2021 Grammy Rock Nominations: Indie-Leaning Women Take the Lead

Brittany Howard
Danny Clinch

Brittany Howard

The 2021 Grammy Awards nominations were announced Tuesday (Nov. 24) via a livestream, and there's plenty to chew on in the 2021 Grammy rock categories. For the first time ever, the nominees for best rock performance are either all women or female-fronted outfits.

Best Rock Performance
"Shameika," Fiona Apple
"Not," Big Thief
"Kyoto," Phoebe Bridgers
"The Steps," Haim
"Stay High," Brittany Howard
"Daylight," Grace Potter

Not only is this the first time that's happened in the category's admittedly short lifespan (it debuted in 2012 as an amalgamation of now defunct categories, including best female rock vocal performance), but only once in the category's history has a female voice emerged victorious in that race – in 2016, when Alabama Shakes' "Don't Wanna Fight" won. That, of course, bodes well for Shakes' frontwoman Brittany Howard, whose "Stay High" is nominated in the category this year, as well as for best rock song.

Best Rock Song
"Kyoto," Phoebe Bridgers, Morgan Nagler & Marshall Vore, songwriters (Phoebe Bridgers)
"Lost in Yesterday," Kevin Parker, songwriter (Tame Impala)
"Not," Adrianne Lenker, songwriter (Big Thief)
"Shameika," Fiona Apple, songwriter (Fiona Apple)
"Stay High," Brittany Howard, songwriter (Brittany Howard)

The best rock song category in 2021 is essentially a repeat of best rock performance, removing Haim's "The Steps" and Grace Potter's "Daylight" and swapping in Tame Impala's "Lost In Yesterday." It's also indicative of the category's gradual pivot toward indie music – for the first time since 2009, there isn't a hard rock (or hard rock-adjacent, i.e. Jack White) nominee. With St. Vincent winning the category in 2019 and 2020 seeing noms for Vampire Weekend, the 1975 and Brittany Howard (none of whom won), this seems to be a continuation of a natural trend toward indie: the imprint of Pavement is stronger on this group of noms than Metallica or Nirvana.

Best Rock Album
A Hero's Death, Fontaines D.C.
Kiwanuka, Michael Kiwanuka
Daylight, Grace Potter
Sound & Fury, Sturgill Simpson
The New Abnormal, The Strokes

The best rock album category shows the Recording Academy once again looking beyond its usual rock favorites and focusing on a younger generation of acts. No, Grace Potter and Michael Kiwanuka aren't as classic rock-indebted as Cage the Elephant, Greta Van Fleet, The War on Drugs and Muse (who between them won best rock album for the last five years), but they're the kind of dyed-in-the-wool musicians the Academy tends to celebrate, and their presence in this year's best rock album category seems to once again tip to a gradual generation shift.

Heck, even the Strokes' nomination is something fresh: incredibly, the New York rockers hadn't even received a nom until just this go-round. Irish post-punk outfit Fontaines D.C. is a left-field surprise, too. The least shocking nom here is Sturgill Simpson, who put country and Americana to the side for his psych-blues-inflected Sound & Fury. Considering he's been up for album of the year in the recent past, he's probably the favorite for this category.

Best Alternative Music Album
Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple
Hyperspace, Beck
Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers
Jaime, Brittany Howard
The Slow Rush, Tame Impala

Why the Academy decided to put Fiona Apple, Brittany Howard, Tame Impala and Phoebe Bridgers up for rock song/rock performance but move them from 'rock album' to 'alternative music album' is anyone's guess, but once again, we're seeing more women in this space. In fact, the last time three solo women were up for this category was 1991, when Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and (eventual winner) Sinead O'Connor competed against each other.

Best Metal Performance
"Bum-Rush," Body Count
"Underneath," Code Orange
"The In-Between," In This Moment
"Bloodmoney," Poppy
"Executioner's Tax (Swing of the Axe) -- Live," Power Trip

For a category that often favors the elder statesmen, it's funny to think that Ice-T's Body Count – which was once portrayed as a threat to the very moral fabric of America *clutches pearls* -- is now the 'safest' choice (Code Orange, who were nominated in this category in 2018, certainly have a chance to win this year). The most random nom here has to be Poppy, who's less a proper musician and more of a satirical performance art project; while Poppy started out in the dance-pop realm, her sound has gradually shifted to nu-metal influences.