Music’s biggest night is the Grammys. But music’s biggest morning? That would be the Grammy nominations, of course, which were unveiled earlier Friday. This year’s crop included plenty of snubs, surprises, and standard Grammy fare. From Kendrick to Gaga to Brandi Carlile(!) to a major rules change, the 2019 ceremony looks to kick off a new era for the Recording Academy. It all goes down on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles.
Ahead, EW senior editor Alex Suskind and features editor Sarah Rodman break down some of the newsworthy nominations.
SARAH RODMAN: Every year the Grammy nominations arrive and every year critics, industry folks and fans begin the debates… and complaints. This year’s crop has some great — and unexpected but welcome — nominees. First things first: the lead nominee is Kendrick Lamar with eight for his curation of Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired by, the stellar soundtrack to superhero odyssey. It’s great to see the love for Wakanda translate into another medium. The collection is nominated for Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year (for Lamar’s collaboration with SZA “All the Stars.”) Kendrick has been to this dance a few times though and come away empty-handed in the big categories. What do you think Alex, is this Kendrick’s year to win the big awards? Or will he need to use some vibranium to actually triumph?
ALEX SUSKIND: Sarah, Kendrick may be the only person not named Beyoncé more deserving of an Album of the Year win. Sure, he’s already got 12 Grammys to his name via the below-the-line categories (Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, etc.). But the big prizes have eluded the Compton MC, this despite his three previous AOTY-nominated studio efforts. Thankfully, that lack of major award love hasn’t stopped K. Dot from dropping the mic as a performer at previous ceremonies, (see: this one from 2016; also this one from 2018). Considering how major a pop culture moment Black Panther was, it’s tempting to make Lamar the favorite. But, with or without the vibranium, the competition is fierce. Speaking of, what do you think of the rest of the AOTY list? Ten months after Recording Academy President Neil Portnow put his foot in his mouth by blaming the show’s lack of female presence on women artists not willing to “step up,” the majority of AOTY nominees are female.
SARAH: That was one of the most refreshing surprises of this year’s crop! There are more women — and from several different genres — as well as LGBTQ artists recognized in the AOTY category and other major races. Now that the Recording Academy has expanded to eight nominees in the four major categories, competition is fierce indeed! Kendrick is facing off against an eclectic list: Cardi B, Drake, H.E.R., Post Malone, Janelle Monae, Kacey Musgraves and Brandi Carlile! Brandi Carlile! (I’m just going keep shouting that!) Janelle and Kacey got a lot of love — including from us here at EW — so it’s a treat to see them on the list. But Brandi’s nomination here, as well as in the Song and Record of the Year categories, may be the most exciting news. The singer-songwriter made one of the best, most confessional albums of her career in By the Way, I Forgive You and it deserves this recognition. How about you? Were there any big surprise or snubs that caught your eye?
ALEX: The biggest surprise for me: Taylor Swift. As in, a lack thereof. Swift has been a dominant presence at the Grammys since 2008, when she was nominated for Best New Artist. But her “old Taylor is dead,” snake-tinged 2017 LP Reputation snagged only one nomination this year, in the Best Pop Vocal Album category. That’s a big surprise considering it was the second best-selling album of 2017, and that she already has two Album of the Year wins to her name (for Fearless and 1989). Just call it Ed Sheeran Syndrome — the Brit’s mammoth 2017 album ÷ also got the snub and was relegated to a Best Pop Vocal Album win. I’m now curious if Swift shows up to this year’s ceremony at all. My guess is no — which is probably for the best, since it avoids any awkward encounters with nemesis Kanye West, who’s been nominated for Producer of the Year. But for now, let’s talk numbers. This year’s big categories — Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year — increased the nominees from five to eight. Do you think that’s a good thing? Bad thing? Neutral thing?
SARAH: It is both a good and a bad thing, right? More nominations theoretically means more recognition for deserving artists and their work. But the cynic in me can’t help but wonder: If everybody is special, is anybody special? And will people now start to pick apart the nominations to figure out who the “extra” people are? Of course, the idea of pitting different kinds of music against each other and calling one “best” is silly on its face to begin with, so why quibble with a few more musicians waking up to the happy news that their peers enjoyed their hard work and inspiration? But, more nominations also makes it that much more difficult to win. Does someone like H.E.R. have a chance against Drake? Which brings us to the expanded Best New Artist category. This one has had a wild history. What do you think of this year’s class?
ALEX: Wild history is right. Best New Artist has become an infamous category for the Grammys, having nominated musicians in the past that aren’t, shall we say, new. Like Alessia Cara winning in 2018 despite her debut record Know-It-All and breakout hit “Here” dropping a full three years before that, or Bon Iver winning in 2012, five years after his critically acclaimed debut For Emma, Forever Ago. Though the Academy isn’t completely exempt from silly Best New Artist decisions this year (Bebe Rexha may have released her debut LP this year, but she’s been around for a minute), the rest of the nominees round out quite the list. There’s H.E.R., as you mentioned, along with British singer/Drake fave Jorja Smith, plus Beyoncé-signed Chloe x Halle, and country singer Margo Price. Hopefully this class — along with the rest of the big award nominees — signifies a new and exciting chapter in Grammys history.
SARAH: These nominations give me hope for that on a lot of levels. Seeing names like Margo Price in Best New Artist, Ashley McBryde for Best Country Album, MeShell NDegeocello in Best Urban Contemporary Album? That’s progress. There’s plenty of debating to be done between now and Feb. 10 as we work through the rest of the list and start making predictions. But, given the broad spectrum of artists represented, if many of the nominees perform, it should also make for an entertaining night of TV.