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Grammys’ Visual Media Races Pit ‘Shallow’ Against Long-Distant 2017 Releases

The Grammys' odd eligibility period is most evident in visual media categories, where many nominees are held over from last year's Oscars.

The Grammys’ visual media-related categories tend to be buried as you scroll through the list of hundreds of Grammy nominations, but they represent some of the key music flashpoints of the past 12 to 15 months. There was probably no musical moment that put more chills down more spines than Keala Settle and a backing ensemble’s performance of “This Is Me” in “The Greatest Showman” or on the film’s soundtrack. Does the single peaking at No. 58 in the U.S. reflect that? Obviously not. (The U.K. charts, where it made it to No. 3, better reflected the tune’s spiritual ubiquity.) The Carters’ “APES**T” didn’t make the top 10, either, but if there were a scientific chart for memes, it would have been No. 1 with a bullet. If the sight of Jay-Z and Beyoncé draping themselves across every nook and cranny of the Louvre didn’t set off a ton of “How did they do that?” talk in your immediate circle, you may be hanging out around the wrong water cooler.

With all that said, can we just echo the immortal words of Agent Dale Cooper at the end of the “Twin Peaks” reboot and ask: “What year is this?” Because the Grammys’ stubborn insistence on their eligibility year stretching from October through September guarantees that their best-of lists will be significantly off from anybody else’s best lists. (Hey, you imagine somebody saying back in the day, if the Jewish New Year can be in early fall, so can ours.) 

Film-related Grammy categories tend to lag even more behind the cultural conversation than the others, by virtue of prestige films — and their corresponding soundtracks — tending mostly to come out in the last quarter of a year. And so, yes, in February 2019, the Grammys will be considering the impact of such 2017 favorites as “This Is Me,” Sufjan Stevens’ “Call Me by Your Name” song, and the scores for “The Shape of Water” and, no, not the most recent “Star Wars” movie but the “Star Wars” film-before-last. Haven’t these graduated to becoming part of the lifetime achievement conversation by now?

But if the Grammys will serve no award before its time, that doesn’t lessen the achievements being honored in these categories. Expect the blockbuster “Greatest Showman” music to get some of the awards love here it was denied elsewhere — almost certainly for compilation soundtrack, if nothing else. “This Is Me” has better odds of winning the prize for song written for visual media than the tune that beat it at the previous Oscars, “Coco’s” “Remember Me” — but it’s up against two 2018 powerhouses, Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars” and Lady Gaga’s “Shallow,” the latter of which should be as unstoppable here as it will be at the Oscars. Score soundtrack is a legit tossup, as big-name 2017 holdovers John Williams and Alexandre Desplat (the latest Oscar winner) could split the vote of folks with long memories and fall to the fresher and more multi-ethnic “Black Panther,” from Ludwig Göransson.

Music video has the Carters, whose album was received almost as an afterthought to their video, not boding well, versus a meme clip that stuck longer in the memory and seems the likeliest winner, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” The music film category includes documentaries that ran the gamut from perceived hit jobs to hagiographies, but “Itzhak” and “The King” seem to have found that sweet spot. 

Musical theater album is just not a fair fight: It throws in a TV cast album, for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” seen by 9 million-plus in one evening, versus Broadway shows that play to as few as 900 a night. There, Recording Academy members could think that John Legend already has too many awards, or, conversely, that Sara Bareilles and Alice Cooper deserve what would be their first Grammys. 

Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

The compilation soundtrack category consists of song albums, often a mix of new material and older tracks licensed for the film. Only one of the five nominees, “Deadpool 2 (with its new Celine Dion song “Ashes”), is from 2018. “Call Me by Your Name,” “The Greatest Showman” (the likely winner for songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), “Lady Bird” and the ‘80s song collection from TV’s “Stranger Things” all hail from 2017. A rule change enables music supervisors to win a Grammy in this category starting this year.

Score Soundtrack for Visual Media

The score soundtrack category is, again, dominated by 2017 releases: the synth-driven Hans Zimmer-Benjamin Wallfisch “Blade Runner 2049,” Michael Giacchino’s colorful “Coco” score, John Williams’ latest “Star Wars” opus “The Last Jedi” and Alexandre Desplat’s Oscar winner “The Shape of Water.” Just Ludwig Goransson’s “Black Panther” album (released only on vinyl and digitally, not on CD) is from 2018, and while the Grammy victor usually parallels the Oscar winner, the power of that film could prevail with the voters.

Song Written for Visual Media 

Back on the ballot for the second consecutive year are Oscar-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were nominated for “City of Stars” from “La La Land” in 2018. But this year they’re up for the anthemic “This Is Me” from the movie musical, “The Greatest Showman.” The duo with a track record of winning in this category are actually married songwriting partners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, nominated for the sentimental ballad “Remember Me” from “Coco”; they won back in 2015 for the inescapable “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” That said, the seemingly unstoppable buzz from “A Star Is Born” will likely help Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson prove victorious with “Shallow,” while Sufjan Stevens’ romantic “Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name” and “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” (performed by SZA and eight-time Grammy nominee Kendrick Lamar) remain dark horses.

Music Video 

“Tell the Grammys: ‘F— that 0 for 8 shit,’ “ raps Jay-Z in the video for “APES**T,” which would seem to rule out the Carters’ chances of winning this year, despite their awe-inspiring location, the Louvre (shout out to the Mona Lisa!) and the fact that he and Beyoncé only received a total of three nominations this year. If anything, 2018 seemed to belong to another rapper (no, not Joyner Lucas, who is nominated for his minimalist clip for “I’m Not a Racist”): Childish Gambino, the alter ego of Donald Glover. After all, his timely anthem for a broken nation, “This Is America,” is up for four Grammys, including both record and song of the year. But it was the unforgettable, violent and viral video directed by Hiro Murai that proved this medium remains just as powerful as the song itself.

Musical Theater Album

The musical theater album category is a case of four oranges and an apple, as the soundtrack to the live TV production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” competes with four Broadway shows. “JC” may be hard to knock off, given the slim amount of overlap between Grammy and Tony voters. “Carousel” already closed and will split any revival’s vote with “My Fair Lady” anyway, leaving “The Band’s Visit” and “Once on This Island” as the brightest dark horses if the Academy’s New York chapter turns out in force.

Music Film

We’re living in a golden age for music documentaries, and this category (which also recognizes concert/performance films) features an embarrassment of riches. The nominees range from relatively straightforward visual autobiography-based films — “Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars”; “Quincy” (Jones); “Itzhak” (Perlman, virtuoso violinist); and the hard-hitting “Whitney” (Houston) — to “The King,” in which filmmaker Eugene Jarecki takes Elvis Presley’s Rolls Royce around the United States and uses it as a prism through which to view the late singer’s career, and the rise and fall of the country itself. 

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