The 2020 Grammys are poised to be a social media showcase. Two of the three leading nominees are SoundCloud stars Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X; the third is Lizzo, who was enjoying a fairly steady ascent until “Truth Hurts” spread like wildfire on TikTok. The Internet has been disrupting the music industry for years, but the viral mechanisms of social media are adding an extra element of democracy to the charts, as memes catapult songs like “Old Town Road” all the way to the top.
That trio may still be outnumbered by artists whose careers followed more traditional trajectories, but they’ll be at the forefront of the awards ceremony, set to be helmed by return host Alicia Keys this Sunday night. I’m paying particular attention to the artists highlighted below.
Tucker deserved to be showered in Grammys nominations this year. “Bring My Flowers Now,” off “While I’m Livin’,” her first album since 2002, is nominated for Song of the Year, Best Country Song, and Best Country Solo Performance. “While I’m Livin'” is up for Best Country Album. I would at least award her for the first two categories. Cowritten by Tucker, Brandi Carlile (who coproduced the song with Shooter Jennings), and Phil and Tim Hanseroth, “Bring My Flowers Now” is lyrically and vocally so rich, you hardly notice Tucker is accompanied by just a piano. Both weary and forceful, her voice delivers a poignant reflection on life—and on one of America’s most fascinating musical careers—with a hard-earned rasp.
Best American Roots Song is a tough call between Our Native Daughters’ “Black Myself” and Yola’s “Faraway Look,” but I would give the award to Yola, maybe even along with Best American Roots Performance and Best Americana Album. (“Walk Through Fire” was produced by Dan Auerbach.) She’s that good, and “Faraway Look” is a strong contender, even pitted against Rosanne Cash and Vince Gill.
Eilish’s rise from SoundCloud to superstardom is an important story for two reasons—the first is her innovative sound, the second is her popularity with Gen Z. Her music is complicated, different, and shockingly resonant with teens, who latched onto the dark themes and thrust Eilish into rare territory. I would award “bad guy” Record of the Year and “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Album of the Year. (Although Vampire Weekend’s “Father of the Bride” is a close second.)
Rogers is up against Eilish, Lil Nas X, and Lizzo for Best New Artist, making her the longest of long shots in this category, but “Heard It In A Past Life” is packed with extremely listenable, standout songs poetically chronicling Rogers’s journey from YouTube viral sensation to serious success. She’s an exceptionally talented writer with an original sound and fresh voice. (“Fallingwater” was the best song released in 2018 for my money.) Rogers isn’t quite as popular as others in the category, but her music certainly stacks up against the competition.
Lizzo is up for eight awards on Sunday, including Album of the Year. While “Cuz I Love You” just does not reflect her best work (see 2016’s EP “Coconut Oil”), “Truth Hurts” is my pick for Best Pop Solo Performance. After catching steam on TikTok, the song became inescapable. It was the perfect showcase for Lizzo’s wit and personality, and an easy outlet for female frustration.
Lil Nas X
For the “Old Town Road” remix with Billy Ray Cyrus, Lil Nas X deserves Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. From SoundCloud to Tiktok, “Old Town Road” proved itself to be the perfect pop song for the times: short, random, hilariously frivolous, all with a killer hook and meme-savvy creator. Love it or hate it, “Old Town Road” managed, improbably, to make an indelible mark on 2019—fittingly as a preview of what to expect from pop music in the 2020s.
“Interstate Gospel” is one of the most underrated country records in recent memory. From start to finish, the writing is clever and stirring (See “Milkman”), the harmonies are great, and the whole project is a testament to the best of country music. It’s hard to pass up Tucker’s “While I’m Livin'” (which includes a sublime “House That Built Me” cover), but “Interstate Gospel” should take home the prize for Best Country Album.