Kacey Musgraves

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Kimmel and Colbert, Bee and Fallon et al., pay attention: Elmo did not come to play.

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Of all the natural majesties present in this blue rock of ours, none can quite compare to this visual of Kacey Musgraves

On Sunday night, the 61st Grammy Awards telecast did its best to balance several requirements — making amends to an entire gender, widening its palette of winners and honorees, and doing its best to award those who are affecting the mainstream now, not five years ago. Within the narrow lens of prime-time awards shows, it seemed to make some progress on each count, without drifting too far from its comfort zone.

Ever wonder what albums your fellow NPR fans listen to? We asked, you voted and below are the results our year-end listener poll for 2018. The list mirrors the NPR Music Top 50 Albums more than I've noticed in previous years. Like that list, listeners put Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves, Mitski and Lucy Dacus all in the top positions.

Art is identity, scream these best albums of 2018. Even when it's pure invention. The most striking things we heard this year mined personal experiences that could feel intimate as whispers or bold and overstuffed as superhero science fiction. Even in an era where listeners have been primed for the unexpected, genuine surprises arrived steadily across the last 12 months – a cascade of introductions, breakthroughs, revelations and rebirths to reward whatever precious attention you could give.

Evolution follows a familiar pattern in plenty of popular music genres. Fearless newcomers or agile established stars with credibility to burn veer from the dominant aesthetic, adopting approaches to music-making that come off as savvy correctives to what everyone's used to hearing. And if what they're doing really begins to catch on, bits and pieces are absorbed into the mainstream, subtly or significantly shifting the genre's center, before something completely different comes along to catch the public's ear.

This is Sample Size, our weekly new music feature with KOSU's Ryan LaCroix and LOOKatOKC pop music columnist Matt Carney.

Today, we have new witty country songs from Kacey MusgravesIron and Wine and Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) covering a Talking Heads song from 1983, and driving bass lines mixed with heavy synth sounds from Superhumanoids.

Follow Matt & Ryan on Twitter at @OKmattcarney and @KOSUryan.