The 2021 Grammy Nominations Remind Us How Awful 2020 Has Been

The Academy made some bizarre choices, snubbing Fiona Apple and BTS, and nominating veteran acts for Best New Artist again.
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Making fun of the Grammys is a time-honored tradition dating back to when a John F. Kennedy parody LP won Album of the Year in 1962. Music's biggest night has bestowed honors on beloved artists like Milli Vanilli and Mumford and Sons, but no matter how hard the Recording Academy tries, snarky bloggers and music lovers will find something to hate on. Unsurprisingly, this won't change as the nominations for the 2021 Grammy Awards were announced this morning. In a livestream, the Recording Academy’s interim president and CEO, Harvey Mason Jr., enlisted a cast of all-stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Imogen Heap, Dua Lipa, and more to unveil the artists who will be vying for a Grammy on January 31.


Below, VICE has compiled some of our initial impressions of this year's nominations. While we’re not as rightfully shocked as BTS’s army for seeing their beloved group snubbed, we’re definitely not as stoked as we could have been with this year’s picks.

Album of the Year Is a Shocking Mess 

What hell is this category anymore? When the Grammys expanded Album of the Year to eight nominees in 2019, it opened up the door for first-time AOTY-nominated acts like Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver, and Lana Del Rey. This year, however, it made way for some truly shocking nominations that make a lot less sense than last year's crop. For one, the Black Pumas, an otherwise fine rock band, have been nominated for the deluxe edition of an album that came out before the cutoff in June 2019. Elsewhere, there's Grammy-favorite Jacob Collier and that Coldplay LP most people forgot came out last year. 

While there are definitely expected picks in Dua Lipa, HAIM, and Taylor Swift's folklore, you would hope that the expanded category would make room for something like Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters or The Weeknd's After Hours, critical darlings that both got snubbed in all major categories. Ahead of the nominations, both the Weeknd and Apple were top betting contenders for running away with the major categories, and the fact that they were both excluded is a huge surprise. Looking at the list, it’s frankly a surprise the Grammys didn't say "fuck it" and give Beck another AOTY nod just to mess with everyone. 


Roddy Ricch Is Quietly a HUGE Contender at This Year's Grammys

After years of backlash about how the Grammys often gets the rap category wrong, and the 2014 Macklemore sweep felt around the world, this year's nominees are actually pretty solid. Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage" gives Beyoncé a chance at winning Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Album is stacked with veterans like Nas and Jay Electronica and even extends some grace to Netflix's Rhythm and Flow winner, D Smoke. DaBaby's "Rockstar," which is nominated for Record of the Year, Best Melodic Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song, proves to be a favorite among the committee. Luckily for Roddy Ricch, who is also nominated three times for "The Box," his collaboration on "Rockstar" gives the Grammy-winning Compton rapper six chances to take home a trophy.

Like Every Year, Small Category Surprises Are Good 

The only good thing about the Grammy nominations each year is finding a handful of artists you love getting recognition in the smaller categories. Big Thief getting two nominations for their incredible 2019 single "Not" was nice to see, as was Bonny Light Horseman getting a nod for Best Folk Album and Hiss Golden Messenger getting a look in Best Americana Album. While categories like these are never broadcast on TV, it's validating to watch artists you've seen perform at tiny clubs get national recognition. Perhaps the best moment came from Power Trip's inclusion in Best Metal Performance. Even though the band's late frontman Riley Gale likely didn't give a shit about the Grammys, it was bittersweet and touching to see such an influential group get their first nomination. It's a thoughtful tribute to a talent that was lost this year. 

In a Year of Great R&B, This Year's Categories Are Shockingly Weak

2020 might have been void of a lot of things, but vibey, candle-burning R&B was not one of them—we know this because we spent all year recapping the genre's best moments and profiling some of its biggest and most promising acts. Last year, it seemed like the award show was finally paying attention to R&B's revival when H.E.R. won Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance, but this year's category feels like a complete oversight of the artists who continue to shape the genre. Victoria Monét released Jaguar, one of the most cohesive and stunning R&B projects of 2020, yet it is missing from the nominees. Monét is nominated as a writer on Chloe x Halle's Ungodly Hour, but by failing to acknowledge her contributions on her solo work, it brings us back to the question we asked when SZA was snubbed in 2018: what is the Grammys' beef with Black women?

Rock and Alternative Could Have Been Worse 

There's something really cool about the category for Best Rock Performance being populated entirely by women and women-fronted groups. Unsurprisingly, this is the first time in Grammy history that’s happened. Whoever wins it—whether it’s Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief, HAIM, Brittany Howard, or Grace Potter—they’ll only be the second woman to ever do so (Howard got it with Alabama Shakes in 2016). How the industry views rock and alternative is changing, and the Grammys are becoming a clearer reflection of that. Just look at the Best Alternative Album, which could double as a Pitchfork year-end list with Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, and Tame Impala all included. Even Best Rock Album is getting weirder with Irish talk-punks Fontaines D.C., country artist Sturgill Simpson;s Sound & Fury, and the Strokes, who got their first ever (yes, that's right) Grammy nomination, all getting looks.

What Does "Latin Pop OR Urban" Really Mean?

Following the death of George Floyd, the music industry faced intense scrutiny about how its esteemed institutions, like the Grammys, continue to perpetuate racism and white supremacy. In June, the award show announced that it was renaming its "Urban Contemporary" category to "Progressive R&B" due to the longstanding history of how the term urban kept Black artists relegated to a particular type of music. Today, the show announced nominees for "Best Latin Pop or Urban Album," which still feels tone-deaf and antiquated. If the label "urban" and its implications was too controversial for the categories that traditionally skew Black, why is it okay for Latin artists? After all, Latin artists can still be Black artists, and Latinx genres are still coming to terms with the intersection of race in pop and urbano music.

What Actually Makes You a ‘New Artist’?

In a show full of curveballs, Best New Artist is often the category that trips the general public up. In June, the Grammys amended the requirements and it made things even more confusing. Now, for an artist to be eligible, "screening committees will determine whether the artist has attained a breakthrough or prominence prior to the eligibility year." That explains how someone like Phoebe Bridgers, who released her sophomore album this year, or Kaytranada whose 99.9% was critically acclaimed in 2016, could be nominated alongside a true newcomer with a huge breakthrough year like Megan Thee Stallion.

Will the Grammys Even Be An In-Person Event Next Year? 

Perhaps more interesting than any nomination is how the hell are the Grammys going to host an indoor awards show during a pandemic? As it stands right now, the event is going to air on CBS January 31, 2021 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles no matter what, with the Academy preparing for multiple different types of productions depending on how bad the plague is at the start of the next year. There is little hope for a Grammys event like we're used to with a full arena crowd, seat fillers, and a mask-less carpet (unless the Academy is secretly trying to kill Tony Bennett) so what will the event look like? Well, maybe it'll look like this year's CMT Awards and the American Music Awards, which aired with distanced performances, a near empty stadium, and Zoom-acceptance speeches. That doesn't sound like a ton of fun but it's the best we can expect after a miserable year.