In the major singles categories—Record of the Year and Song of the Year—the story is much the same: largely pitting rap and R&B against female-led roots(ish) music. Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All the Stars,” Drake’s “God’s Plan,” and Carlile’s “The Joke” have nominations in both fields, as do A Star Is Born’s Lady Gaga–led “Shallow” and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” (Of the two pure-pop confections nominated for Song of the Year, Shawn Mendes’s “In My Blood” and Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey’s “The Middle,” even the latter is led by a female country singer.) A rap song has never won in either category before.
As far as rock and roll goes, the only guitar band nominated in the Big Four fields is the Led Zeppelin descendant Greta Van Fleet, who will compete for Best New Artist against Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha, Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., Jorja Smith, Luke Combs, and Margo Price. Greta Van Fleet, who in the past year has amassed an impressive amount of both buzz and backlash online, also stands out as the only young group in the Best Rock Album category, which otherwise includes the veterans Weezer, Alice in Chains, Ghost, and Fall Out Boy.
Scan through the nominations in the genre-specific categories, and you’re reminded of all the huge stars snubbed in the general awards. Ariana Grande’s Sweetener and Taylor Swift’s Reputation—solid sellers and conversation starters, but largely lacking in the ubiquitous smashes expected of them—are relegated to Best Pop Vocal Album. The theoretically seismic but actually somewhat dud-like Everything Is Love, by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, will contend in Best Urban Contemporary. Kanye West’s frenzy of activity might grab him Producer of the Year, but his solo album Ye and his hit with Lil Pump, “I Love It,” aren’t nominated. Neither is Maroon 5’s Red Pill Blues, outside of a nod to the hit Cardi B team-up “Girls Like You” for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Nicki Minaj’s Queen and J. Cole’s KOD: ignored. Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods: barely acknowledged.
Most of these snubs aren’t that scandalous, though. The charts landscape of the past year or so has been defined by a feeling of flux as the A-tier of pop superstars has seen diminishing returns to its event releases. Meanwhile, insurgent voices drawing from outside the narrowly defined parameters of “the mainstream” have grabbed huge audiences. The rare lasting mega-celebs to keep reliably scoring hits, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, still have done well with these Grammy nominations.
The relative diversity and freshness of this year’s field might seem to placate the Grammys’ loudest critics, but the truth is that the biggest knock on the institution has long been about what happens at the ceremony. Again and again, important artists who aren’t white men have been invited to the show but denied its top prizes. That possibility looms still. For example: An Album of the Year trophy for the enormously successful Post Malone wouldn’t be unimaginable, but it would be a bitter turn for the first rapper to champion in that category in 15 years to be a Caucasian with a weirdly disrespectful attitude toward the genre’s history.
More Info: theatlantic.com