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2019 Grammy Nominations: The Snubs and Surprises

Vulture.com logo Vulture.com 12/8/2018 Hunter Harris
Donald Glover making a face for the camera: Getty Images © Getty Images Getty Images

In the next few days, if you so desire, you will find a number of articles that attempt to explain what the Grammys really mean for the music industry. Do they matter? Are they irrelevant? Already, outgoing Recording Academy president Neil Portnow has said “I think we’re incredibly relevant and on point.” Which, in a way, has never really been the deal with the Grammys. The truth is, the Grammys are important, but they’re not necessarily an accurate representation of the music industry as a whole. There is no reason that these two ideas need to be reconciled. If Drake somehow wins zero awards, that does not make Drake less popular. That Ariana Grande was not nominated for more awards does not negate her impressive musical achievements this year. The Grammys are their own world, and they matter exactly as much as we let them matter. Here are some of the major snubs (Taylor Swift!) and surprises (to be honest, they played it pretty safe this year). Read on.

Taylor Swift © Thomson Reuters Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s Reputation got snubbed for Album of the Year.

Like everything else in Taylor Swift’s career, the timing of the artist’s releases has been designed for maximum strategic advantage. An album would arrive every two years, always in the fall, with the lead single dropping before the the Grammys’ cutoff date, and the album coming after. Thus, in theory, Swift would be up for a major award at every Grammys ceremony: first Record of the Year, then Album of the Year, then Record of the Year, and so on and so on. Swift’s hegemonic dominance of the musical landscape would be ensured.

But as the German generals learned in the autumn of 1914, even the most precisely engineered war machine can break down. The lockstep scheduling was first to go: After encountering an unforeseen mid-decade backlash, Swift decided to wait three years between 1989 and Reputation. The latter album’s lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” was kept off the ballot entirely at the 2018 Grammys, and this morning, the unthinkable occurred: Reputation got snubbed in the new eight-strong Album of the Year category, making it the first Swift LP not to make the cut since 2010’s Speak Now. In all, she only managed to garner a single nod, for Best Pop Vocal Album. Will we look back at the 2016 ceremony, the night 1989 won Album of the Year, (and, just as importantly, in retrospect, the night Swift reignited her feud with Kanye West), as her high-water mark at the Grammys? — Nate Jones

FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2018 file photo, Kendrick Lamar performs at the Brit Awards 2018 in London. Lamar, Lil Wayne and Meek Mill helped the famed Summer Jam music event celebrate its 25th anniversary with jam-packed performances. Remy Ma, Tory Lanez and BBD also worked the stage Sunday for the feverish audience at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP, File) © The Associated Press Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack is nominated.

On paper, it’s not especially surprising that Kendrick would secure a Grammy nom for pretty much anything he did in a given year, but that he would — along with a host of other artists like Mozzy or SOB x RBE who would not normally be Grammys contenders — get nominated for this compilation is notable. The Black Panther soundtrack is a dense, often sad collection of abrasive rap songs that don’t so much cross over as they do double down on their regional specificity. In other words, it’s a soundtrack to a major motion picture that makes no attempt to appeal to new fans, and it’s a better listen for it. — Sam Hockley-Smith

FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 21, 2018 file photo, Childish Gambino performs at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival Day 1 held at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Childish Gambino is postponing his tour to recover after he injured his foot. Live Nation says the performer's "This Is America Tour" will resume on Dec. 2 in Nashville. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP, File) © The Associated Press Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is nominated for song of the year.

Talking about the state of the music video in 2018 is complicated. They’re undeniably still important, and there are still many great, occasionally transcendent videos being shuttled through the pipes and cogs of the internet (that’s how it works, right?), but what happens when you separate a great video from the song that accompanies it? The video for “This Is America” is an easy contender for the best of 2018, and is an important piece of art in its own right — but the song without the video? It’s good, but it loses a lot of nuance. “This Is America” is ultimately a short film with an original song attached to it. Without the video, much of its power is lost. “This Is America” is also up for Video of the Year, which it should win. Leave this category to one of the other nominees. (“Shallow” is going to win. If it doesn’t, I owe every single person in America five bucks). — SHS

The Carters © Larry Busacca/PW18/Getty Images The Carters

The Carters get relegated to genre categories.

“Tell the Grammy’s f--- that 0 for 8 s---” Jay-Z declared on Everything Is Love’s “Apesh--.” The joint Jay-Z and Beyoncé album was full of the kind of playful experimentation that becomes possible when you don’t really need any more hits. Sure, the Carter family is so far past caring about this night of golden sippy cups, but maybe they’ll scoop up another one anyway? Mom and Dad scored three nominations Friday morning: Best R&B Performance (for “Summer”), Best Urban Contemporary Album, and Best Music Video (“Apes---”). — Hunter Harris

FILE - In this June 6, 2018 file photo, Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter, Brian Littrell, and AJ McLean of Backstreet Boys, perform "Don't go Breaking My Heart" at the CMT Music Awards at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Over a dozen people were injured, Saturday, Aug. 18 and transported to hospitals after trusses holding up the entrance to a resort where the Backstreet Boys were set to begin a concert in Oklahoma collapsed. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File) © The Associated Press Backstreet Boys

How’d the Backstreet Boys end up here?

The Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category is a bit wacky this year. On the list we’ve got one obvious winner (Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga for — you guessed it! — “Shallow,” though I guess there’s a chance that Cardi and Maroon 5 could take this) and then a bunch of songs that were … fine? Is there a place somewhere where everyone is worshipping Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton’s “Say Something”? The fact that this list features other Backstreet Boys contemporaries means that this is exactly the right time for their reunion, but probably not the right time for a whole entire Grammy nomination. — SHS

This cover image released by Interscope Records shows the original motion picture soundtrack for "A Star is Born," featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. (Interscope Records via AP): 'A Star is Born' © The Associated Press 'A Star is Born'

“HAAA AH AH AH AH, AAAH AAAH, AH AH AH AH HAAA.”

Yes, that is the “Shallow” scream. Even though the soundtrack was released too late to be eligible for this year’s Grammys, the lead single “Shallow” is in the mix. (Are you even ready for Grammy nominee Bradley Cooper? It’s what he deserves!) A few of last year’s soundtracks popped up too: the compilation soundtracks for Call Me by Your Name and Lady Bird, plus Sufjan Stevens’s CMBYN tear-jerker “Mysteries of Love.” — HH

Greta Van Fleet © Olly Stabler/REX/Shutterstock Greta Van Fleet

Once again, trying to parse the rock categories is a futile exercise.

Okay … so: The Arctic Monkeys are nominated for Best Rock Performance for “Four Out of Five”, but not for Best Rock Song or Best Rock Album, though they are nominated for Best Alternative Music Album, which is, by default, a sort of “indie”-leaning category that acts as a catchall for music that might not obviously fit into the rock categories, despite the fact that the Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, is very much a rock album in the most traditional sense. It is, at this point, not worth getting hung up on how the Grammys choose to talk about guitar-based music that isn’t country, but Greta Van Fleet are nominated for three awards and they have a good chance of winning all of them. — SHS

Travis Scott © Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP Travis Scott

The Best Rap Album winner is genuinely impossible to predict.

Drake’s not here, and I’m pretty confident Nipsey Hussle is an outlier, so this one’s really down to Cardi, Mac Miller, Travis Scott, and Pusha T. Each released an album worthy of this award this year, and each came from a markedly different place: Cardi’s album was a coronation after an incredible year, Travis Scott’s Astroworld delivered on the psychedelic promise of some of his best earlier work, Pusha T’s album was a focused, mean, and cold return to form for both himself and Kanye, and Mac Miller’s already very good, melancholy, lush, final album gained a lot of weight after his tragic passing. This could go to any one of them. —SHS

The Best Dance/Electronic Album category is home to one of the more progressive albums of the year.

… and it’ll be shocking if it wins. Sophie — who has produced incredible songs for Charli XCX and Vince Staples, among many others — released Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides this year, and it is a sleek, affecting experimental take on pop music. It’s pretty out there, and at times abrasive, which means it’s a hard sell here, but if it does win, that means that Grammy judges have their eyes toward the future, and that should be an exciting thing to even the most cynical music fan. — SHS

Kanye West © Evan Agostini/Invision/AP Kanye West

Kanye is nominated for exactly the award he should be nominated for.

Kanye has had an, uh, complicated year. But let’s put that aside for a second. Not in the “separate the art from the artist” way (we’re long past that), but in a way that looks at what he did do this year, and more specifically at the beginning of the summer. Kanye produced five albums that ran the gamut from vintage Kanye soul-flips to more progressive material (say what you want about ye, but the production is worth a closer listen). Would giving him this award be, by default, rewarding bad behavior, or would it be recognition of an ambitious run of music that he just barely pulled off? — SHS

Drake © Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, File Drake

Drake.

Drake is pretty evenly divided between rap-specific categories and the more big-name blockbuster awards. He’s got a decent chance at winning Album of the Year for Scorpion, which would make it easier for the Grammys to give the rap awards he is nominated for to other deserving contenders. Drake’s placement in some of the more general categories makes sense, and it says a lot about where Drake sits in the landscape of pop music as a whole. It’s no secret that rap is the dominant form of pop, and Drake is a major part of that. Quality aside (Scorpion is fine), it would be ridiculous if Drake wasn’t nominated for the categories he’s been nominated for. His placement is neither a snub nor a surprise; that’ll come when they start handing the awards out. — SHS

Slideshow: 2019 Grammy Awards nominees (via Photo Services)

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