Second in importance only to the day of the Grammy ceremony itself, today is the next biggest day on the Recording Academy’s calendar — the day the Grammy nominations for the next year are announced to the world.
After a half-year of submissions, discussion and voting, the nominations for the 58th annual Grammy Awards were revealed this morning. Taylor Swift earned an expectedly high total of 7 (tying her with The Weeknd), but Kendrick Lamar far and away earned the most: 11 nominations.
The album of the year category for the 2016 Grammys is particularly eclectic: Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly, Taylor Swift’s 1989, Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller, The Weeknd‘s Beauty Behind the Madness and Alabama Shakes‘ Sound & Color are up.
While knee-jerk logic might suggest that Stapleton’s album of the year nom is due to his knockout CMAs set in November, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow — speaking to Billboard not long after the nominees were announced — doesn’t think that rings true.
“I don’t think [voters] are influenced by TV performance moments or Billboard chart positions, necessarily,” Portnow says. “Voters are music makers and professionals in their field. I’m not sure they’re voting based on what’s being talked about at an awards show performance. They’re looking at the bigger picture.”
True enough, the Grammy voting period for the nominees wrapped Nov. 4 — the same day Stapleton took the stage with Justin Timberlake for a performance that brought him to a level of national fame.
So the fact that Stapleton’s album earned an album of the year nomination ahead of his CMAs performance — and ahead of his history-making No. 1 return to the Billboard 200 — suggests that at least in this case, Grammy voters were on the Stapleton train far before the public hitched a ride. In short, they knew it was cool before you did.
In the same vein, Portnow says it’s unlikely any artist can truly stage a successful campaign to get an album or song nominated. While plenty of lesser-known acts this year — Hiatus Kaiyote in best R&B performance, Highly Suspect in best rock album — got nods instead of household names, Portnow doesn’t think campaigning has much to do with that. “There’s 13,000 voters, and it’s not a public list — no one knows who all of these people are,” Portnow says. “The [genre] nominations can be more niche. These are people connected to their scene. They may know things that aren’t necessarily big hits on the Billboard charts.” He also points out that voters aren’t part of some sequestered collective — they’re people writing, making and producing music. It’s music makers, not music critics, who occupy the Grammy voting ranks, and the choices reflect that.
Surprises aside, one predictable (but justifiable) album of the year nominee is Kendrick Lamar, whose To Pimp a Butterfly is one of the year’s most acclaimed releases. Many online commentators are seeing the 11 nods for Kendrick as a tacit acknowledgement from Grammy voters that they screwed up giving Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ The Heist the best rap album win in 2014, instead of awarding the debut album from the more widely lauded Lamar. As for this year’s gripes, rap fans are taking to Twitter to protest the absence of Fetty Wap on the best new artist list.
When questioned about Fetty, Portnow doesn’t weigh in on the limited love for Wap (he got just one nod for best rap performance), but says the 11 nominations for Kendrick indicate that criticisms the Grammys are out-of-touch with the hip-hop world are unfounded.
“Fetty might’ve made his mark a little late in the year,” Portnow opined about Grammy voters. “But the 11 nominations for Kendrick Lamar across many categories, including album of the year, shows that voters care about rap. It’s important to remember that not being nominated doesn’t mean voters are saying something is bad. There are thousands of works submitted every year, and of those, only five get nominated. It’s a huge honor, but that doesn’t mean [things that don’t get nominated] aren’t appreciated. People say ‘snubs,’ which is an inherently negative term. Not being nominated isn’t an insult or a ‘snub.'”
While seeing artists’ excited reactions to nominations is easily his favorite part of Grammy nominations day, Portnow doesn’t get too “irked” by the inevitable deluge of ‘Grammy snubs’ articles, broadcasts and tweets. At the end of the day, the Grammys are still the measure many artists are held to. “Even if you don’t win, you will still be called a ‘Grammy-nominated artist’ moving forward. When people die, it says ‘Grammy winner’ or ‘Grammy-nominated artist.’ It means something.”
As for his predictions for the Feb. 15, 2016, ceremony, Portnow declines to offer any. “I gave up crystal-ball prognostication years ago,” he laughs.