From T-Swift’s redemption to the Weeknd getting shut out. 

By Alex Suskind
November 24, 2020 at 01:31 PM EST
Advertisement
Credit: Michael Kovac/FilmMagic; Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Scott Dudelson/WireImage

The re-emergence of Taylor Swift. The surprise Beyoncé bounty. The attempted rehabilitation of Dr. Luke. The annual Grammy nominations announcement can be as cathartic and maddening as the ceremony itself. The 2021 nominees, which were revealed on Tuesday morning, included plenty of familiar threads and a few (occasionally frustrating) new ones. Leave it to the Recording Academy to throw a little chaos into an already chaotic year of pop culture. 

We run down some of the surprises and snubs from the nominations, which should give you enough to chew on until the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards air Sunday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. 

Taylor finds her way back

In Miss Americana, a behind-the-scenes, warts-and-all look at her career, Swift promises to make “a better album” after her 2017 effort, Reputation, is shunned in the Grammys’ big categories. By that standard, her follow-up, Lover, mostly missed the mark, nabbing just a Song of the Year nomination while being passed over elsewhere. Folklore is different. Her intimate, acoustic-adjacent 2020 project is an Album of the Year contender, and its lead single “Cardigan” Song of the Year, contributing to a total of six nods. The nominations odds were so good for Swift that even “Beautiful Ghosts,” her song from Cats, is up for a Grammy (Best Song Written For Visual Media).

The Grammys still love (to nominate) Beyoncé

The continued brush off of international pop star/local beekeeper Beyoncé Knowles Carter has been a recurring Grammys theme for years. Beyoncé may be the most nominated female artist in the Academy’s history (with 79 career nominations; she’s won the golden gramophone 24 times), but she’s been snubbed when it counts, missing out on coveted Album of the Year honors three times. In fact, Bey has only notched one big four category win in her career, in 2010, with "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” for Song of the Year. Though she won’t be winning any AOTY honors in 2021, Beyoncé did snag nine nominations — the most of this year’s crop — including four for “Black Parade” (for Song and Record of the Year, and Best R&B Performance and Song). It’s a surprisingly robust showing for a pop star who did not release an album in 2020 but did drop a feature-length film in Black Is King (that project received a nomination for Best Music Film, a category she won last year for her work on Homecoming).

That all-female Rock Performance category

Less than a year after then-Recording Academy president Deborah Dugan criticized the organization for its alleged boys club mentality, voters gave women long-deserved Grammy recognition in the rock categories with an all-female lineup of Fiona Apple, Big Thief (the Brooklyn-based group led by frontwoman Adrianne Lenker), Phoebe Bridgers, HAIM, Brittany Howard, and Grace Potter.

Dr. Luke: still here

The superproducer was briefly shunned following sexual assault allegations from Kesha in 2014 (Dr. Luke, born Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald, denied the charges). However, his work with pop singer Doja Cat, under the pseudonym Tyson Trax, has seemed to help rehabilitate his reputation; his production work on Doja’s “Say So” has nabbed him a Hot 100 No. 1 and a Record of the Year nomination. 

K-pop gets the snub

Prognosticators assumed BTS’ ongoing chart success would be enough to propel them to a Record or Song of the Year nomination. Unfortunately, ARMY members will have to wait, as the K-pop stars received their lone nod in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their single “Dynamite.” 

No love for the Weeknd

The Weeknd has never been a Grammys darling, but his 2020 After Hours was expected to score big at this year’s nominations, thanks to its commercial viability (it had the year’s biggest debut before Folklore came along) and its big-budget synth-pop anthems. He’s also been a mainstay on late-night television during the pandemic, turning in unique, boundary-pushing performances. They weren't enough, as Abel came up empty handed on the nomination front. (But then, he does have bigger things to worry about.) 

The grab bag Album of the Year category 

The year’s most perplexing mix of contenders can be found in Album of the Year. Taylor? Yes. Dua Lipa? Totally. But also, a tiny psych-rock duo from Texas (Black Pumas)? A memory-holed Coldplay album? A Jacob Collier album only 10 people heard? Jhene Aiko’s beguiling Chilombo? Also, Haim’s career-best WIMPIII and Post Malone. A very strange bunch — made stranger in a year filled with more than enough worthy picks.

Best New(ish) Artist: Kaytranada

The Grammys insistence on calling established artists “new” continues apace for the 2021 ceremony, this time with Kaytranda being nominated for Best New Artist. The 28-year-old DJ and producer’s first album, 99.9%, from 2016, ended up on half-a-dozen year-end lists, and bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Dance/Electronic charts. That seems a bit far from the Recording Academy’s definition of a “new artist,” which is “any performing artist or established performing group who releases, during the eligibility year, the recording that first establishes the public identity of that artist or established group as a performer.” 

Odds and Ends

  • Megan thee Stallion’s meteoric rise continues. Her four Grammy nominations include the expected (Best New Artist) and the unexpected (“Savage Remix” for Record of the Year). Let’s hope she wins both.
  • The Chicks have been Grammy favorites for years; their previous album, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, won Album of the Year, and also helped them snag wins for Record and Song of the Year. However, their terrific 2020 comeback album Gaslighter was compltely shut out (yet their co-writer and producer, Jack Antonoff, did get a nod in the Best Producer category). 
  • Fiona Apple’s absence from the top four categories? A criminal (ugh) snub indeed. 
  • No album? No problem for 2020 Grammy darling Billie Eilish. After sweeping Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best New Artist at last year’s ceremony, she got noms in the first two categories, for her single “Everything I Wanted.”
  • [Insert petition for Run the Jewels' RTJ4 to be added anywhere in the nominee lineup]

Related content:

Comments