The Messages Behind 57th GRAMMY-Nominated Songs
Danish author Hans Christian Andersen once famously said, "Where words fail, music speaks." But what happens when you pair powerful lyrics with equally potent music? You get songs that fill fans' hearts and minds with stories of love, loss, recovery, and redemption.
These topics and more are highlighted in songs nominated for the 57th GRAMMY Awards. Below we dive into 10 tunes that carry an important message underneath the music, from Meghan Trainor's positive body image anthem and the heartbreak of "Say Something" by A Great Big World featuring Christina Aguilera, to Sam Smith's vulnerable "Stay With Me" and Glen Campbell's poignant "I'm Not Gonna Miss You."
A Great Big World With Christina Aguilera, "Say Something"
A Great Big World's Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino found themselves with a surprise hit when their breakup ballad "Say Something" featuring Christina Aguilera soared to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 after the trio performed the song on an episode of "The Voice." But before it earned a nod for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, the song served as a method of healing for Vaccarino and Axel, who were both struggling with heartbreak while writing the song. "There was this girl in my life … for three years and it was unreciprocated," said Axel during an interview with Ryan Seacrest in 2014. "I think about it now and I get the chills because it's so crazy that that's the [song] that's connecting to everybody because we felt so alone … and now it's like a healing song and people are listening to it and it's helping them."
Arcade Fire, "We Exist"
"We were in Kingston, and we … met some gay Jamaican kids and just kind of talked to them and realized that they were constantly under the threat of violence," Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler told The Advocate about the inspiration for "We Exist." "For me, just meeting these kids in Jamaica and then imagining this conversation between a son and his father, that was the emotional kernel." The song's video, which is up for Best Music Video, highlights the journey of a transgender teen (played by Andrew Garfield) who ultimately triumphs in joining Arcade Fire onstage at Coachella to roaring approval. "We Exist" is featured on the band's fourth studio album, Reflektor, which earned a nod for Best Alternative Music Album.
Glen Campbell, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"
Nominated for Best Country Song and Best Song Written For Visual Media, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" is the final song Campbell says he will ever record, due to his battle with Alzheimer's disease. The song is more than just a solemn country ballad — illustrating, in detail, the heartbreaking experience of losing one's memory. "I'm still here but yet I'm gone," sings Campbell in the song's opening, as the accompanying video highlights footage of his early career to his present-day life. By the time the song reaches its chorus, it sounds as if Campbell has reluctantly accepted his disease: "You're the last person I will love/You're the last face I will recall/And best of all/I'm not gonna miss you."
Hunter Hayes, "Invisible"
This Best Country Solo Performance-nominated song brings to light the bullying the self-described nerd Hayes says he experienced in high school. While "Invisible" opens on a somber note — "Crowded hallways are the loneliest places/For outcasts and rebels" — the anti-bullying anthem wraps with lyrics that are full of hope: "There's so much more to life than what you're feeling now/And someday you'll look back on all these days/And all this pain is gonna be invisible." Featured on 2014's Storyline, the single peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, proving Hayes' powerful message has been seen and heard by many.
Kendrick Lamar, "I"
Rapper Lamar's uplifting Top 40 ode to self-respect has earned him lots of love, including two GRAMMY nominations for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song (with co-writer Columbus Smith); Rolling Stone ranked "I" the No. 10 song of 2014. While the anthem has resonated with a larger audience, Lamar revealed in an interview with New York radio station WQHT-FM that he wrote "I" for prison inmates and suicidal teenagers. "I wrote a record for the homies that [are] in the penitentiary," said the Compton, Calif., native. "And I also wrote a record for these kids that come up to my show, with these slashes on their wrist, saying they don't want to live."
Lecrae, "All I Need Is You"
One of two tracks from Lecrae's seventh studio album, Anomaly, to earn a GRAMMY nomination this year, "All I Need Is You" is more than a song about love and hip-hop, it's Lecrae's positive take on healthy, monogamous relationships, which he believes hasn't always been a focal point in hip-hop songs. "When you see Jay Z and Beyoncé, [you think], OK, marriage is cool now. They set a trend and I think that's healthy," said Lecrae about the Best Rap Performance-nominated song during a 2014 interview with MTV.com. "It's just continuing with that trend of — what if we're monogamous? … What if we love somebody and we're not afraid to say it in a hip-hop song? You've gotta continue to set trends and be different."
With its airy instrumentation and soaring chorus, Sia's "Chandelier" sounds like the perfect club anthem on first listen. However, the lyrics crystallize the dark portrait of a party girl in the midst of an epiphany. "Sun is up, I'm a mess/Gotta get out now, gotta run from this," sings a troubled Sia. As it turns out, "Chandelier" is a first-person account of the Australia native's personal struggles with alcoholism and prescription drugs. Originally intended for Rihanna, Sia decided to keep the spellbinding song for herself when she "realized it was personal, and that I was attached to it somehow." The Top 10 hit earned Sia GRAMMY nominations for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year (with co-writer Jesse Shatkin), Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Music Video.
Sam Smith, "Stay With Me (Darkchild Version)"
Smith's quadruple-platinum smash, which earned GRAMMY nods for Record and Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance, isn't the first song about loneliness and unrequited love. But it has emerged as an anthem for the brokenhearted, particularly for those within the gay community due to the first-time GRAMMY nominee's willingness to sing openly about his love for another man. Smith's unapologetic ballad about a one-night stand and heartache has caught on with listeners worldwide, climbing to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the charts in several countries, including the UK, Israel and South Africa.
Taylor Swift, "Shake It Off"
The first single from Swift's 2014 hit album, 1989, "Shake It Off" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and punctuated her official foray into pop music. But the track is more than just a catchy earworm — it's Swift's jovial dismissal of the "haters." "I've had every part of my life dissected," the GRAMMY winner said in a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone. "When you live your life under that kind of scrutiny, you can either let it break you, or you can get really good at dodging punches. And when one lands, you know how to deal with it. And I guess the way that I deal with it is to shake it off." Co-written by Swift, Max Martin and Shellback, "Shake It Off" is nominated for Record and Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance.
Meghan Trainor, "All About That Bass"
Trainor not only brought booty back, she shook her boom boom to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. "All About That Bass" creatively combines the right musical "junk in all the right places," including a bouncy bass line and a sugary refrain, with a lyric that promotes a positive self-image message: flaunt your "bass" proudly, no matter your size. The anti-treble smash earned Trainor her first career GRAMMY nominations for Record and Song Of The Year (with co-writer Kevin Kadish). "It's scary going out there with a song like this," Trainor told GRAMMY.com. "But seeing the reaction really helps me being confident. It's a song that has helped so many people, and me included."