The 2020 Grammy nominations have arrived, which means it’s time to judge the Academy’s choices once again. Lizzo is out in front with eight nods, followed by Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X in a tie with six apiece; all three are vying for Album of the Year, Best New Artist, and Record of the Year. Ariana Grande and H.E.R. follow with five nominations. But as always, some of the more striking or revealing picks can be found beyond the scoreboard leaders, with notable nods for Lana Del Rey, Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver, and more. Here’s our breakdown of the good, the bad, and the weird from this year’s shortlist. The Grammys air January 26 on CBS.
Lizzo Won the Year, and Probably the Grammys Too
Nominated for the most awards, including every Big Four category, the rapping, singing, flute-twerking Everywoman of 2019 is set to take some kind of a victory lap at next year’s ceremony. How did we get here? Well, Lizzo’s had the kind of year that takes real work (not to mention a commitment to self-promotion), but she also had a funny thing happen: Her big hit, “Truth Hurts,” wasn’t from her new album, it was a couple years old, and went viral after essentially serving as the spiritual theme song of the kind-of-okay Netflix rom-com Someone Great (Gina Rodriguez dances in her underwear to it after a breakup, it’s a whole thing). Every single line of the song is like a low-key petty IG caption, and the piano melody in the background is capable of burrowing deep into your brain. The late vindication of “Truth Hurts” through unconventional means—along with the sudden everywhere-ness of infectious, feel-good songs like “Juice” and “Good as Hell,” another older single—is, despite an ongoing dispute over its authorship, an industry story that I suspect Recording Academy members might find inspiring. (There’s also the fact that Lizzo herself is, at times, basically a motivational speaker.) I could see “Truth Hurts” nabbing Record of the Year and Lizzo taking home Best New Artist—unless it ends up being the Year of Billie.
Indie-ish Strikes Back
It’s a nice surprise to see some veterans of the indie rock world up for top honors this year. Arcade Fire’s world-shocking 2011 Album of the Year haul for The Suburbs feels like a long time ago because it was. Last year, some of the most notable nods from indie-land were tucked away in lesser categories, like Best Song Written for Visual Media (Sufjan Stevens’ “Mystery of Love”) and Best Recording Package (Mitski’s Be the Cowboy).
Back in 2012, Bon Iver taught viewers at home how to pronounce the project’s borrowed French name with their Best New Artist win (plus a Best Alternative Album award). And while the Wisconsinites haven’t been completely absent from the nominations since, main man Justin Vernon has more often made Grammy headlines for his harsh but not untrue criticism of the ceremony. What a hoot, then, to see Bon Iver up for Album of the Year and Record of the Year—for i, i and “Hey, Ma,” respectively—along with yet another nod in the Alternative Album category. The same goes for Vampire Weekend, who nabbed an Album of the Year nomination for Father of the Bride, plus an Alternative nod. Like Bon Iver, they’ve been staples of the Alternative Album category this decade, eventually winning in 2014 for Modern Vampires of the City. But that’s the extent of VW’s previous nominations.
Maybe best of all on the indie front, Big Thief grabbed their first bit of Grammy recognition in—you guessed it—the Alternative Album category, for the first of their two staggering 2019 LPs, U.F.O.F.
Three for Taylor Is a “Snub,” Two for Lana Is a Win
The Grammys’ love affair with Taylor Swift isn’t over just yet. While 2017’s Reputation was the singer’s least-nominated album since her debut, she fared better this year with three nominations: Song of the Year for “Lover,” Best Pop Solo Performance for “You Need to Calm Down,” and Best Pop Vocal Album for Lover. But her new album is conspicuously absent from the Album of the Year category. Swift has won the award twice previously and currently holds the record for its youngest recipient, leading some to call this a snub.
It all comes down to perspective. Another nostalgic American singer-songwriter with a surprising trajectory, now more than five albums into her career, picked up two nominations this year and it feels like quite a big deal. I’m talking about Lana Del Rey, who broke through to the Big Four categories for the first time with Norman Fucking Rockwell! She picked up nods for Album of the Year and Song of the Year (for the title track). Roses for Lana.
Can We Get Some Rap in the Main Categories Please?
Rap categories have historically been dicey at the Grammys, but a peek at this year’s nominations reveals a decent representation of notable up-and-comers (DaBaby, YBN Cordae, Lil Baby and Gunna among them) as well as established heavy-hitters (Meek Mill, J. Cole, and the late Nipsey Hussle). What’s odd is how rap—inarguably America’s most important genre of music at this point in time—was represented in the major categories this year. With the exception of his appearance on YBN Cordae’s album, Chance the Rapper is nowhere to be found. While marquee artists like Drake and Kendrick Lamar have been included in the Album of the Year race before, the closest thing to a rap artist that’s up for AOTY in 2020 is Lil Nas X, with his 7 EP.
For that category, voters are, according to the Academy, “expected to consider the quality and artistry of the collection of tracks as a whole,” without regard for chart performance or critical reception. It’s nevertheless frustrating to see 7—a wholly unremarkable follow-up EP crafted to bank off the success of a very viral hit—land a nomination for AOTY while Tyler, the Creator’s extremely good new album was relegated to the Best Rap Album category, yet again. Perhaps Lil Nas X’s sheer ubiquity carried him through with voters, but even putting aside the quality aspect, the numbers don’t lie: IGOR sold 165,000 album-equivalent units in its first week, 74,000 of which were in pure sales, while 7 sold 77,000 units, only 4,000 of which were in pure sales. (The real winner, of course, is Columbia, the label home to both Lil Nas X and Tyler.)
Rock’s Constant Grammy Identity Crisis
We’ve heard it all before—rock is dead, rock is a nebulous term, who are these bands that nobody has heard of who are up for a Grammy—but this year’s faceoff feels like even more of a grab bag than years past. Vampire Weekend, in all their harmlessness, are free to slide between “rock” and “alternative music” categories with ease. Meanwhile, Brittany Howard—nominated in both Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song, for “History Repeats”—is somehow facing off against the 1975, Gary Clark Jr., and Tool, three acts that all likely share very little listenership. This fragmentation is indicative of the splintered state of what is considered “rock” music, with practically no consensus as to whether something is representative of where the genre at-large is headed. It will be heartwarming, but admittedly strange, when the Cranberries’ In the End—the band’s final album, and their first to be released after the death of frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan—inevitably takes home Best Rock Album.