Every year the Grammys come around, and every year I see artists and albums win big prizes despite never having listened to them before. It happens, we’re all busy and we all have the music that we prefer to listen to. But what are the Grammys for if not to introduce us to new music? This is why I set out to listen to each album nominated for Album of the Year at the 2024 Grammys. This category specifically appeals to me because it’s not just about single songs, production, or vocal performance, but about how all of these things come together to tell a story. Albums should be greater than the sum of their parts, the songs should feel like they belong together. There shouldn’t necessarily be one or two songs that stand out, but each song should feel like it makes sense after the song that came before, as well as before the song that comes next. This, along with songwriting, production, and performance, is the criteria I use when reviewing the albums.
Jon Batiste – World Music Radio
This album is exactly what the title pokes at: a radio show. The first track is effectively a radio announcer getting started with his show, introducing the kind of music you’ll hear for the next hour or so. And this album is exactly what you would expect from a radio show: lots of variety! A variety of genres are compiled into the album, but it is organized in a way that no transition is jarring or feels like too much of a jump. Batiste uses reggae, hip hop, R&B, salsa, different languages, ballads, and more in such a fun way. It really is a musical journey around the world!
Would I Listen Again?: I would maybe put the whole album on in the background (like the radio)
Favourite Tracks: “Be Who You Are (feat. JID, NewJeans & Camilo)”, “Butterfly”
Boygenius – the record
This supergroup made up of solo artists Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker took the music world by storm this year. This is the group’s debut full length album, having only ever released an EP together previously in 2018. the record is a beautiful combination of indie, rock, and pop. The production is really consistent throughout the album, no song feeling out of place or like it comes out of nowhere. All three members sing on each track, whether they take a verse or harmonize along with the lead singer of that specific track. The harmonies really make this whole album, coming up in almost every single track, and each member’s distinctive voice and timbre making meaningful impact. The range throughout the album is so wide, with some songs more a soft and sweet whisper, while others a shout into the void. The album is an emotional rollercoaster in the best way.
Would I Listen Again?: Absolutely, I’ve had it on repeat since it was released!
Favourite Tracks: “Cool About It”, “Not Strong Enough”
Miley Cyrus – Endless Summer Vacation
Miley’s new album is full of pop hits that really show off her soulful voice. The lyrics of the songs are very real, telling her story of heartbreak and growth. For the most part the album has a cohesive sound, having similar production styles and synth sounds in the background of each track. There was one or two songs that I felt didn’t quite fit in and took me out of the experience of the album as a whole, but other than that it’s really solid. The album ends with slower ballads that really demonstrate Miley’s ability to sing, as well as her ability to tell a story through her lyrics and her music. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but this feels like a really solid, safe pop album.
Would I Listen Again?: Probably not to the album as a whole, but to a few of the songs.
Favourite Tracks: “Jaded”, “Wonder Woman”
Lana Del Rey – Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd
Lana Del Rey’s album has a long winded, brain dump of a title which does a good job of describing the album as a whole. Many of the songs are stream of consciousness-style. It sounds like Lana was put in the studio and the producers just let her ramble on the mic. The production is very consistent throughout, and the album has a few interlude songs to transition between songs, (including what sounds like a recording of a sermon?). While listening you learn a lot about Lana, about her views on love, faith, family, and more. It feels like a diary entry, like we are being let into something that should be kept private and precious. There are a few songs that don’t fit quite into the ambiance of the entire album, but Lana’s distinctive voice is often enough to tie it into the theme of the whole album. Lana isn’t always my cup of tea, but this is certainly a well-rounded, well-executed album.
Would I Listen Again?: To some songs, but not the album as a whole
Favourite Tracks: “Let the Light In (feat. Father John Misty)”, “Margaret (feat. Bleachers)”
Janelle Monáe – The Age Of Pleasure
Right from the first song you know that the album is going to be a fun time. The beats are perfect for dancing, so much so that I found myself dancing involuntarily as I was listening. It’s an R&B album, but there’s a strong influence of reggae in the beats, and the energy from the songs is contagious. The songs flow seamlessly along, often without breaks in between, making listening to the album top to bottom feel like one long track as opposed to individual songs. There are a few interlude tracks that blend beats and chord progressions from the songs to make the transition imperceptible. “Age of Pleasure” is the theme of all the songs, with the lyrics oozing female empowerment and sexuality. It’s about attracting others with pure confidence in yourself, which is such a fun element that can be found throughout the entire album.
Would I Listen Again?: Yes, definitely a new find that I can see myself playing more often.
Favourite Tracks: “Float (feat. Seun Kuti & Egypt 80)”, “Haute”
Olivia Rodrigo – GUTS
Olivia’s sophomore album feels like just that—a teenaged album. Each song encapsulates the moods that every teenager swings back and forth between, from anger, to jealousy, to embarrassment, to sadness, to heartbreak. Some of the songs feel like a musical tantrum while others express the feeling of unrequited love that every teenager knows too well. This album is tied together by its raw emotion. Whether it’s expressed in Rodrigo’s vocal tone, in the instrumentation, or the production style, it’s clear that how the music is meant to make you feel is at the forefront of the artist’s intention. The songs work well together, with the instrumentation similar, often focusing on either simple piano or guitar with vocals, or a more full band sound with a rock edge.
Would I Listen Again?: Yes
Favourite Tracks: “vampire”, “the grudge”
Taylor Swift – Midnights
Taylor makes a return to pop in a glittering way with Midnights. The album is an exploration of Swift’s growth both as an artist and as a person. Her return to pop comes with a new production style that relies more on synths and drum machines than her two alternative albums, but despite this she retains the lyrical storytelling that she honed in her previous albums. The result is a blend of fun beats and instrumentation that give the illusion of upbeat, party music, while the lyrics are deceptively introspective and at times heartbreaking. I found some of the voice modulations and sounds in the production to be a little questionable, but not enough to take me out of it. Though the production style unites the tracks, the songs themselves don’t have much in common compared to some of the other nominees, and sometimes the ordering can feel a little up and down. Somehow Taylor has managed to reinvent herself for yet another album, and though she already has pop albums she still manages to make them all sound different.
Would I Listen Again?: Yes
Favourite Tracks: “You’re On Your Own, Kid”, “Bejeweled”
SZA – SOS
SOS is a vulnerable hip hop album. This concept is an oxymoron, yet SZA pulls it off. The album art sees SZA alone on a diving board over an expanse of water, and that is a perfect portrayal of what she is conveying through the album. The titular opening track starts off with morse code spelling out S-O-S, and this motif is repeated at select moments throughout the album. The production is often slightly distorted or echo-y in different moments of each song, giving the sense that she is out in water, calling out for someone to hear her. The lyrics are achingly honest, she is pleading for someone to see the pain and heartbreak she is going through, to accept her for who she is and what she wants, not for how others perceive her. She simultaneously isolates herself while wanting someone there. The album has a number of impressive features, including Phoebe Bridgers and Travis Scott. SZA pulls off an impressive concept album with SOS.
Would I Listen Again?: Yes
Favourite Tracks: “Kill Bill”, “Nobody Gets Me”
My favourite new discovery throughout this experience was definitely Janelle Monae’s album, as I really love the play-through quality of the album and can see myself putting it on again. Boygenius and SZA probably had my two favourite albums of the nominees, which is surprising considering how starkly different the two styles of music are. Though I think the record is my personal favourite, I would award the Grammy to SOS for its consistency and water-motif. The piece of criteria that sets the category of Album of the Year apart from all the others is the idea that these tracks belong together, and the experience of listening to the album as a whole is cohesive. I feel that the water-motif makes SOS the standout in the category for this reason.