12 Grammy Nominees You Need to Hear

Some of the best competitions are the under-the-radar ones. Listen to nominated songs by Bettye LaVette, Molly Tuttle, Tainy and more.

12 Grammy Nominees You Need to Hear


Bettye LaVette is up for the award for best contemporary blues albums.


Gioncarlo Valentin for The New York Times

This week, I'm Jon Pareles. Lindsay is on vacation and we couldn't leave her out.

Nominations for the Grammy Awards

A playlist is essential.

Like many critics in music and outside, I am sceptical about award shows. It's not because I don't like them. Award shows are a mix of agendas, incentives and conflict. They claim artistic integrity, but want star power. They may claim to be objective, but they are often clumsy and in the industry bubbles.

One aspect of the Grammys that irritates some Grammy watchers is the chronic proliferation of award categories. There are

This year, 94 years old

It's okay to let a hundred roses bloom. The Recording Academy has to constantly trim, rename or expand these categories. Music, with its changing styles and constituencies continues to elude them. Meanwhile, little Grammy voting pools - hopefully specialists, but realistically partisans - battle for votes.

It's fluid, chaotic, and far from perfect. What is "alternative jazz," one of the new categories for this year? In the trenches that are concert booking, "Grammy" can mean more for someone who is on a college or club tour than it does for a radio hit act. The Grammys are not all bad.

I watch the 'Grammy Premiere Livestream', which is a non-network and un-prime time livestream. You can find it at live.grammy.com, or YouTube. This is where the majority of Grammy Awards, the ones that are not as well known, are presented before the primetime show. Some winners use their phones to read thank-you notes, and some don't even wear designer clothes. The pre-Grammys book niche performers as well.

Take the roof off

Because that's the way things are outside of the controlled pop sphere. Music can change everything.

Here are 12 Grammy nominees in lower categories, which are unlikely to be heard during primetime. These are not necessarily well-known -- although some of them were big hits -- or trendy. They made recordings that were worth noting.

As you read, listen to Spotify.

Kylie Minogue

Dance floors are being conquered

In 2023, she will be back with "Padam Padam," her confidently brash declaration that "I know you want to take me home." The title is a rhythmic heartbeat, the production plays with space using reverb, and Minogue seems quite open to a tryst. (

Listen on YouTube


The idea of creativity as a vocation, a compulsion or a career is a multifaceted one.

Killer Mike

This ambitious track is full of surprises. Andre 3000, Future and Eryn allen Kane muse on the past and present while surrounded by blipping synthesizers. (

Listen on YouTube


Racism, misogyny and sexism are

Allison Russell

"Eve Was Black" is a direct target of 'Eve Was Black', which changes from an Appalachian toe tapper to an eerie rocker, to a jazz excursion, to a gospel incantation, and asks if you hate or lust. (

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In 'Cast Iron Skillet', a ballad with a modest sound but a far-reaching message, a tangle of grim, interconnected stories -- murder, death in jail, a family torn apart by interracial love -- are mixed in with some homey advice. (

Listen on YouTube


The flatpicking guitarist and songwriter

Molly Tuttle

The Gold Rush is told in a minor key and a fast pace. She sings of desperate characters, and wonders if it was worth the blood and mud to dig away our lives. (

Listen on YouTube


The 77-year old soul survivor with a gritty voice

Bettye LaVette

In 'Hard to Be a Human', she embraces the 1970s style Nigerian Afrobeat with its chattering saxophones and curly-cued guitars as she wonders at humanity's incorrigible flaws. (

Listen on YouTube


Blind Boys of Alabama has been a gospel institution in Alabama since the 1940s. They bring their vintage harmonies to an old song about devotion rather than worship. The arrangement is two-part, an easygoing honky tonk that gets a little more frantic midway. (

Listen on YouTube


Tainy is a Puerto Rican reggaeton producer. With 'Lo Siento B:/', ('Sorry baby'), he has racked up over a billion streams on various platforms. Julieta Venegas sings about her love for Bad Bunny and his unwillingness to commit. They contrast a smooth beat with a cosy electronic. (

Listen on YouTube


The Mexican composer

Natalia Lafourcade

The album "De Todas las Flores" is not remotely rock. The album is a richly retro-pop that takes you back to the past with its acoustic instrumentation and orchestral arrangements. The title track is an elegantly nostalgic, rueful lament about lost love. (

Listen on YouTube


Davido hails from Nigeria but has global ambitions. In "Unavailable," he fuses Nigerian Afrobeats and South African style amapiano. He's joined by South African singer Musa Keys. Both are playing hard to obtain. (

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Secret Society, composed by Darcy James Argue, is an 18-piece band that creates suspense through dissonances, precise timing and an arrangement which gets more and more dense throughout the majority of "Dymaxion." The piece is ominous even when it slows down. (

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'Woven Song'

The song was originally featured on Olafur Arnalds’ 2020 album, ‘Some Kind of Peace’, with a eerie, sliding vocal. Hania Rani, a Polish singer and pianist, has reworked the song to make it more cosy and consonant. However the spirit of the original ghost-waltz remains. (

Listen on YouTube


Thank you to the Academy for this opportunity.


Listen on Spotify.

This playlist is updated with every new newsletter.

Track list for '12 Grammy Nominees you need to hear'

Track 1: Kylie Minogue, 'Padam Padam'

Track 2: Killer Mike featuring Andre 3000, Future and Eryn Allen Kane, 'Scientists & Engineers'

Track 3: Allison Russell, 'Eve Was Black'

Track 4: Jason Isbell - 'Cast Iron Skillet

Track 5: Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway, "El Dorado"

Track 6: Bettye LaVette - 'Hard to Be a Human

Track 7: Blind Boys of Alabama - 'Work Until My Days are Done'

Track 8: Tainy featuring Bad Bunny, Julieta Venegas and 'Lo Siento B:/'

Track 9: Natalia Lafourcade, 'De Todas la Flores'

Track 10: Davido featuring Musa Keys, 'Unavailable'

Track 11: Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, ‘Dymaxion’

Track 12: Olafur Arnalds, 'Woven Song (Hania Rani Piano Rework)'

Caryn, the editor, flags the rest of the Grammy coverage that has been live today.

Ben Sisario's

Big look at the Field

The top competitions are highlighted.

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You can also find out more about the following:

List of nominees

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