In the beginning, the 62nd Grammy Awards looked set to be an inevitable showdown between two of the hottest new stars of 2019: Lizzo vs. Billie Eilish. In a way, it could still be. When the nominees were announced Nov. 20, Lizzo scored the most, with eight. In second place: Eilish, who landed six.
But what’s that over there, choo-choo-ing over the hill to Grammy gold? It’s the Lil train that could — and did. Rapper Lil Nas X, the newcomer many in the hip-hop and critical community had dismissed as a 20-year-old pop novelty, ascended against all odds toward the top of the Grammy heap, tying Eilish by pulling in six nominations.
Suddenly, a Grammy season that was supposed to be a contest for two wound up becoming a three-pony race, featuring a trio of rising stars many of us hadn’t even heard of at this time last year. Lizzo, 31; Eilish, 17; and Lil Nas X couldn’t have more different sounds — or back stories — but they will go head to head to head in three out of the four biggest categories: record of the year, album of the year and new artist.
Meanwhile, Lizzo and Eilish also will take their Grammy rivalry to the song of the year face-off, which is looking like a musical testament to the enduring power of the female voice. Only one nominee — “Someone You Loved” by rising British singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi — was delivered by a male artist. The other slots are dominated by songs sung by three ladies on the verge of greatness (Billie Eilish, H.E.R. and Lizzo), a stylish art-pop star with critical acclaim and a cultish following (Lana Del Rey), two of the biggest female performers on planet pop (Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift), and a country legend who’s shot to superstardom and fallen back to earth only to soar again several times over the past 4½ decades (Tanya Tucker, a four-time 2020 Grammy nominee).
The Jan. 26 Grammys should be a great night for new voices, as they dominate the 2020 nominations. Sadly, that means vintage is pretty much out of style this year. Tucker aside, there’s very little presence for lead artists who were already big stars in the previous century. Would-be nominees Bruce Springsteen, 70; Sheryl Crow, 57; and Madonna, 61; weren’t just snubbed in the major categories; they were left out of the nominations altogether. That means it will be up to a handful of artists — Tucker; Barbra Streisand, 77; Willie Nelson, 87; Reba McEntire, 64; and John Williams, who, at 87, earned his 68th and 69th nominations — to rise up for the old guard lower down on the nominee list.
The major categories are looking to be virtual bloodbaths, but the must-see showdowns aren’t just up there. Hip-hop has long had issues with homophobia and toxic masculinity, yet Tyler, the Creator’s “Igor,” a song cycle about a love triangle featuring a man, his male lover and his girlfriend, is an unlikely front-runner for best rap album. And over in country song, the aforementioned Tucker track is waging a battle it’s definitely poised to win.