Surprise: JAY-Z's Dominance
Hov leads the pack with eight noms this year, and he scores his first-ever album of the year nomination with the reflective, masterful 4:44. But what's truly surprising is that he also scored song of the year and record of the year nominations for "4:44" and "The Story of O.J.," respectively. Typically, songs that land SOTY and ROTY nominations are massive hits that a casual music fan knows, i.e., songs that are so inescapable you know them even if you ignored the album they hail from. And while "4:44" did peak at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100, "The Story of O.J." wasn't even a single – and you'd be hard pressed to find a layman who could rap either off the top of their head. What does that mean? Tidings of great joy for JAY: His presence in the major categories this year tips that the Recording Academy is serious about giving the rap legend his due.
Surprise: Hip-Hop Takeover
It's not just JAY-Z: take a look at the Big 4 categories. If it's not a rap release by definition, chances are good it's heavily influenced by hip-hop production (SZA, Alessia Cara) or phrasing (Bruno Mars, Khalid). Sure, Childish Gambino's Awaken, My Love! is straight out of the Funkadelic playbook, but Gambino got his start as a rapper, and George Clinton is basically a one-stop library for iconic hip-hop samples. "Despacito"? Reggaeton is unthinkable without hip-hop. Of the 20 nominees in the Big 4, only Julia Michaels (up for best new artist and song of the year with "Issues") and Lorde (up for album of the year with Melodrama) exist outside the immediate realm of rap's influence.
Surprise: Donald Glover, the Unexpected Grammy Fave
Be honest: You were not expecting Childish Gambino's George Clinton about-face Awaken, My Love! to get an album of the year nom nearly a year after its release. Sure, surprise hit "Redbone" kept the LP bubbling throughout the year, but Donald Glover's psychedelic R&B foray wasn't in most Grammy prognosticators top 10 picks. So what happened? Well, Grammy voters love albums with organic instrumentation vs. computer-programmed music, and this album wears the former on its sleeve. And from Beck's Morning Phase to Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth, the last few years always seem to involve a surprise AOYT candidate. Or perhaps the Recording Academy never got over the end of Community and will do anything do get a Troy and Abed In the Morning spin-off going.
Surprise: Best New Artist Noms
While we're not surprised that SZA, Khalid and Julia Michaels are up for the honor, Lil Uzi Vert was a long shot – it wasn't unthinkable the rising star would get shut out (while Uzi hit No. 1 as a feature on Migos' "Bad and Boujee," both Fetty Wap and Desiigner topped the Billboard Hot 100 as lead artists, and neither earned a best new artist nod in their years). Alessia Cara is another welcome surprise – many were hoping the preternaturally talented singer-songwriter would earn a best new artist nom last year, and weren't necessarily expecting her to nab one on the rebound. But hey, better late than never when it comes to someone with as much creative promise as Cara.
Okay, maybe it's not a shocker to see a song that tied Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men's 21-year-record for longest-running Hot 100 No. 1 ("One Sweet Day," 16 weeks from 1995-96) up for multiple Grammys. But keep in mind it's up for record of the year, song of the year and best pop duo/group performance. Typically, Latin-flavored songs don't get those nods – especially ones predominantly sung in Spanish. In fact, the last time Latin music was this well represented in the SOTY and ROTY categories was 2000, when Santana's "Smooth" ft. Rob Thomas and Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" competed in both categories ("Smooth" took both). So three major-category noms for Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" is a bit of a surprise, and certainly a historic one.
Snub: Ed Sheeran
The biggest snub is undoubtedly not seeing Ed Sheeran nominated in any of the major categories. An album of the year nod for Divide was all but assumed, and given the ubiquity of "Shape of You," it seemed that single was a shoo-in for SOTY, ROTY or both. And yet here were are: Divide got just one nod (best pop vocal album) and "Shape of You" was shut out of the big categories Sheeran is accustomed to, nabbing just best pop solo performance. And those are hardly easy victories – in both categories, he's up against stiff competition with Kesha and Lady Gaga. While we're not crying foul per se, it's certainly not what Sheerios expected.
Snub: One Direction Solo
The Grammys never graced One Direction with a nom, and that continues even as the boys pursue unprecedented post-boy band solo success. Harry Styles' self-titled, self-consciously backward-gazing rock debut failed to get any Grammy love, and while Niall Horan's album Flicker came out after the eligibility period ended (which means it's potentially a 2019 Grammy contender), it's still surprising his Eagles & Fleetwood-flavored "Slow Hands" didn't get any attention as a single. Both Styles and Horan delivered Grammy catnip -- instrumentation-heavy rock rooted in the works of '70s icons – but the Recording Academy wasn't biting. Even Zayn didn't get one, although his Taylor Swift duet "I Don't Want to Live Forever" was nominated. The Fifty Shades Darker track is up for best song written for visual media, but that's a songwriters awards – which means Swift, Sam Dew and Jack Antonoff would win.
Snub: Country Music
Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road" was one of the year's biggest singles – heck, it set a new record for most weeks atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Even so, Hunt was only nominated in the country categories for that inescapable smash (best country song and best country solo performance). It's not a snub worth drowning yourself in whisky over, but country fans might need a long drive on the open road after realizing not one country song/album/artist got a Big 4 nod this year.
Snub: Calvin Harris
Despite releasing the best reviewed album of his career by far with Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1, Calvin Harris walked away with exactly one Grammy nomination: producer of the year, non-classical. Of course, that's hardly a category to sneeze at, but given Harris' Grammy past (1 win, 5 noms prior to this year), it seemed Funk Wav would fare better. But then again, Harris was a big presence in electronic/dance Grammy categories; his recent pivot away from that placed his new music in far more competitive categories. Snub? Sure. But it's not hard to see why this one fell through the cracks.
Snub: Lady Gaga
Fans and critics are divided as to whether Gaga exceeded expectations in 2017 or simply met them adequately. But for an artist as beloved by the Recording Academy as Gaga, it's still a surprise to see just two 2018 Grammy noms for Mother Monster: best pop solo performance for "Million Reasons" and pop vocal album for Joanne. And considering she's up against Kesha's knockout comebacks and Ed Sheeran's commercial juggernauts in those categories, it's entirely possible the six-time Grammy winner won't add any gold to her shelf in 2018.