The Grammys got a little more predictable this year — which was good, if you have a bookie, or if you’e a journalist who’s been sulking for years over your consistent failure rate in prognosticating these things. Much of it comes down to the nominating committees having been abolished this year after being gatekeepers for the last quarter-century. For better or worse, the new field was without the famous “committee picks” that used to shake things up… and squeeze out more obvious choices like the Weeknd and Ed Sheeran.
So thank God for Jon Batiste for coming in and making us turn off our snooze alarm as the nominations unfolded Tuesday morning that, unbeknownst to us all, he was actually the music phenomenon of 2020. (The general public may not have known, but New Orleans understood.) As for the rest of our snubs and surprises, they weren’t always all that shocking, even if we were making predictions for BTS to finally land a nod for record of the year, in our heart of hearts we knew it wasn’t going to happen yet. We took our real shocks where we could find them: inside Batiste’s horn of plenty, mainly.
SURPRISE: Jon Batiste leads with 11 nominations
Should, or could, we have seen this coming? There are different outside factors you could attribute his sudden Grammy success to. Like friendship — how many recording artists of any note hasn’t the well-liked “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” band leader rubbed elbows with during his tenure? And those older voters who favor “real musicianship” (and some younger ones, too) finally got their muzzles taken off this year and weren’t subject to committee gatekeepers trying to ensure that the Grammys look hep and edgy. But in fact, Batiste’s popularity isn’t just a music industry phenomenon. Coming into these nominations, his infectious record of the year candidate “Freedom,” filmed on location in his native New Orleans, had 4.9 million YouTube views just for the official music video, not counting other versions. Those aren’t K-pop numbers, but it’s not bad for a jazz cat.
SNUB: BTS gets one nomination… again
Nobody puts Baby in a corner, but the Grammys are content to put BTS in one semi-niche category. Despite predictions that this would be the year they’d be up for record of the year, BTS had to settle for a lone nod in pop duo/group performance for “Butter”… the same consolation prize handed to “Dynamite” last year. Historically, their chances could have been dismissed under the umbrella of “not really a Grammys artist,” but it seemed like the switch to a popular music-biz vote might augur for a change this time. As they switch from Sony to Universal distribution in the coming months, it’ll be interesting to see if the latter corporation can affect a different result by putting its own army in motion.
SURPRISE: Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett rack up five
In a different era — the era in which Bennett was able to win album of the year for an “MTV Unplugged” release — this would have been a no-brainer. But remember: Bennett getting the big prize in the mid-‘90s was then used as one of the examples of why committee systems needed to be put in place in the first place, so the Grammys wouldn’t turn into career achievement awards. The pendulum swung so far in the opposite direction in recent years under the blue-ribbon committees — swung so ageist, arguably — that anybody over 40 had a hard time getting in. So the sweet look for 95-year-old Bennett and his Lady friend this year can be seen as an example of post-committees course correction. Or else even all those new members the Academy has been recruiting have wised up to the supremacy of Cole Porter, too.
SNUB: Grammys to Morgan Wallen: “No, really, it’s OK, keep hibernating”
The embattled country superstar has one of the half-dozen biggest sellers of the year, so in a different time and place, the Recording Academy’s Nashville chapter might have gotten behind him as a chance to celebrate a victory even the country-ignorant couldn’t ignore. And his “Dangerous: The Double Album” did snag a CMA nomination for album of the year, despite the org pointedly announcing he was not welcome to come to the ceremony. When he didn’t win that two weeks ago, it was a pretty good sign Nashville insiders wouldn’t be turning out for him here, either, despite many believing that he’s done his time as a media outcast for the last nine months. Complicating factors: the album itself is pretty good… but Wallen’s lone interview with GMA’s Michael Strahan, meant to be his get-out-of-jail song, didn’t indicate that he’d learned anything during his hiatus. In the end, he’s still untouchable to too much of the biz.
SURPRISE: Brandi Carlile gets five nods, without an album out yet, and with no big hit single
When you’re a Grammy favorite, you’re a Grammy favorite, and if the Recording Academy were choosing an artist to be its public face, Carlile would have to be high up among the contenders right now. Still, she waited until Oct. 1 — the day after the eligibility period ended — to put out her new album, “In These Silent Days.” Wouldn’t that severely diminish her chances at racking up nominations, given that the singles she had out during the year weren’t as ubiquitous as “The Joke” had ended up being? Nope. Her initial album-teaser song, “Right on Time”? In, for record, song and pop solo performance. She did a duet with Alicia Keys? In. She produced and sang harmony on a song for pal Brandy Clark? In. Waiting till October to put out the album seems like a smart strategy after all, if it was that and not just coincidence. With “Silent Days” likely to land big nods for 2023, she’s going to be a Big Grammy Deal two years in a row.
SNUB: The rock bands of the moment, Maneskin and Glass Animals, get zero and one nomination, respectively, while Black Pumas get two — for a live album
The Grammys have a longstanding Rock Problem, and going with a popular vote for the nominations hasn’t solved it. Harvey Mason Jr. singled it out in a conversation with Variety’s Jem Aswad that it’s something the Academy still has to find a way to work on. Neither the much-touted Maneskin nor the rock-to-top-40 crossover act Glass Animals got any love in the rock categories, although the latter group did get a single nod as one of 10 newcomers up for best new artist. Add to that, Black Pumas, a fine band, manage to get two nods for a live album — on top of the Best Album and other nods they got for a deluxe edition of a previous album that just barely met eligibility. (Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, since someone in their camp clearly is adept with the nomination process — they’ve gotten multiple big nominations in two years while releasing hardly any new music.) These groups aren’t everyone’s cup of tea — a “next U2” remains far out of rock’s current reach — but the Grammys just aren’t doing much to counter the ongoing rock-is-dead narrative.
SURPRISE: Justin Bieber finally gets his wish and gets nominated in R&B
Bieber famously complained last year when his then-new album was moved over to pop categories from where he’d submitted it, as an R&B record. So after he declared that his follow-up album this year, “Justice,” was in fact unapologetically pop, the matter might’ve seemed to be settled. Yet “Peaches” was positioned as an R&B single that happened to be on a pop album … and Academy voters bought that argument, rewarding him for his rhythm-and-blues peachiness in one category and for a different track, “Anyone,” in pop. There was a lot of love to go around in general for Bieber, who was seen generally as rebounding from an iffy album last year, “Changes,” to a far better one this time. His ability to land songs in two genre categories, and get at least partial credit as the R&B star he wishes most to be, is an enviable spot to be in.
SNUB: Little love for the Kid Laroi
The Academy’s adoration of Bieber didn’t mean members thought everything he touched in 2021 turned to gold. His duet with the Kid Laroi on “Say” was one of the major pop phenomena of the year, but Laroi may still be seen as “just not a Grammys type of artist.” Hang in there, Kid — that’s exactly what they said about Bieber for quite a few years. And a lot of artists would love to be as “snubbed” as Laroi was, when he did get at least a lone nod for best new artist.
SNUB: Recent Grammy queen Kacey Musgraves comes up short
Musgraves already expressed her displeasure with the nominations process this year, and she had good reason for it, at least in terms of the number of nods she ended up with. “Star-Crossed,” her divorce album, was always going to be a bit more polarizing than “Golden Hour,” her honeymoon album, so it needed some extra help. And it didn’t get it when the committees that do still exist to decide which categories things really belong in decided the latest LP was a pop album, not a country album. If it’d been fielded in the latter division, it would have 100% gotten a nomination, and had a strong chance at winning; shuffled to the pop album category, it just faced too much competition. (Or maybe Grammys voters just really hate divorce. If so, someone better warn Adele now.) But Musgraves’ excellent “Camera Roll” does have two nods in country, so she wasn’t shut out, just underrepresented.
SNUB: The one-and-done club: Taylor Swift, ABBA, Ed Sheeran get one prominent nomination apiece, and that’s it
The very first nominee some saw when they opened up the list of Grammy nominations was ABBA, in there for record of the year for “I Still Have Faith in You” — and that’s also the last time the reunited quartet appears on the ballot. Sheeran shows up on it just once, for song of the year for “Bad Habits.” Swift got just one nod for “Evermore,” for album of the year, which she won last year for “Folklore.” (That is if you are not counting the fluke nomination she got for being credited as a songwriter after the fact on Olivia Rodrigo’s album.) Plenty of artists who did great work in 2021 only got a single mention, in fact, including alternative album contenders Halsey and St. Vincent. And we’ve already mentioned BTS and Glass Animals as members of this exclusive club of artists with exclusive nominations. But as the Weeknd’s team will tell you, any notch beats a big, round zero.
SURPRISE: The Weeknd gets three nominations, even as he boycotts the Grammys. Huh?
New rules for record and song of the year meant that anybody who even had a single co-writing or featured performance credit on a nominated work is now credited with a Grammy nominations. That’s how the Weeknd followed his shut-out year with three nods — for appearing on Kanye West and Doja Cat records — even after angrily insisting recently he wanted no part of any of this anymore. But it wouldn’t be the Grammys if, even in a year where things are kind of suddenly explainable, things didn’t get weird.