Gasp! Where is Ed Sheeran? Where is his album “÷” (aka “Divide”)? Where is his song “Shape of You?” This is scandalous! It’s an outrage! It’s a scandalous outrage!
For all the people who claim the Grammy Awards are passé and antiquated and don’t matter anyway, there sure has been a lot of hand-wringing over Tuesday’s release of the 2018 nominations seeing the Irish popster relegated to the relatively lesser categories of “Pop Vocal Album” and “Pop Vocal Performance,” and shut out the allegedly prestigious ones such as “Album of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” and “Record of the Year.”
Sheeran was long thought to be a shoo-in for all three. So what happened?
Blame Beyoncé, of course.
Or, more accurately, blame Beck and Adele, or, at least the people who voted for them.
Beck’s shocking 2015 “Album of the Year” upset of Queen Bey’s self-titled visual album, followed by Adele’s “25” prevailing last year over the universally acclaimed “Lemonade” — a victory the winner herself acknowledged was undeserved — sparked the latest round of criticism that the Grammys were too old, too out of touch, too unwilling to consider diversity in the top categories (“New Artist” being the last of the so-called big four).
Frank Ocean refused to submit an album for consideration in protest. Drake followed suit. Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow promised “sweeping changes” in the wake of last year’s controversy.
And he actually followed through.
Longtime voters were not allowed, for the first time, to simply auto-renew membership without being able to show they were keeping up with current trends.
And, while it seems simultaneously amazing and silly to be saying this at the tail end of 2017, this was the first year in which Grammy voters not only took streaming numbers into account when considering artists’ reach and impact, but also the first year they were allowed to cast votes online. Seriously. They previously had to wait for a physical ballot to be mailed out. Then, presumably, a rotary-dial telephone was required to call in to a 1-900 number charging $2.99 a minute.
At any rate, we can see the results of this newfound embrace of modernity.
Just look at the “Album of the Year” nominees: Jay-Z’s “4:44,” Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.,” Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” Lorde’s “Melodrama,” and Childish Gambino’s “Awaken, My Love!”
As the Los Angeles Times noted: “For the first time in [the Grammys’] six-decade history, there was not a white male among the album-of-the-year nominees (Lorde is the sole female).” The Times also pointed out, “There are no white men among the best new artist nominees either, where the women (Alessia Cara, SZA and Julia Michaels) outnumber the men (Khalid and Lil Uzi Vert).”
Meanwhile, all five tracks for “Record of the Year” come from artists of color, as do four of the “Song of the Year” candidates.
While it’s hardly ideal that the Grammys had to be forcibly dragged into widening its worldview, now that it’s been done, hopefully the result is that, in future years, the diversity of the nominees will have become such an afterthought that we can rightly put all our focus on the deservedness instead.
That said, here are a few more takeaways from the latest batch of nominees:
So much snubbery
Ed Sheeran is hardly alone in not getting the recognition many observers predicted. While Katy Perry has never won a Grammy, all of her previous albums had at least been nominated. Not so for “Witness.” And while Taylor Swift’s new album “reputation” was released too late for 2018 award consideration, it was thought that single “Look What You Made Me Do” would be recognized. It wasn’t. She did at least snag noms in “Song for Visual Media” for her “50 Shades” collaboration with Zayn, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” and “Best Country Song” for writing Little Big Town’s “Better Man.” Longtime Grammy fave Lady Gaga similarly got just two minor nominations, while ex-One Directioners Harry Styles and Niall Horan were shut out, despite positive reviews. Rap collective A Tribe Called Quest was also denied despite acclaim for their beloved one-off effort “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service.” Meanwhile, Nashville likely shares Sheeran’s pain, as not one country artist was included in the Big Four categories.
Rock is dead?
This year’s focus on streaming numbers clearly demonstrated what’s long been known: Rap, hip-hop and R&B are currently more culturally relevant than rock music. And, frankly, looking at the latest batch of rock nominees, it’s hard to get excited about much. Texas band Nothing More drew the most recognition, with nominations in all three of the “Rock Performance,” “Rock Song” and “Rock Album” categories, despite being unrecognizable to most of today’s music fans. Beyond that, there were a few familiar faces (Metallica, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age), a few surprises (Avenged Sevenfold, Chris Cornell, Leonard Cohen [really?!]), and a few more Um, I don’t know thems (Kaleo, K.Flay).
And finally, pure weirdness
Quick — without looking, guess the category whose nominees include Carrie Fisher, Bruce Springsteen, Bernie Sanders and Mark Ruffalo, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Shelly Peiken. That would be “Best Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling),” of course. Where else you gonna get two actors, a beloved rocker, an iconoclast politician, a behind-the-scenes songwriter for the stars, and the second-greatest astrophysicist on the planet (behind Queen guitarist Brian May, naturally) together? In the spirit of the Grammys’ long history of bizarre collaborations, I want to see a mash-up performance from this group (with a hologram stand-in for the late Fisher, of course). Tell me you wouldn’t watch that.
60th Annual Grammy Awards
When • Jan. 28, 6 p.m. MT
Where • Madison Square Garden, New York City
TV • CBS