MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The 60th Annual Grammy Awards are tonight, and Washington Post pop music critic Chris Richards will be watching and getting ready to add another entry to his lifelong obsession - cataloguing the artists who should have won. Recently, he decided to let us in on his thought process. He wrote a piece for The Post titled, appropriately, "What Should Have Won: Repicking The Last 38 Years Of The Grammys." It's a bit of a consolation prize to artists who have been, in his view, snubbed altogether or whose contributions were not recognized at the time for the cultural impact they were making or would go on to make. And tonight, Chris Richards is going to be disappointed because here's his choice for album of the year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CULTURE")
DJ KHALED: Boy, bow down.
TAKEOFF: (Rapping) Spin off in a coupe, typhoon. I act an [expletive], baboon. Wrapping that dope, cocoon.
MARTIN: That's "Culture" from the rap trio Migos. If you're scratching your head right now over this choice, that's understandable because Migos wasn't even nominated. Luckily, Chris Richards is with us now in the studio. Chris, thanks so much for joining us.
CHRIS RICHARDS: Very glad to be here.
MARTIN: Are you OK? Because I know you're going to be mad later. So are you kind of in a good place right now?
RICHARDS: (Laughing) I'm taking deep breaths and keeping it mellow, yeah.
MARTIN: First of all, why 38 years as opposed to the whole thing? And why Album of the Year, rather than Song of the Year?
RICHARDS: Right. So to answer your first question, we thought starting in 1980, it was a nice round place to start. And also, you have a severe oversight in that year with Michael Jackson's "Off The Wall" not even being nominated for Album of the Year. So we started there. Also, I was born in 1979, so I felt like I wanted to speak on music that existed in my lifetime. Not to say that I had my finger on the zeitgeist as a 5-year-old even. But I do think as children, we do start processing music. And if music is reaching children in our society, then it should be reaching Grammy voters by any stretch. So that seemed like a good place to start.
MARTIN: Well, that's true. Migos, for example, I mean, if you have a kid in middle school, then you know that song - period, end of story.
MARTIN: I mean, they're at the lunch table reciting the lyrics. OK. Let's jump into the list pointing out some of the more egregious mistakes.
RICHARDS: The biggest, glaringest (ph) mistake, to me, happens in 1985.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO")
LIONEL RICHIE: (Singing) Hello. Is it me you're looking for?
RICHARDS: Lionel Richie's "Can't Slow Down" beating out Prince's "Purple Rain," which was nominated. But when we think about what masterpiece pop albums are, "Purple Rain" is it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE RAIN")
PRINCE: (Singing) I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain. Purple rain. Purple rain.
RICHARDS: When he died a few years ago, I went back to look at, you know, the Grammy scorecard. And I was just shocked to realize that he didn't win Album of the Year that year. And it actually inspired the whole piece, going back and looking year by year to see how Grammy voters made mistakes along the way.
MARTIN: So here's another one that jumped out at us - 1983, when Toto won Album of the Year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRICA")
TOTO: (Singing) It's going to take a lot to drag me away from you. There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do. I bless the rains down in Africa.
MARTIN: Song of the Year maybe, but Album of the Year? What do you think should have won that year?
RICHARDS: I'm a big fan of Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" for that year. It seems like his star had been rising and he released this incredibly thoughtful record.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEBRASKA")
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) I saw her standing on on her front lawn just twirling her baton.
RICHARDS: And even the nominee pool, I rewrote it for that year. I think The Clash's "Combat Rock," Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'N Roll," Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind" and Prince's "Controversy" should have been in the running that year. None of those records were nominated for Album of the Year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONTROVERSY")
PRINCE: (Singing) I just can't believe all the things people say. Controversy.
MARTIN: Do you have a theory of the case, like, you know, why that is?
RICHARDS: Yeah. I think Grammy voters are intimidated - currently anyway - by the immensity of popular music. It's constantly new, and it requires a lot of energy to stay on top of it. But in terms of what we should expect from an Album of the Year, I think it should be innovative. I think it should speak to the mood of the era. And I think that it should be an album that widely resonated with people. So that's kind of the terms and conditions of my story. I'm not just picking my favorite albums in this list from 1980. I was trying to pick records that could have won and therefore should have won.
MARTIN: Well, I think the criticism of the Grammys is similar to the criticism of the Oscars, which is that the people who make the decision are people who are at a different point in their lives and aren't really keeping up. And also, there's a feeling that they have been cold to artists of diverse backgrounds and certain genres like hip-hop and R&B.
RICHARDS: I would agree with that completely. Only one rap album has ever won Album of the Year. That's Outkast in 2004 for "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." And in this list, we tried to correct that (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY YA")
OUTKAST: (Singing) Hey ya. Hey ya.
MARTIN: Now let me ask you. In 2004, should Outkast have won? I mean, that's, I mean...
RICHARDS: In my revisionism, I actually said that Missy Elliott should have been the one to win that year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK IT")
MISSY ELLIOTT: (Singing) Is it worth it? Let me work it. I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it.
RICHARDS: Rap music is the dominant pop idiom of our time, so the fact that a rap record has only won this most prestigious award only one time in the history of the Grammys just sounds all kinds of alarms for me as a listener and a fan.
MARTIN: But this year, Album of the Year nominees include three rappers - Childish Gambino, Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar. And how do you interpret that?
RICHARDS: That's a great improvement. Are they going to win? Is it just going to split the Grammy vote in different directions and then Bruno Mars or Lorde is going to rise up and take this prize? We have to tune in tonight and see what happens.
MARTIN: That's Chris Richards, pop music critic for The Washington Post. Chris, thank you so much.
RICHARDS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.