Some of pop music’s biggest names didn’t get nominations for the 2021 Awards, while a diverse list of lesser-known acts filled out the ballot.
Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa topped the 2021 Grammy nominations on Tuesday, topping a list of smaller names (and missing some of the biggest pop players). Who was left out and what do the picks say about the past year in music and where the Grammys are going? Our chief popular music critic, Jon Pareles, popular music critic Jon Caramanica, popular music reporter Joe Coscarelli, and music business reporter Ben Sisario discussed the day’s big takeaways, snubs, and surprises.
Stupid of me, but I expected that to nod towards both diversity and cultural relevance because of the pandemic that stifled many releases and made breaking out as a new artist difficult – as well as the commitment of the Grammys in recent years – we’d see a pretty predictable crop of big names: Taylor Swift and Post Malone, sure, but also The Weeknd, Harry Styles, Pop Smoke, BTS, Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch and Juice WRLD. Maybe Luke Combs, the Chicks, and even Bob Dylan.
But in the four main categories we instead have a bizarre collection of headliners (including Beyoncé and Billie Eilish for off-cycle unique pieces) and then names like… Black Pumas, Jhené Aiko, Jacob Collier, Coldplay (!) and D Smoke I could have sworn by was a typo for “Pop Smoke. « (No, he’s from that Netflix hip-hop show and he’s got two awards including best new artist. )
The Weeknd is by far the biggest nudge. I don’t know if « After Hours » is his best work – critic? – but he’s been everywhere this coronavirus-ridden year and is headlining the Super Bowl halftime show a week after the Grammys (which also airs on CBS!). « Blinding Lights » was massive and inescapable, and Abel Tesfaye only played the role of pop star with such dedication and the right mix of art, trade and costume. There’s a lot more to do – where to go for Sam Hunt and Halsey, whose biggest Grammys look is « A Star Is Born »? – but this entire « We don’t know him » for the Weeknd, which leads to zero nominations, feels loaded to me. (Email me if you’ve zoomed in on any of these secret committee meetings. )
JON CARAMANICA The Nashville oversights are confusing, especially Luke Combs, whose album « What You See Is What You Get » is probably the biggest commercial juggernaut the genre has seen in recent times. I suppose Hunt is being passed over for good taste? And while it’s contiguous with Nashville, it’s noteworthy that the chicks are all but ignored, given the number of times their previous work has been recognized by the Grammys, both before and after country music. (Her producer Jack Antonoff was nominated for Producer of the Year, not classic. )
Here’s a thought regarding the Weeknd. What he’s become in the past few years is a maestro of the synthetic – he’s not the only one making great pop music, but he’s unique in achieving the flawless plasticity of 1980s arena pop. That makes for big hits – « After Hours » is an excellent album and surprisingly quirky for a battleship of its size. But it has little to do with the (supposed) gravita that Grammy voters prefer. Even if the Weeknd is showing its face now, it is often costumed in some way. He keeps his inner self away and in this ecosystem that’s an obligation, no matter how big the hits.
BEN SISARIO Conservatism at the Grammys used to mean that the major categories were lifetime accomplishments, such as being Ray Charles in 2005, one year after his death (and 18 years after receiving the actual lifetime achievement award), five Awards won. .
Now, the Grammys often seem to save a few slots to recognize old-sounding music by boys, especially the kind of things that the word « hit » doesn’t apply to. Brandi Carlile held such a position two years ago. This time it belongs to Black Pumas, whose song « Colors » sounds like a perfectly adequate rock-soul nugget from 1973.
These choices always grab the attention of journalists who (for good reason) want the Grammys to reflect the pulse of contemporary music. What they really are is an assertion of values by the Grammy Deep State telling the rest of the industry that all crazy trends can happen, an immutable foundation of « classic » songwriting rooted in 1960s rock, soul and folk is and the 70s will always be cherished and rewarded . . . at least from the people who hold the keys to the Grammy nomination process.
Do you win? Not usually. But they don’t have to win to make their point. Have you ever heard of Black Pumas?
Allow me to break the fourth wall for a moment: I understand that at least part of my role is to publicly scrape over the remarkable number of nominations this band has received due to their relatively low commercial profile and negligible number Criticism has received profile and perhaps its general lack of popularity, despite the fact that it was nominated for Best New Artist last year. And in the most important categories: Album of the Year and Album of the Year.
(A possibly ominous omen: you have been nominated for the « Deluxe » version of your album because the original version was released before the permissions window. I’m sure any label that extends the lifespan of their artists’ albums with overdone deluxe editions will take note of this. )
We know the Grammys prefer to honor the best music of the year that sounds like the music of a year ago, and this band seems to meet that requirement. Then I began to wonder about his representatives: are they inappropriately influential? (Not really. ) Maybe they shook a lot of hands and played a lot of little gigs for local Grammy chapters.
JON PARELES Seems to me like the Grammys just hit the snooze button and turned around. When they first started in 1958, the Grammys did their best to ignore rock and roll. You’d think the boomers and younger members who eventually replaced that initial Grammy slump – a great phrase, Ben – would have learned from previous embarrassments. Apparently not yet. But at least now the timeline is moving forward. This year they can also indulge their nostalgia by welcoming the 2019-2020 disco revival with these nominations for Dua Lipa and Doja Cat. What brings us to . . . the late 1970s?
COSCARELLI Jacob Collier, it turns out, loves his digital studio tricks and by my count is worth about 35 gecs for his version of these Ed Sheeran collaboration projects. He’s already won four Grammys for arranging dating back to 2016, and I think you’re seeing some great looks this year for artists that the Grammys invested in early on. You always hear about the Oscar awards that love to anoint young stars and then reward them for their lives, and I wonder if the necklace explains it. Black Pumas (best new artist, 2020); Julia Michaels (song of the year and best new artist, 2018); and H. . E.. . R.. . (10 nominations in the last two ceremonies). « I can’t breathe » by H. . E.. . R.. . and « If the World Was Ending » by Michaels and JP Saxe have had some recent feedback, but I’m still surprised to see them in the Song of the Year category.
CARAMANICA For what it’s worth, I was on occasion derailed by the brutal sincerity of « When the World Ended » when it came on the radio in the car. But then I like Lewis Capaldi.
PARELES Collier and H. . E.. . R.. . both appeal to Grammy voters’ preference for old-school practical virtuosity. There’s clearly still a sizable Grammy constituency – maybe longtime studio musicians – who don’t seem to believe that programming makes music: if you haven’t practiced those scales and chords for hours, or if you don’t have calluses on your guitar-playing fingers, you don’t Are a « real » musician. Collier shows all kinds of pyrotechnics on his album; H. . E.. . R.. . Take a guitar or sit down at a keyboard and play with full command. Technicians respect technology. That still doesn’t explain the mysterious absence of the Weeknd, who can sing, write songs and command a stage.
CARAMANICA The truth is that for a musician there is a whole series of successes that have little to do with radio plays, streaming successes, album sales or tours. It’s about being seen as a kind of musician that other musicians respect. (I don’t know if that’s lucrative!) Black Pumas and Collier fit in here. And D Smoke may seem like a total runaway, but in that context he isn’t: his brother is SiR, a singer who signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, known as the home of Kendrick Lamar. In (another) year without a Kendrick album, D Smoke is a familiar alternative and a reminder of the kind of music – including hip-hop – Grammy voters prefer: serious, tech-driven, either store-worn or fine. matched to the lens. This can be seen in the category of the best rap albums (D Smoke, Nas, Freddie Gibbs, Jay Electronica and Royce Da 5’9 ”). . If you’d teleported those albums (many of which I love) by the mid-1990s and slipped them into the walkmen of Carhartt-and-Timbs fans of the era, they probably wouldn’t raise eyebrows.
Even so, it’s noteworthy that there are no hip-hop producers in the Producer of the Year category, probably because Grammy voters don’t bother studying young producers like Jetsonmade, who are responsible for so many DaBaby Hits and Jack Harlow’s « Whats Poppin » or even think of the alchemist who has become the beatsmith of choice for modern golden age resuscitation artists and who has published strong projects with Freddie Gibbs, Boldy James, and Conway the Machine over the past two years has action Bronson.
COSCARELLI I really thought we’d see a boost for two of the posthumous releases that dominated streaming: « Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon » by Pop Smoke and « Legends Never Die » by Juice WRLD that was even made for nominated for the best rap album. Pop Smoke, which I naively thought had the best new artist, is the best rap performance for “Dior. « Lil Baby’s » My Turn « and Roddy Ricch’s » Please Excuse Me for Being Asisocial « were also omitted, although each was nominated for songs, with » The Bigger Picture, « Lil Baby’s Black Lives Matter protest song, which received two nominations and » The box « gets three.
To back off for a moment, let’s make our usual caveat: these are just the nominations, of course, so it’s possible for Swift, Eilish and Beyoncé to win most of the major awards and all of them to leave pretty pretty Grammys-typical when all is said and done.
SISARIO The Grammys are the only time Beyoncé really feels sorry. She was already the show’s most nominated woman. But with the latest news, she got nine more nods, bringing her lifetime to 79. That brings her to the most nominated people of all time, tying Paul McCartney and right behind Quincy Jones and Jay-Z (both aged 80). .
And she could win a few. But their chances are slim in the main categories that really matter. In her career so far, Beyoncé has won 24 Grammys, taken home the genre trophies, but in almost all cases ignored the big ones. She lost the album of the year three times (« I Am . . . Sasha Fierce « , » Beyoncé « , » Lemonade « ), five times the album of the year ( » Say My Name « , » Crazy in Love « , » Irreplaceable « ). « Halo », « Formation ») and twice the song of the year (« Say My Name », « Formation »). The only time she has won a top award was Song of the Year for « Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), » where she was one of four recognized songwriters.
As much as the Recording Academy is now struggling to change its organization and invite new, young and racially diverse voters, such legacies will be terribly difficult to overcome. (Want more examples? Check out the track records of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar. ) Even if “Black Parade” miraculously receives a major award, it looks less like a victory than a consolation prize.
CARAMANICA I would be grumpy not to cheer the handful of legitimately interesting nominations this year. While I’m still mixed on Phoebe Bridger’s latest album, I find the recognition of her work with four nominations very promising. The same goes for Fiona Apple, who made one of the few albums with critical consensus this year and received three nominations. The nomination of Mickey Guyton’s « Black Like Me » for the best country solo performance feels particularly clear. And I’m grateful that Power Trip was nominated for best metal performance, but it comes frustrated after frontman Riley Gale’s death.
Plus, with just two nominees, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion, the best new artist category is pretty piled up with a significant popular profile. It is rounded off by fascinating talents like Bridgers, the lite country singer Ingrid Andress, the rapper Chika and the soulful dance music producer Kaytranada.
For album of the year though, things seem like a setup for a Swift win for what is generally known to be my least loved Taylor album, but after a long, ambitious, largely successful album runs on centrist pop success, again recognizes the decisive boomer market.
PARELES Back to Bridgers and Apple, both are nominated for the best rock performance that used to play gray male arena acts. This year it’s only women – a fundamental change that Bob Dylan unfortunately leaves no room as a performer or songwriter for his 2020 album « Rough and Rowdy Ways ». Meanwhile, a lot of good music gets noticed in categories that nobody pays much attention to. Check out the chunky but worthwhile section of American Roots Music. It has Sarah Jarosz, Courtney Marie Andrews, the Secret Sisters, Sierra Hull, Bettye LaVette, and more. It’s hard to go wrong there.
But with the awards that are covered on prime time, it’s a different story – one the Grammys keep telling, about experiences that only lead to indolence or nostalgia, and about techniques that outweigh the insane inspiration. Music doesn’t work that way – and our ears know it.
Grammy Awards, The Recording Academy, Beyoncé, Nomination, 2021
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