talking with my young cohorts about the music and sometimes they gave me decent and surprising answers but other times there were rather ambivalent, especially with genres where the music tends to be slower and less enthusiastic. Children don’t chill. Ever.

I’ll add more analysis toward the end, but for now, let’s focus on the nominations and the various choices.

Old Man, Talking

Record of the Year

This is where we started, which sounds like it would be a strong beginning. It wasn’t. The nominees are:

  • Redbone

     Childish Gambino

  • Despacito

     Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber

  • The Story Of O.J.



     Kendrick Lamar

  • 24K Magic

     Bruno Mars

The kids thought Redbone was creepy and didn’t understand the point of The Story of O.J. so, those two were out of the running from the beginning. Despacito, not surprisingly, all three knew and could sing along with in Spanish. The Extra Kid has Hispanic roots so she was especially fond of this one. The Tipster liked HUMBLE at first but then changed her vote to 24K Magic along with Li’l G. They both love Bruno Mars and the fact they can dance to his music is a large part of the reason why. In fact, there’s a bit of "American Bandstand" philosophy to their entire approach. If they can’t dance to a song they’re not as likely to enjoy it.

Personally, I fully expect Despacito to win this one if none of the others for which it is nominated. The song dominated airplay a majority of the year and even if we’re a bit sick of hearing it now that doesn’t diminish the way in which it impacted the entire music scene for 2017.

Song of the Year

Curious about the difference between the Record of the Year and Song of the Year? Easy: Song of the Year is the songwriter’s award while Record of the Year is directed more toward the artist (though producers and engineers get trophies for that one as well). Not that the kids cared, especially when there were duplicate nominees. The choices are:

  • Despacito

     Ramon Ayala Rodriguez, Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton Jr, songwriters (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber)

  • 4:44

     Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (JAY-Z)

  • Issues

     Benny Blanco, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters (Julia Michaels)

  • 1-800-273-8255

     Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Khalid Robinson & Andrew Taggart, songwriters (Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)

  • That's What I Like

     Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

All three kids went with That’s What I Like. Two primary factors dominated here: 1) they already knew the song well, and 2) they could dance all over the room. For them, this was an easy decision. 4:44 was too confusing and convoluted for them and while they appreciated what 1-800-273-8255 tries to say the serious tone ends up being a real downer for them. They didn’t like how they felt after listening to it. Issues was pretty much a “meh” from them. That’s What I Like had them on their feet, which was welcome after the other four songs. These kids don’t like music that brings them down.

My take, however, is that 1-800-273-8255 is the right song for the right time. My concern is that I’ve not heard it before this listening, which means it probably hasn’t dominated airplay enough to win the Grammy. Suicide is a huge issue, though, and while these kids may not be dealing with the issue yet, there are plenty of teens and young adults who are.

Best Pop Solo Performance

Pop is the genre kids hear the most. They’re teachers play it at school and they stream it on their devices. They knew both the songs and the artists before we started listening so this is probably their most objective choice. The nominees are:

  • Love So Soft

     Kelly Clarkson

  • Praying


  • Million Reasons

     Lady Gaga

  • What About Us


  • Shape Of You

     Ed Sheeran

What immediately caught the kids’ attention is that this is the only category that isn’t dominated by male artists. This is a problem for the industry. When even little ones notice that women are not represented as much as men record labels, music promoters, and radio execs should probably take notice. This isn’t the place to get neck-deep into the issue but women need to be more present in this field. After saying all that, though, all three kids voted for Shape Of You. They love the song and, quite honestly, it probably is more the song than who sings it that matters to them. Sorry, Ed.

For my money, though, Pink’s What About Us strikes me as the strongest of the nominees and all five nominated songs are pretty strong. All are going to have plenty of support, but Pink probably comes closest to capturing the emotion most of the nation is currently feeling.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

There was a lot of talk about this category as, again, the kids were up dancing pretty much through the entire set. They wavered back and forth quite a bit before making a decision. The nominees are:

  • Something Just Like This

     The Chainsmokers & Coldplay

  • Despacito

     Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber

  • Thunder

     Imagine Dragons

  • Feel It Still

     Portugal. The Man

  • Stay

     Zedd & Alessia Cara

Of the group, only Stay had the kids yawning. The girls went with Something Just Like This. They were singing along while dancing their little hearts out. Li’l G, though, preferred the rhythmic Thunder. He said he liked being able to “feel” the music. Feel It Still probably came in a hard second place for them though there were moments they stopped dancing and asked, “huh? What’s that talking about?” Well … uhm … let’s just say “big kid stuff” for now.

I’m going with Li’l G on this one. Imagine Dragons has a song here that makes it almost impossible to sit still. Perhaps even more important is that one doesn’t quickly get the urge to strangle someone after hearing it three or four times in a row. The race is likely to be tight but I think they can come out on top to take home the Grammy.

Old Man, Talking Grammy Experts

Best Rock Performance

Rock is a more adult-oriented genre so I wasn’t sure how well the kids would handle the categories. All three kids live in homes where rock is a regular part of the household playlists, though, so they did better than I expected. The nominees are:

  • You Want It Darker

     Leonard Cohen

  • The Promise

     Chris Cornell

  • Run

     Foo Fighters

  • No Good


  • Go To War

     Nothing More

I understand why the late Leonard Cohen is on this list. You Want It Darker is a moving summation of his life and career. I get it. The kids, however, were begging me to turn it off. They weren’t impressed and found the song depressing. They liked the other four songs from a music perspective but thought No Good and Go To War were too negative. They were unanimous in their choice of Run for this category. I’m not sure they understood the song so much as they liked the concept of movement. They liked moving to Run.

Foo Fighters have had a strong year so it won’t surprise me if they take home the Grammy on this one. Don’t count Chris Cornell out, though. The Promise is strong, it just doesn’t carry the PR punch.

Best Rock Song

There are duplicates from the previous category here and the kids don’t like choosing the same song twice (they don’t think it’s fair). For them, there were really only three choices. The nominees are:

  • Atlas, Rise!

     James Hetfield & Lars Ulrich, songwriters (Metallica)

  • Blood In The Cut

     JT Daly & Kristine Flaherty, songwriters (K.Flay)

  • Go To War

     Ben Anderson, Jonny Hawkins, Will Hoffman, Daniel Oliver, David Pramik & Mark Vollelunga, songwriters (Nothing More)

  • Run

     Foo Fighters, songwriters (Foo Fighters)

  • The Stage

     Zachary Baker, Brian Haner, Matthew Sanders, Jonathan Seward & Brooks Wackerman, songwriters (Avenged Sevenfold)

Since the kids aren’t connected to the 70s like I am, they were completely unimpressed by Metallica’s presence on this list. None. I was rather disappointed as well. This seems like a nomination for nostalgia’s sake, not because the music was especially good. Blood in the Cut fared a little better but once again the kids found the message to deep and too depressing. The girls liked that there’s a female artist on this list but not enough to vote for her. The Stage was their unanimous choice.

I think there’s a very good chance Foo Fighters could take this Grammy as well if nostalgia doesn’t take over and give Metallica one last award. The Stage is good but I think Run has enough popularity going for it to get the trophy.

Best R&B Song

Time became a factor here and if I had it to do over I might have selected Best R&B Performance or even Best Traditional R&B Performance over this category. I wasn’t sure how the kids would respond to R&B so I went with what I thought they would appreciate most. Judging from their later response to the Gospel category, traditional R&B might have been more to their liking. Still, they didn’t fuss about this category, either. The nominees are:

  • First Began

     PJ Morton, songwriter (PJ Morton)

  • Location

     Alfredo Gonzalez, Olatunji Ige, Samuel David Jiminez, Christopher McClenney, Khalid Robinson & Joshua Scruggs, songwriters (Khalid)

  • Redbone

     Donald Glover & Ludwig Goransson, songwriters (Childish Gambino)

  • Supermodel

     Tyran Donaldson, Terrence Henderson, Greg Landfair Jr., Carter Lang & Solana Rowe, songwriters (SZA)

  • That's What I Like

     Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

Two songs dropped from consideration immediately. First Began was too mellow for their liking and Redbone can’t get out of the creepy box. Location was a bit tough for them to follow, though they liked the melody, and of course, they loved That’s What I Like. Surprisingly, though, they were unanimous on Supermodel. They liked that it was a female artist and all three really liked the song and were singing along by the end.

If SZA doesn’t get the Grammy for this one, which is probably my choice as well, Khalid delivers Location for its songwriters. Both are strong songs so it's going to be a matter of the mood Grammy voters were in when they cast their ballots. This is a tough choice. The industry and the genre both need a female to take home this hardware. There needs to be a message that women’s voices are important and viable. At the same time, though, Khalid holds a lot of influence over the industry and has a lot of friends. Neither artist winning surprises me.

Best Country Song

Can city kids appreciate country music? Apparently better than I anticipated. Given their strong response to the R&B category, I was ready for complaints when we started this one, but those complaints never came. Who knew the kids could be so broad-minded? The nominees are

  • Better Man

     Taylor Swift, songwriter (Little Big Town)

  • Body Like A Back Road

     Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally & Josh Osborne, songwriters (Sam Hunt)

  • Broken Halos

     Mike Henderson & Chris Stapleton, songwriters (Chris Stapleton)

  • Drinkin’ Problem

     Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne & Mark Wystrach, songwriters (Midland)

  • Tin Man

     Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert & Jon Randall, songwriters (Miranda Lambert)

I didn’t tell the kids that Taylor Swift wrote Better Man. I was afraid that might sway their opinion too heavily. I needn’t have bothered, though. Both girls loved the song anyway. I have to wonder, though, if the fact that neither of the girls’ birth fathers is part of their lives influenced their decision. Li’l G, on the other hand, went with Sam Hunt’s Body Like A Back Road. He wasn’t so impressed by the song’s lyrics, though, as he just really liked the tune and the tempo.

When I look at this category I see a lot of sexism in the songs. Better Man puts all the blame for a failed relationship with the guy; he just wasn’t good enough--he should have been better. Meanwhile, Body Like A Back Road objectifies women in a way that’s painfully stereotypical of country music. The genre and society don’t really need either song. Tin Man and Broken Hearts are only marginally better. The whole “broken heart” scene felt really shallow. That leaves Drinkin’ Problem, which, again, is a bit stereotypical but at least doesn’t degrade and insult someone in order to feel good. Midland’s a strong band so they could carry this song for a Grammy win.

Old Man, Talking Merch

Old Man, Talking

Best American Roots Performance

Wow, the kids really caught me off guard on this one. They were plugged in from the very beginning and stayed in there through all five songs, which was saying something by this point in the process. The nominees are:

  • Killer Diller Blues

     Alabama Shakes

  • Let My Mother Live

     Blind Boys Of Alabama

  • Arkansas Farmboy

     Glen Campbell

  • Steer Your Way

     Leonard Cohen

  • I Never Cared For You

     Alison Krauss

Okay, so they still weren’t terribly enthused by Leonard Cohen. They did admit that he fits better here than in the Rock category. They really got down with Alabama Shakes and the Blind Boys of Alabama, though, and swayed along with Glen Campbell’s final song. Their unanimous choice, however, was Alison Krauss’ I Never Cared For You. They liked the full sound and the clarity of Krauss’ voice even though the song wasn’t as upbeat as some of the others.

Can Krauss win the Grammy for this one? I’m not sure. There’s a lot of sentimentality with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Glen Campbell, and Leonard Cohen on the list. Krauss has the stronger performance of the five but the tendency to give trophies to dead people is strong. Don’t be surprised if Glen Campbell steals this one from the grave.

Best American Roots Song

This is a strange category. Songs get dumped here when they don’t really fit anywhere else. This makes for rather diverse listening. The nominees are:

  • Cumberland Gap

     David Rawlings & Gillian Welch, songwriters (David Rawlings)

  • I Wish You Well

     Raul Malo & Alan Miller, songwriters (The Mavericks)

  • If We Were Vampires

     Jason Isbell, songwriter (Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit)

  • It Ain't Over Yet

     Rodney Crowell, songwriter (Rodney Crowell Featuring Rosanne Cash & John Paul White)

  • My Only True Friend

     Gregg Allman & Scott Sharrard, songwriters (Gregg Allman)

By this point in the day the kids’ ears were getting tired and their bodies were getting restless. If a song didn’t catch their attention within the first ten bars or so they pretty much checked out for the duration. We were about half-way through It Ain’t Over Yet when one of the girls said, “These old guys are just depressing.”  and it’s a sentiment that has some merit. That may explain why Li’l G and the Tipster went with If We Were Vampires while the Extra Kid preferred Cumberland Gap. Both of those songs have a younger appeal and don’t get caught up in that one-foot-in-the-grave feeling of wishing one had lived their life differently.

I’m hoping David Rawlings takes home the Grammy on this one. Would I have liked for Gregg Allman to get one last award in? Yes, but the song nominated just didn’t cut the mustard. I think If We Were Vampires is out of place for this genre. Rawlings gives us a song with a historical feel to it that is encouraging. He deserves the award.

Best Music Video

Videos! Yay! Who doesn’t like music videos, right? Music videos are an art unto themselves and song doesn’t necessarily need to be that strong for the video to score points. The nominees are:

  • Up All Night


     CANADA, video director; Alba Barneda, Laura Serra Estorch & Oscar Romagosa, video producers

  • Makeba


     Lionel Hirle & Gregory Ohrel, video directors; Yodelice, video producer

  • The Story Of O.J.


     Shawn Carter & Mark Romanek, video directors; Daniel Midgley, Elizabeth Newman & Chaka Pilgrim, video producers

  • Humble.

     Kendrick Lamar

     The Little Homies & Dave Meyers, video directors; Jason Baum, Dave Free, Jamie Rabineau, Nathan K. Scherrer & Anthony Tiffith, video producers

  • 1-800-273-8255

     Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid

     Andy Hines, video director; Brandon Bonfiglio, Mildred Delamota, Andrew Lerios, Luga Podesta & Alex Randall, video producers

A video makes a lot of difference in how one perceives a song and that came out in Li’l G’s vote for The Story Of O.J. He said that he still didn’t like Jay-Z's frequent use of the N-word but that the video helps explain what the song is about. The girls were not so convinced, though, and enthusiastically went with Makeba. They loved the rhythm and tempo of the song as well as the bright colors and constant movement of the video.

There are reasonable arguments to be made for all the nominees in this category so I’m not sure who might actually win. I’m still rather partial to Logic’s 1-800-273-8255. As strong as the song is, the video drives the message home even stronger. Show this as a PSA, please. Often. Humble and The Story of O.J. serve specific audiences and are too non-inclusive. Makeba is cute and fun but lacks substance. And lord knows what Beck was thinking. 1-800-273-8255 does a beautiful job of approaching a very challenging subject. Give them the Grammy, man.

Best Gospel Performance/Song

I saved this for last because I figured after everything else they’d heard all day the kids could use a little church if you know what I mean. There are some super-serious and often downright depressing songs among this year’s nominees and while they may be appropriate and reflective of society we still need someone, somewhere, coming at us with something positive. The nominees are:

  • Too Hard Not To

     Tina Campbell; Tina Campbell & Warryn Campbell, songwriters

  • You Deserve It

     JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise Featuring Bishop Cortez Vaughn; David Bloom, JJ Hairston, Phontane Demond Reed & Cortez Vaughn, songwriters

  • Better Days


  • My Life

     The Walls Group; Warryn Campbell, Eric Dawkins, Damien Farmer, Damon Thomas, Ahjah Walls & Darrel Walls, songwriters

  • Never Have To Be Alone

     CeCe Winans; Dwan Hill & Alvin Love III, songwriters

Again, I was concerned that the genre might be too laid back for the kids to pay attention, but I was wrong. Even with the softness of Too Hard Not To the kids were zeroed in, swaying with the music. You Deserve It had them up and singing along by the second verse. It was My Life, though, that received their unanimous vote and their reasoning is something that not only resonates for Gospel music but is a heads up for Christianity in general: don’t hit me over the head with God. My Life only mentions the deity once, preferring to use the pronoun Him instead. For the kids, that made the song more relevant.

Now, who’s going to actually take home the Grammy? I’m expecting CeCe Winans scores another one here. Of the group, hers is the most traditional gospel with very straight-forward religious lyrics and an encouraging message. Too Hard Not To and Better Days are both nice, melodic songs, but they both could almost be ballads in the Soul category if only the Grammys had a Soul category. You Deserve It got the kids’ attention but it’s more of the shallow, meaningless worship drivel that has made too many churches more of a feel-good experience than anything spiritual. Never Have To Be Alone carries a message on a beautiful voice, and CeCe is well respected in the Gospel community.

Summing Things Up

This isn’t the strongest Grammy awards we’ve ever seen but there’s a good reason for that: We were either too depressed or too angry or too frightened over the past year and the music we embraced is reflective of that. We don’t have songs that make us feel good because we didn’t feel good about our lives, our country, nor our future. 2017 was a rough year and our music shows that.

Unfortunately, the music also shows just how dominating men are in the music industry. On one hand, I’m a little surprised we’ve not seen more sexual abuse/assault allegations in the music industry, but then, considering what Kesha went through with Dr. Luke (which is reflected in her nominated song) who can blame women in music for being reluctant to step forward? Men have an iron grip on every aspect of this industry, one that’s not going to loosen just because Russell Simmons and Benny Medina are accused of rape. Industry execs will happily throw both producers under the tour bus in order to maintain their dominance.  

We need more women in music and we need them having better songs so that lists of future nominees don’t limit women to the pop categories. We also need more women in the production booth and running the labels. The music industry is still trying to figure out the whole digital thing and the men that have been in charge for eons are blowing it. Time to let the women grab the reins.

The Grammys also don’t reflect how people have turned away from mainstream genres in favor of more regionally-focused independent bands. Here, the music industry needs to start paying attention. Local bands don’t charge thousands of dollars for front row tickets. Local bands have better music that isn’t over-produced. Fans feel a stronger connection with local bands and their loyalty is more fierce.

In many ways, this year’s Grammy nominations show us where the music industry is failing. Consider the songs the kids preferred; upbeat, danceable, positive messages that don’t preach an agenda. They don’t care if you lost your boyfriend. They don’t care if you feel cheated. Those are your feelings and they don’t want them. The kids prefer music that ignites their imaginations and gives them a reason to dance.

As an industry, the music business has gotten so bogged down in whether labels are getting paid enough and whether they’re addressing the “issues” that they’ve forgotten the overwhelming reason people listen to music is so they’ll feel better.  Too many of this year's nominees don’t do that.

But then, what do I know? When we began this quest I didn’t even know who SZA is. She’s a beautiful person with a killer voice. I learned a lot listening to these nominees so we can’t justly say that it was all a disaster. There is some very good music on this list. In fact, you can listen to all 51 of the songs on our list over on my YouTube channel. Listen for yourself and let us know whether you agree with our choices.

Of course, we’ll find out who really wins on 28 January. I doubt I’ll actually be watching live, given that I rather detest awards shows, but I’ll be paying attention the next morning, for sure. We’ll see if the list of winners warrants a follow-up.

This was an interesting experience with the kids. Remind me to do it again next year. Maybe we’ll even invite you next time.


Abide in Peace,
-The Old Man

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