Album of the Year
Winner - Kendrick Lamar "To Pimp a Butterfly"
Runners Up - Sleater-Kinney "No Cities to Love", D'Angelo and the Vanguard "Black Messiah", Alabama Shakes "Sound and Color", and Florence + The Machine "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful"
Commentary - A great year for music, and honestly it was a huge decision to pick between my top five. Sleater-Kinney was brilliant, D'Angelo had the unexpected comeback, Florence rocked by iPod for about two moths, and Alabama Shakes broke new ground. All are worthy works, and all will be duly rewarded. But at the end, I kept coming back to Kendrick Lamar. His last album made him an artist to watch, but To Pimp a Butterfly made him a star. It is a bold, best-selling album that put Lamar squarely in the center of popular rap music. Alright and i we're hits that played almost everywhere. And yet, all of that surprises me, because this is not a commercial album. It is a brilliant, sometimes harsh, and important album, probably the most important of the year. It talks about our society, our continued problem with racism, and the continued struggle of black America. And it does all of this while still being an incredibly listenable album that you can play endlessly. In a society that celebrates mediocrity in music a lot of the time, it is nice to know that true artists like Kendrick Lamar can rise above all of the noise and become a powerful and essential voice in American culture.
Single of the Year
Winner - Florence + The Machine "Ship to Wreck"
Runners Up - Alabama Shakes "Don't Wanna Fight", Taylor Swift "Blank Space", Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars "Uptown Funk"
Commentary - Alabama Shakes shook things up, Taylor Swift went loco, and Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars reinvented old school. But the one song that I kept playing over and over again was Ship to Wreck. Florence + The Machine had a magnificent year with their best album yet, and Ship to Wreck was exactly what their fans love about them. It was a brilliant written song with an interesting message, it was endlessly playable, and for me, was easily the best song of 2015.
Best New Artist
Winner - George Ezra
Runners Up - Sam Hunt and Hozier
Commentary - So I was watching SNL, and George Ezra stepped on the stage. I was very skeptical. I had honestly never heard of him, and he looked like another boy band pop star. And then he started singing. I think he is an awesome new star for pop music. His music is folksy, colloquial sounding, and yet it is also easy to listen to, brilliantly catchy, and a great new voice among what can be a generic and stale genre. I hope he has a bright future in music.
Best Pop Album
Winner - Florence + The Machine "How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful"
Runner Up - Taylor Swift "1989"
Commentary - Taylor Swift's 1989 was finally the album that she deserved, but despite that, and since Adele's album was not eligible, this was a pretty easy choice for me. Florence + The Machine have been pushing pop music and radio-friendly pop music forward at every turn. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful indeed. Their latest album was my personal favorite by a mile. It was bold, impeccably crafted, and proved that they are one of the best acts in modern music.
Best Rap Album
Winner - Kendrick Lamar "To Pimp A Butterfly"
Runner Up - Dr. Dre "Compton"
Commentary - See Album of the Year
Best Rock/Alternative Album
Winners - (TIE) Sleater-Kinney "No Cities to Love" and Alabama Shakes "Sound and Color"
Runner Up - Wilco "Star Wars"
Commentary - Alabama Shakes reinvented their exuberant style and matured in their sound with ease. But I could not walk away from these awards without rewarding the long-awaited return of Sleater-Kinney. With No Cities to Love, they prove that time doesn't stop progress, and that they are still one of the best rock acts in modern music. Both of these groups are not just great rock bands, they are bands that continue to explore their own styles, continue to challenge their listeners, and do both to such a high degree.
Best R&B Album
Winner - D'Angelo and the Vanguard "Black Messiah"
Runner Up - The Weeknd "Beauty Behind the Madness"
Commentary - The Weeknd, now a Grammy and Oscar nominee, is getting a lot of attention this year, and rightfully so. He is an incredible new talent. But after years of waiting, D'Angelo finally returned to music with the triumphant and brilliant Black Messiah. It is beautifully constructed, impeccably soulful, and proves that even after a 15-year absence, D'Angelo is still one of the best acts in R&B, heck, all music.
Best Country Album
Winner - Chris Stapleton "Traveller"
Runner Up - Sam Hunt "Montevallo"
Commentary - I'm not the biggest country fan in the world, but even I recognized the achievement that was Traveller. A veteran in country music for a long time, Chris Stapleton finally gets his debut, and it is a brilliant mix of pain, southern charm, and perfectly represents what makes people love country music so much. You don't have to be a huge fan of the genre to appreciate Stapleton's mega-talent and stunning debut.
Best Pop Performance
Winner - Florence + The Machine "Ship to Wreck"
Runners Up - George Ezra "Budapest", Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars "Uptown Funk", and Taylor Swift "Blank Space"
Commentary - See Single of the Year
Best Rock/Alternative Performance
Winner - Alabama Shakes "Don't Wanna Fight"
Runners Up - Sleater-Kinney "Bury Our Friends" and Foo Fighters "Something From Nothing"
Commentary - Their first album was a wonderful blend of rock, country, and southern soul. Sound & Color still has plenty of that but with an added edge. There is no better representation of that than their leading single Don't Wanna Fight. With Brittany Howard's unique vocals, and that beautiful mix of soul and edge, Don't Wanna Fight was one of the year's best singles and proved why Alabama Shakes continues to push the definition of rock music forward.
Best R&B Performance
Winner - D'Angelo and the Vanguard "Really Love"
Runner Up - Leon Bridges "Coming Home"
Commentary - One of my favorite Grammy nominations this year was the Record of the Year nomination for D'Angelo's Really Love. It was a surprise to say the least, especially some of the more radio-friendly hits that were passed over in favor of it. Its groove, and its soul is distinct and wonderful to listen to.
Best Rap Performance
Winner - Common and John Legend "Glory"
Runners Up - (TIE) Kendrick Lamar "Alright" and Nicki Minaj "The Night is Still Young"
Commentary - There is a reason that after their performance at the Oscars (and their win), that the crowd went nuts with a massive standing ovation. That is because their song Glory, from my favorite film of last year, Selma, was an important, rousing, and uplifting song that I think perfectly captures the spirit of Dr. King, and has so much resonance even today.
Best Country Performance
Winner - Little Big Town "Girl Crush"
Runners Up - Sam Hunt "Take Your Time" and Chris Stapleton "Nobody to Blame"
Commentary - I may not be the biggest country fan in the world, but even I couldn't resist Little Big Town's Girl Crush. A Song of the Year nomination was a great reward, and a great inclusion for that category.