Beyoncé leads the contenders for the 2021 Grammy Awards with nine — an unexpectedly high profile, given that the superstar didn’t even release a new album during the eligibility period. Her wealth of nods is followed by six apiece for Taylor Swift, Roddy Ricch and Dua Lipa.
Brittany Howard, of Alabama Shakes fame, was close behind that grouping with five nominations for her solo debut. Earning four each were returning Grammy queen Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, Phoebe Bridgers, Justin Bieber, jazz pianist John Beasley and classical producer David Frost.
Anyone looking for The Weeknd’s name amid that pack, or lesser rewarded runners-up, need look no further. Despite being widely predicted to dominate the nominations for the 63rd annual Grammys, the pop-R&B superstar’s “Blinding Lights” single and “After Hours” album racked up zero mentions, in what is sure to go down as one of the most shocking complete shutouts in modern Grammy history.
Beyoncé will be competing against herself in the marquee record of the year category. She’s nominated there both for “Black Parade,” a one-off single that was the one piece of new music she released as a solo artist this past year, and “Savage,” the Megan Thee Stallion track on which she made a featured appearance. While the bulk of her nine nominations came for those two songs, she’s also up for two video spinoffs from her work on the “Lion King” movie remake (the companion album for which was nominated last year): her original film “Black Is King” and the music video for the “Lion King: The Gift” track “Brown Skin Girl.”
Swift’s six nominations include five for her “Folklore” album or its “Cardigan” single and one for her collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber on an original song for the film version of “Cats.” Her haul marks a return to Grammy favor after what was seen as snubs on some other post-“1989” efforts, like the mere one nomination she got for the “Reputation” album two years ago. Last year, “Lover” got three, but the highly coveted album of the year category was not among them. “Folklore” does return her to that top album category. If she wins — and with The Weeknd out of the way —her path is much clearer), she will become the first woman ever to win album of the year three times, having previously accomplished it for “1989” and “Fearless.”
Swift’s competitors in the album of the year category include a couple of nominees who were heavily favored to contend there — Dua Lipa and Post Malone — along with five more that ranged from slight upsets to complete stunners: Coldplay, Jhené Aiko, Jacob Collier, HAIM and Black Pumas.
The record of the year category finds Beyoncé facing competition from Black Pumas, Doja Cat, Eilish, Lipa, Malone, DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch, and, as previously mentioned, herself, as Megan Thee Stallion’s featured guest.
The news was much better for BTS, who can celebrate that one of the indisputably hugest music acts in the world finally enters the pantheon of Grammy nominees, with a best pop duo/group performance nod for the K-pop group’s first single sung entirely in English, “Dynamite.”
The song of the year category duplicates the record of the year nods in four instances — for Beyoncé, Eilish, Lipa and Malone — while adding nominations for Swift, Ricch (contending here as a solo artist, as opposed to his guest shot with DaBaby in the other category), H.E.R. and JP Saxe Featuring Julia Michaels.
Celebrity nominees who may not necessarily have expected to pick up a Grammy nomination on a day when The Weeknd got none range from Renée Zellweger, a surprise nominee in the traditional pop vocal field for her “Judy” album (a quasi-soundtrack to the Judy Garland biopic of the same name), to Ronan Farrow, Rachel Maddow and Flea, who will contend against one another in the spoken word category for reading their audiobooks.
Lipa and Malone are the only two artists fielding contenders in all three of the top all-genre categories open to them (record, song and album). Last year, Eilish swept all three of those and more besides, although a similar commandeering of all three categories by Malone or Lipa this year may be a tougher order to pull off.
In the best new artist category, there is no front-runner quite as much of a clear-cut shoo-in as Eilish was last year, although Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat will be seen as leading the pack by virtue of the fact that they’re the only two among the eight contenders to also have landed a nomination in one of the other top all-genre categories. They’re joined in the category by Bridgers — whose total of four overall nominations may also be seen as boosting her chances here — plus Noah Cyrus, Ingrid Andress, Chika, D Smoke and Kaytranada. (Ricch would have been a leading contender for best new artist if not for being ineligible because of having won a Grammy for a previous featured appearance before his debut album came out.)
Among the superstars who fielded modest tallies (but not as modest as The Weeknd’s) were Lady Gaga and Harry Styles, who landed two apiece for their high-profile projects. Styles and Gaga face each other in the best pop vocal album category, where the competition involves Swift, Lipa and Bieber. Styles is also nominated for best pop solo vocal performance, a category that pits him against Lipa, Swift, Eilish, Doja Cat and Bieber. Gaga’s other nomination comes in pop duo/group, where her duet with Ariana Grande on “Rain on Me” will compete against BTS, Swift/Bon Iver, Bieber/Quavo, and the all-star quartet of J Balvin, Lipa, Bad Bunny & Tainy.
Getting the best reviews of the year did not always translate to Grammy nominations, especially when it came to veteran artists, who generally do not have the kind of showings they used to at the Grammys. Bob Dylan’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways” did not yield a single nomination. Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” the highest rated album of the year on Metacritic, which was predicted in advance by many to be a near-lock for album of the year, had to settle for three nominations in the rock and alternative divisions.
For anyone wanting to take issue with any Academy timidity in not nominating “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, hold off on that for a year: Cardi B reportedly decided not to submit the single this year because she’d rather it contend when her album is out and eligible at this time next year, rather than splitting her tally — and apparently she’ll be allowed to do that, since the single has had as much impact after the cutoff date as before.
There’s probably no such “we didn’t submit it” explanation, though, for the shutouts suffered not just by The Weeknd and Dylan but some other artists who were predicted to have a good shot at at least some nominations, like Alicia Keys (the 2020 Grammys host), the Chicks (who swept the top three categories the last time they had an album out, even if that was 14 years ago), Childish Gambino (a big winner two years ago), Summer Walker, Run the Jewels, Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen, Gabby Barrett, Halsey, Camila Cabello, Selena Gomez, Kehlani, Jason Isbell, Moses Sumney, Perfume Genius, the 1975, Blackpink and Charli XCX. (For a deeper dive into The Weeknd’s highly unforeseen “snub” and other laments, read here.)
Meanwhile, there is an entire virtual In Memoriam segment embedded within these Grammy nominations, as John Prine, Juice WRLD, Pop Smoke and Leonard Cohen all picked up posthumous nods.
For the complete list of Grammy nominations, click here.