Record of the Year

Adam: As much as I really enjoyed nominations like “7 years” and “Hello,” “Formation” is just too good for me to not say it deserves Record of the Year. Twenty One Pilots is a band that… confuses me and similarly I would be surprised and confused if their nomination “Stressed Out” came away with the win over Adele and Beyoncé. While I think “Work” gets a bit more hate than it deserves it certainly also doesn’t deserve a Grammy. Rihanna can do better and she knows it. “7 Years” by Lukas Graham was my guilty pleasure song this year but I just don’t think it’s a complex enough song to get Record of the Year. Adele’s “Hello” is an extraordinary, and obviously very popular song. However it’s difficult for me to not feel like Adele is giving us the same song over and over again. I want to see her grow as an artist. “Formation” gets my stamp but I’m pretty convinced the popularity of “Hello” will secure Adele the win.
Should Win: Beyoncé, “Formation”
Will Win: Adele, “Hello”

James: The field is strong this year, but it’s no secret that this is a competition between “Formation” and “Hello.” Though “7 Years” and “Stressed Out” are both worthy of a nomination, I wouldn’t put either of them in the realm of possibility. I’m a bit confused by the “Work” nomination, perhaps because I wasn’t personally impressed by the vocal performances by Rihanna or Drake, but any other track put in its place wouldn’t have stood much of a chance either. Though I would personally put “Formation” above “Hello,” Adele’s track was a much bigger hit, going 7x Platinum in the US compared to Gold for Beyoncé’s, and might deserve the award more in terms of what song really defined the nomination cycle sonically. I have a theory, though, that whichever one of Beyoncé and Adele doesn’t win Album of the Year will win this award, so these could easily be flipped.
Should Win: Beyoncé, “Formation”
Will Win: Adele, “Hello”

Ethan: “Record” of the Year typically refers to the quality of the production and engineering over the intricacy in songwriting, the latter quality usually being the focus of “Song” of the Year. Through this distinction, I’ll throw “Hello” out right away, being that that song is far more minimal in terms of production and focused on lyrical content. Twenty One Pilots have garnered far more attention than they deserve with their “Linkin-Park-but-not-metal” shtick, and “7 Years” and “Work” are songs that may seem catchy on the outside, but quickly lose their appeal and are, again, songs with rather uninteresting production. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Beyoncé’s “Formation,” but it at least had decent, non-minimalistic production that kept the song fresh for longer than 30 seconds. This isn’t to say that minimalism is a bad quality, but it’s a difficult one to exhibit technical prowess through. The other songs don’t even seem like they belong in this category, leaving Beyoncé the de facto winner. Additionally, if you perceive the Grammys as the giant popularity contest it tends to be, Yoncé wins again.
Should Win: Beyoncé, “Formation”
Will Win: Beyoncé, “Formation”

Album of the Year

Adam: I had to give it up to Sturgill Simpson. I’m not typically into country but “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” is amazing. Drake’s nomination, “Views” is bland. Justin Bieber’s “Purpose,” also falls near the bottom of the barrel in my opinion, although I like the new direction he’s taking. It’s hard to stand up to the prowess of Beyoncé and Adele. This is a battle between the two female superpowers. Ultimately my opinion sways in the favor of Bey. While Adele’s sheer vocal talent is extraordinary “25” lacks signs of her growing as an artist or trying anything new or interesting with her music. “Lemonade,” on the other hand, I feel does something new and interesting and provides listeners with a more mature Beyoncé. In a few years “25” is going to feel dated, yet nostalgic, whereas “Lemonade” is going still going to taste freshly squeezed. Despite this I feel the popularity of “25” is going to secure Adele the win.
Should Win: Beyoncé, “Lemonade”
Will Win: Adele, “25”

James: The good part about this year’s field is that the Grammys can’t really mess up as badly as they did last year by giving Taylor Swift the award over Kendrick Lamar. Once again, this is the Beyoncé and Adele Show, and none of the other albums stand much of a chance. Though Sturgill Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” was an incredible record that managed to take country in an interesting direction and even make a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” work, it didn’t have the impact that “25” or “Lemonade” did and Simpson doesn’t have the name recognition usually required to get the award. Bieber and Drake both have a slim shot, but neither “Purpose” nor “Views” are strong enough albums to go against Adele or Bey.
This brings us to the big question: “25” or “Lemonade?” Though I could see it going either way, “Lemonade” is much stronger as a full package. “25” has incredible tracks, but it also has a few missteps and doesn’t flow together or tell a story in the way that “Lemonade” does excellently.
Should Win: Beyoncé, “Lemonade”
Will Win: Beyoncé, “Lemonade”

Ethan: Sturgill Simpson surprised me by being good and country at the same time, a feature that seems to typically be lost by chart-toppers. In that regard, it feels like Simpson brought country back to its roots whilst simultaneously launching it in an exciting new direction. His nomination is a wonderful surprise and marks a record that I would love to see win Album of the Year, but it’s clear that Adele and Beyoncé had bigger splashes this year. Whilst I have little else to say about them compared to Simpson, I think Yoncé’s gonna swipe this award this year.
Should Win: Sturgill Simpson, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”
Will Win: Beyoncé, “Lemonade”

Song of the Year

Adam: If “Formation” doesn’t win Record of the Year it absolutely deserves Song of the Year. However I’m going to work from a hypothetical perspective where all of my “Should wins” actually do win, in which case a Beyoncé sweeping all the “of the Year” categories seems unfair. Specifically for that reason I’m saying Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” should win this category. Lukas Graham took an amazing pop song then added some soul to make “7 Years” and it’s amazing. I actually quite enjoy “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber but it just doesn’t feel quite Grammy quality to me. Mike Posner’s nomination “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” suffers similarly, while I quite enjoy it, the song seems to lack something to push it over the edge. I certainly can see the argument that, if it doesn’t win Record of the Year, “Hello” would be the obvious choice for Song of the Year. However I’m still wanting Adele to explore something new in her music and “Hello” just didn’t do that. If “Hello” does win Record of the Year, which I think it will, then I’m guessing that “Formation” takes Song of the Year.
Should Win: Lukas Graham, “7 Years”
Will Win: Beyoncé, “Formation”

James: Song of the Year is distinct from Record of the Year in that their focuses are on the songwriting and the performance/production, respectively. Since Adele’s “Hello” is made so powerful by her vocals and the minimalist production that places the emphasis on her voice, it’s a much stronger pick for RotY than SotY. Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” has the alluring quality of only having one credited songwriter, Posner himself, but the song itself doesn’t have much going for it apart from that in my eyes. Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” has a shot, especially since credited songwriter Ed Sheeran won this award last year, but ultimately I think the simple lyrics and instrumentation will hold this one back in the face of more ambitious tracks.
Speaking of ambitious tracks, we come to the two frontrunners: Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” and Beyoncé’s “Formation.” I would argue “Formation” deserves the award more because it does a much better job of defining the year, since its lyrical themes of black/female empowerment were major talking points for most of 2016. However, “7 Years” is a more ambitious songwriting project, tying together different vignettes of a life into one coherent piece, and without the larger context it looks more impressive than “Formation,” which is why I think Lukas Graham will be leaving with the award.
Should Win: Beyoncé, “Formation”
Will Win: Lukas Graham, “7 Years”

Ethan: I not-so-fondly remember the days of nonstop “Hello” on the radio. Adele’s comeback was huge, and everyone hailed “Hello” as the triumphant new era. “Song” of the Year, as stated earlier, focuses more on songwriting aspects, with the award going solely to the songwriter(s) and performer(s) (rather than also including producers and sound engineers like Record of the Year). “Formation’s” appeal comes far more from its production than its lyricism, and the same with “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” though its production couldn’t be more bland. In terms of songwriting, “7 Years” and “Love Yourself” may have a genuine shot at this, but “Hello” simply appealed to a larger demographic and thus received far more attention.
Should Win: Adele, “Hello”
Will Win: Adele, “Hello”

Best New Artist

Adam: Why are The Chainsmokers even nominated? I specifically remember having to listen to #selfie like 10,000 times in 2014. I did enjoy “Closer;” however, I’d hesitate to call them “best” or “new.” Ballerini and Morris both are successful in being unextraordinary. Anderson .Paak is an artist I plan to explore more in 2017. He has an amazing sound that’s simultaneously nostalgic and novel, but he is unfortunately eclipsed by one of the other artists nominated. I’m with James on this one — Chance the Rapper deserves to bring this one home and I have faith that he will. I mean, he has six other Grammy nominations this year. It’s hard to be a “Bester” New Artist than that.
Should Win: Chance the Rapper
Will Win: Chance the Rapper

James: Instead of being a pessimist and saying The Chainsmokers will win because “Closer” was such a big hit, I’m going to say Chance the Rapper will win, but not necessarily because he deserves it the most (though I’d argue that he does anyway). First, the Grammys will pick Chance to show that they’re modern. They finally changed their rules this year so that artists releasing free online projects like Chance can finally be acknowledged, and giving him the award would go a long way to show that the changes were worth it.
This is also a good year for a black man to win Best New Artist. Justin Bieber, Drake, and Kanye West have all said they won’t be attending the awards show due to its lack of representation for young artists and minority artists. Frank Ocean didn’t submit his album “Blond” for consideration this year with a similar motive. To fight against this, and to prove that the Grammys are still worth being taken seriously, I suspect we won’t be seeing another all-white Top 4 this year.
Should Win: Chance the Rapper
Will Win: Chance the Rapper

Ethan: Grammy definitions of Best New Artist refer mostly to the artist that made more of a splash. I’m not one to vote for the underdog just to feel superior to everyone else, but it’s clear that Anderson .Paak made the smallest splash while retaining the freshest sound, managing to sound quite unlike the derivative pop present in the other nominees (excluding Chance the Rapper, though I just enjoyed .Paak more). That all being said, I reiterate that when it comes to the Grammys, it’s the splash that matters, and when your song garners over a billion hits on YouTube, you’re pretty much guaranteed a Grammy. This one will be going to The Chainsmokers.
Should Win: Anderson .Paak
Will Win: The Chainsmokers

Best Rock Album
Adam

Panic! At the Disco, Blink-182 and Weezer are all nominated for Grammys? What year is it? This is going to be a hard category. I feel like three or four of these albums deserve a Grammy, but which one deserves it the most?

I’ll start with “Magma” by Gojira. I seriously doubt this album will win. It’s certainly a good metal album; however, I wouldn’t call it an extraordinary metal album. Also, the Grammys aren’t known for being particularly favorable to metal bands.

The next nominated album, the self-named “Weezer” (the band’s fourth self-named album), also known as “The White Album,” took me right back to the West Coast around the turn of the century. “Weezer” doesn’t sound like an album from 2016 and I’m perfectly okay with that.

Cage the Elephant surprised me this year with “Tell Me I’m Pretty.” I personally feel that the tonal changes of their newest album compared to their older ones gives them a more mature sound. While I wouldn’t say it’s particularly better or worse than older albums, “Tell Me I’m Pretty” takes Cage the Elephant in a new direction that I’d love to see them explore further.

“Death of a Bachelor” is good. It’s really really good. Like, I’m fairly convinced it’s actually physically impossible for a person to not like this album. The infusion of jazz motifs into a pop-punk album seems … idiot, but it works almost miraculously well. Fun fact: Panic! At the Disco started out as a cover band for next nominated artist: Blink-182.

It’s been a great year for West Coast punk albums. “California” by Blink-182 is an album I was very nervous about when I first heard of its existence. Blink is one of my favorite bands of all time, and this was their first album without iconic vocalist Tom DeLonge. DeLonge’s voice wasn’t only the voice of his band, but became somewhat synonymous with West Coast punk in general. Would it even be Blink without him whining his way through the lyrics? The band proved my nerves to be unfounded. “California” was somehow able to capture the quintessential Blink-182 sound without DeLonge’s vocals and simultaneously able to push the band in a new direction that I’m excited to hear more of.

In my opinion, this category is a battle between Panic! At the Disco, Blink-182 and Cage the Elephant. I loved Weezer’s newest album, but I feel like it falls just slightly behind. Picking a winner between these three albums is a nearly impossible task. It honestly just comes down to personal tastes. I personally would pick “California,” but I definitely have a strong bias towards Blink-182. However I’m fairly confident that Panic! At the Disco’s “Death of a Bachelor” is going to win, as it appeals to a wider audience than any of the other nominations.

Best Rap Song
Adam

Chance the Rapper is going to come away with this one, the question is for what song? Let’s just put away all the songs Chance was involved in and take a look at what’s left. Only two songs of the five nominated, “All the Way Up” by Fat Joe and Remy Ma, and “Hotline Bling” by Drake, don’t include my boi Chance.

“All the Way Up” certainly is a good song, but I’m a bit confused about why it’s nominated. Don’t get me wrong, I got hyped up every time it came on, but it’s not a song I really want to hear more than once a weekend. The song itself doesn’t seem to expect anyone to listen to it very closely, considering how poorly it was mastered. While the beat sounds nice, all the voices on the song sound like they were recorded with the mic from Apple earpods. I legitimately thought something was wrong with my headphones the first time I listened to it.

Moving on to Drake’s nomination. Wait, didn’t “Hotline Bling” come out in 2015? Yes, yes it did, but it was nominated this year. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say. It’s a good song but it never really left me wanting to hear it again. I’ve heard covers of it that blew me away, but Drake’s version is … bland, too easy to digest. It’s paradoxically a song that’s completely forgettable and yet somehow gets stuck in my head way too easily.

I won’t say much about “Famous,” because although I really like this song, both Kanye and Chance both have better songs that are nominated. The Sister Nancy sample is the best part.
“No Problem” did the impossible— this song made me like Lil Wayne. This is the song that got me the most hyped up this year. I got excited every time it came on the radio or my Spotify, even if I had just heard it a few minutes ago. It’s seemingly impossible to not nod your head or tap your foot when this song is on. It’s catchy, punchy, well written, and well produced. What more can listeners ask for? I love this song, and that’s why it’s so hard to say this isn’t my pick for the Grammy. Any other year it would have won.

That’s ok because MY BOIIII CHANCE still deserves to snatch that Grammy, but instead of for “No Problem” it’s going to be for “Ultralight Beam.” Whether you love or hate old Kanye, new Kanye, or any Kanye, you have to admit “Ultralight Beam” is beautiful, masterful and instantly iconic. The beat is powerful, the vocals are awe-inspiring, Chance’s verse is effortless and brilliant, and the last 20 seconds of the song give me chills everytime I listen to it.

As far as who WILL win goes, I’m not sure. I could see it going so many ways. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised or upset if “No Problem” took it home over “Ultralight Beam.” A “Famous” win would surprise, but not upset me. If Chance the Rapper doesn’t take home a statue for one of his 3 NOMINATED SONGS in this category I will be livid.

Best Rock Song
Ethan

Having Radiohead and David Bowie nominated for the same Grammy is a hair-pulling experience. It’s fair to say through this distinction alone that the Grammy will be going to one of these artists for sure, though we should take a moment to discuss all the nominees.

Firstly, “Blackstar.” This song and its accompanying video are haunting. Between the overwhelming ambiance and distorted vocals, it’s one of Bowie’s most horrifying songs to date. Given its heavy themes of death and Bowie’s own death shortly after the release of the album, it’s only fitting that this song gives me the heebie-jeebies. The short bridge in the middle of the song where the clouds part and the instrumentation lightens up a bit helps to make the ten-minute track’s length forgivable, given that the song is a journey from beginning to end. And, while it wasn’t my favorite nominated song, it’s a shoo-in for this Grammy due almost solely to David Bowie’s unfortunate death, may he rest in peace.

Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” marked the comeback I was most excited to see this year. It’s considerably shorter than “Blackstar” at four minutes, and though the production carries the same somber theme as Bowie’s track, it’s not as overwhelming in this song. Additionally, more instruments seem to be present, and it’s ultimately just a more interesting song to listen to. While it isn’t as entrancing of a journey as “Blackstar” is, “Burn the Witch” was one of my favorite tracks this year and I’m really hoping this one snags the Grammy.

As far as rock songs go, Metallica’s “Hardwired” goes hardest in this list. There’s not much to say about this one; the sound is a little dated. Modern rock is far softer and more thoughtful than anything Metallica has put out, and whether you appreciate that shift or not, it can’t be denied that Metallica is a bit of a relic. They had a nice comeback, but they’re not likely to stay relevant for very long.

Twenty One Pilots, otherwise known as the Poppy Limp Bizkit Wannabe Band, released “Heathens” this past year, a mediocre song that was gracefully Grammy-nominated from the soundtrack to one of the worst movies of the year. The fact that they’re in the running against Radiohead and David Bowie drops my respect for the category immensely.

Finally, Highly Suspect’s “My Name is Human” marks the most personally unique song here due solely to the fact that I’ve heard it performed live. It’s a decent rock song in its own right. It’s the heaviest nominee save for Metallica’s track, but just like that song it’s uninventive and a little bland. It doesn’t quite stand a chance against Radiohead or Bowie, but it’s refreshing to see an actual rock song nominated here.

Best Alternative Music Album
Ethan

It’s weird to see both Iggy Pop and David Bowie back in a lineup for the Grammys in 2017. It is, however, also nice to see them back, being that they’re helping to give the term “alternative music” a little decency again.

Bon Iver’s “22, A Million” was one of my favorite releases of 2016. I was a little hasty in comparing it to Radiohead’s “Ok Computer” in the Collegian article I wrote on it, but the parallels are still there. I don’t think it’s out-there to presume that Justin Vernon was heavily inspired by the kind of glitch-rock that Radiohead sort-of started (or at least made popular) with that album. Given this connection, it’s nice to see Bon Iver and Radiohead at the Grammys simultaneously. I imagine them getting together and laughing heartily over the records they’ve made this year and in past years, maybe they’ll exchange phone numbers or Thom Yorke could help Vernon get on South Park. I digress, though, back to my love of “22, A Million” and how it’s easily the most “alternative” album on this list.

The only album whose nomination I’m truly disappointed in is PJ Harvey’s “The Hope Six Demolition Project”. Listening to it makes me beg the question, “alternative to what?” Radiohead had a dramatically emotional album this year, and while they’ve always had sad music, “A Moon Shaped Pool” is Modest-Mouse levels of depression in music. Beyond that, the production of the album reflects this amazingly, creating swirling oceans of ambient effects and restrained instrumentation. Similarly, David Bowie’s “Blackstar”, an album almost entirely about the man’s impending death, is perforated with dark ambience. “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” are the standout tracks for eclectic instrumentation doing their damndest to portray the feelings associated with death, most of which aren’t pretty. I don’t have much to say about Iggy Pop, but at least “Post Pop Depression” featured instrumentation that was more “alternative” than PJ Harvey’s album, which, while seems to be a decent album in and of itself, isn’t alternative to much else than your Spotify Playlist.

So, I must reiterate that I feel “22, A Million” is the most experimental, most “alternative” release on this nomination list. It’s fresh, interesting, and completely different than anything you hear from the other nominees. Does this make it the best? Not inherently. Does it make it the most “alternative”, by the very definition of “alternative”? Yeah, yeah I think it does. And while I wish I could triumphantly leave on this note, I’m expecting the Grammy to go to David Bowie. I don’t want to say it’s just because he passed away, but that could certainly be a factor that knocks it a few notches above the other nominees.

Best Dance Recording
Ethan

Can we please drop the “drop”? I’m looking here at a list of nominated songs for the 2017 Grammys and one of them actually has a drop. If I wanted to be reminded of middle school, I’d dig up my old yearbooks or listen to Linkin Park. While we’re on the subject of dance music pitfalls, shouldn’t we also address the idea that dance tracks don’t have to be uninventive pieces of music whose only purpose serves as background club music?

There’s two types of song in this category. First we should deal with the blander tracks. Bob Moses’ “Tearing Me Up”, Riton’s “Rinse & Repeat” (feat. Kah-Lo), and Sofi Tukker’s “Drinkee”. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to lump the third song into this category, being that though it’s repetitive and unchanging, it is at least of greater musical merit than the other two. Additionally, it’s impressive for a band to go straight to a Grammy nomination from their debut EP. It is, though, repetitive and unchanging. Similar to “Tearing Me Up” and “Rinse & Repeat”, songs I can hardly gather memories of. Good songs to dance to? Maybe, particularly the latter. Interesting songs, decent production, enticing vocal performances, the slightest inkling of an interest to explore the rest of the artist’s discography? Well, no. Not at all.

There are, though, two songs in here that don’t stray into the unmemorable. They’re The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” (feat. Daya) and Flume’s “Never Be Like You” (feat. Kai). They occupy the second type of song in this category, being that they are, at the very least, marginally memorable. As much as it pains me to say it, The Chainsmokers will probably snag this one, seeing as how out-of-touch the Grammys tends to be and, well, The Chainsmokers put a drop in their song. It’s a perfect recipe for a Grammy: music that sounds like it would have been good five years ago and an awarding committee who’re just now finding out what music was like five years ago. As for Flume, “Never Be Like You” is actually quite good. It has genuinely interesting production, a wonderful beat that sounds like it required a knowledge beyond an iPad’s Garageband app to create, and a chorus that changes the pace and feel of the song without having to drop it. I’m jaded, though, and I can’t expect the better song here to win, but rather the safer one.

Best Rap Album
James
It’s time for two unfortunate truths, and the first is that the category overall looks fairly weak. DJ Khaled’s “Major Key” is a fun project, despite a couple weak tracks, but doesn’t manage to bring itself together in a way that necessitates the name “album” over a series of singles. Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” has definitely grown on me throughout the year, but it drags and weighs itself down with unnecessary tracks, leaving listeners wading through the hour-plus album to find gems like “Real Friends” and “Facts” and “No More Parties in LA.” ScHoolboy Q’s “Blank Face LP” has similar problems, with 17 tracks and a harsh, explicit lyricism that works well for the album but that the Grammys don’t go for unless you’re Eminem.
De La Soul’s “And the Anonymous Nobody” is a solid album that deserves the nomination, but the group isn’t on the radar enough to get more than a nod. Chance the Rapper has a shot at the award with “Coloring Book,” a fairly unique sound and the most thematically solid album nominated this year, but he may also suffer from a lack of an established name despite his number of nominations.

This brings me to the second unfortunate truth: there’s almost no chance that anyone other than Drake will win this award. Despite “Views” feeling like it went on for about five too many tracks and Drake’s “it’s lonely at the top” theme showing its full depth by the time listeners are a quarter of the way through, the album was huge and it’s an incredibly safe pick. I also ascribe to a general rule that I expect any album nominated for Album of the Year to win in its own category.

Best Americana Album
James

I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for The Avett Brothers. Unfortunately, their last three or four albums have only gone further from their energetic grassroots instrumentation and clever wordplay, and their new record “True Sadness” is no exception. A strange Frankenstein mix of electric and acoustic instrumentation and a few dud tracks really hampers this album. It may have have a good chance at the award, though, since it’s the most accessible album nominated this year. The other album that has a good chance at the award is “The Cedar Creek Sessions,” a mix of old and new content recorded in 2014 by country music legend Kris Kristofferson. The 80-year-old singer-songwriter has been making music for decades, and his new album proves that he can stand the test of time.

Other albums nominated for this category are The Time Jumpers’ “Kid Sister,” a fun big-band-influenced effort that suffers from a few tracks that don’t distinguish themselves, and singer-songwriter Lori McKenna’s “The Bird and the Rifle,” a solid album that doesn’t overstay its welcome like “Kid Sister” but doesn’t go further than a compilation of sad guitar ballads despite some excellent lyricism.

The last nominee, William Bell’s “This is Where I Live,” may not be a favorite to take the award in my eyes, but it’s the most engaging album in the category. The soul and blues influence and varied instrumentation on this record goes a long way to distinguish itself from the rest of the field, and it definitely warrants a listen before other records in this category. Unfortunately, though he’s just three years younger than Kristofferson, he never quite reached the same level of fame.

Best Children’s Album
James

Is there any award more coveted than Best Children’s Album? The category was created in 2012 and has quickly become a national point of interest for parents and music lovers alike. This year’s lineup is an interesting mix, too. There are three artists returning to the competition: the hip hop outfit Secret Agent 23 Skidoo for “Infinity Plus One” and the 50s-inspired rock group Brady Rymer & The Little Band that Could for “Press Play,” as well as 2013 Grammy winners The Okee Dokee Brothers for their western-influenced “Saddle Up.”

New to the field are Frances England, an indie/folk singer-songwriter, with her travel-themed album “Explorer of the World,” and Recess Monkey for their album “Novelties.” Brady Rymer, Recess Monkey and The Okee Dokee Brothers would all be very safe picks. They all sound like what you would expect kids to listen to: simple lyrics and fairly uninteresting musical content. They’re all fun to listen to a couple times, but don’t provide much depth.

Frances England’s “Explorer of the World” and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo’s “Infinity Plus One” gave me something I didn’t expect going into this category. Both of these albums were as lyrically engaging as one can reasonably expect from a children’s album and surprisingly enjoyable listens. “Explorer of the World” manages to bring its strong theme into every track and build a cohesive album that feels like an adventure. “Infinity Plus One” manages to bring elements of hip hop, jazz, funk and soul into an album that’s more engaging and complex to listen to than some of the AotY nominations this year. I’ll be rooting for Secret Agent 23 Skidoo next Sunday, but I suspect that one of the more traditional albums will walk away with it.