2020 was a tumultuous year, and the music industry felt it.
From tour cancellations, Zoom press junkets, and #BlackoutTuesday originating from two Black women in the music industry, there was no aspect of the 2020 hellscape that didn’t touch the music industry. Inevitably, this spawned a wealth of new content, from those awful “Imagine” viral videos to quarantine songs that evolved as the year did — isolation songs, to protest songs, to even election-themed songs.
With awards season in full swing after the American Music Awards this summer, the Grammy Awards, scheduled for 2021 with Trevor Noah slated to host, just released their list of nominations. With altered categories and June’s promises of inclusion on the brain, the Grammys were under a lot of pressure to get it right this year.
Sometimes they did, mostly they didn’t. Here are the highlights.
Beyonce Swept, Obviously.
And as she should. Beyonce took home 9 nominations — the highest number of nominations this year, making her one of the most Grammy nominated artists of all time. She and Paul McCartney are tied in second for the title with 79 nominations total, while Quincy Jones and Jay Z lead with 80 each.
Beyonce’s visual album Black is King premiered on Juneteenth this summer on Disney+ to immediate acclaim, so it’s no surprise that it racked up nominations. Less expected are the nominations for Beyonce’s collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion on “Savage,” which also received a generous number of nominations.
Though this is good news for Beyonce, the Grammys have famously snubbed her when it comes time to actually bestow her awards in the past — so we’ll be holding our breath.
Beyonce in Black is King
The Big Ones
The biggest categories are Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year.
Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” from Future Nostalgia and Post Malone’s “Circles” from Hollywood’s Bleeding were nominated in all three, also receiving recognition in other categories. Both were relatively surprising in terms of the number of nominations they collected, but both have been heavily nominated before and performed well on the charts early in the year.
To no one’s surprise, Taylor Swift received 6 total nominations for folklore, her effort with The National’s Aaron Dessner, and its lead single “Cardigan,” including Song of the Year and Album of the Year. Other big-time nominees were Billie Eilish; Justin Bieber, despite the initially lackluster performance of “Yummy”; and Roddy Rich, who received nominations for the explosive “The Box” and his feature on DaBaby’s “Rockstar.”
The most unexpected nods went to The Black Pumas and their eponymous album’s lead single “Colors.” The song itself is incredible and the album under appreciated, so its Grammy nod was surprising but not unearned.
Coldplay also received a nomination for Album of the Year, a category which they were nominated for with their debut in 2009, though some say their new work, Everyday Life, is far from their best. Newcomer Jacob Collier also scored big nominations, despite his esoteric sound and niche fanbase, but he’s a musical prodigy so it’s well deserved.
There are also some controversial artists on the list, namely Doja Cat, who was nominated for Record of the Year for “Say So.” While the song was undeniably a hit, in no small part because of TikTok, Doja Cat received backlash earlier this year after information about her interactions with white supremacists resurfaced on the internet. The song was also produced by Dr. Luke, an industry mainstay who was recently involved in a high profile lawsuit against Kesha for assaulting her.
The Grammys claim to consider cultural impact in their deliberations about award-giving, but maybe none of this news reached them…
Who was snubbed?
Many artists who received nominations in specific categories and much public acclaim were surprisingly left off from the big categories. The Weeknd wasn’t nominated at all, not even for last winter’s Blinding Lights. While his album left much but toxicity to be desired, the 80s-inspired Blinding Lights was huge last year and notably absent from the nominations, especially considering his two big Grammy nominations for Beauty Behind the Madness in 2016.
A huge upset was Harry Styles’s Fine Line being left out of the major awards. “Watermelon Sugar” was nominated for best pop solo performance, Fine Line for best pop vocal album and “Adore You” for best music video. These were Harry’s first nominations, so nothing to scoff at, but his newfound mainstream success as a solo artist made some think he was a shoo-in for some nominations in the big three.
Another huge commercial success which was passed over was Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple. Yes, it was nominated for Best Alternative Album, but its nonlinear, chaotic style was probably too experimental for the Grammy voters to consider it for the bigger awards.
Harry Styles in Watermelon Sugar
Best New Artists were pretty solid
The favorite in this category is Megan Thee Stallion.
First, she branded last summer “Hot Girl Summer,” a phrase which took over the internet. Early this year, her success with “Savage” even garnered her a Beyonce cosign. More recently, the Cardi B collaboration “WAP” was an immediate hit. Overall, Megan has established herself as a mainstay in popular rap with a long career ahead of her.
Other female rappers include viral Instagram sensation Chika, known for her lyricism, and Doja Cat, a more controversial choice. Electronic artist Kaytranada has been around for a while, but he also got a Best New Artist nod.
Another favorite is Phoebe Bridgers, whose album Punisher followed her first release and Boygenius collaboration album with a more electric guitar-based rock sound. “Kyoto,” a song about her relationship with her father, is also nominated for best rock song, and she recently released an alternate version of some of her new songs.
Noah Cyrus, who has found her voice in the confessional-pop of Gen Z, appears on the list, which her father did 48 years ago and which Miley never has.
What’s with the new categories?
Some of this year’s biggest changes involved shifts in well-known categories. After backlash from major artists and this summer’s protests against institutionalized racism, the Grammys removed the term “urban” from many of their categories — the most significant being Best Urban Contemporary Album, which was renamed Best Progressive R&B Album.
However, this year’s nominations have shown that this might have been a simplistic solution rather than an institutional one. The artists nominated in this category did not receive bigger nods; meanwhile, white pop artists whose work draws from R&B in ways that fit the new category description, like Post Malone and Justin Bieber, were given more prestigious nominations.
Tyler the Creator at the 2020 Grammys, where he was vocal about his contempt for the “Urban Contemporary” category
As always, who knows what the Grammys was thinking. While a number of generic-pop songs were nominated heavily and more experimental music, though popular, was snubbed, there were still some good surprises.
We’ll have to see who wins on January 31st.