I have watched the Grammy Awards every year since 2010. Winners included Taylor Swift (Album of the Year), Beyonce (Song of the Year), Kings of Leon (Record of the Year) and Zac Brown Band (Best New Artist).
As a teen, it made sense to me that people who are household names take homemajor industry awards. That being said, it wasn’t until a few years later, when I realized maybe the Grammys aren’t always right.
In fact, more often than not, they are dead wrong, or award the right performer, for the wrong work. This is not the first time the Grammys have done this. Not even in this decade.
So without further ado, here are my favorite albums over the past decade.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Kanye West)
Kanye West has earned a negative reputation, and with reason. That being said, the guy can do no wrong on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, earning his self-proclaimed title as the “King of Hip-Hop.”
At the time of the release, West was known as the bad guy in Hollywood due to a couple of public meltdowns (remember the 2009 VMAs?). He accepted that role on this album and went on to play with it, particularly in “Runaway” where West sings, “Let’s have a toast to the douchebags… let’s have a toast to the jerk-offs, who never take work off.” This verse both acknowledges his negative public image, while also highlighting the fact that as long as he has his work the public’s perception of him is irrelevant.
He continues his villain role in “Monster,” where he repeatedly states that he is, in fact, a monster, and he would enjoy seeing a few hands at his next show. The track is a testament to maintaining the ongoing struggle of juggling art and fame. West feels he is both the heel and the hero.
You don’t have to like Kanye, but after listening to MBDTF, you have no choice but to respect him, his work and his career.
Best songs: Monster, All the Lights, Power
Unfortunately for artists like Lady Gaga, Bon Iver, Jay-Z and Kanye West, who all dropped revolutionary albums in 2011, so did Adele with her sophomore album 21.
21 opens with the earth-shaking song we all know and loved (but now hate because of the radio), “Rolling in the Deep,” which showcases the singer’s hostility toward her past failed relationship.
As 21 evolves, the listener can’t help but notice the singer’s anger slowly fade away. Rather, the singer opens her wounds and allows the world to see the disparity of her loss, as well as the struggle to come to terms with the realization that the person she loves is gone.
In the album’s finale, the listener can infer that he will more than likely stay gone. She wishes him well, though, going as far as to say she hopes to find “Someone Like You.” This is an album that will break your heart and put it back together again.
21 topped several year-end critics lists and was the top-selling album of 2011 and 2012.
Best songs: Someone Like You, Rolling in the Deep, One and Only
Channel Orange (Frank Ocean)
After the success of his first mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, Frank Ocean followed up with his first studio album, Channel Orange, an album written and inspired from his first love.
Similarly to artists like Lorde, Tori Amos and Billy Joel, Frank Ocean claims to have color synesthesia – a genetic phenomenon that associates color with emotion and feelings. The lyrical content of this album is derived from the summer Ocean first fell in love – a feeling he describes as being orange.
Album highlights include “Pyramids,” a ten-minute song that opens with a radiating beat one would hear in a club and then transitions into a Marvin Gaye R&B slow jam, as well as songs like “Thinkin’ Bout You” and “Forrest Gump,” which has two lovers who want to be together but are kept at an arm’s distance.
Ocean uses male pronouns in several songs throughout the album, directly addressing a male object of love. This became a topic of discussion, which would later inspire him to pen an open letter confirming his first love was at the age of 19 and with another man.
Best songs: Pyramids, Bad Religion, Super Rich Kids
Random Access Memories (Daft Punk)
Daft Punk is a French music duo responsible for some of the best dance and electronic music of the past 20 years. Inspired by American disco music from the 70s, the duo teamed up with Columbia Records for the first time to release Random Access Memories, their most commercially successful album to date.
Most known for their use of combining drum machines with synthesizers, the duo decided against the recipe that had brought them so much success, by hiring musicians to come in and perform the instrumentals live, limiting the use of electronic instruments.
The album features collaborations with several musicians, but none more notable than Pharrell Williams, who helped produce the album and sang its biggest track, “Get Lucky,” a song that would later go on to win Record of the Year at the Grammys and be among the top-selling digital songs of the all time.
The album’s concept is driving by the narrative of a robot who strives to be human. In the modern day, the world it seems people’s emotional intelligence is plummeting. We are becoming more robotic as technology continues to advance and on songs like “Touch” and “The Game of Love,” we see the robot struggle with human connection. “Within” centers on the robot’s identity; what is its purpose? While songs like “Fragments of Time” and “Beyond” reinforce time is limited.
Random Access Memories closes with it’s strongest song, reminding us that while we are here we should be “Doin’ It Right,” and the way to do that, is to dance and have a really, really good time. One method of doing that is listening to this album from start to finish, with your earbuds in, and your volume all the way up.
Best songs: Doin’ It Right, Get Lucky, Instant Crush
1989 (Taylor Swift)
Taylor Swift’s transition from country princess to pop queen was a hot topic after the release of her 2012 album Red, which was a lyrical masterpiece, but sonically bi-polar (she admits it herself Swifties, calm down).
Swift responded by dropping her first ever pop-labeled album, despite penning some of the decade’s most widely recognized songs in, “We Are Never Ever Ever Ever Getting Back Together” and “You Belong with Me.” In doing so, she teamed up with Max Martin, who is responsible for hits like “Toxic” and “California Gurls,” and Jack Antonoff, both of whom she would team up with again for reputation.
Swift introduces her listeners to her new style of music with “Welcome to New York,” one of the weaker moments on the album, but a necessary intro to this unchartered territory her listeners are visiting. “New York” features a steady, synthesizing beat that would carry throughout, creating a simultaneously nostalgic and modern feeling all at once.
She quickly catches us up to speed with the satirical look at her dating life in Blank Space, followed by a three-song continuing narrative of an anxiety-filled relationship that ends in failure. She shakes it off and again re-enters the similar anxiety of maintaining a private, romantic relationship when you are Taylor Swift.
Through the 13-song narrative, two things are for certain. Swift is fine on her own and she is a master of her craft.
Best songs: Blank Space, Out of the Woods, Wildest Dreams
After the release of 21, which was the top-selling album of 2011 and 2012, in addition to being named Album of the Year by the Grammys, Adele wasn’t sure should make another album. How could you top both the critical and commercial success of 21? After all, the only other artist to ever have the best-selling album for two years running was Michael Jackson in 1983 and 84 for Thriller. But that was before we were introduced to 25.
Adele has a knack for tacking small intricate moments from the deepest, darkest places of her soul and letting it fly out in the most controlled, spectacular way.
Take a song like “Remedy,” a soft piano ballad that showcases her own personal insecurities and the strength she musters from those around her, but how she’s able to keep going because she has something to keep pushing her. “River Lea,” an actual river near Adele’s hometown of Tottenham, utilizes extensive imagery to showcase the struggles of growing, or maybe more appropriately moving on from the not so good moments of her life.
The strongest moments on the album are the first and last songs. “Hello” is the album opener and is the song you, you’re grandparents, and probably your grandparent’s grandparents have heard. Even if you’re sick of it and can’t stick it out when it comes on the radio, you know it’s good, and you know why it’s good. The other highlight is “Sweetest Devotion,” a love song to her newborn son (the central inspiration for the album).
Best songs: Hello, Remedy, Sweetest Devotion
When her self-titled album was released in 2013 on iTunes with 18 videos to accompany her 14 songs and zero promotion, the world went stark-raving-mad. Beyonce was supposed to be the peak of her career, but this was before the world was introduced to the game-changing visual album: Lemonade.
From the start of the album, it’s readily apparent the icon is experiencing the paranoia of whether or not her lover and husband (Jay-Z) is having an extramarital affair. The album weaves in and out of genre, imposing elements of pop, R&B, hard rock and even grass-roots country, which she displayed at the 50th annual Country Music Awards.
This genre-hopping succeeds in portraying the various emotions the main character experiences throughout the narrative. The denial of “Hold Up,” the anger in “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” the grit of “Daddy Lessons,” the sadness in “Sandcastles” and the optimism in “All Night.” You don’t know what to label it and you find out you aren’t supposed once reaching the album’s finale.
This album shows that the icon is more than just a voice and a pretty face; she’s also an artist, who by the looks of it is able to make lemonade out of some pretty bitter lemons.
Best songs: Formation, Sorry and Hold Up
DAMN. (Kendrick Lamar)
I wish I had a more complex, out-there and uncharacteristic favorite album from 2017. I’d score major points with vinyl junkies if I picked the National or the War on Drugs, or something super out there like Thundercat or King Krule. And believe me when I say I really, REALLY wish I could write about Melodrama by Lorde; the 80’s synth production spun by pop’s golden boy Jack Antonoff, the concept of a house party gone awry and “LIABILITY.” I just can’t and the one simple reason is, while great, all these artists released albums the same year as Kendrick Lamar.
Lamar’s fourth studio album DAMN, an album the Grammys dismissed (one of the most heinous violations the Recording Academy has ever committed) went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, making him the first rapper to ever win the Prize.
Lamar comments on political and social issues hitting back against the election of Donald Trump and Fox news anchor Geraldo Rivera, who the latter is featured on the album stating the infamous, “Hip Hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years.”
Rivera’s commentary slowly bleeds into the album’s first highlight, DNA, where Lamar directly claps back on the verse, “I’d rather die than listen to you/My DNA not for imitation.” Lamar aims his criticism at himself, looking in the mirror to see the possible contradictions of his existence. Is the boy from the projects of Compton a prayer on his knees or is he God? Will he do it for the greater good or will he do it for the Gram? What happens when the lights start to fade? Where will his listeners go when the ‘Rari don’t start?
Best songs: Humble, DNA and Love
Golden Hour (Kacey Musgraves)
One of the few instances in recent memory where the Recording Academy made the right decision was this year’s ceremony when they awarded Album of the Year to Kacey Musgraves. Golden Hour is Musgraves’ third and most memorable album to date, leaning a little further into the pop realm, but maintaining her country status.
Musgraves strong suit is, has and always will be her lyrics, which for the first time in her career aren’t aimed at the idiosyncrasies of living in a small town or seeing the same people at the same bars. Instead, she tackles the all too familiar topic none of us can seem to pinpoint or explain – love.
What makes this album so good is that it exists in an era that relies so heavily on production. It shows that a few chords and exceptional songwriting can go a long way, which isn’t to say that Musgraves didn’t experiment. “High Horse,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Velvet Elvis,” are all new territory for Musgraves. They are uptempo and fun, proving there is a space for her in the pop realm if she dares try to leave her place as the reigning yee-haw queen of country.
Modern day country sounds a lot like 2000’s pop and modern day pop sounds a lot like something the Jetson kids would listen to in the year 3000 as Rosie the robot puts fuel into some jet packs before sending them off to school. Thankfully, Musgraves didn’t take the bait some of her peers has and as a result, made the most memorable album of the year.
Best songs: Slow Burn, Space Cowboy and Rainbow