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Tune in to Ally’s Grammy reviews

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When asked what kind of music I listen to, my standard response is “like, literally everything”. But my Spotify history of Beyoncé, Marina and the Diamonds, the Indigo Girls and assorted 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s tracks proves what seems to be otherwise. There are 1,264+ micro-genres of music, containing millions of tunes that people enjoy spanning beyond pop, R&B, folk, and dance I am used to. With 2017 being a colossal year of new music, most of which is unfamiliar to me, what better time to try and beef up my “broad” personal taste than now? The contenders for the 2018 Best Album of The Year Grammy Award fall into the genres of R&B, soul, hip hop, funk, and contemporary- all new to me. Music over time has even crossed in between genres, as some of these albums do. I figured I could provide unbiased reviews for these albums while also expanding my music palate. For the weeks leading up to the 2018 Grammys, I spent many hours listening to the nominations and took notes on the elite of today’s music.

 

“Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino

I decided to start my listening spree with Awaken, My Love!, Childish Gambino’s third studio album. Even if I hadn’t listened to the psychedelic collection of songs before, I recognized it from the memorable album cover. I didn’t know quite what to expect from Gambino, the stage name of actor, comedian, and television producer Donald Glover, but after several tracks I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the intriguing dark vibe and lyrics. Gambino uses his music as a way to express his viewpoints and emotions, as many artists do, which I truly appreciate. In songs like “Have Some Love” and “Zombies” he showcases funky lines containing sentiments on how humans connect with each other. Every track has a sophisticated and intriguing bassline, and while the instrumental aspects are on point, Gambino himself has a warm, uncommon voice as well.

DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar

The next album on the list was DAMN., which scored seven Grammy nominations this year. All of which were definitely well deserved. Kendrick Lamar set this album up with opening track “BLOOD.,” a story about a man meeting a struggling blind woman who tells him he has lost his life. Closer “DUCKWORTH.” circles back to how Lamar’s life was shaped by the decision of now Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Anthony Tiffith not to rob the KFC where Lamar’s father worked, providing satisfying bookends to a fluid rollercoaster through his mind and life. While classified as a hip-hop album, Lamar’s beats incorporate other genres like chill and pop. Like Childish Gambino, Lamar does an excellent job of using music as an outlet for sharing important information. He shares an exceptional mix of personal reflections on prominent American dilemmas such as gun control and racism, weaving words into golden lyrics, specifically in the song “FEAR.” DAMN is a perfect swirl of meaningful, well crafted lyrics, and sheer musical talent.

24k Magic – Bruno Mars

With five Grammy wins and 27 nominations, Bruno Mars has been killing the Grammy game since 2010. His newest album, 24k Magic, however, was a disappointing way of showcasing Mars’ incredible talent. While the funk vibe gave every song catchy and memorable instrumental backgrounds, Mars’ lyrics missed the originality and soul of the other Best Album contenders. Every song seems to have constantly repeating lines, and the recurring theme of objectifying women, especially in songs “Chunky” and “Straight Up & Down”. With the feminist and #MeToo movements on center stage, I think Mars can do so much better. With an album of this magnitude, Bruno Mars should not have won the Grammy for Album Of The Year. If Bruno Mars wants to have more success in his future, he should focus more on the message he is broadcasting than what will get him instant gratification on the radio.

4:44 – Jay-Z

4:44 made a big splash as Jay-Z’s way of apologizing to his wife Beyoncé, but enclosed so much more, such as his views on race in America, his love for his mama, and even the personal issues he has been dealing with. It’s also strange for Jay-Z to show this kind of vulnerability in his music, with his stone-cold persona. I am definitely not the target audience for this album, yet I enjoyed the arrangements of instruments that provided the backdrops for solid rhymes. The notoriously hardworking Jay-Z clearly put a lot of thought into this album, providing stable and transparent lyrics and declaring the need for unity among all people. My only complaint is how Jay-Z lacks the individuality in his voice that set others contenders such as Lorde or Childish Gambino apart musically. Either way, there is no denying that Jay-Z is a dynamic performer.

Melodrama – Lorde

With four years since her last release, Melodrama has certainly been long-awaited. However, this album is well worth the wait. We hear a completely new sound from Lorde with this refreshing and enjoyable album. Songs like “Writer In The Dark” and “Homemade Dynamite” showcase alluring and very well-written lyrics both singers and writers can appreciate. Each song I enjoyed more and more, I did not dislike a single one. Lorde was very smart to take time off from music to develop her own style, and develop it really well. The 21 year-old demonstrates wisdom and honesty well beyond her years in this project. These songs are so beautiful and unique, the whole album tells an atypical yet utterly real love story.

 

I came into this experience with an open mind, not knowing what to expect, but emerged with a deeper understanding and appreciation for all these different genres and how they contribute to people’s love of music. I am really happy that I did this as I now have new artists to listen to and new songs to add to my daily favorites. But at the end of the day, there can only be one best album. 24K Magic is out; Mars had a great chance to change his style to something more original, as well as use his platform for supporting women rather than objectifying them. Jay-Z released an absolute classic, but, for me, his voice lacked the same kind of uniqueness as the other contenders. Both Lorde and Childish Gambino’s project were excellent, displaying the artists range and capabilities to shift and develop their styles. However, if I had to choose a winner, I would have picked DAMN for its outstanding blend of musical, lyrical, and vocal elements.

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Tune in to Ally’s Grammy reviews