After stunning the country music world by winning three CMA Awards last month, Kentuckian Chris Stapleton will go toe to toe with pop superstars Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd for album of the year at the Grammy Awards, Feb. 15.
The top-tier nomination is one of four nods for the country artist, who was born in Lexington and raised in Staffordsville, graduating from Johnson County High School. He also is up for best country solo performance and best country song for the title track to his solo debut, Traveller, and the album is up for best country album. The album also figures into a nomination for producer of the year (non-classical) for Dave Cobb for seven albums, including Little Neon Limelight by Houndmouth, a New Albany, Ind., band that burst out of Louisville.
Stapleton’s Grammy nominations top a debut year that started quietly, with critical acclaim but modest sales for the album, which followed a career primarily as a top-tier songwriter and member of the SteelDrivers. The CMA Awards changed all that, launching Traveller to the top of sales charts and considerably raising his profile, particularly through his collaboration on the show with pop superstar Justin Timberlake.
Lamar tops the nominees for the 2016 awards with 11, including album of the year for To Pimp a Butterfly and song of the year for Alright.
Lamar, who won two Grammys last February, is followed by Taylor Swift and The Weeknd, who each earned seven nominations, including album of the year. Traveller, Butterfly, Swift’s 1989, and The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness will battle Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color for the top prize.
Alright and Swift’s Blank Space are nominated for song of the year, a songwriter’s award. Other nominees include Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s tribute to actor Paul Walker, See You Again; Ed Sheeran’s slow burner Thinking out Loud; and Little Big Town’s semi-controversial hit, Girl Crush, written by Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose.
Thinking out Loud and Blank Space, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, also are nominated for record of the year, pitting the songs against No. 1 hits that include Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face, plus a wild card: Really Love from R&B singer D’Angelo and the Vanguard.
“There’s a broad spectrum and certainly it shows there’s been quite a bit of wonderful and excellent recordings in the last year,” Recording Academy CEO Neil Portow said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Lamar’s other nominations include best rap album for Butterfly, rap performance for Alright, pop duo/group performance for Bad Blood with Swift, and dance recording Never Catch Me with Flying Lotus. He’s nominated twice both for best rap song with Alright and for co-writing Kanye West’s All Day, and best music video for Alright and Bad Blood.
“It’s a testimony to his artistry,” Portnow said of Lamar. “He’s someone that’s very serious about his art and about his craft, and has been working it for quite some time. And this is one of those instances where the work pays off.”
Swift, who won album of the year with Fearless in 2010 and earned a nomination in the top category with Red, also is up for best pop vocal album for her top-selling 1989 and pop solo performance for Blank Space. The Weeknd’s nominations include best pop solo performance for Can’t Feel My Face and urban contemporary album for Beauty. His hit from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack — Earned It — garnered nominations for best R&B performance, best R&B song and best song written for visual media.
The film’s soundtrack, which also featured the Ellie Goulding hit Love Me Like You Do, is up for best compilation soundtrack for visual media along with Empire: Season 1, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts earlier this year.
More than 21,000 submissions were entered for the 83 Grammy categories, with the first round of votes due by Nov. 4: the day the Country Music Association Awards aired and Stapleton cleaned house.
Garth Brooks, who marked a comeback after 13 years last year, was surprisingly shut out of the country categories. Despite success with tours, albums and singles, Luke Bryan also was snubbed and has yet to earn a Grammy nomination.
This year’s best country album contenders include Little Big Town’s Pain Killer, Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material, Ashley Monroe’s The Blade, and Montevallo by singer-songwriter Sam Hunt, who also is nominated for best new artist. Other nominees include All About That Bass performer Meghan Trainor, big-voiced singer Tori Kelly, Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, and rock musician James Bay, who also is nominated for best rock album and best rock song.
Rapper Drake scored five nominations, including best rap album for If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, pitting him against Lamar, Dr. Dre’s Compton, Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint and J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
Alabama Shakes, fronted by singer Brittany Howard, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts with Sound & Color earlier this year, and the album was met with critical acclaim — much like the band’s 2012 debut, Boys & Girls. Their four nominations include best alternative music album and best rock performance and song for Don’t Wanna Fight.
Pharrell and West also are nominated for four awards, including album of the year for producing songs on Lamar’s album. West’s nominations include best rap song and rap performance for All Day, which featured Paul McCartney and earned the icon two rap nominations.
Justin Bieber — who marked a comeback this year with the hits Sorry and What Do You Mean — is nominated for best dance recording for his other hit, Where Are U Now with Skrillex and Diplo. Both Bieber and Adele’s new albums will qualify for Grammy nominations next year because they were released after Sept. 30, the final day for eligibility this year.
Other notable nominees include married duo Joey + Rory for best country duo/group performance (they recently announced Joey is ending her cancer treatment after a recurrence of tumors); actress Amy Poehler with her first Grammy nomination for best spoken world album for Yes Please; and actor Seth MacFarlane for best traditional pop vocal album, competing with albums from Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow and Josh Groban.
The 58th Grammys will air live on Feb 15 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Voting for the second round, completed by mail and starting next week, ends on Jan. 15.