Below the big four categories, the division of artists into rap, metal, rock, country and R&B seems quaint, even archaic, when genre-less artists such as Eilish and Lil Nas dominate up top
“Out with the old, in with the new” seems to be the new mantra at the Grammy Awards, as a cluster of fresh faces replaces the perhaps too-familiar old guard.
Following the appointment of the Recording Academy’s first female president and CEO in its 62-year history, there was a palpable determination to overhaul an awards ceremony with a reputation for stuffiness – and a lack of awareness when it comes to popular music.
Artists with more than one Grammy already on their shelf at home found themselves overlooked. Those who would previously have been dead certs for Album of the Year or Record of the Year – Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Solange, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen – were noticeably absent. Four of the eight nominees for Album of the Year are relative newcomers: Billie Eilish, H.E.R, Lil Nas X, and Lizzo, who’s released three albums but only broke through this year with her third, Cuz I Love You. The oldest artist in the Album of the Year category is 38 (Justin Vernon), while the youngest is Billie Eilish, at 17.
Arguably the most shocking nomination is Lil Nas X’s 7. While no one could be surprised at his nods for Record of the Year and Best New Artist (his monster hit “Old Town Road” is the biggest of 2019), his debut album received mixed to negative reviews, and failed to hit the number one spot in the US (in the UK, it didn’t even make the top 20). Swift’s album, Lover, which seems to be achieving a steadily growing appreciation by critics, was not nominated. It debuted at number one in countries around the world and broke a number of records, including one that asserted her as the only female artist to have four chart-topping albums in the 2010s.
What this year’s nominations seem to reflect is the introduction of a brand-new generation of artists who are reshaping how we listen to and consume music. Lil Nas X was ignored – and actually ejected – from the country music charts due to claims that “Old Town Road’ wasn’t a proper country song. If anything, this controversy, and the uproar that ensued, only served to propel it further into the public consciousness, eventually sending it careening into the record books, with the most consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard charts.
Meanwhile goth-pop (or however you want to try, and fail, and categorise her) sensation Billie Eilish, who shot to fame aged 14 when she uploaded indie-ballad “Ocean Eyes” to the internet, sweeps the board with nominations in all four of the top categories. With her brother, co-writer and producer Finneas O’Connell, she released one of the most successful albums of the year: When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?. Then there’s Lizzo, whose powerhouse style of performance, along with her promotion of fat positivity and pride as a black female artist, is celebrated in both her native US and around the world. Neither Lizzo, Lil Nas nor Eilish has received a Grammy nomination before.
While there will be an immediate jump to hail the strong presence of women in the main categories, across the board there is still a dire lack of representation – particularly in the rock, rap and metal categories. Rapsody, whose album Eve was by far one of the strongest rap releases this year, missed out on all three of the rap categories, with Cardi B the only woman to feature (and still surrounded by men on the guest-heavy “Racks in the Middle”). You also wonder where the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Jenny Lewis are in the rock categories (although Dolores O’Riordon received a posthumous nod via The Cranberries’ final album, The End).
With each year, the question arises as to how relevant the Grammys even is as an awards ceremony. Below the big four categories, the division of artists into rap, metal, rock, country and R&B seems quaint, even archaic, when genre-less artists such as Eilish and Lil Nas dominate up top. However far Grammys organisers claim to have come, it seems they still have a long way to go.