The day when Grammy nominations are announced, an annual event, is always controversial. 2020 was a very tough year for society, but it’s safe to say it was a very good one for music, stacked with some of the best and most interesting releases of the past few years. Therefore, it was predictable that the discussion around them was going to be lengthy — however, very few could’ve predicted what was to come for the 63rd Grammy Awards. Some of the decisions that were taken by the Recording Academy and announced on November 24th have raised uncountable questions and started endless arguments about the state of the industry and the criteria of those behind ceremony. While some of these will remain unanswered, a deeper analysis is much needed.
First of all, addressing the elephant in the room is crucial. The Weeknd was by far the public and the experts’ favorite to lead the main categories — his album After Hours was an enormous commercial success from the moment it was released, and it was accompanied by one of the biggest hits in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 with ‘Blinding Lights,’ which recently broke the record for the most weeks in the Top 10 by a single, with a total of 40. When the 63rd Grammy Awards’ nominations were announced on Tuesday afternoon, the confusion over why he had not received a single nod was evident. There isn’t much that could justify this decision — Abel Tesfaye had the critics, the public, the fans, the career, and the perfect momentum behind him to become a big, practically unchallenged champion for the 2021 ceremony. To see an artist who poured his heart and soul into a piece that captured the heart of millions while showing a type of vulnerability and versatility that is not always common for men in the mainstream scene get ignored in music’s biggest ceremony is, to any fan, quite upsetting. TMZ has already reported that sources close to the musician’s team believe that the snubs may be related to failed discussions in which the future halftime show performer was given an ultimatum to pick between performing at the Super Bowl or music’s biggest night. The Weeknd himself has taken Twitter to refer to the situation as a showcase of corruption. Still, as details of these claims remain unclear, an explanation to one of the biggest upsets in the Grammy’s recent history might never be given.
The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) November 25, 2020
Other projected nominees in the general field didn’t have the same misfortune, though. Taylor Swift scored a total of 6 nominations, mostly thanks to her surprise-dropped Folklore, which was expected to win big due to its universal acclaim and could now turn her into the first woman to ever win the ‘Album of the Year’ award 3 times. Dua Lipa, who had already been shown appreciation by the Recording Academy when awarded with ‘Best New Artist’ earlier this year, earned the same amount of nominations after over a year of showcasing one of the flashiest eras in the pop scene with ‘Future Nostalgia.’ In both of these cases, it’s clear the effort paid off — and that’s exactly the reason why these nominations remain mostly unquestioned. Post Malone, while having a more low-key 2020 than the two artists mentioned beforehand, also saw a streaming and sales monster with Hollywood’s Bleeding and its smash hit ‘Circles,’ making his 3 nominations in the general field predictable.
Other artists such as Doja Cat and Harry Styles, who both saw their careers take off in a bigger way throughout the last months of 2019 and 2020, Megan Thee Stallion, arguably the biggest rapper of the year, and Chloe x Halle, who already were critical darlings and made a bigger impact with their excellent Ungodly Hour, also being one of the only acts in the industry who were able to elevate their platform despite restrictions by the current pandemic, were mostly expected to have a spotlight on this year’s Grammy nominations due to their evident prominence. A case could undoubtedly be made for all of them receiving even more nods — particularly for the duo of sisters, who didn’t get any spots in the general field — but nevertheless, it’s a positive sign that their work got recognized and we can safely expect to see all of their names more often in the foreseeable future of the ceremony.
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A name that deserves its special section is Beyoncé‘s, the most nominated artist of the year with a total of 9 nods. While the brilliant work in the musical film Black Is King and her participation in Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Savage (Remix),’ which elevated the original both in quality and commercial success, were expected to be recognized — it came as a surprise to many that an artist who didn’t release a full album or any outstanding solo singles would lead the pack. However, this is Beyoncé we’re talking about. Ms. Knowles-Carter has been a contributor to our culture and music in ways that few could explain, and while it may at first sight seem that there’s favoritism in her amount of total Grammy nominations and wins, detractors seem to forget that she has yet to win the most prized award of ‘Album of the Year,’ and has been largely ignored in the general field when it comes to victories. Beyonce’s Grammy awards mostly derive from R&B categories, which is a poor reflection of the quality and diversity of her catalogue. While it’s arguable if ‘Black Parade’ should’ve received 2 spots in the main categories, the single is both well-written and well-produced, and it matches a movement that the Recording Academy is trying to catch up to. In a few words, Beyoncé’s spotlight in both next year’s and previous ceremonies are unsurprising once we carefully analyze the phenomenon behind them. Simply looking at a number and making assumptions about it is extremely reductionist, specially for a once-in-a-lifetime artist like this.
While analyzing victories is undoubtedly interesting, studying snubs is equally as important. We, as pop culture fanatics, usually turn to make comments about these instantly — and there’s a lot to be mentioned about this year’s.
When going deeper into the categories, one of the genres that seemed mishandled by the Recording Academy is Hip-Hop/Rap, which is definitely not a first for this ceremony. Run The Jewels, Lil Baby, Lil Uzi Vert, Mac Miller and Pop Smoke, to name a few, had some of the most noteworthy projects of the eligibility period — and the lack of inclusion for them simply feels odd. That doesn’t mean, however, that the choice of nominees was off — the ‘Rap Album of the Year’ category in particular is a good reflection of quality in the industry, and it might finally give the legendary Nas his first win. It’s the shunning of said artists’ work in the general field — specially ‘Album of the Year,’ where rap music wasn’t given a chance to shine at all — that fails at reflecting the impact of these names and their projects in the industry.
Similar issues can be found in the R&B categories. Some of the genre’s biggest stars, who helped keep it relevant and interesting throughout the year, were completely ignored. That was the case for Summer Walker, who seemed a shoe-in for ‘Best New Artist’, Kehlani, Kiana Ledé, JoJo, Brandy, and many more. It’s great that Jhené Aiko, H.E.R., and Jacob Collier all got mentions in the main category, but it shows a lack of perspective to exclude these artists — all-female, interestingly enough — who are shaping the present and future of R&B.
Brandy. H.E.R. Kehlani. Summer walker. Victoria Monet. Jhene. JoJo. Ari Lenox. SZA. Tinashe. The list goes on and on. But know, you are loved and appreciated over here. Goodnight 🤎 #RB
— TEYANA M.J. SHUMPERT (@TEYANATAYLOR) November 25, 2020
Other disappointing snubs spread throughout the 80+ categories include The Chicks‘ Gaslighter, the group’s best work and first in 14 years, Rina Sawayama not scoring in ‘Best New Artist’ after releasing one of the most fresh pop albums of the year and proving to be one of the most interesting stars of the scene, FKA Twigs‘ beautifully heartbreaking Magdalene failing to be acknowledged at all in the same manner as Jessie Ware‘s groovy What’s Your Pleasure?. On the opposite, it was quite encouraging to see BTS finally getting recognized, Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple standing side-by-side after dropping albums greatly embraced by critics and fans alike, Kaytranada shining with 3 nominations, Arca earning a first with the mind-blowing KiCk i and Poppy becoming the first female solo artist to be nominated at ‘Best Metal Performance.’
Those who have witnessed the evolution of the Grammy Awards can rightfully say that they usually strive to make a balance between giving the spotlight to critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful projects and artists — and expecting something radically different from their nominations would be of bad judgement. Whether it was achieved this year is debatable, as we have noticed crucial parts of both sides of the spectrum are missing while some of the ones that perfectly meet the criteria have been honored. It’s clear, however, that there’s a lack of cohesion in the decisions that have been made throughout all the categories, which explains exactly why so many eyebrows were raised after the nominations were announced. Some of the competitions are now more unclear than ever, even in the general field, which will definitely make for an interesting ceremony when the 63rd Grammy Awards are handed out on January 31st, 2021.