The Weirdest, Most Surprising and Unknown 2016 Grammy Nominations - Rolling Stone
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The Weirdest, Most Surprising and Unknown 2016 Grammy Nominations

Patti Smith’s Best Spoken Word nomination, an unknown Bruno Mars a capella group and other unexpected Grammy picks

Patti Smith and SlipknotPatti Smith and Slipknot

Patti Smith and Slipknot are among the weirdest and most surprising nominations from the 58th annual Grammy Awards

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty, Rob Ball/Getty

The nominees for the 58th Grammy Awards have been revealed, and while the Big Four categories lacked any major surprises, this year’s full crop of nominations did have some unexpected hopefuls in unfamiliar categories. From the year’s leading rapper up for Best Dance Recording and a diss track garnering the voters’ love to Patti Smith hoping to end her long Grammy shutout with a Spoken Word win and Roger Waters’ 1992 LP getting a 2015 nod, here are the weirdest, most surprising and unknown Grammy nominations.

Kendrick Lamar’s dominant 2015 – the rapper also topped Rolling Stone‘s list of the 50 Best Albums of 2015 – was evident in the wide-ranging categories in which he accumulated his league-leading 11 nominations. In addition to Album of the Year, Song of the Year and a nod in every rap category, Lamar also shows up in Best Dance Recording for his appearance on Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me” and for Pop Duo Collaboration for his verse on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”

Lamar wasn’t the only artist to blur genres: Slipknot is nominated in both the Rock and Metal fields. The Iowa band’s “Custer” is up for Best Metal Performance, while their .5: The Gray Chapter was nominated for Best Rock Album alongside British singer-songwriter James Bay and Death Cab for Cutie, who for some reason have graduated out of Alternative Music Album. This marks the first time in Slipknot’s 10 nominations that the masked metal act has been nominated in a strictly Rock category; they closest they’ve come to non-Metal is a 2005 nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance, a category that no longer exists.

Another surprise in the Best Rock Album was Highly Suspect, who we highly suspect not many people had heard of prior to 8:30 a.m. this morning, The Massachusetts band’s debut LP Mister Asylum only debuted at Number 56 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in July, but it blipped on Grammy voters’ radars: Not only did the trio score a Best Rock Album nomination, their “Lydia” also racked up one for Best Rock Song.

In a year where Drake released a pair of the biggest albums – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and his joint Future LP What a Time to Be Alive – and turned an afterthought track into one of 2015’s biggest, gif-able singles (“Hotline Bling”), it was the rapper’s Meek Mill diss track “Back to Back” that captured Grammy voters’ attention. The digital-only cut, the loudest salvo in Drake’s summertime beef with Meek Mill, scored a nomination for Best Rap Performance. Additionally, that category itself is an anomaly since it contains six nominations instead of the usual five: “Back to Back,” J. Cole’s “Apparently,” Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter” and Kanye West’s “All Day.”

Punk icon Patti Smith, one of Rolling Stone‘s 25 most noteworthy artists to never win a Grammy, finds herself up for a nomination in 2016, but in a very unlikely category: Best Spoken Word. On top of that, Smith is nominated not for reading her own National Book Award-winning Just Kids but Blood on Snow, a thriller by Norwegian bestseller Jo Nesbø. (It’d be incredible if the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer ended her Grammy curse with a story about a contract killer in Seventies Oslo, Norway.)

Another criminally overlooked artist in the eyes of the Grammys is David Bowie, who has won only once – 1985 for Best Video, Short Form – in his long, chameleonic career. (Bowie did receive a Lifetime Achievement award from the Grammys, in part, to make amends.) Bowie’s The Next Day lost out in the Best Rock Album category in 2014, but Bowie has another unlikely contender in 2015: His jazzy “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” a bonus cut off his Best-Of compilation Nothing Has Changed, scored a Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals nomination for bandleader Maria Schneider, who also plays a pivotal role on Bowie’s upcoming Blackstar; Schneider was nominated for three Grammys, including Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

Bowie and Smith aren’t the only classic rockers appearing within this year’s long list of nominees: Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 was nominated for Best Historical Album, the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers reissue and the Grateful Dead’s 30 Trips Around the Sun will duke it out for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package and Roger Waters nabbed a pair of nominations: Best Music Film for his live presentation of The Wall and Best Surround Sound Album for the remastered version of his 1992 LP Amused to Death. Joni Mitchell even scored a nomination for penning her own liner notes for the compilation Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced.

However, the strangest nominee is buried away in the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella: Vocally Challenged, a group that appears to have zero digital footprint – no official website, no social media – is up for a Grammy thanks to their song “Bruno Mars,” which is just a medley of Mars singles like “Uptown Funk” and “When I Was Your Man.” In fact, the only evidence this track exists is this weird YouTube featuring anime princesses that have nothing to do with Bruno Mars or his music.

The Grammys may or may not honor Vocally Challenged, Highly Suspect, Patti Smith and others when the ceremony airs February 15th.


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