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The Surprises, Snubs, and Changing Rules for This Year’s Grammy Nominations

Kanye West returns to the Album of the Year field while ABBA and Low earn career first nominations
Brandi Carlile Jon Bastite Kacey Musgraves
Brandi Carlile (L), Jon Batiste (C), Kacey Musgraves (R) (Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SUFH, Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

On Tuesday morning, the Recording Academy revealed the full slate of nominations for the 64th Annual Grammy Awards. Over the past few tumultuous years, the Recording Academy has overseen changes in leadership and nominating procedures, with one more twist being announced just this morning before the nominations were unveiled: the Big Four general field categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist) would grow from 8 to 10 nominees each. This is the second expansion in recent years, with only five nominees in those categories through 2018.

The 10 nominees for Album of the Year include on-again-off-again rival superstars Kanye West and Taylor Swift. West, who was nominated for Album of the Year for each of his first three albums, has not been in the category since 2007’s Graduation. In one of this year’s biggest surprises, his chart-topping album Donda breaks a streak of over a decade of snubs that included 2010’s mega-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Swift, who just won her third Album of the Year in March for folklore, is up again for its follow-up, evermore. She announced earlier in the year that she would not submit Fearless (Taylor’s Version), a re-recording of her 2008 album that won two Grammys, for awards consideration this year. Rounding out the AOTY category are Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, H.E.R., Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Jon Batiste, and Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett.

As expected, 2021’s breakout star Olivia Rodrigo is the only artist up for all of the Big Four categories. Because that quartet of awards includes Best New Artist, it’s only possible to sweep all of the general field awards at the beginning of your career, and it’s been done only twice in history: by Christopher Cross in 1981 and by Billie Eilish in 2020. Eilish herself has already made history again this year. With “Happier Than Ever” up for Record of the Year, she’s now only the fifth artist to be nominated for the award three years in a row, following “Bad Guy” and “Everything I Wanted,” which both won.


Surprises and Snubs


Jon Batiste, a singer and multi-instrumentalist who leads the house band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, was seldom mentioned in predictions for this year’s Grammy nominations. But he wound up leading the field with 11 nominations – approaching the record for most nominations in one year at 12, which is shared by Michael Jackson and Babyface. Batiste, who became an Oscar winner earlier this year for his score for Soul, could once again share an award with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the film in the Grammy category Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media. The secret to Batiste’s potentially huge Grammy night haul is that he blends so many genres in his work that he’s up for awards including Best R&B Album (for We Are), Best Jazz Instrumental Album (for Jazz Selections: Music From and Inspired by Soul), and Best American Roots Song.

This year’s biggest (and strangest) snub may be for Texas singer Kacey Musgraves. In 2019, she took home four Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best Country Album, for Golden Hour. But last month, a few weeks after she released the follow-up album Star-Crossed, a Recording Academy committee decided that the album would not be eligible for Best Country Album, instead of putting it in competition for Pop Vocal Album. Ultimately, Star-Crossed came up empty in all of the pop and general field categories. Instead, the only two nominations Musgraves got this year are for the album track “Camera Roll,” in the Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance categories, rendering the Academy’s committee ruling all the more curious.

Things turned out better for Brandi Carlile, who was taken out of contention for Americana categories in another controversial committee ruling this year. Her single “Right On Time” is up for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance. Her latest album, In These Silent Days, wasn’t available since it was released following the eligibility date.

Although The Weeknd announced that he will not submit his music to the Grammys in the future after last year’s surprise snub of After Hours, he’s up for three Grammys for his work on Kanye West’s Donda, including a Best Melodic Rap Performance nomination for their hit collaboration “Hurricane.”

Donda’s nominations also shine a Grammy spotlight on some of the album’s more controversial guests, including Marilyn Manson, who’s currently facing multiple lawsuits for sexual assault, and DaBaby, who was dropped from several festivals this year following homophobic comments at Rolling Loud. Controversial comics Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K. are also up for Grammys this year, for Best Spoken Word Album and Best Comedy Album, respectively.


Notable Firsts


The veteran Minnesota indie band Low just garnered the first Grammy nominations of its long career. The band’s 13th album, Hey What, released by Sub Pop, is up for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical against nominees including Yebba and The Marias.

Swedish pop superstars ABBA are this year’s comeback kids, with a Record of the Year nomination for “I Still Have Faith In You” (that song’s parent album, Voyager, was released in November and won’t be eligible for Grammys until next year). It’s the group’s first-ever Grammy acknowledgment, as ABBA was never nominated during its wildly popular ‘70s and ‘80s heyday.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga are up for six awards for their second collaborative album of jazz standards, Love For Sale. It’s Bennett’s final album, with the legendary 95-year-old crooner retiring this year following a 2016 diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. And it gives Bennett the distinction of the longest span of time between first and last Album of the Year nominations, 59 years after his nod for I Left My Heart in San Francisco (Bennett also won the award in 1995 for his MTV Unplugged). The last jazz album to be nominated for Album of the Year was Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, which beat out Kanye West and Amy Winehouse to take home the award in 2008.

The 64th Annual Grammys will be broadcast on CBS on January 31, 2022 live from the Los Angeles venue currently known as Staples Center, which will be rechristened the Arena next month.