That zero rockers made this year’s Big Four categories isn’t shocking: In 2017, the only rock act to score a Big Four nod was Twenty One Pilots. But as recently as 2015, Beck won album of the year over Beyoncé. In 2018, the genre is all but invisible. Imagine Dragons and Portugal. The Man — rock’s biggest recent crossover acts — earned pop nominations for their genre-melding hits. The rock categories simply feel stale.
Take the best rock performance nominees: Foo Fighters, a Grammy favorite closing in on the quarter-century mark; San Antonio quartet Nothing More, which — though it may lack name recognition — had a Billboard 200 top 20 album in 2017 and has been around since 2003; and (deceased) legends Leonard Cohen and Chris Cornell. Only the 20-something Icelandic blues-rock group Kaleo actually qualify as young.
So what about acclaimed Philadelphia rockers The War on Drugs; or The Killers, back and glam as ever; or even Harry Styles, who made a well-received, classic rock-infused solo debut? All three released albums that cracked (and, in The Killers’ and Styles’ cases, topped) the Billboard 200 top 10 while making strong cases for an enlivened genre.
The best alternative music album nominees, too, feel like textbook Grammy-world acts. LCD Soundsystem, Father John Misty and The National all made vital new music in 2017, but Arcade Fire put out the most inert album of its career, and Gorillaz’s cartoon-band concept didn’t deliver anything daring this year.
The category seems particularly tone-deaf in the wake of a year in which women fought so hard to be heard. Only Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem have female members. HAIM, Paramore and Feist all released lauded albums during the year, and female-led indie acts — Waxahatchee, Priests, Charly Bliss, Julien Baker — made some of 2017’s most exciting music. The Grammys ignored them all. (Two woman-fronted acts, Alabama Shakes and St. Vincent, have, however, won the category in the last five years.)
Which makes the best rock song nod for 32-year-old rapper turned rocker K. Flay especially noteworthy. Her “Blood in the Cut”– a propulsive, darkly sexy track that hit No. 4 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart — makes her the only stand-alone woman in a rock category. With her sinister synths and hip-hop swagger, she is proof that the genre’s nominations need not feel moribund. More like her in 2019, please!