On Tuesday morning (Nov. 23), H.E.R. kicked off her morning by joining the likes of Jon Batiste and BTS and more to announce the nominees for the upcoming 64th annual Grammy Awards, not knowing that she would become one of the night’s biggest contenders herself. By the end of the presentation, she and Doja Cat had earned eight nominations, giving them the most nods for female artists this year. (Batiste’s 11 nominations led all artists.)
“Yeah, I did not expect that at all,” she recalled on a phone conversation to Billboard early Tuesday night. “Honestly, I didn’t. It’s crazy. It feels crazy. It’s a special day. I got [21 total Grammy] nominations at 24. It was a lot of years leading up to this point, but I look back at my journey, and I’m so grateful that it led me here.”
With over 20 nominations tucked under her belt before the age of 25, H.E.R. has also won four gold trophies, including song of the year (“I Can’t Breathe”) at this March’s ceremonies and best R&B album (H.E.R.) back in 2019. This year, the young polymath will compete in two of the big four categories: song of the year, for her Judas and The Messiah Soundtrack standout “Fight For You,” and album of the year, for her official debut full-length Back of My Mind.
“It’s nuts. I’m grateful to be a part of the culture,” she gushed when asked about being a Grammy darling. “I’m grateful to be leading a generation, and just being recognized alone is crazy. It hasn’t fully hit me, but it all feels insane.”
Billboard spoke to H.E.R. about her big day receiving eight Grammy nominations, career highlights, working with Halle Berry, and cheering for her fellow Filipinos.
What would you say is your biggest career highlight leading up to this point?
I can’t really just name one. There’s been so many. And some things that are maybe career highlights may not be the most special moments for me. Like some of the moments that I really love are the full-circle moments. Those are the ones that remind me that I’m where I’m supposed to be and that kind of makes everything worth it.
Doing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and having legends coming up to me like Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, Lionel Richie and Carole King [was great.] Watching so many people that I grew up watching and being like, “Wow, those are the beyond, beyond legends” — and they all came up to me telling me how great I am, and how they’re big fans. That’s been a highlight. Being able to perform with [people] that I look up to like Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder [was special]. And of course, winning my first Grammy for best R&B album at the Grammys in 2019 and performing, that was a highlight. That’s been so many that I can’t really just name one.
Out of the eight nominations, was there one in particular that surprised you the most?
Oh a few! The best contemporary Christian music performance/song [nomination for] “Hold Us Together” was very unexpected. That was just something that I felt in my heart to do, and it turned out that I did it for this movie [Safety]. Then, I wanted to bring a new life to the song, and brought [Christian music star] Tauren Wells on. That’s a positive thing for me, and kind of what we’ve been going through in the pandemic.
I didn’t expect to have a Grammy nom at all on top of “Fight For You,” which won an Oscar [this year]. It’s crazy — the performance of it — I didn’t think it would be nominated. That’s insane to me. And for song of the year? I was really surprised.
What does it mean for you to have these substance-driven tracks like “I Can’t Breathe,” which won song of the year last year and “Fight For You” being nominated this time receiving this much critical acclaim?
It makes it even more special. I really didn’t think I would win song of the year last year to be honest. I was just happy to be there. I’m sitting next to Beyonce, Billie Eilish, Post Malone and Taylor Swift. They’re the biggest artists in music right now! I didn’t think I would win. So to have won for “I Can’t Breathe” just makes it a lot. I felt like, “Wow. We’re moving in the right direction.” Like if a message like this can cut across, it’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than me winning a Grammy. If a message like that really takes something like that, that means we’re moving in the right direction.
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In the midst of all of your success, you recently managed to work with Halle Berry for her Bruised soundtrack with your new song “Automatic Woman.” What was that experience like?
She’s been a fan of mine ever since the very, very beginning — like, when I first dropped my first project. She made a special video to it. So I have to give her some credit in spreading the word about my music. But she called and really wanted me to be a part of this soundtrack. It’s a all-female soundtrack. It’s dope. It hasn’t been done, and it’s her directorial debut. I was happy to be a part of that. That’s a major, major moment and it’s on Netflix. I was really touched by the film and the story of it — the strength of it.
The song was in its beginning stages, and I was like, “Ooh. This is something that could be really, really dope.” I went in and kind of did my thing. I didn’t expect them to have the reactions that they had. They were so excited and were over the moon, like, “You brought this song to a whole other level.” So I’m excited to see the song actually in the film. I know people are going to be really surprised but I’m happy with that song. It’s like my new anthem. It gives you strength and it kinds of empowers you as a woman.
I feel like you might have a second career in scoring films and making soundtracks.
That’s something I do love to do actually. The conversations are already happening. I think I’m definitely capable, so I’m excited to see what comes.
Besides getting eight nominations, who else are you cheering for?
There’s two females who are leading in the nominations: that’s me and Doja Cat. We both have eight nominations, and you don’t see that. I’m really, really excited for her. She’s hot and has had an amazing, amazing year doing what she does. She’s killing it and I’m a major fan. I’m excited to see her sweep all the Grammys.
Of course, there’s also other Filipinos who are nominated, and that’s also a rare thing that you see. There’s me, Olivia Rodrigo, Saweetie — and of course Bruno Mars, who’s part Filipino as well. So it’s dope to see a lot of Filipino artists nominated at the Grammys.
If you pick one word to title this chapter in your life, what word would that be and why? I was thinking “eight,” but that’s just me.
That’s a good one! You know, there’s a word that’s kind of been in my head and it’s “inevitable.” I think it’s about knowing the things that you want are kind of already yours and people are going to try to take it away. People are going to try to keep you in a box, try to keep you down, or what they imagined for you. The doubts can even come within yourself, but the word inevitable just speaks volumes. I think it’s about destiny. This was written and I just gotta do the work to follow through. It’s what God had planned. That’s the word, inevitable.