2019 Album of the Year Nominees Ranked

Photo courtesy of grammy.com

Foster Cowan, Editor

Every year when the Grammys reveal their nominations, my Twitter feed fills with the usual frustration and anger when people’s favorite artists get ignored. This year was no exception; ultra successful albums like “Lover” by Taylor Swift underperformed, and critically acclaimed projects like “Igor” by Tyler the Creator and “When I Get Home” by Solange went virtually unrecognized, whereas newcomers Lizzo, Billie Eilish, and Lil Nas X were the top names across the board. 

This year, I decided that before I could really give my thoughts on anything, I should actually sit down and listen to the nominated music. So this Thanksgiving break, every car ride, cafe visit, and minute of spare time was spent listening to the eight nominees for Album of the Year. And whether it was a pleasant experience or not, I gave each album a full listen and now feel qualified to give my reviews of all eight 2019 Grammy nominated albums.

 

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“7 EP” by Lil Nas X

8) “7 EP” by Lil Nas X

This is by far the worst AOTY nominee this year, and certainly one of the worst of the decade. Lil Nas X rose to prominence this year with his viral song “Old Town Road,” and broke the record for the longest running #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart of all time (19 weeks!). He had his deserved 15 minutes of fame, and although I didn’t think that needed to translate to Grammy success, the Recording Academy clearly thought differently, as he scored six nominations. 

The most frustrating thing about this nomination is that “7 EP” isn’t even an album– its an 8 track EP that is only 19 minutes long. So instead of rewarding artists who put lots of time and effort into creating a full body of work, the Grammys favored an 8 track extended play. I don’t mean to downplay the album just because of its brevity. To be clear, the content is musically awful, too. The jarring blend of country and trap combine to make every track grating and infuriating. Even in the brief 20 minute listen, I could barely get through it. For me, Lil Nas X could’ve remained a teen music hit and Internet sensation rather than becoming a Grammy darling, but since he nabbed a spot in this category, I’m putting him where he belongs: a firm last place.

Rating: 2/10

Best track: “Rodeo” ft. Cardi B

 

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“i,i” by Bon Iver

7) “i,i” by Bon Iver

I had never listened to a single song by indie folk band Bon Iver before now, and after listening to “i,i” I probably won’t ever again. The album would be best described as experimental, full of sounds and noises akin to what Mr. Avett listens to on a daily basis. And while that may suit him, for me it was just a bit too funky and offbeat. “i,i” featured a very odd blend of soft vocals and glaring electronic sounds, which to me did not really blend well together. So while I respect the musicality and talent put into this album, it just wasn’t my style. [Advisor’s note: I’ve never listened to Bon Iver.]

Rating: 4/10

Best track: “Hey, Ma”

 

“When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go” by Billie Eilish

6) “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish has been on the rise since 2017, and is now one of the biggest names in music. Her debut album features many songs that I already knew, as they have been on the radio constantly since their release. And although there is no denying Eilish’s vocal abilities and her unique, dark style, I was honestly unimpressed with the album as a whole. 

The slower ballads like “when the party’s over” were my favorites purely because of the vocals, however most of the tracks sounded very similar, making the album feel a bit monotonous. The upbeat singles “bad guy” and “bury a friend” are decent, but overall, Eilish’s debut album felt a bit one note and lacking.

Rating: 5/10

Best track: “when the party’s over”

 

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“thank u, next” by Ariana Grande

5) “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande dominated the music scene in 2019 with “thank u next;” it is one of the most streamed albums of all time and she scored two #1s on the Billboard charts. Despite its success, to me “thank u, next” just feels like an average pop record. No boundaries were pushed, nothing was really game changing about it at all. This isn’t surprising, as Grande revealed that the entire album was created in only two weeks, but that really shows in the quality of her work. Grande has produced some of the best pop songs of the decade with “no tears left to cry” and “Into You,” but songs on this album like “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” and “fake smile” shed all of the originality and talent she has shown in the past and instead favor repetition and basic pop gimmicks.

That being said, “thank u next” does contain a few tracks I really enjoyed. “ghostin,” a ballad about the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, is beautifully written and mixed with simplistic string chords that make for a very heartbreaking song. Tracks like “thank u, next” and “NASA” are fun and upbeat, whereas “imagine” shows off her impeccable vocal range. And yet as a whole, something is missing with “thank u, next,” and having enjoyed Grande’s work in the past, I was left wanting a bit more.

Rating: 6.5/10

Best track: “ghostin”

 

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“I Used to Know Her” by H.E.R

4) “I Used To Know Her” by H.E.R

H.E.R is an up and coming Grammy darling. The R&B singer won two Grammys last year, and received an additional 5 nominations this year for her compilation album “I Used to Know Her.” This was my first time listening to her, and I was very impressed by her vocal abilities and all of the tracks were enjoyable to listen to. With it’s soft beats and steady vocals, I think “I Used to Know Her” could be best described as soothing. However, when trying to recall my favorite tracks, I realized that the album blended together a bit to me. Only a few of the tracks were truly distinct, and the rest of it flowed together. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I would say as a whole “I Used to Know Her” was cohesive and enjoyable, just not necessarily groundbreaking.

Rating: 7/10

Best track: “Fate”

 

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3) “Father of the Bride” by Vampire Weekend

“Father of the Bride” was released in May, and was an album I listened to a lot over the summer. For me, it was a perfect record for the season; bright, easy listening, and mellow, perfect for the slow, school-free days of summer. The lead single, “Harmony Hall,” is breezy and infectious, indecisively repeating “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.” This state of discontent is where Vampire Weekend remains for much of the album, but in the happiest way. Songs like “Hold You Now” and “This Life” tackle subjects like unhappy relationships and the troubles of adulthood with catchy guitar melodies and choral backgrounds, blurring the lines between happiness and unhappiness.

For me, the biggest issue with “Father of the Bride” is it’s length. The tracks I mentioned above are all in it’s first half, which is undeniably the strongest. The album, however, is 18 songs long, and after a while I began to lose interest. So although “Father of the Bride” is one of my favorite albums of the year, its length prevents it from ranking higher.

Rating: 8/10

Best track: “Harmony Hall”

 

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“Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo

2) “Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)” by Lizzo

Lizzo took the world by storm in 2019. Although she has been releasing music since 2013, she didn’t gain prominence until now, and with her first full album “Cuz I Love You,” Lizzo crossed multiple genres and gave us some of the best pop, R&B, and hip-hop songs of the year. I first listened to Lizzo when she released her song “Juice” in January, and I’ve been hooked ever since. “Juice” exemplifies the best of Lizzo; the track is not only infectious and danceable, but the lyrics show off the themes of self love and confidence that run throughout her discography. 

“Cuz I Love You” really displays Lizzo’s diversity and capabilities as an artist. Songs like “Soulmate,” “Truth Hurts,” and “Tempo” are optimistic and confident, preaching independence and body positivity while also making you want to get on your feet, while tracks like “Cuz I Love You” and “Jerome” are slower, and allow Lizzo to stun with her vocal talent. And although her lyrics sometimes border cliche, you forget about it in the undeniable love and positivity of “Cuz I Love You,” which cemented Lizzo as one of the most original artists in the industry.

Rating: 8.5/10

Best Track: “Juice”

 

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“Norman F—— Rockwell” by Lana Del Rey

1) “Norman F——– Rockwell!” by Lana Del Rey

My favorite of this year’s Album of the Year nominees has to be “Norman F——– Rockwell!” Carried by personal lyrics and soft vocals, “Norman F——- Rockwell!” is both elegant and unconventional, refined and rule breaking. Del Rey is certainly one of the best songwriters of our generation, and she proves it here. Lyrics like “There’s things I want to say to you, but I’ll just let you live” dig deep and resonate with you, and phrases throughout like “24/7 Sylvia Plath” and the album opening words “Goddamn manchild” continue her usual themes of melancholy and Americana, yet with the clear folk influence and breezy minimalism throughout, “Norman F——– Rockwell!” reaches new heights.

The title track is both beautiful in it’s carefree piano melodies as well as sorrowful, declaring “You’re just a man, it’s just what you do.”  Ballads like “Love song” and “Cinnamon Girl” sit alongside carefree hits like “Doin’ Time,” and each song on the album strikes a different chord. Although I have never taken the time to listen to Del Rey in the past, she proved her strength as a songwriter on “Norman F——- Rockwell!” and convinced me that she is the most deserving recipient of the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2019.

Rating: 9/10

Best track: “Norman f——– Rockwell”