The nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards were announced on Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 24). While a number of expected favorites — Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Post Malone — fetched heavy nominations, there were enough surprises in both the Big Four and genre categories that it’d be very understandable if you were left with a number of unanswered questions.
Of course, dealing with such queries is just what we’re here for at Billboard. Here are 10 questions you might’ve been wondering about following today’s announcement, and our best attempt to answer them for you.
1. Where are Ariana Grande’s Positions, Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets to My Downfall or Blackpink’s The Album?
This one’s the easiest — all these albums, along with singles like Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper’s “Holy” and Luke Combs’ “Forever After All,” were released after the Grammy cutoff of August 31st, 2020. We may still see them recognized next year when the 2022 Grammy nominations are announced.
2. Well, where’s The Weeknd’s After Hours and its various hits?
This one, on the other hand, is much tougher. The Weeknd was quite literally the odds-on favorite to be the most recognized artist when the Grammy nominations were announced today — gambling site Sports Betting Dime had him at 6/5 to end up the artist with the most nods. But not only did the future Super Bowl LV halftime show headliner get shut out of the major categories, he didn’t even get a single nomination in the genre categories. Indeed, despite releasing one of the year’s best-performing and best-received albums — with one of the year’s most unavoidable hits in “Blinding Lights” — and despite being a major winner at both the VMAs and the AMAs this year, The Weeknd did not hear his name called once today.
Sussing out why The Weeknd received such a full-on Recording Academy snub will certainly be one of the most-discussed topics of Grammy season. It’s certainly possible that the hybrid nature of his music hurt him in the genre categories — he’s been classified as an R&B artist for most of this year’s award season, even though much of After Hours (and “Blinding Lights” in particular) is more obviously pop-based. But his absence in the Big Four categories — where he’s been nominated before for both album of the year (Beauty Behind the Madness) and record of the year (“Can’t Feel My Face”), and where some much-less-expected names did receive recognition this time around — is less easily reasoned. Perhaps voters just heard him on the radio one too many times?
3. What about Harry Styles and Lady Gaga? Why didn’t they get Big Four recognition?
Lady Gaga was once as sure a Grammy bet as they came, securing album of the year nominations every year from 2010 to 2012 (for The Fame, The Fame Monster and Born This Way, respectively). But since that early peak, the Recording Academy has cooled on her somewhat — none of her subsequent albums have received AOTY recognition, including the acclaimed A Star Is Born soundtrack in 2020, though that set’s power ballads “Shallow” and “Always Remember Us This Way” did receive song of the year nods, while “Shallow” also saw record of the year recognition.
It seemed like the enthusiastically received Chromatica and its Hot 100-topping Ariana Grande duet “Rain on Me” might make her a major Grammys contender again, but it seems the Recording Academy currently prefers its dancefloor stompers from Dua Lipa. Gaga is again relegated to the pop categories, where she’s up for best pop vocal album for Chromatica and best pop duo/group performance for “Rain on Me.” (She’s won both categories before, with The Fame Monster in 2011 and “Shallow” in 2019, respectively.)
Harry Styles, on the other hand, has essentially no pre-2020 Grammys history, having never been recognized either as a member of globe-conquering boy band One Direction or as the group’s biggest solo star. That longtime reluctance to embrace Styles likely goes a long way towards explaining why his blockbuster sophomore LP Fine Line (and its pair of smash hits, “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar”) is absent from the Big Four. Styles superfans can take some solace in him scoring his his first nominations in the genre categories, as he’s up for both best pop vocal album (Fine Line) and best pop solo performance (“Watermelon Sugar”) — as well as best music video (“Adore You”).
4. Who is Jacob Collier and why did he get an album of the year nomination?
The most unexpected name by far in the Big Four categories is that of Jacob Collier, a 26-year-old white British R&B singer and multi-instrumentalist, who is up for album of the year for his Djesse, Vol. 3 set. The nomination will come as a surprise to many, as not only does Collier lack the name recognition of most of his starry fellow nominees, but he’s yet to make a single appearance on either the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart or the Billboard 200 albums chart.
How to explain his presence, then? Well, for one thing, though he’s not a hitmaker necessarily himself, he does feature a number of them on Djesse, Vol. 3 — T-Pain, Ty Dolla $ign, Daniel Caesar and Tori Kelly are among the popular vocalists who make appearances on the set, as well as prior Grammy nominees Rapsody and Tank and the Bangas. And Collier isn’t without his own Grammy history, having won four times already for his arrangement work — taking home both best arrangement, instruments and vocals and best arrangement, instrumental or a cappella in 2017 (“Flintstones” and “You and I,” respectively) and then again in 2020 (“All Night Long” and “Moon River,” respectively).
Another reason Collier might have the Grammys inside track: His mentor is none other than the legendary Quincy Jones, who signed Collier to his management company in 2014 and has helped oversee his career ever since. In addition to being one of the most venerated figures in music industry history, Jones also just happens to be the most-nominated artist ever at the Grammys, having racked up 80 such nods over his nearly seven-decade career — Jay-Z ties him with 80 as well, after notching thre nods this year for his writing credits on wife Beyoncé’s “Black Parade” and her Megan Thee Stallion collab “Savage” — as well as the second-most-winning artist, with 28 total statues on his mantle.
5. What about Black Pumas? Why are they nominated for AOTY for a deluxe edition of their album?
If you’re not already familiar with them from their steady presence on Triple A radio or from a number of critics’ best-of lists from 2019, you may also remember alt-soul duo Black Pumas from their 2020 nod for best new artist, which they ultimately lost to Billie Eilish at this year’s ceremony. That nomination was a bit of a surprise for the still relatively left-of-center outfit, but it’s a much bigger shock this year to see them making the jump to album of the year recognition for 2021 — specifically for the deluxe edition of their self-titled debut album.
Why the deluxe edition? Well, the regular edition of the album wouldn’t have been eligible, having been released back in June 2019, before the start of the 2021 eligibility period. However, the deluxe reissue of the debut set — featuring three new original tracks, four live versions of songs on their album, and four new covers of artists including Tracy Chapman and The Beatles — dropped this August, rendering it fair game for the 2021 nominations. (With 11 total additional tracks, it qualifies the set as mostly new material, even though only three of those new tracks are studio originals.)
It’s not totally unprecedented for the Grammys to recognize a deluxe reissue: The deluxe version of Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You was also nominated for album of the year last year. However, in that case, both versions of the album would have been Grammy-eligible, and the deluxe was likely favored simply because it was the only version that included “Truth Hurts,” one of the year’s biggest hits and a nominee for both song and record of the year at the 2020 awards. Black Pumas are clearly a burgeoning Grammy favorite — the group is also up for both record of the year and best American roots performance for “Colors,” a Triple A No. 1 hit earlier this year — but their AOTY nomination on something of a technicality is sure to generate much debate in the months leading up to the 2021 ceremony.
6. Has an album ever been nominated for album of the year without making the Billboard 200 before?
Between 1958, the Grammys’ first year, and 1961, four albums received album of the year nominations that didn’t make the Billboard 200 (which originated in March 1956). But since 1963, when separate stereo and mono charts merged to form one comprehensive listing, every album that has been nominated for album of the year has appeared somewhere on the chart. In fact, the overwhelming majority of nominated titles have made the chart’s top 10 — occasionally peaking lower, but very rarely outside of the top 50. The most notable exceptions there are Diana Krall’s When I Look in Your Eyes — a surprise jazz nominee in 2000 that had debuted and peaked at No. 68 on the 200 before its nomination, eventually reaching a new peak of No. 56 following the awards — and H.E.R.’s I Used to Know Her, an EP compilation whose AOTY nod last year was also somewhat unexpected, and which had peaked at No. 86 on the 200.
Interestingly, not only does Jacob Collier’s Djesse, Vol. 3 then become the first album in nearly 60 years to receive an album of the year nomination before making the Billboard 200, but Black Pumas’ self-titled album comes just one spot away from sharing the honors — the deluxe edition of their debut bowed at No. 200 on the chart dated Oct. 24, 2020, falling off the listing altogether the next week.
7. Why is Megan Thee Stallion nominated for best new artist, despite becoming a star in early 2019?
Good question. The Grammy criteria in this category is kept fairly vague, stating that it “recognizes an artist whose eligibility -year release(s) achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness…” It disallows “any artist who had achieved a breakthrough in a prior eligibility year,” as well as artists who had previously won a Grammy — like Roddy Ricch, who was ineligible for the award for 2021 following his best rap recording win as a featured artist on Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks in the Middle” last year.
Megan had a big 2019, as her Fever mixtape reached No. 10 on the Billboard 200, and her hit “Hot Girl Summer” (featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign) reached No. 11 on the Hot 100. But she had an even bigger 2020, scoring her first two Hot 100 No. 1s alongside Beyoncé (“Savage”) and Cardi B (“WAP”), respectively. The committee that makes the final determinations on eligibility decided to allow her to compete for best new artist again. (She was entered last year but wasn’t nominated. If she had been, that would have eliminated her chances of competing for best new artist again.) The Grammys try to walk a fine line between honoring the rules as written and showing some flexibility when needed. Alessia Cara won best new artist three years ago, even though she had previously had a top five hit, “Here,” on the Billboard Hot 100.
It’s worth noting that Megan is by no means the artist with the longest recording history in this crop of best new artist nominations — dance DJ Kaytranada has been releasing singles and remixes since at least 2012, with his proper debut album (the acclaimed 99.9%) arriving back in 2016. But again, his profile was raised somewhat in late 2019 with the release of his sophomore album Bubba, his highest-charting entry on the Billboard 200 to date, so he was deemed eligible for best new artist for 2021.
8. Why was Doja Cat’s original version of “Say So” nominated (rather than the remix with Nicki Minaj), whereas the version of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” that is nominated is the remix with Beyoncé?
Another simple answer: That’s how the recordings were entered in the Grammy process and presented to the voters. It’s not as if the voters had the option of going with one or the other. Entries are generally made by artists’ camps — their record companies and managers — and when it comes to songs with multiple notable versions, they’ll usually choose the version they think has the best chance of connecting with voters.
9. Is BTS’ “Dynamite” the first K-pop recording to receive a Grammy nomination?
Yes. BTS’ Hot 100-topping smash is up for best pop duo/group performance at the 2021 awards, which marks the first musical nomination for them or any other modern K-pop act. (The group’s Love Yourself: Tear set was nominated for best recording package at the 2019 ceremony.) Though “Dynamite” is sung primarily in English, the song is joined in the best pop duo/group performance nominations by the bilingual “Un Dia (One Day)” by Bad Bunny, Dua Lipa, J Balvin and Tainy — the second such song in the category’s history, following “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber in 2018.
10. Has either best rock performance or best country album ever fielded a group of all-female (or female-fronted) acts before?
No, though both have come close. In the nominations announced today, all six in the best rock performance category (Fiona Apple’s “Shameika,” Big Thief’s “Not,” Phoebe Bridgers’ “Kyoto,” Haim’s “The Steps,” Brittany Howard’s “Stay High” and Grace Potter’s “Daylight”) and all five in best country album (Ingrid Andress’ Lady Like, Brandy Clark’s Your Life Is a Record, Miranda Lambert’s Wildcard, Little Big Town’s Nightfall and Ashley McBryde’s Never Will) are either female or female-fronted acts, with Big Thief and Little Big Town marking the only acts in either category to even have male members.
That’s fairly historic for a pair of genres who have long been criticized for their gender imbalance, and indeed, it’s the first time for either category that all nominees have been female-led. However, both categories have seen years where all but one nominee was female or female-fronted. In 2016, Foo Fighters were the lone all-male act nominated for best rock performance, along with Alabama Shakes, Florence + the Machine, Elle King and Wolf Alice. (Alabama Shakes won, for “Don’t Wanna Fight” — the lone female-fronted winner in the award’s soon-to-be-10-year history.)
For best country album, the award has twice seen just one male or male-fronted nominee. In 2006, Brad Paisley was the lone lead male in a category also featuring Alison Krauss & Union Station (the eventual winners, for Lonely Runs Both Ways), Faith Hill, Gretchen Wilson and Trisha Yearwood. A little further back, 1999 saw Garth Brooks as the lone male nominee, flanked by Dixie Chicks (winners, for Fly), Shania Twain and again both Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood. That same year was a historic one for women artists across the Grammys, as it also marked the first (and to date, only) time that all album of the year nominees were recorded by female or female-led acts — with Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill triumphing over nominated sets from Sheryl Crow, Garbage, Madonna and Twain again.