Top 4 lessons from shocking Grammy nominations: Voters love Americana, but still ambivalent about hip-hop

More than a week has passed since the 2021 Grammy nominations were revealed, and we’re still talking about some of the, shall we say, interesting choices the recording academy made. With a list full of unexpected WTF picks, first-time general field nominees, and a few surprising snubs, here are our four biggest takeaways from this year’s list.

1. There’s no such thing as a lock for nominations

Perhaps the biggest story this year was the shocking The Weeknd absence everywhere. The Weeknd, whose “Blinding Lights” was the biggest song of the year according to Billboard, got zero noms, despite being considered the front-runner in multiple categories. In particular, its absences from Record and Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, and Best Music Video were quite surprising, especially given some of the choices that were selected over it.

“Blinding Lights” recently broke the record for the most weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the most weeks at number-one on radio ever. Not only that, but given the impact that movements like Black Lives Matter have had this year, you’d think the Grammys would be even more inclined to honor a Black artist who had critical acclaim, commercial success, and a very clear shot at winning in the big categories.

Rumors arose about The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime show being the reason why the Grammys decided to snub him (allegedly he wouldn’t have been able to perform at both events so close to each other). However, first-round voting for the pop categories took place well before his Super Bowl gig was announced, so that couldn’t account for the snub in those categories, which aren’t decided by a nomination review committee. Perhaps voters just weren’t feeling The Weeknd as much as the general public.

2. The whitest winter ever

Despite this year being defined by social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and continued efforts to promote diversity by other award shows like the Oscars, the Grammys seemed to ignore diversity even more than usual. In the Album of the Year lineup, the only non-white artists out of the eight nominees are mixed-race singer-songwriter Jhene Aiko and the duo Black Pumas made up of African-American Eric Burton and Latino guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada. Not only this, but there’s a notorious lack of hip-hop once again, making this the second consecutive year with no rap nominated in this category.

All of this is particularly upsetting given how many Black contenders could’ve gotten a nomination. Besides the aforementioned The Weeknd, there were also big albums from superstars like Lil Baby, newbies Pop Smoke and Roddy Ricch (who did get into ROTY and SOTY), and critically-acclaimed acts like Brittany Howard and Run the Jewels. Howard especially has a great history with the academy, having won four times in the past and receiving five noms this year in other categories. Latin artists like Bad Bunny also could have made the cut, and so could Asian musicians BTS and Rina Sawayama.

3. The (Song of the Year-nominated) Box

On a slightly more positive note, a big surprise for a lot of people was seeing “The Box” among the Song of the Year nominees. The Grammys have had a history of only nominating rap for the top songwriting award when the songs are political or inspirational (like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis‘s “Same Love,” Kendrick Lamar‘s “Alright” and Childish Gambino‘s “This is America”). With that in mind, a lot of people expected the rap nominee in SOTY to be “The Bigger Picture” by Lil Baby, or maybe “Rockstar” by Ricch and DaBaby given that its themes can be interpreted politically (they even recorded a BLM remix).

The nomination for “The Box,” a song that’s neither political nor inspirational, may mark the beginning for more straightforward rap songs being nominated. After all, if pop songs can get in without being so issue-oriented (consider tunes like “In My Blood” by Shawn Mendes or last year’s winner “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish), why not nominated rap songs that are simply lyrically impressive? “The Box” is a clever piece of songwriting, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see the panel holding rap to the same standards as every other genre.

4. Americana love

Given Black Pumas’ two general field nominations this year, we can tell that Grammy voters have been feeling Americana recently. Last year we had Tanya Tucker in Song of the Year for “Bring My Flowers Now” as well as Black Pumas and Yola in Best New Artist. The year prior Brandi Carlile ruled the general field with noms for her song “The Joke” and album “By The Way, I Forgive You,” along with Margo Price in Best New Artist. It seems like the Grammy members, for some reason or another, are pushing for more American Roots contenders in the general field. It’s definitely something to watch out for in the future.

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