The annual nominations for the Grammy Awards are always full of surprises. But in our many collective decades of Grammy watching, we have never witnessed an omission on the level of the one that the Recording Academy committees who decide the nominees have given to The Weeknd this year.
His “Blinding Lights” single is arguably the most ubiquitous song of the past year, and his “After Hours” album will be at or near the top of many sales and critics charts; he’s even playing the Super Bowl halftime show the Sunday after the Grammys. He led nearly all of the expert-predictions lists for the past several months.
And yet, his total number of Grammy nominations for the year that he dominated is zero.
The biggest nomination snubs in recent years include Taylor Swift not being nominated for Album of the Year for “Reputation” or “Lover” — which is slightly understandable, since she’s already won the award twice and voters may have opted to give other nominees a shot (and her “Folklore” album is up for a 2021 award). Another is Harry Styles’ debut album being shut out of nominations in 2018, although it wasn’t a hit on anywhere near the scale of “After Hours” (and Styles is now up for two awards). And even Drake’s widely reported non-nominations in recent years, originally speculated to be a failure by his reps to submit his releases, were later said to be at least partially intentional, due to his oft-reported indifference to the awards (although he’s up for three, even though he didn’t release an album in the eligibility period).
Which leaves two possible explanations, both of which have little to do with the actual music on the album. First, as mentioned above, a recording must be officially submitted for consideration — but since The Weeknd’s label, Republic, not only handles six-time 2021 nominee Taylor Swift but also Drake, it seems unlikely that they neglected to submit him, unless it was intentional; reps for The Weeknd and Republic did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Another, more likely, possibility is one that Variety nodded to in an article earlier this year: whether The Weeknd is considered a pop or R&B act. While that factor would have played little role in him being left off of the three main categories for which he is eligible (Album, Song and Record of the Year), it’s entirely possible that the screening committees, which determine which releases are appropriate for their respective categories, may have decided that he didn’t fit their categories: In other words, the Pop committee may have considered him R&B and the R&B committee considered him Pop.
The Grammy nominations are two-step process in which committees, which include veteran music professionals who are not publicly identified, make their decisions based on a shortlist handed down from a screening committee that considers thousands of submissions. Variety spoke with Recording Academy interim president/CEO Harvey Mason, jr. about the matter on Monday, and while he exerts no control over the nominations, he did speak generally on the process.
“I don’t think [the Weeknd’s omission calls the nominations] process into question, honestly,” he said. “The process is there so we can continue to monitor excellence. I was in the ‘core room’ this year [which decides the main categories] and I observed, and the people in it are music professionals, at the top of their craft in songwriting and producing and there are a lot of artists. And they were critically listening to every song that came across their desks — or virtual desks — so I don’t think it shows a flaw in the process. It’s a long, arduous process and people take pride in it. The people in that room care: there are no agendas in there, there’s no ‘let’s snub this person’ or that person. It’s about, ‘Let’s try and find excellence.’”
The Weeknd was not the only surprise or snub in the 2021 nominees list, which found prognosticators on point with big predictions for Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Roddy Ricch (who all have six nods), Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish and DaBaby (four each).
On the plus side, Beyonce released just one new song and a “visual companion” film to last year’s “Lion King,” hopped on a remix with Megan Thee Stallion and walked away with the most nominations for the year with nine — as many as she earned in 2017, the year her last full album, “Lemonade,” was eligible. Rock singer Brittany Howard — who has won four Grammys and nine noms as frontperson of the Alabama Shakes — scored five nods for her innovative and challenging solo album “Jaime.” Indie-rock darling Phoebe Bridgers gets a big look with four noms, including Best New Artist, for her critics’ favorite “Punisher.” And Justin Bieber also scored four nominations related to his “Changes” album.
2020 Best New Artist nominees Black Pumas, a Texas rock-soul band signed to the indie label ATO, scored two major nominations for Record and Album of the Year. Canadian singer-songwriter JP Saxe got a Song of the Year nod for “If the World Was Ending,” a duet with Julia Michaels released last fall. R&B singer Jhene Aiko and British jazz musician Jacob Collier scored big with an Album of the Year nods, for “Chilombo” and “Djesse Vol. 3” respectively. Los Angeles pop-rock sister act Haim got two nominations, including Album of the Year, for “Women in Music Pt. III.”
And while Best New Artist would seem to have Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat and Bridgers as front-runners, there’s also rapper Chika, “Rhythm & Flow” alum D Smoke and veteran DJ-producer Kaytranada, who began releasing music in 2013 (and is also up for two other Dance/Electronic awards). Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist and “Big Lebowski” costar Flea scored a Best Spoken Word Album nod for his memoir “Acid for the Children,” as did Ronan Farrow, who’s not likely to win any non-comedy voice-acting roles for the audio book of his galvanizing memoir of the Harvey Weinstein investigation, “Catch and Kill.” And of course Kanye West got a Best Contemporary Christian nod for his “Jesus Is King” album.
Perhaps most satisfying of all, the rock and country music categories are dominated by women. Four years ago, female artists were described by one programmer of overwhelmingly male-dominated country radio as “tomatoes” in the salad of the genre (setting the stage of countless “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” references today).
In the category we’ll call “less noted” (rather than “snubs”) heavily predicted country star Maren Morris received just one nod, Best Country Song for “The Bones”; Fiona Apple, whose “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” album sent many otherwise composed critics into a frenzy, has two nods in the Rock and Alternative categories; Harry Styles, who had two of the year’s biggest singles with “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You,” copped two Pop nods (along with a video nom); BTS scored one for their ubiquitous single “Dynamite.” And H.E.R. and Lil Baby, who were expected to get big looks for their topical singles “I Can’t Breathe” and “The Bigger Picture,” scored one and two nods respectively for the songs: H.E.R.’s is for Song of the Year (and she’s featured on two other nominated songs, by Skip Marley and Robert Glasper), while Lil Baby’s are in the Rap categories.
Along with The Weeknd, other widely predicted artists who were shut out include R&B singer Summer Walker, former Grammy host Alicia Keys, Bob Dylan and the Chicks, along with country artists Luke Combs, Jason Isbell, Blake Shelton and Gabby Barnett and pop acts Blackpink, Halsey, Charli XCX, Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello, and the Jonas Brothers.