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Sad to say, rock music has been in a pretty stagnant place for the past couple of decades.

Even with thousands of young people taking guitar and drum lessons and forming bands, signs of innovation in traditional rock music are few and far between. There’s plenty of creativity in the alternative, metal and other rock-adjacent genres, but what’s the last rock band to really galvanize culture? The White Stripes 20 years ago? Radiohead 25 years ago? Nirvana 30 years ago? Sure, the ruling titans of the genre — Foo Fighters — might make kids want to pick up an instrument and rock out, but they’re not really pushing the craft forward.

There’s no greater evidence of this than the Grammy rock categories of the past 20 years. Although the nominees are decided by screening committees of experts in the field, the rock categories have suffered from the same complacency that seemingly plagues all such awards: “I’ve heard of that one, so I’ll vote for it.” To wit: a recording of a 7-year-old, one-off reunion concert by Led Zeppelin — who’d split up in 1980 — won the rock album Grammy in 2014, beating out Kings of Leon, Queens of the Stone Age and a bunch of other old men. While the Academy has tried to modernize, the genre doesn’t always cooperate: Muse, Cage the Elephant, and War on Drugs all won for rock album in recent years, but so have the Black Keys and Greta Van Fleet, who sound like 1970s rock bands. Foo Fighters have won it five times in 27 years.

But surprisingly, amid the usual suspects, a few head-scratchers and some truly appalling nominees for the 2023 Grammys rock categories, we are seeing a few signs of life, partially thanks to a lively emo/ pop-punk revival that’s right on schedule for its 20-year nostalgia cycle. (The full list of rock nominations appears below.)

In rock performance, there are Ozzy Osbourne (whose Andrew Watt-helmed latest is the best he’s done in many years); an offering from 63-year-old Bryan Adams; a cover of a 51-year-old Neil Young song by Beck; usual suspects the Black Keys; and an unexpected but legitimately rocking entry from Grammy favorite Brandi Carlile. But … there’s also the bruising U.K. outfit Idles, one of today’s most exciting and aggressive — and unexpectedly melodic — hard rock bands, as well as a track from Baltimore-spawned emo-inspired rockers Turnstile.

In best rock performance, there’s Ozzy Osbourne (whose Andrew Watt-helmed latest is the best he’s done in many years, although it’s unclear whether the best-performance nomination is for featured guitarist Jeff Beck or Ozzy’s 74-year-old voice), a dated-sounding offering from 63-year-old Bryan Adams, a cover of a 51-year-old Neil Young song by Beck, usual-suspects the Black Keys, and an unexpected but legitimately rocking entry from Brandi Carlile. But… there’s also the bruising U.K. outfit Idles, one of today’s most exciting and aggressive — and unexpectedly melodic — hard rock bands of the era, as well as a track from Baltimore-spawned emo-inspired rockers Turnstile.

Curiously, Turnstile also turns up in the metal performance category, along with Ozzy, veterans Megadeth, a refreshing entry from veteran Swedish theatrical metallions Ghost and another puzzler: British pomp-rockers Muse. This, along with Turnstile, points out yet again just how much heavy metal has been misunderstood, if not disrespected, by the Recording Academy. Muse are one of the biggest rock bands in the world and can make an impressively aggressive din when they want to, but crunchy riffs, a widdly guitar solo and a song title like “Kill or Be Killed” does not a metal band or even a metal song maketh. Why not nominate an actual metal band in the best metal performance category instead of a mainstream-alternative band that is playing an aggressive song? The Academy has come a long way since Jethro Tull beat out Metallica for the first heavy metal Grammy, but it’s hard not to imagine here that the decision makers are either drastically out of touch with the genre or have a dog in the fight.

Far more encouraging are the two alternative categories. Under the new best performance category, we see indie faves Big Thief, an entry from the Arctic Monkeys’ croonfest “The Car,” a track from Florence + the Machine’s Jack Antonoff-helmed latest, the towering lead track from the reformed Yeah Yeah Yeahs latest and one of four entries for Brit new wave revivalists Wet Leg. In album, we’ve got Big Thief, Wet Leg and the Yeahs, along with the latest shape-shifting oddness from Bjork and, surprisingly, an entry from disgraced anthemists Arcade Fire, whose first album in five years has been marred by admitted sexual misconduct from frontman Win Butler.

Things are slightly more encouraging in rock song, where again we find Carlile, Ozzy and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with Turnstile (the only nominee who has not been mentioned in the category in the past) and War on Drugs.

Strangest of all is the big prize, best rock album, with Black Keys and Ozzy alongside less-usual suspects Idles, Austin alt-rock vets Spoon, Elvis Costello (whose “The Boy Named If” is widely regarded as his strongest album in decades years) and punk-rapper-turned-punk-rocker Machine Gun Kelly, who a more cynical fan might consider this generation’s Kid Rock. 

Even by Grammy standards, it’s a mixed bag for sure, with a lot of stale and arguably miscast entries. But with pop-punk and emo resurging and a small showing from country acts — which, in so many ways, are replacing mainstream rock on the charts and in the hearts of fans — the strong showing from Idles, Turnstile and Wet Leg, as well as left-field vets like Spoon and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, suggests there may be some life in the old dog yet.

Best Rock Performance
For new vocal or instrumental solo, duo/group or collaborative rock recordings.
“So Happy It Hurts” Bryan Adams
“Old Man” Beck
“Wild Child” Black Keys
“Broken Horses” Brandi Carlile
“Crawl!” Idles
“Patient Number 9” Ozzy Osbourne featuring Jeff Beck
“Holiday” Turnstile

Best Metal Performance
For new vocal or instrumental solo, duo/group or collaborative metal recordings.
“Call Me Little Sunshine” Ghost
“We’ll Be Back” Megadeth
“Kill or Be Killed” Muse
“Degradation Rules” Ozzy Osbourne featuring Tony Iommi
“Blackout” Turnstile

Best Rock Song
A Songwriter(s) Award. Includes Rock, Hard Rock and Metal songs. A song is eligible if it was first released or if it first achieved prominence during the Eligibility Year. (Artist names appear in parentheses.) Singles or Tracks only.
“Black Summer” Flea, John Frusciante, Anthony Kiedis & Chad Smith, songwriters (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
“Blackout” Brady Ebert, Daniel Fang, Franz Lyons, Pat McCrory & Brendan Yates, songwriters (Turnstile)
“Broken Horses” Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth & Tim Hanseroth, songwriters (Brandi Carlile)
“Harmonia’s Dream” Robbie Bennett & Adam Granduciel, songwriters (The War On Drugs)
“Patient Number 9” John Osbourne, Chad Smith, Ali Tamposi, Robert Trujillo & Andrew Wotman, songwriters (Ozzy Osbourne Featuring Jeff Beck)

Best Rock Album
For albums containing greater than 50% playing time of new rock, hard rock or metal recordings.
Dropout BoogieThe Black Keys
The Boy Named IfElvis Costello & The Imposters
CrawlerIdles
Mainstream SelloutMachine Gun Kelly
Patient Number 9Ozzy Osbourne
Lucifer On The SofaSpoon
Alternative

Best Alternative Music Performance
For new vocal or instrumental solo, duo/group or collaborative Alternative music recordings.
There’d Better Be A Mirrorball
Arctic Monkeys

Certainty
Big Thief

King
Florence + The Machine

Chaise Longue
Wet Leg

Spitting Off The Edge Of The World
Yeah Yeah Yeahs Featuring Perfume Genius


Best Alternative Music Album
Vocal or Instrumental.
WE
Arcade Fire

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You
Big Thief

Fossora
Björk

Wet Leg
Wet Leg

Cool It Down
Yeah Yeah Yeahs