Grammy Nominations 2020: 5 Big Takeaways From the Rock Categories

Vampire Weekend
Michael Schmelling

Vampire Weekend

If you're a rock fan, what's there to watch for at this year's Grammys? 

At a glance, perhaps not so much: it's rare these days to see one of the rock Grammys awarded during the show's televised segment and three of the "Big Four" categories -- song of the year, record of the year, and best new artist -- nix the genre almost entirely.

So will the 62nd annual Grammy Awards turn a big ol' cold shoulder towards their once-beloved guitar music? Not so fast: Aside from rock's typically robust showing in the live performances (those haven't been announced yet) fans who watch 'til the very end of the Jan. 26 telecast could watch one of their indie rock heroes score a surprising -- but not at all implausible -- victory.

For more on those album of the year stakes, plus rock's biggest snubs and surprises, dive into our five Grammy Morning observations below.

1. Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend Emerge as Biggest Winners

Two of the most influential artists to emerge from the late 2000s indie rock boom wind up to bookending the last round of Grammy nominations for the 2010s. Bon Iver (four total noms) cracked two "Big Four" categories -- album of the year and record of the year -- more than any other artist in the rock and alternative realm. Vampire Weekend (three noms) is the only other rock act to make the "Big Four," as their Billboard 200-topping LP Father of the Bride qualified for album of the year. 

When album of the year is announced, could it be Justin Vernon or Ezra Koenig walking to the stage? While neither is a frontrunner here, the Grammys' history of giving the award to upstart, guitar-welding artists gives them some hope to upset a frontrunner like Billie Eilish or Ariana Grande. And both are already well-regarded by the Academy: Vampire Weekend took best alternative music album in 2013 and Bon Iver won best new artist in 2011, sparking a litany of Who Is Bon Iver?/Who Is Bonnie Bear? memes in the process. 


Remember when Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, shocked that they'd won best pop duo/group performance in 2017, stripped down to their boxers to accept the award on national television and warmed our hearts with their unstoppable suburban charm? That memory might be a little fuzzy for Grammy voters -- along with their recollection of the duo's most recent album Trench, which arrived back on Oct. 5, 2018 (just five days into this year's eligibility period), and didn't see a single nomination for 2020.  

Did the lengthy wait play into Twenty One Pilots' omission? It's hard to say, but the Ohio duo's fifth studio album certainly had the bona fides: three of its singles went to No. 1 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart and compared to its crossover hit-packed predecessor Blurryface, the adventurous concept albumTrench proved even more sonically cohesive.

3. Hardly Anything With Crossover Appeal Gets Nominated 

The number of rock artists making a dent in the Top 40 and pop culture at large isn't what it used to be, but the 2020 nominations field still feels somewhat insular. Bring Me The Horizon, Cage the Elephant, the Cranberries, I Prevail, and Rival Sons for best rock album? Sure, all those make sense, but where's the pick that made waves outside of KROQ listeners and Revolver subscribers? Along with the Twenty One Pilots snub, a handful of other rock acts that enjoyed major pop moments last year received no nominations. 

Weezer, which released not one but two albums during the eligibility period, got shut out this year despite the crossover success of its "Africa" cover and its recent sway with the Academy (noms for best rock album in 2018 and 2016). "I've Been Waiting," an alternative and Hot 100 hit collab between Lil Peep, iLoveMakonnen and multi-time Grammy nominees Fall Out Boy, could've also seen inclusion. 

And what about Panic! at the Disco? Their most recent album, 2018's Pray for the Wicked, missed this year's cutoff by a few months but a couple of its singles -- like this year's crossover hit "Hey Look Ma, I Made It" -- enjoyed considerable success during this year's cycle. 

4. A More Diverse Field Carries the Classic Rock Torch

The Grammys' adoration for roots and tradition is no secret, particularly in the rock realm. On that note, it's surprising that virtually nothing you could call "classic rock" made this year's nomination field. (Within the rock categories, about the closest you can get is a Candlemass song featuring Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi up for best metal performance -- shocking!).

In keeping the flame of rock's R&B origins alive, the 2020 Grammys turned to more contemporary artists, and refreshingly, to artists of color. Virtuoso bluesman Gary Clark Jr. nabbed five nominations, in categories ranging from best rock Song to Best Contemporary Blues Album to Best Music Video. And Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard earned two nominations for the "History Repeats," the funky lead track off her debut solo album Jaime.

And while we're talking classic rock, we'd be remiss not to mention the shocking absence of one Bruce Springsteen. His country-influenced 2019 album Western Stars was omitted in both the rock and Americana categories and the Netflix adaptation of Springsteen On Broadway went un-nominated for best music film. 

5. Big Thief Is This Year's Feel-Good, Surprise Nominee 

We're guessing the Brooklyn indie folk band -- whose biggest claim to fame so far was highly flattering Pitchfork coverage -- wasn't expecting to get more nominations than Bruce Springsteen, Jack White, John Mayer, and all of their John Varvatos wardrobes combined. But sometimes the Academy does reward a deserving upstart with a big-time shout out. Big Thief's tear-jerking masterstroke U.F.O.F. is indeed up for best alternative music album -- and since they've already released an acclaimed follow-up during next year's eligibility period (last month's Two Hands) the quartet and its label 4AD already have a convincing case for next year as well. 

2020 Grammy Awards