Grammy Awards: Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars lead 2018 nominations

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With a field-leading eight nominations, hip-hop superstar Jay-Z is the top nominee for the 2018 Grammy Awards, which will be held Jan. 28 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. His nods — several of which were announced early Tuesday on “CBS This Morning” by San Diego singer Andra Day — are only one fewer than his superstar wife, Beyoncé, earned for the 2017 edition of the Grammys.

And, like Beyoncé before him, Jay-Z will be vying in January in the three most prestigious Grammy categories. He is nominated for Album of the Year (for “4:44”), Record of the Year (“The Story of O.J.”) and Song of the Year (the title track of the contemplative “4:44,” which is also up for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance honors).

For good measure, Jay-Z — who performs Dec. 19 at San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena — and Beyoncé are jointly nominated in the Best Rap/Sung Performance category for “Family Feud,” another song from his “4:44” album. (Despite her nine 2017 nominations, Beyoncé only won in two categories, Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video.)

The eight nominations for Jay-Z (real name: Shawn Carter) topped those for Los Angeles hip-hop maverick Kendrick Lamar, whose seven nominations include Album of the Year (for “Damn”) and Record of the Year (“Humble”).

Pop-soul dynamo Bruno Mars is close behind with six nominations, including Album and Record of the Year (for “24K Magic” and its title track). Should offsetting votes for Jay-Z and Lamar cancel each other out, Mars could emerge as the biggest winner when the trophies are handed out in January. His chances may be further increased by the fact that only two hip-hop artists have ever won the Grammy for Album of the Year — Lauryn Hill in 1999 and OutKast in 2004.

Four other hip-hop and R&B artists — Childish Gambino, Khalid, No I.D. and SZA — each earned five nominations. In what may be a Grammy first, hip-hop artists account for three of the five nominations in both the Album and Record of the Year categories. Conspicuously absent from the Album, Record and Song of the Year categories is Ed Sheeran, whose only nominations are for Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album (for “÷”, which is one of this year’s top-selling albums).

Especially notable are the Song and Record of the Year nominations for the re-mixed version of Luis Fonzi and Daddy Yankee’s mega-hit, “Despacito,” which features a vocal cameo by Justin Bieber. Should it win, the song — which is also nominated in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category — would be the first Spanish-language song to do so in Grammy history.

At least six of the 2018 nominees have San Diego connections, two less than last year, when three former San Diego artists took home Grammys.

This year, La Mesa native Steve Roach’s “Spiral Revolution” is nominated in the Best New Age Album category. Former San Diego pianist Randy Porter — now based in Oregon — earned a Best Jazz Vocal Album nomination for “Porter Plays Porter,” his collaboration with singer Nancy King.

Gospel music legends the Blind Boys of Alabama are nominated in the Best Roots Music Performance for “Let My Mother Live.” It’s a song from the group’s latest album, “Almost Home,” which was co-produced by Belly Up honcho Chris Goldsmith. He has won seven previous Grammys for producing albums by the Blind Boys of Alabama, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite.

The musical “Come From Away,” which opened in 2015 at the La Jolla Playhouse before heading to Broadway, is nominated in the Best Musical Theater Album category.

Andra Day, a 2003 graduate of the San Diego School of Creative & Performing Arts, is the featured vocalist on the inspirational “Stand Up For Something.” Nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category, it was written by Diane Warren and rapper Common and is performed by Day and Common in the soundtrack for the film “Marshall.”

San Diego-bred bass guitar great Nathan East performs on the Jeff Lorber Fusion’s “Prototype,” which is a Best Contemporary Instrumental Album nominee.

The Rolling Stones — whose touring saxophonist since 2014 has been San Diego’s Karl Denson — are nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album for “Blue & Lonesome.” Denson, alas, does not perform on the album.

Other baby-boomer-era legends to earn 2018 Grammy nominations in unlikely categories include: Bruce Springsteen (Best Spoken Word Album for “Born to Run”); Yusuf/Cat Stevens (Best Folk Album for “The Laughing Apple”) and the late Leonard Cohen (Best American Roots Performance (for “Steer Your Way”). Cohen, surprisingly, is also nominated for Best Rock Performance (for “You Want It Darker”), a category that also includes Foo Fighters and the late Chris Cornell.

To be eligible for nomination, recordings need to have been released between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017. That makes Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” — easily the top-selling album of 2017 — too late to qualify, since it was released on Nov. 10. Swift did, however, receive a nomination for writing Little Big Town’s “Better Man” (a Best Country Song contender) and for co-writing One Direction alum Zayn’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)” (in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category).

The winners in all 84 Grammy categories will be determined by the ballots cast by the approximately 13,000 voting members of the nonprofit Recording Academy, under whose auspices the Grammys are presented.

The awards fete, long billed as “music’s biggest night,” will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year. It marks the first time the Grammys will be held in New York since 2001, after a 15-year run at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“It’s a milestone that gives us an opportunity to amplify everything we do through the lens of that celebration,” Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow said in a Monday afternoon interview from his Los Angeles office.

This year’s edition of the Grammys, held Feb. 12 in Los Angeles, may have set a record for the frequency and intensity of pointed remarks on stage (many of which were directed at President Trump). Portnow left no doubt that the upcoming 2018 edition will welcome more social and political commentary by Grammy performers.

“We are a vehicle through which the creative community can express itself on music’s biggest night,” he said. “So we’re open to them doing and expressing whatever they want, within the restrictions determined by the Federal Communications Commission as to what is appropriate for the public airwaves.”

But Portonow is confident that a different controversy, which dogged this year’s edition of the Grammys, won’t be repeated in New York in January.

Amid charges that the 2017 nominations were too conservative and out of touch, especially when it came to hip-hop, Frank Ocean, Drake, Kanye West and Justin Bieber all skipped the awards ceremony. Ocean went even further, refusing to submit his albums “Blonde” and “Endless” for nomination consideration for the 2017 awards,

And when Adele beat out Beyoncé for 2017 Album of the Year honors, she emphatically declared from the stage that Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” should have won.

“I can't possibly accept this award,” Adele told the Staples Center and millions of TV viewers. “I'm very humbled and very grateful and gracious, but my life is Beyoncé, and the Album (of the Year) to me (is) the ‘Lemonade’ album.”

After an in-depth analysis of this year’s Grammys, the Recording Academy instituted a number of changes designed to increase participation from younger voters and help ensure votes were more driven by musical quality than popularity.

Those changes include the elimination of paper ballots in favor of all-online voting and the creation of nominations review committees for hip-hop and two other categories. That brings to a total of 15 the number of Grammy categories that now have nominations review committees, whose mandate is to focus on the most worthy contenders, not simply the best-known and top-selling ones.

In addition, a new re-qualification policy was instituted to ensure all Recording Academy members are still actively involved in professional music-related endeavors.

These new moves may not sway every Grammy critic — Drake this year declined to submit his “More Life” album for nomination consideration — and the fact that Lorde is the only female performer to earn a 2018 Album of the Year nomination certainly merits further discussion.

“If an artist prefers to not be part of the process for a year, we totally respect that,” Portnow said of Drake. “That is their option and we would not try to force the situation to have something be entered, contrary to the wishes of the music-makers who created it. That would be antithetical to what we do.

“We admire the work of most of our music community. Some of those artists you mentioned (who skipped the 2017 Grammys telecast) are actually past Grammy winners. We have a very open-minded policy. If somebody chooses to sit it out for a year, for any given reason, we would always welcome them back and hope they want to be part of the process.”

The absence of Drake notwithstanding, the prevalence of so many young hip-hop and R&B artists in the major 2018 Grammy categories seems to represent a major course correction.

“I would never think that, in any competition, the outcome will be something everybody is unified about,” Portnow said, reflecting on the blowback the 2017 Grammys received.

“Hopefully, everybody respects the process. But trying to be objective about something that is subjective is not exactly scientific. Our voting members have a unique perspective compared to fans. Controversy is not problematic. The key, to me, is that the controversy needs to be based on facts and reality, rather than on emotion and less than complete information.

“I’m very pleased with how the (2018) nominations came out. More importantly, on a Recording Academy level, I think we’re all very pleased and proud of the slate of nominees this year. It exhibits a great deal of thoughtfulness and care on behalf of our voting members. It shows they are savvy, current and as relevant as could be. And, to the point of diversity being important to us as an organization on every level — from our staff to the awards themselves — we’re very proud of the broad scope we have.”

For a complete list of 2018 Grammy Award nominees, go to grammy.com.

george.varga@sduniontribune.com

Twitter @georgevarga

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