The nominations for the 2021 GRAMMYs were announced on Tuesday (Nov. 24), and, boy, was it quite the ordeal. From a shocking turn of events resulting in Beyoncé leading the pack with 9 nominations (despite not releasing an album during the eligibility period) to The Weeknd putting the Academy on blast by tweeting “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency,” nominations day was nothing short of a mess. As usual, the nominations had some really beautiful moments, a lot of bad choices, and some downright dumbfounding decisions. Here are The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly:
Female Rappers, BTS, New Generation of Pop Stars Prevail
If there’s one big takeaway, this new crop of nominees proves that the Academy is doubling down on their embrace of the new class of pop stars. Last year’s nominees included Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Lil Nas X. This year, the Grammys showered the new generation of pop stars with nominations. Dua Lipa was honored with 6 nominations including recognition in Album, Record, and Song of the Year for her Future Nostalgia album and “Don’t Start Now.” Billie Eilish continued her Grammys hot streak with 4 nominations this year including Record and Song of the Year for “everything i wanted.” Megan Thee Stallion (4) and Doja Cat (3) both picked up nominations in Best New Artist and Record of the Year, for “Savage (Remix)” and “Say So,” respectively. The Academy also finally acknowledged Harry Styles who scored 3 nominations for his Fine Line album including Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Music Video for “Adore You.”
In that vein, superstar K-Pop group BTS scored their very first Grammy nomination for the record-breaking #1 single “Dynamite.” From BTS to BLACKPINK and from Super M to Red Velvet, K-Pop has been making incredible inroads in the American pop music market. A Grammy is absolutely unnecessary to validate or affirm K-Pop’s success or artistic excellence. Nevertheless, it was a particularly moving moment to see music’s biggest awards institution embrace the dynamic genre. In addition to embracing new genres, this year’s Grammy nominations also saw improvement for the representation of women in two genres that notoriously shun them: rock and country. This year every nominee in Best Rock Performance is a woman or a woman-fronted band. Fiona Apple, HAIM, Phoebe Bridgers, Brittany Howard, Grace Potter, and Big Thief were all recognized in the category. In Best Country Album, Ingrid Andress (Lady Like), Miranda Lambert (Wildcard), Brandy Clark (Your Life Is A Record), Little Big Town (Nightfall), and Ashley McBryde (Never Will), all female soloists or women-fronted acts, scored nominations. This is a far cry from the day when all four categories in the Country field would be shockingly devoid of women.
Finally, speaking of women, Best New Artist sees three extremely different powerhouse female rappers recognized: CHIKA, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat. This alone made a lot of the other nonsense worthwhile.
Disaster Strikes in Album of the Year, R&B Album & Rap Album
Best R&B Album. Where do we even begin? First, all of the nominees released solid bodies of work: Giveon (Take Time), Luke James (To Feel Love/d), John Legend (Bigger Love), Ant Clemons (Happy 2 Be Here), and Gregory Porter (All Rise). With that being said, respectfully, where were the women? If anyone held down music this year, it was the Black women in R&B. Ledisi (The Wild Card), Brandy (B7), Toni Braxton (Spell My Name), Tinashe (Songs for You), and Jojo (Good to Know) are among the women that absolutely deserved to be recognized for their stellar boundary-pushing albums. On the topic of the R&B field, while it’s always nice to see Beyoncé recognized for her continued dedication to her craft, “Black Parade” is admittedly hard to sell as an R&B song. The song definitely fits better in a category like Best Melodic Rap Performance and it would have been nice to see 2020 R&B standouts like “Borderline” (Brandy); “Show Me Love” (Alicia Keys & Miguel); “Between Us” (dvsn & Snoh Aalegra); or “Can’t Fight” (Lianne La Havas) recognized.
Also a puzzling category? Best Rap Album. While the three other categories in the Rap Field were populated by new generation leaders like DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, Roddy Ricch, and Lil Baby, it seems like the Rap panel went out of their way to highlight more “traditionalist” rappers in Best Rap Album. With a lineup of Jay Electronica (A Written Testimony), Nas (King’s Disease), Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist (Alfredo), Royce Da 5’9” (The Allegory), and D Smoke (Black Habits), the Academy is definitely sending an interesting message here. Pop Smoke (Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon), Lil Baby (My Turn), and Roddy Ricch (Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial) had the three biggest rap albums of the eligibility period and those were three of the best albums of the eligibility period regardless of genre. The generational divide between Best Rap Album and the rest of the Rap Field is unmistakable, it almost feels like two different committees decided on those nominations. While it was incredible to see transcendent albums like Alfredo get their due, the Academy should have definitely embraced newer rappers in this category — specifically the ones that are further pushing the genre into new sonic spaces like Pop Smoke with his impact on the drill scene and Roddy Ricch’s ever-evolving blend of R&B, Pop, and Rap. While we’re on the topic of the Rap Field… “Laugh Now, Cry Later?” “What’s Poppin?” Really? In a year with so many great records from female rappers, it is absolutely ridiculous that Megan Thee Stallion is the only female rapper nominated in the Rap Field this year. Let’s not even get into the utter disrespect of handing Pop Smoke one measly nomination when he dominated the year despite his life being taken from him.
The biggest category of the show, Album of the Year, is normally a mess and this year is no different. As it stands, this seems to be a showdown between Taylor Swift’s folklore and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. In addition to those two albums, the other six nominees are Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding, HAIM’s Women In Music, Pt. III, Black Pumas’ Colors (Deluxe Edition), Jhené Aiko’s Chilombo, Jacob Collier’s Djesse, Vol. 3, and Coldplay’s Everyday Life. Oddly enough, the majority of these albums have a startling lack of support in their respective genre categories. Outside of Taylor and Dua’s albums, only Chilombo appears in the Best Album category for its home genre (Best Progressive R&B Album). These nominees are confusing for a host of reasons. While Everyday Life is a great record, it wasn’t a particularly memorable one at all. Outside of music industry power players, no one was hyping up Jacob Collier’s record. The Black Pumas album is a deluxe reissue of June 2019 album which is just laughable in and of itself. Of the countless R&B albums expected to make it into Album of the Year, Chilombo was not one of them; most people were predicting either Summer Walker’s Over It (which was surprisingly shut out) or Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour to be nominated here over Jhené’s album. All this is to say that the Blue Ribbon Panel was certainly busy. It’s definitely odd to see one of this year’s frontrunners, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, be snubbed in Album of the Year but score more Rock Field nominations than the two rock albums that were nominated. With five nominations for folklore and six nominations for Future Nostalgia, these are the only two albums with considerable support from the general voting body and their home categories. This sets the stage for yet another year without a Black artist winning the night’s biggest prize despite consistently setting the bar for the industry at large.
The Weeknd, Politics, and No Latin Music?
Now… it’s time for the ugly. Where was Latin music in the General Field? Although having Latin songs in the General Field categories feels like a longshot, it truly shouldn’t be. Latin musicians (whether it be rap, pop, reggaeton, etc.) consistently outstream some of the biggest English-language artists in the U.S. and the music is often better. Bad Bunny’s YHLQMDLG would have made more sense as an Album of the Year nominee than 5 out of the 8 albums that were actually nominated. The same goes for his “Yo Perreo Sola” or Residente’s “René” in either Song or Record of the Year. A Latin song shouldn’t have to have a historically popular English remix to be recognized in the general field.
On the other hand, the Academy’s affinity for ~political~ songs is getting out of hand. Lil Baby’s My Turn, the most consumed album of 2020, has countless incredible songs. However, Baby scored a grand total of zero nominations for My Turn or any of its songs. Instead the “Sum 2 Prove” rapper’s nominations (Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song) are for “The Bigger Picture,” his #3-peaking Black Lives Matter-inspired song. “The Bigger Picture” is a good record, but Baby shouldn’t have to be rapping about protests or making “conscious” music to be recognized. “We Paid” is a better overall record and “Emotionally Scarred” is a better written record… why couldn’t either of those be nominated instead? Similarly, H.E.R.’s only nominations for her own music were for another Black Lives Matter-inspired song, “I Can’t Breathe.” H.E.R. released much stronger records this year like “Sometimes,” “Comfortable,” and “Slide,” why did it have to be the ~political~ song that gets nominated? In an attempt to highlight the social climate that artists are responding to, the Academy seems to be inadvertently boxing Black artists into a “conscious music” container that is destined to cause more problems in the future.
And finally there’s The Weeknd. Everyone, from his biggest stans to his biggest haters, expected After Hours and “Blinding Lights” to clean up during the nominations announcement. The whole hour went by and The Weeknd’s name wasn’t called once. With zero nominations for one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in recent memory, this is one of the most shocking snubs in history. The Weeknd and his manager have alluded to his imminent Super Bowl performance as the reason for these egregious snubs and some fans have noticed a pattern between artists being snubbed after canceling appearances or performance at the awards ceremony (Rihanna in 2017, Ariana Grande in 2020, etc.). Regardless of what happened, there is no defense for this. It is absolutely impossible that After Hours or “Blinding Lights” didn’t make it to the final lineup of nominees after voting in at least one category. The Weeknd is a three-time Grammy winner and nine-time nominee. The Academy is more than a fan of his work. “Blinding Lights” just made history as the longest-running Hot 100 Top 10 hit of all time (40 weeks) and After Hours is one of the Top 3 biggest albums of the year (1,891,000 album units according to Hits Daily Double/Buzz Angle). After Hours has a score of 80 on Metacritic making it the most acclaimed studio album of The Weeknd’s career. So, all the boxes were checked… why wasn’t The Weeknd nominated? We may never find out the full truth, but, ultimately, this disgusting snub just proves that The Academy is content with digging a deeper hole for themselves and pushing away artists and fans alike.
Stay tuned for my predictions of the winners for next year’s Grammys.