Lil Nas X‘s album of the year nod for his eight-song EP 7 may have been the biggest surprise in this year’s Grammy nominations. For one thing, the EP runs a scant 18:44, making it one of the briefest collections that has ever been considered for the top award.
7 is only the second EP in Grammy history to receive an album of the year nod. The first was Lady Gaga‘s The Fame Monster nine years ago, but that eight-song EP was a stand-alone collection of the songs that were added to Gaga’s smash debut album The Fame (which was an album of the year nominee the previous year). Lil Nas X, by contrast, has yet to release his debut album.
Lil Nas X’s EP includes two smash hits: “Old Town Road” (heard both in its original solo version and the remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking 19 weeks) and “Panini,” the rapper’s follow-up, which reached the top five on that chart.
7 drew mixed reviews, but they included a few surprisingly strong ones from high-profile critics. Mikael Wood, the Los Angeles Times‘ pop music critic, wrote warmly about the EP on its release in June: “These songs, simply put, are great: vivid, funny, full of feeling and supremely catchy, even if they don’t quite offer a clear picture of who Lil Nas X is offstage or off-screen. …The result rivals Billie Eilish’s album as the debut of the year.”
The EP, then, has its charms (and its enthusiastic backers). In addition, the members of the nominations review committee, which determines the final nominations in the Big Four categories — album, record and song of the year, plus best new artist — probably looked to Lil Nas X to boost diversity and representation in several respects.
Lil Nas X (along with fellow African-American artists Lizzo and H.E.R.) brings racial diversity to the album of the year finals. As an artist who came out while his breakthrough hit was No. 1 on the Hot 100, he also brings diversity in terms of sexual orientation. This is the second year in a row that we have had such diversity in this category. Last year, the openly gay Brandi Carlile and Janelle Monáe, who identifies as pansexual, were both nominated for album of the year.
The 20-year-old rapper also brings youth to the roster of album of the year nominees (as do fellow nominees Eilish, 18, and H.E.R., 22). Lil Nas X is the youngest male artist ever nominated for album of the year (as a lead artist). The old record was held jointly by Sam Smith and Justin Bieber, who were each 22 when they were nominated for In the Lonely Hour (2014) and Purpose (2016), respectively.
Remarkably, Lil Nas X isn’t this year’s only album of the year nominee who has yet to release his or her formal debut album. The same is true of H.E.R. The singer/songwriter’s nominated album I Used to Know Her is characterized as a compilation album, as was last year’s H.E.R., which was also nominated for album of the year. I Used to Know Her consists of songs from the EPs I Used to Know Her: The Prelude and I Used to Know Her: Part 2, plus five additional songs and extended versions of three others. H.E.R. consisted of songs from the EPs H.E.R., Vol. 1 and H.E.R., Vol. 2, plus six additional songs.