Grammy nominations 2021: Breaking down The Weeknd's overwhelming snub, ample female representation
In all these years of tracking the Grammy nominations, never has a more feted artist been snubbed the way The Weeknd was on Tuesday.
Dissing the Grammys has become all too easy. It appears nothing they do—no matter what new systems are put in place, or what new legendary vision they have—can rescue them from the onslaught of criticism they receive. Every year there are disgruntled voices of some artist being left out of the nominations, someone else who is highly nominated not getting a chance to perform, someone who isn’t a debutant being nominated in such a category….the list of offences is endless.
They just can’t seem to catch a break. And writers like me seem to relish the opportunity to take swipes at the academy’s every endeavour. But can you really blame us? Look at what The Recording Academy (the governing body that institutes the Grammy Awards) has gone and done now.
In all these years of tracking the Grammy nominations, never has a more feted artist been snubbed the way The Weeknd was on Tuesday. He was the overwhelming favourite with his astonishing After Hours album being lauded by fans and critics alike. The album has two No. 1 songs 'Blinding Lights' and 'Heartless', with The Weeknd set to play at the Super Bowl half-time on the Sunday after the Grammy awards in 2021. How does an album that is so widely acclaimed not worthy enough of a nomination? How does a song that has risen up charts not found a mention among the multi-level filtration process at the Recording Academy?
Let’s be clear, it’s not as if the academy is biased against The Weeknd. He has received 10 nominations over different years and taken home three trophies. So where is the confusion?
Did the various committees not reach a consensus on whether he is R&B or Pop, in which case, being snubbed in the sub-categories makes sense. But The Weeknd would’ve been able to sail through to 3 of the big 4 nominations—Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year—without being affected by the genre confusion simply because genre limitations aren’t important criteria here.
Did the committees think The Weeknd has won too much and they must give other artists a chance? A dubious argument, one would think, but if stretched to rationalise one can see some reason in opening the field for newer, lesser known artists.
Yet, by that logic, hasn’t Beyonce won enough already? This year she doesn’t even have a full-fledged album out but she’s leading the nominations stack with the maximum mentions. She has one song released and one visual representation for last year’s Lion King. That too, her Black Parade song was an over-glorified statement during the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement and not the kind of hit one has come to expect from Bey. It was timely, not genius. That’s all. And SHE has nine nominations. But The Weeknd has none.
His accusation of the academy being corrupt and in desperate need of transparency following the nominations was responded to by Harvey Mason Jr, interim CEO of the Recording Academy. Acknowledging his own surprise at the omission and The Weeknd’s subsequent disappointment, he said, “…Unfortunately, every year, there are fewer nominations than the number of deserving artists. But as the only peer-voted music award, we will continue to recognize and celebrate excellence in music while shining a light on the many amazing artists that make up our global community. To be clear, voting in all categories ended well before The Weeknd’s performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process.”
What kind of nomination process is in place then that continues to dole out irony after irony? For instance, Coldplay’s Everyday Life album was hardly a hit by their own standards. It’s the kind of record that is released with much fanfare and then fizzles off. But it has received one nomination, that too in the Album of the Year category! Imagine an album being overlooked in all sub-categories and being nominated straight for the big one? The discrepancies in this nomination process is mind-numbing.
Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Harry Styles have received nominations in the genre categories but are missing from the Big 4. Bieber had a big year with his album Changes as a stream of chartbusters from it were released through 2020. Yet he has had to contend with the smaller nominations. Harry Styles seemed to finally break away from his boy band image and went on to get a no. 1 song 'Watermelon Sugar' too. Still, he wasn’t ready for the Big 4 it seems. If the Recording Academy has taken care to include everyone via some big or small nomination, how does one explain The Weeknd snub?
Yet, the omissions aren’t the only surprises in the nominations. As much as we deride the Recording Academy for its strange choices, credit must be given where its due. This year has also thrown up pleasant surprises in the nominees lists with the rock and country categories being entirely dominated by women. The academy has a woefully low female representation ratio and its tone-deaf behaviour in 2017, the year of the raging #MeToo movement, and subsequent overcompensation has been there for all to see.
This year though, the nominees are by no means token representations. Well-deserved female talents dominate a category that has traditionally been the preserve of male candidates: Best Rock Performance. Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief, Haim, Brittany Howard, Grace Potter and Fiona Apple have each put out splendid work this year and this competition is going to be an interesting one to watch.
Similarly, all five nominees for the Best Country Album category are women-fronted performances: Ingrid Andress, Brandy Clark, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town (which has two female bandmates) and Ashley McBryde. Again, these artists have reputed work to earn nominations in the categories and reducing their presence to their gender would be a gross misrepresentation.
Speaking of well-deserved surprise nominations, Jacob Collier’s selection for the Album of the Year is among the most merited, little heard ones. If excellence is indeed what the Recording Academy is driven by and not record sales, then Collier’s Djesse Vol. 3 from his 4-album magnum opus is justified presence. That he may not be popular is another matter. He is celebrated among niche peers like Steve Vai and Quincy Jones, and his performance at the NCPA last year was a masterclass in holding the audience’s attention. He is certainly an unconventional choice by the academy’s standards, and it’s extremely ironic given that one is still trying to make sense of what exactly construes as the academy’s standards. That said, Collier’s musicality is unquestionable. And recognising that alone is a tiny step towards redemption for the academy.
But if this recognition comes at the cost of The Weeknd’s omission, the academy is increasingly making it difficult for us to take it seriously.
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