Grammy Nominations Analysis: Hip-Hop Is Up, Country Is Down and Women Rule

Voters gave us a full slate of powerful women, a handful of baffling surprises and a few more opportunities to have Beyonce lose in the top categories

Last Updated: November 24, 2020 @ 3:25 PM

AWARDS BEAT

Let’s face it: It’s Beyonce’s world, we only live in it. We already knew that, even before the Grammy nominations reminded us of it by giving her nine more nominations and putting her only one behind Quincy Jones, the most-nominated artist in history.

But what else does Tuesday’s Grammy slate tell us?

It tells us that hip-hop still dominates the Grammy landscape. That women have been the driving force among top nominees ever since former Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow said they needed to “step up” (losing his job shortly after making that ill-considered comment). That country music’s golden hour may have passed shortly after Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” won Album of the Year two Grammys ago.

It told us that the three-year-old expansion of the Grammys’ marquee categories to eight nominees each always creates bigger categories, sometimes produces more diverse categories and occasionally makes room for the baffling surprises which make the Grammys, well, the Grammys.

This year, the biggest of those surprises has to be Jacob Collier’s “Djesse Vol. 3” landing in the Album of the Year category instead of favorites like The Weeknd’s “After Hours,” Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” or Bob Dylan’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” Collier, a British musician who specializes in reharmonizations and intricate arrangements, has won Grammys for his arrangements of songs by Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Henry Mancini and Hanna-Barbera (the “Flintstones” theme!), but he’s never even been nominated in any other category, and few people expected his latest album to actually crash the top album category.

Collier’s was the most shocking nomination, though you’d have to count Jhene Aiko’s “Chilombo” as another surprise in that same category, considering that she hadn’t been nominated for a Grammy in five years, and had never been nominated outside the R&B or hip-hop categories before.

Overall, the nominations were heavily weighted toward hip-hop, the signature musical form of our time and one that has made up for years of Grammy snubs by dominating the top categories in recent years. More than half the nominations in the Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year categories were for hip-hop recordings or albums — a dominance that makes you wonder if, once again, the hip-hop nominees could split the vote and allow pop artists to win the top awards.

It happened last year when Billie Eilish swept all the top awards, and in the past when Beyoncé lost to Adele and Beck and when Kendrick Lamar lost to Taylor Swift in a three-year stretch between 2015 and 2017, followed two years later by Musgraves taking the Album of the Year award over the Lamar’s “Black Panther” soundtrack, among others.

Hip-hop’s ascendancy at the Grammys seems to have come at the expense of country more than any other genre. While country artists used to make routine appearances in the top categories, its only representatives this year are Taylor Swift’s “Folklore,” a pop-folk album that isn’t really country by any stretch of the imagination; and Best New Artist nominees Ingrid Andress and Noah Cyrus, the latter of whom is about as country as her sister Miley.

Other country artists who were expected to show up in the top categories included the Chicks, who were shut out entirely, and the Highwomen, who had to settle for a nomination in the country categories.

Overall, though, Beyoncé led a slate of women and women-fronted groups who managed to nearly equal their historic achievement last year, when they landed 20 of the 32 nominations, 66%, in the four general categories. This year, they fell one short of that, with five of the eight nominations in the Record of the Year and Song of the Year categories, a four-four split in Album of the Year and a six-to-two advantage in Best New Artist.

And here’s an interesting sidelight: For the first time ever, the Best Rock Performance category, which began in 2012, consists entirely of female singers or bands fronted by women. The closest it had to this in the past was in 2016, when the Foo Fighters were the only male-fronted band in a category that also included Alabama Shakes, Florence + the Machine, Elle King and Wolf Alice.

As for who the favorites should be at this point, Dua Lipa and Post Malone are the only artists to receive nominations in the album, song and record categories, with Dua Lipa tying Taylor Swift and Roddy Ricch for the second-most total nominations, with six. And while it’s hard to bet against Beyoncé, her track record at the Grammys is sadly instructive: Her 70 nominations prior to this year led to 24 wins, but only one of those was in one of the four marquee categories.

That came in 2010, when “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” was named Song of the Year. Otherwise, she’s done well in the genre categories but poorly in the general ones, losing Song of the Year in 2001 (with Destiny’s Child) and 2017, Album of the Year in 2010, 2011, 2015 and 2017 and Record of the Year in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2017.

You have to figure that Grammy voters will eventually get tired of bypassing her in the top categories, though they’ll certainly never feel sorry for a woman in her 30s whose slate of Grammy nominations is already tied with Sir Paul McCartney — a man who’s been getting nominated for 55 years now — and is one short of Quincy Jones, who’s been picking up noms for 59 years.

(For the record, Jones had 31 nominations before Beyoncé was born; McCartney had 44.)

So maybe it’ll be Beyoncé’s night, but don’t bank on it. This is, after all, a group of voters who have no problem coronating a queen and then taking her down a few notches.