In the wake of #GrammysSoWhite and this year’s reckoning with systemic racism, how will voters approach music’s biggest honor?
Even in normal times, predicting the Grammys’ album of the year category can feel like trying to guess where lightning will strike. Great albums released early during the eligibility window can fade from memory, and the recently increased field of eight nominees means plenty of dark horse entries can shake things up. Yet with a pandemic that has made time a blur and a national reckoning with racism that has renewed attention toward how media and entertainment companies acknowledge Black creators, the category for the 2021 ceremony is as unpredictable as ever.
“The thing I’m looking for most, which is the trickiest thing this year, is impact,” says Recording Academy member and Grammy-winning songwriter-producer Mark Batson (Eminem, Alicia Keys). “It’s going to have an asterisk for me because there’s not much music reflecting what’s actually going on in the United States albumwise.”
Part of that comes down to timing: The major artists most likely to create a body work that speaks directly to the pandemic or the Black Lives Matter protests haven’t had the time to create it yet. Even so, a management/publishing executive and voting member tells Billboard the industry cannot settle for “business as usual” this time. “Whether or not the voting bloc of the Grammys is or isn’t tone-deaf this year remains to be seen,” he says, “but I hope that our industry links arms with one another in a meaningful way, whatever the outcome is.”