5 Takeaways From The 2019 Grammy Nominations
The Grammy nominations are back, and they’re (technically) bigger than ever. The Recording Academy has expanded the number of nominees in the awards’ four major categories. Now, there are eight contenders each for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist, up from the previous five. After facing bruising criticism over this year’s ceremony, Grammy organizers have also taken steps meant to recruit a demographically more diverse voting membership. “Music’s biggest night” appears to be slowly recognizing that music also reflects culture.
How much has actually changed will be evident when the 61st annual Grammy Awards take place on February 10, 2019. After poring over the full list of nominations, here are some of the big omissions, inclusions, and items of note we caught.
Look What You Made Me Snub
Though voters were perfectly willing to nominate a commercial smash called Beerbongs & Bentleys for Album of the Year, garnering the biggest album of the year on the Billboard charts wasn’t enough for Taylor Swift to bask in her accustomed Grammy glory. The two-time Album of the Year winner settled for a single nomination this year, with her Reputation up for Best Pop Vocal Album. The audience at home will also be spared another Grammy night ruled by Sam Smith, who won Best New Artist, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year in 2015, performed a song at the 2018 ceremony, and is nominated for precisely nothing this time, maybe because his The Thrill of It All just wasn’t that thrilling. Perennial Grammy winner Eminem, meanwhile, got just one nod for his noxious Kamikaze: Best Rap Song for “Lucky You,” where he claims he “sold [his] soul” for those shiny statuettes.
Speaking of drama, the awards-show circuit’s most famous enfant terrible, Kanye West, landed only a nomination for Producer of the Year, after making two albums of his own (ye, Kids See Ghosts) and producing three others (Pusha-T, Nas, and Teyana Taylor). And if you forgot about such highly touted albums as Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods or Nicki Minaj’s Queen, well, so did the Grammys—they have only one nod between them, to Timberlake for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with his bland Chris Stapleton team-up “Say Something.” While Ariana Grande might have appeared poised for the Big Four categories with the success of Sweetener, she’s shunted off into Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Solo Performance, the latter for “God Is a Woman.” Beyoncé and JAY-Z, who have more than 40 Grammys between them, can hope for at most three from their Everything Is Love collaborative album.
On a more serious note, speculation about how the Grammys would handle the late XXXTentacion, whose rise to popularity before his June death coincided with his late-2016 arrest on gruesome domestic-violence charges, was answered: no nods for him, though perhaps partly due to technical reasons.
Ladies to the Front
After men swept at this year’s ceremony, Academy President Neil Portnow infamously suggested that women need to “step up.” In reality, his organization needed to do a better job of recognizing the women who already were—and the world definitely let him know that. The Grammys took the hint: Though Kendrick and Drake receive the most nominations this year, women dominate the Album of the Year and Best New Artist categories, with love for Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile, Janelle Monáe, Jorja Smith, H.E.R. and many more.
Women also make small strides in more technical categories. Typically a sausage fest, the Non-Classical Producer of the Year category saw a woman break through for the first time in 16 years: former 4 Non Blondes leader Linda Perry, who has written and produced big hits for Christina Aguilera, Pink, and more. The nomination is not exactly for her flashiest run of material—the soundtrack to a documentary about women veterans, Served Like a Girl; an album for Roc Nation rockers Dorothy; and, uh, an indie-pop cover of Daft Punk—but sometimes the Academy has a way of using categories like this to celebrate someone’s long track record. Perry is up against a curious mix of producers including Pharrell, Kanye, rap mainstay Boi-1da, and Joni Mitchell producer Larry Klein, recognized this year for producing a bunch of jazz-pop singers.
And for the first time this decade, works by women comprise exactly half of the Best Dance/Electronic Albums category. Lady Gaga and La Roux have taken this award in the past, but in recent years the winners have been mostly bro-ducer types like Diplo, Skrillex, and Flume. This year, nods go to SOPHIE’s OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, L.A. producer TOKiMONSTA’s LUNE ROUGE, and Treehouse by the woman-fronted dance duo Sofi Tukker. The category is rounded out by Jon Hopkins’ Singularity (his first Grammy nod, somehow) and Justice’s Woman Worldwide live album.
Best “New” Artist
The Recording Academy has a bunch of weird stipulations about what makes an artist eligible for the Best New Artist award: They must have at least five tracks or one album, but no more than 30 tracks or three albums; they can’t have been eligible for the category for more than three years previously. Some on Twitter dot com were quick to point out that the rules need tightening up, since nominee Bebe Rexha has been a major pop songwriter throughout the decade, even holding a credit on Eminem and Rihanna’s Grammy-winning 2013 hit “The Monster” (it was a performance award, so no, Rexha doesn’t already have a Grammy). It’s not like she was a total background player before “Meant to Be,” her duet with Florida Georgia Line, reached No. 2 earlier this year. Her proper breakout could be considered her G-Eazy collaboration, “Me, Myself, & I,” which peaked at No. 7 in 2015.
Again, Best New Artist means “new” to mainstream listeners. So more tapped-in music nerds will be surprised (and perhaps pleased) to see that Margo Price got a nod, despite making an initial splash nearly three years ago with her debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and following it up with 2017’s All American Made. The six other nominees more or less check out on the new-ness front, though. Speaking of one…
World, Meet H.E.R.
R&B singer H.E.R. got as many Grammy nods as Cardi B, Childish Gambino, and Lady Gaga (five), but she has kept a dramatically lower profile. Although Rihanna featured her song “Focus” in a dreamy Instagram video last year, the 21-year-old upstart from Vallejo, California, has pointedly shied away from the spotlight (her real name is Gabi Wilson, but the acronym stands for “Having Everything Revealed”). Her 2017 self-titled debut album on RCA is a compilation of her earlier EPs, full of moody and sultry jams. It’s nominated for Album of the Year and Best R&B Album, and Wilson is also up for Best New Artist, Best R&B Song (“Best Part” with Daniel Caesar), and Best R&B Performance (“Focus”).
Indie Greats Get a Speck of Shine
The Grammys aren’t like the Academy Awards. They don’t invite beautiful weirdos like Elliott Smith or Sufjan Stevens to perform. But this year at least, Stevens receives his first Grammy nomination, in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category with Call Me By Your Name’s “Mystery of Love.” He already lost the Oscar for it, and he probably won’t win this one either, if we’re being honest. He’s up against Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s Black Panther mega-hit, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper keeping it so hardcore, and Miguel with Natalia Lafourcade on the Coco tearjerker “Remember Me.” Whatever happens, it’s just nice to see the recognition for someone who has wielded his idiosyncratic vision with grace and generosity for so long.
A couple of other pleasantly surprising appearances by People Who Are Not Just Boring Celebrities (Yet) came, of all places, in the Best Recording Package nods. This category has served before as a bit of an honorable mention space for artists who would normally be too much for this staid event—Father John Misty gave a very Father John Misty speech after winning this year, and past nominees have veered as far from Grammy-land as No Age. So it’s a delight to notice Mitski’s Be the Cowboy here, even though it tells you all you need to know about the Grammys that this is the only category where Mitski is nominated. St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION is here, too! But she’s also vying for Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Music Album—a category that reads, with Arctic Monkeys, David Byrne, and Björk, like it could’ve been compiled a decade ago. Another nice-to-see outlier is Deafheaven, up for Best Metal Album for Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.