Grammy Nominations 2022: Surprises, Snubs, & More Takeaways
The Recording Academy continues to exist within its own strange dimension, one in which Jon Batiste is the center of the musical universe and the second Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett jazz duets album was one of the landmark popular music events of 2021. You have to hand it to them for the consistency, at least: So many extremely Grammys-esque artists were showered with nominations today in preparation for the Jan. 31 ceremony at, uh, Crypto.com Arena. Some of them, like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish, are actually this popular in the real world. And some of them are H.E.R.
Let’s survey some of the biggest storylines of nomination day.
Grammys Gonna Grammy
Usually the Recording Academy can be counted on for a few screwball nominations, and they’re in there if you look for them. (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs??) But mostly what stood out was how deeply predictable this year’s contenders turned out to be. You can always trust this ceremony to maintain its distinct Grammy flavor, an inoffensive and often outright bland sort of primetime TV prestige that will make you question whether you ever really loved music after all.
That stench is all over this year’s crop of nominations, starting with a field-leading 11 for Late Show band leader Jon Batiste in a range of genres including R&B, jazz, classical, and American roots plus several of the big kahuna contests. Grammy faves H.E.R., Brandi Carlile, and the team of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett are all well represented. Silk Sonic somehow managed four nominations for just one song, “Leave The Door Open,” including Record and Song Of The Year; don’t be surprised when they’re all over next year’s nominations too since their album dropped after this year’s eligibility cutoff. And of course you have Billie Eilish, once again generously rewarded with seven nominations.
It’s not even that most of these artists are bad — many of them are quite enjoyable, actually — it’s just that, when their forces combine, you get a deeply conservative and weirdly staid portrait of popular music that simply doesn’t represent the current landscape. The Grammy nominations rarely convey the reality that vibrant new music is constantly emerging from countless directions, but this year’s slate of nominees feels especially lazy. When recognition of the ABBA comeback qualifies as one of the biggest surprises, you know the institutional inertia is extreme.
Will Olivia Rodrigo Pull A Billie Eilish?
The Disney Channel actor turned pop supernova Olivia Rodrigo is undeniably one of the biggest breakout stars of the year, and the Grammys rewarded her with seven nominations, including appearances in all four of the general field categories. Her impressive debut Sour is up for Album Of The Year. Her breakthrough single “Drivers License” could win both Record and Song Of The Year. And Rodrigo is the odds-on favorite to be crowned Best New Artist. When Billie Eilish swept these big four categories in 2020, it marked only the second time in Grammys history after Christopher Cross did it in 1981. Could it happen a third time only two years later? It’s not such a crazy proposition.
The Kanye vs. Taylor Narrative Lives On
Somehow, more than 12 years after Kanye West interrupted big Taylor Swift’s VMAs moment, the rivals turned friends turned rivals are once again pitted against each other on a grand stage. Swift’s Evermore and Kanye’s Donda are both up for Album Of The Year. It’s hard to imagine either one of them winning; I expect it to go to Rodrigo or, lol, the Gaga/Bennett album or, LOL, Billie Eilish again. But their mere presence together in the category elicits a strange form of nostalgia — different from the normal Grammy nostalgia, and yet perfectly in tune with it. This is an establishment feud, a conflict that feels as old as scripture. It fits right in. (For what it’s worth, it would truly be wild to see Kanye, who has always reasonably complained about his lack of wins outside the genre categories, win Album Of The Year at this late date. I don’t even really like Donda and I’m rooting for him.)
Snubs, Snubs, Snubs
Some artists you might have expected to score some Grammy love were entirely shut out. Miley Cyrus, the kind of extremely Industry performer who is regularly called upon to perform at awards shows, benefits, TV shows, released a fairly well-received album early in the eligibility window, but it did not earn her even one nomination. There was also no love for rapper and actor turned tabloid celebrity and pop-punk superstar Machine Gun Kelly. Morgan Wallen, whose scandals have kept him from attending other ceremonies but not from being nominated, is empty-handed here. Not that anyone was really expecting Lorde’s underwhelming Solar Power to be nominated — or even remembered there was a Lorde album this year — but it seems like exactly the kind of release that might get a fluke nomination. The same could be said about the extremely Grammy-friendly Shawn Mendes and Sam Smith, both of whose albums came and went last fall without a peep.
But there are levels to the Recording Academy snub. Most of this year’s alleged transgressions stem from artists being confined to the genre categories. BTS, whose stans flooded the YouTube live chat during the nomination webcast, got just one nomination: “Butter” is up for Best Pop Duo Or Group Performance. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” was an oddsmaker favorite for Record Of The Year, and Megan’s Good Things was projected for Album Of The Year, but the women had to settle for competing against each other in the Best Rap Performance category with “Up” and “Thot Shit.” Halsey, who has long campaigned to be recognized as an alternative artist, is confined to the Best Alternative Music Album race despite an acclaimed Nine Inch Nails collab that could’ve feasibly made a run at Album Of The Year.
Drake and Ariana Grande — two artists who routinely set streaming records, launch songs directly to #1, and strike a balance of commercial and critical success — both boast two nods apiece, but they’re nowhere to be found in the major categories. Speaking of #1 hits, Polo G had one with “Rapstar” but couldn’t swing a Best New Artist nomination. Kacey Musgraves, whose Golden Hour won Album Of The Year in 2019, was limited to two nominations for the ballad “Camera Roll” — under the banner of country music, despite the academy ruling that her new star-crossed would have to compete as pop. And Swifties will surely decide to be upset about Taylor Swift being limited to one nomination, even though it’s for Album Of The Year.
The Weeknd Was Nominated Despite His Boycott
You may recall that Abel Tesfaye made a big stink about being shut out of last year’s nominations, decrying the “corrupt” Recording Academy’s secret committees and declaring that he’d never submit his music for consideration again. Well, the Weeknd is nominated this year — three times, in fact — but not because he went back on his boycott. His nominations stem from his appearances on albums by Kanye West and Doja Cat, submitted by Def Jam and RCA, respectively. Suffice it to say he won’t be at the venue formerly known as Staples Center to pick up any hardware that might be coming his way.
What’s That About Cancel Culture?
Also up for a Grammy due to his work on Kanye West’s Donda: Marilyn Manson, who is facing quite a few sexual assault lawsuits and has been largely exiled from the music industry. You could make an argument that a noteworthy album shouldn’t be ignored because an alleged serial abuser is credited on one track, but apparently the Grammys don’t mind if an alleged serial abuser is the main attraction either: Louis C.K., who has admitted to a pattern of sexual misconduct but never shown much contrition for it, is up for Best Comedy Album. I guess the efforts by peers like fellow nominee Dave Chappelle to rehab C.K.’s image are really working out.
The Rock Categories Continue To Be Bizarre (And Intensely Male)
Take a look at these nominees:
Best Rock Performance: AC/DC, Black Pumas, Chris Cornell, Deftones, Foo Fighters
Best Metal Album: Deftones, Dream Theater, Gojira, Mastodon, Rob Zombie
Best Rock Song: Weezer, Kings Of Leon, Mammoth WVH, Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters
Best Rock Album: AC/DC, Black Pumas, Chris Cornell, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney
Do you see any women in there at all? Do you see anyone young in there at all besides the child of a rock icon (Wolfgang Van Halen) and, I guess, Black Pumas — a band that was scientifically engineered in a laboratory for the sole purpose of being nominated for Grammys, who have now been nominated three years straight for the same set of songs thanks to the release of first a deluxe edition and then a live album? It’s just an extremely awkward assortment of legendary but largely washed-up figures, with nary a lady in sight. Unfortunately, this is par for the course with regard to the Grammys and rock; last year’s influx of female talent was apparently a blip. A panel of Best Rap Album candidates including J. Cole, Drake, Nas, Kanye West, and no-longer-wunderkind Tyler, The Creator, suggests the hip-hop categories could be headed in the same direction. And as long as we’re talking old-man rap, we should note that via collaborations with Kanye and DMZ, Jay-Z has surpassed Quincy Jones to become the most nominated artist of all time with 83.
Your Annual Indie Surprises
The Best New Artist race usually includes some pleasing surprises, and that’s certainly the case with this year’s inclusion of Arooj Aftab (who is also up for Best Global Performance with “Mohabbit”) and Japanese Breakfast (whose Jubilee will also compete for Best Alternative Music Album) — never mind that Michelle Zauner’s band has been going strong for half a decade now. Indie favorites also snuck into contention via such categories as Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Packaging (Soccer Mommy and Gang Of Four), Best Recording Package (Nick Cave & Warren Ellis and Matt Berninger), and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (Low’s HEY WHAT). It’s an odd way to elevate the quality of your nominee pool, but when the nominations are this bleak, we’ll take what we can get.