The Recording Academy are a predictable lot. We’re reminded of this every autumn when a similar cross-section of ultra-popular and comfortably respectable musical artists are anointed as Grammy nominees. Still, there are some storylines emerging from today’s nominations. Let’s have a look at some of them.
1. SZA Reigns Supreme
Everyone loves SZA! Even the Grammys, apparently. After securing commercial success and critical raves with her long-awaited S.O.S. and landing her first two Hot 100 chart-topping singles this year, Solána Rowe leads the field with nine nominations, including Album Of The Year for S.O.S. and Record and Song Of The Year for “Kill Bill.” It’s a well-deserved achievement from one of the most talented and singular voices in popular music today. Now the question is whether the Recording Academy will follow through with actual awards. Given the fate of past Black superstars who’ve been heavy Grammy favorites — Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar come to mind — a massive Adele/Billie/Olivia-style night for SZA is no sure thing.
2. Welcome To The Indie/Pop Prestige Zone
For years, the line between indie music and pop music has been blurring. (I’m writing a book about it!) Nowadays, the artists on that borderline do big business at the Grammys. It certainly helps to be signed to a major label, as is the case for Interscope artists boygenius and Lana Del Rey. Both are nominated for Album Of The Year, while boygenius are up for Record Of The Year (“Not Strong Enough”) and LDR grabbed a Song Of The Year nod (“A&R”).
Hipster-friendly pop stars Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish continue to be Grammy darlings as well, as does Taylor Swift, who maintains many connections to indie-branded artists — including recent recordings with Lana Del Rey and boygenius’ Phoebe Bridgers. The fact that we can speak of Swift in the same breath as these artists might mean we need a new category besides “indie” for alt-leaning superstars with Grammy clout. In the meantime, I’m marveling that Mitski, whose The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We dropped on the last day of the eligibility window, was left out of the Grammy party. Speaking of which…
3. Biggest Snubs: Morgan Wallen And All Of K-Pop
With 2023’s most massive album (One Thing At A Time) and single (“Last Night”), country superstar Morgan Wallen is the biggest music industry success story of the year, which tends to earn you some Grammy love regardless of whether your music is any good. But the Recording Academy continues to freeze Wallen out; he received zero nominations, not even a token nod in one of the country categories. It may be a case of Wallen not playing nice with Grammy brass, or maybe they just don’t think much of his music. But it’s also possible the stink from his 2021 racial slur scandal, which seems to have evaporated within country music, is still lingering within Grammy land.
Country music in general is mostly boxed out of the Big Four categories this year — not even a Record Of The Year nod for Luke Combs’ massive “Fast Car” cover, which seemed like an extremely Grammy-friendly hit. You’d think alt-country hero Jason Isbell would’ve had a shot at the big time this year too, on that Brandi Carlile wavelength. The only representation for the genre in the general field is the Best New Artist category, which includes Jelly Roll and two folk-pop acts that recently collaborated with Zach Bryan.
But at least country artists are nominated at all, whereas the entire K-pop genre was once again overlooked. The YouTube livestream of the Grammy nominations was crawling with K-pop stans campaigning for their favorites, but their efforts were futile. None of the members of BTS were nominated for their solo work. Neither were NewJeans, aespa, Seventeen, Tomorrow X Together, or any other K-pop stars. There’s going to be a year when the academy caves and welcomes this whole culture into the Grammy mix, but for now, it reinforces the Grammys’ status as a distinctly Western institution.
4. It’s A Barbie World, We’re Just Living In It
You can’t miss the prevalence of Barbie: The Album within these nominations. Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For” is up for Record Of The Year. Dua Lipa’s “Dance The Night” joins it in the Song Of The Year race. Two more songs from the soundtrack, Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice’s Aqua-sampling “Barbie World” and Ryan Gosling’s campy “I’m Just Ken,” are up for Best Song Written For Visual Media along with Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa. Rihanna’s forgettable Black Panther ballad “Lift Me Up” is the only non-Barbie song in that category. Some of these songs made it into other pop and rap categories as well. It seems to be a feat of Herculean restraint that the academy refrained from nominating the soundtrack for Album Of The Year. (For what it’s worth, few pop albums this year had as much replay value, but it would have been nice to see Charli XCX’s “Speed Drive” get some Grammy shine.)
5. Best New Artist Is Anyone’s To Win
Gracie Abrams, Fred again.., Ice Spice, Jelly Roll, Coco Jones, Noah Kahan, Victoria Monet, The War And Treaty. That’s a fairly diverse list, genre-wise, and it contains quite a few artists who enjoyed a genuine breakthrough this year. I wouldn’t bet against Abrams, who counts J.J. Abrams as her father and Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo as fans, because industry connections matter where these awards are concerned. (Billie Eilish is great, but don’t forget she also participated in Grammy programming growing up.) But there’s no denying the glow-up recently enjoyed by Ice Spice, Noah Kahan, Jelly Roll… most of the list, really.
Even a win for the War And Treaty would only qualify as a minor shocker, if only because Best New Artist tends to be one of the most chaotic Grammy categories. But I am a bit surprised that PinkPantheress — who crashed the top 10 this year alongside newly minted Grammy pal Ice Spice, and who is wielding a massive influence on the sound of pop music right now — is not up for Best New Artist. Don’t they know she had a song on the Barbie soundtrack?! I doubt the snub is because she broke out two years ago; more likely they’re waiting until her official debut album Heaven Knows, out today, is eligible next year, at which point her Best New Artist nod will feel even later.
6. A Huge Year For R&B
It’s not just SZA. On the strength of her excellent Jaguar II, longtime behind-the-scenes figure Victoria Monét boasts seven nominations. Both Monét and Coco Jones are up for Best New Artist. Janelle Monáe’s The Age Of Pleasure, which seemed to come and go in the zeitgeist, snuck into the Album Of The Year race. Jon Batiste, who’s all over the Big Four categories again after winning Album Of The Year in 2022, keeps at least a pinky toe within the R&B world. The genre has been enjoying a creative resurgence lately, and it’s nice to see that recognized by the academy — even in a year when their favorite artist, H.E.R., didn’t release much.
7. A Not-Huge Year For Rap
We’ve been enduring (or enjoying, depending on your perspective) a draught of prestige event-rap blockbusters. That extends into the Grammy nominations, where no rap releases are up for Album Of The Year, Record Of The Year, or Song Of The Year and Ice Spice is the lone rap representative in the Best New Artist category. (What, did you think the stuffy Grammy types were about to nominate Sexxy Red?)
The most obvious candidates for general field Grammy acknowledgement were Travis Scott’s stylishly empty Utopia and the Drake/21 Savage album Her Loss, but both are filed away into genre categories — perhaps because the academy is punishing Drake for boycotting the Grammys for so long and because a Travis Scott Grammy deluge would feel awkward after the Astroworld tragedy. I’d say those albums were overlooked because the Grammy people recognized they were merely OK, but the academy has never been known for its refined taste in hip-hop.
8. LOL Watch Miley Cyrus Win Everything
My prediction is that Miley Cyrus — a mainstay within the entertainment world since childhood and a reliable network-TV-friendly figure with widespread respect among her peers — will sweep. Her mega-hit “Flowers,” a song nowhere near as good as “Wrecking Ball” (or “Party In The USA” if we’re keeping it 100), will be crowned Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year. Endless Summer Vacation, an album that most people will remember as “the one with ‘Flowers’ on it,” will claim the Harry Styles Memorial Album Of The Year Award. Despite the mediocre quality of these entries, people won’t quite get as mad as they did about Styles because they’ll mostly shrug it off as a lifetime achievement award, and because she’s not competing against Beyoncé. #Justice4SZA will trend nonetheless, and then life will carry on until we do this all over again in the winter of 2025.