This year’s nominations reveal an industry struggling to reflect the pulse of contemporary music.
Whenever award show nominations are announced you can expect controversy. Especially in recent years as the general public (i.e. white people) have become more aware of systemic racism in the music industry, which manifests itself at award shows. Think Beyoncé losing album of the year to both Adele and Beck, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly losing to Taylor Swift’s 1989, or Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE losing to Mumford & Sons.
But the nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards are outright confusing.
In the general category, which holds the most prestigious awards, there were the expected nominees: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Post Malone, Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, but nominees also included Black Pumas, Coldplay, Jacob Collier, and Noah Cyrus. While Coldplay is a recognizable and successful group, it’s safe to say their relevance has diminished in recent years and their 2019 album Everyday Life flew a bit under the radar. Noah Cyrus is also a name many might recognize, albeit perhaps due to nepotism more than her actual music. Black Pumas has a, “relatively low commercial profile” and “negligible critical profile” as Jon Caramanica put in in The New York Times. You’ve probably never heard of Jacob Collier but he’s already won four Grammys for arranging.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to throw in some more unconventional or unknown nominees, of course. However, these kinds of choices become more questionable when you realize who wasn’t nominated: The Weeknd.
Despite having one of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed albums of the year, and a massively successful single, he didn’t get a single nomination. This makes The Weeknd the most snubbed artist of the year.
For some perspective, Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” got a nomination. Bieber actually scored four nominations despite his album Changes being met with negative reviews from critics. On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, it received a score of 57 compared to The Weeknd’s 2020 album After Hours’ 80.
Many have theorized that The Weeknd might have been snubbed because of his Superbowl performance, which will air on the same network a week after the Grammys. Another theory is that After Hours was snubbed because it is a distinctly pop album and the Grammys prefer to put Black artists in R&B, urban, and hip hop categories. Notably, in 2020, Tyler, the Creator criticized the Grammys for placing “guys that look like me” in rap and urban categories.
After the nominations were announced, The Weeknd spoke out on Twitter saying, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…”
Halsey, who received 0 nominations for her album Manic, said in an Instagram story, “The Grammys are an elusive process. It can often be about behind the scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine — with the right handshakes and ‘bribes’ that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as ‘not-bribes.'”
Nicki Minaj also took to Twitter saying, “Never forget the Grammys didn’t give me my best new artist award when I had seven songs simultaneously charting on billboard & bigger first week than any female rapper in the last decade- went on to inspire a generation. They gave it to the white man Bon Iver.”
Though the Chairman and Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy claimed that the nominees would “reflect diversity of race, gender, age, region, and musical genre,” during the nominee announcement, it seems like the Grammys just decided to nominate Korean band BTS and call it a day.
Though this makes BTS the first South Korean act to be nominated for their music (after they were nominated for Best Recording Package in 2018), BTS was only nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their song “Dynamite” which was coincidentally their first all-English song. Their album Map of the Soul: 7, which received a score of 82 from Metacritic, was named by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of 2020, and had over four million pre-orders, received 0 nominations.
It seems the Recording Academy thought nominating one Korean group, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, DaBaby, and Beyoncé would be enough to appease their growing list of critics, but the tokenism and performative diversity fell flat on its face.
The Recording Academy has repeatedly failed to be as “diverse” and “inclusive” as it claims to be, and to recognize music that is actually, by all measures, good and popular. This is hurting their credibility and relevance. If things don’t change I think the Grammys will be totally obsolete in the next few years.
Why should I even care about the Grammys? Are these awards really necessary? How does this contribute value to the lives and careers of musicians or to our culture?
These are questions the Recording Academy might want to consider.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam