Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X led the Grammy nominations on Wednesday, putting a new generation of pop stars in the spotlight after they stormed both streaming and radio on their way to becoming household names.
Taylor Swift has 10 Grammy wins in her career, including two album of the year trophies, and three more nominations this year bring her total nods to 35. And yet … Swift’s absence from the two biggest categories — record and album of the year — can’t help but feel like a major slight given the strong reviews and monster opening-week sales for “Lover”. (The title track was nominated for song of the year, “You Need to Calm Down” got a spot in best pop solo performance and the album is up for best pop vocal album.)
The offence only grows when you consider the left-field choices that did land one of the eight album spots: Lil Nas X’s 7 is not an album at all, but an 8-track EP built around a smash single that appears in two different versions on the short project. H.E.R.’s “I Used to Know Her”, a compilation that combines two earlier EPs, peaked at No 86 on the Billboard album chart. And then there’s “i,i” by Bon Iver and “Father of the Bride” by Vampire Weekend, two well-received capital-A albums, but from bands that have grown up and settled into their own little worlds.
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was a cultural sensation — it became the longest-running No 1 single ever. But the Recording Academy has made the bold choice not to treat him like a fleeting novelty or vessel for a big song, but as an artist. He received six nominations overall including for best new artist and best rap/sung performance. That’s a big step up when compared to other hits that became Moments, like Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” or Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, which didn’t get nominated, or even Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, which got recognised for song of the year and in a pop category. If Lil Nas X wins big on Grammy night, it will only increase the pressure on what he does next.
After a few consecutive big years for rappers in the major categories, hip-hop is only a seasoning on this year’s nominations. Yes, Lil Nas X and Lizzo (and even Eilish and Grande) use rap when it suits them, but albums and songs from DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, Juice WRLD, Tyler, the Creator, Chance the Rapper, J Cole, 21 Savage and Nipsey Hussle were relegated to the genre categories or passed over entirely.
Another place that could have recognised hip-hop? Producer of the year, which turns out to be all white men, including Jack Antonoff, Ricky Reed and Eilish’s brother and collaborator, Finneas. The Grammys’ relationship with rap could generously be described as strained, and it’s hard to see how this year’s show is going to help.
And this time, it’s aggressively indie (though maybe on a major label). Vampire Weekend has been nominated twice in the past, and won best alternative album for Modern Vampires of the City, but its nod for best album is maybe this year’s least-predicted shock, given the eclecticism and jam-band influence of “Father of the Bride”. Bon Iver started as a potential Grammy darling, winning best new artist over Nicki Minaj and J Cole and punching above its weight with song and record of the year nominations for “Holocene”, but the group has only gotten stranger and more experimental.
Rosalía, the flamenco-futurist whose 2018 album El Mal Querer introduced the world to an auteur-in-the-making and just took home three Latin Grammys, is a much-deserved statement pick in the best new artist lineup. Bad Bunny, the lovable Latin trap oddity, is nominated twice in the (bizarrely crammed together) best Latin rock, urban or alternative album category. These are artists on the forefront of a pop movement that rethinks what it means to cross over, and fingers crossed they get a spot on the actual show. But the Grammys didn’t go fully international, overlooking K-pop, for instance, and the world-beating BTS. These acts aren’t going anywhere, so these feel like baby steps.
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