After a 14-year hiatus, R&B/soul singer D'Angelo made his triumphant return to the music scene in December 2014 with his album Black Messiah — and fans and critics alike were elated. The LP received widespread critical acclaim, and was even voted the best album of 2014 in the Village Voice's annual Pazz and Jop end-of-the-year poll. The 41-year-old artist had definitely staged an impressive comeback, but somehow, Black Messiah's Grammy potential still felt uncertain. The Grammy Awards are often criticized for supposedly rewarding commercial and chart success over quality, and Black Messiah wasn't exactly a "smash hit": the collection sold just 117,000 copies in its first week (debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart), and failed to launch any major hit singles.
However, when the 2016 Grammy nominations were announced on Monday morning, D'Angelo earned three big nods: Black Messiah is up for Best R&B Album, and its lead single, "Really Love," is up for both Record of the Year and Best R&B Song. Not too shabby for a man who was out of the spotlight for 14 years!
D'Angelo's 2016 Grammy nominations are well-deserved, but more than that, they suggest that Grammy voters really do care about recognizing quality music. The members of the Recording Academy aren't just blindly throwing their support behind the albums and songs that sold the most copies or spent the most weeks at No. 1; they genuinely seem to be making an effort to honor the best works released during the eligibility period. (Of course, that's not to say that commercial and chart success aren't taken into account — but they're certainly not the only deciding factors.)
And D'Angelo's nominations aren't the only proof we received on Monday morning: newcomers Tori Kelly and Courtney Barnett both made it into the prestigious Best New Artist race, even though neither singer has had much mainstream commercial success. Kelly is revered for her powerhouse pipes, and Barnett's debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, was met with glowing reviews when it premiered in March, but neither woman is a force on the Billboard charts (well, not yet, anyway).
The Grammys are far from perfect: the best nominees don't always win (see: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' 2014 Takeover), and they continue to overlook artists of color in key categories. However, I think it's important to acknowledge when they do get something "right" — and the nominations for D'Angelo's Black Messiah are spot-on.