On Tuesday, the Recording Academy announced the 2021 Grammy Award nominees. And it was, as expected, an unqualified disaster.
Let’s start with the good. With her leading 9 nominations, including Song and Record of the Year for “Black Parade,” Beyoncé became the most-nominated female artist in Grammy history (a staggering 62 noms overall). Other artists who received multiple nominations included Brittany Howard, the talented frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes; Billie Eilish, the teen ASMR-singing sensation; Megan Thee Stallion, after her horrifying treatment in the wake of the Tory Lanez shooting; and Dua Lipa, whose infectious disco-dance offering Future Nostalgia garnered a well-deserved nod for Album of the Year.
Oh, and that atrocious song from the Cats movie scored a nom. I can’t really stress how funny that is.
But overall, the Recording Academy’s choices for Album of the Year were extraordinarily out of touch.
Here are the nominees:
Jhené Aiko – Chilombo
Black Pumas – Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition)
Coldplay – Everyday Life
Jacob Collier – Djesse Vol. 3
Haim – Women In Music Pt. III
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Post Malone – Hollywood's Bleeding
Taylor Swift – Folklore
In case you’re wondering, yes, Post Malone and Coldplay received Album of the Year nods over the likes of Fiona Apple, The Chicks, Phoebe Bridgers, Rina Sawayama, Run the Jewels, and a whole host of acts—primarily female ones, as it were—who put out vastly superior fare. (I had forgotten that Coldplay even put out an album this year, it was that unremarkable; meanwhile, The Chicks couldn’t even muster a nod in Best Country Album for their emotionally vibrating Gaslighter, which is just ludicrous, and The Weeknd was shut out entirely.)
The Grammys, like the Academy Awards, has a reputation for royally botching its biggest award, Album of the Year. Where do we even begin? Lionel Richie taking home the honor over Prince’s Purple Rain, Natalie Cole over Nirvana’s Nevermind (which wasn’t even nominated?!), a musty Steely Dan LP over Radiohead’s Kid A, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack edging out Outkast’s Stankonia, Mumford & Sons’ mediocre Babel toppling Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, or Taylor Swift’s foray into radio-friendly pop, 1989, besting Kendrick Lamar’s towering To Pimp a Butterfly?
To fix these egregious examples, including its despicable history of failing to award Black artists Album of the Year—with a grand total of zero Black artists winning it over the last decade—the Recording Academy has made efforts to diversify its ranks, inviting over 2300 new members to join in 2020 “from wide-ranging backgrounds,” according to the group. Even with these late-in-the-game additions, however, the Recording Academy’s makeup is overwhelmingly white, and only “26 percent female and 25 percent from traditionally underrepresented communities.”
If that weren’t enough, the Recording Academy, which again is 74 percent male, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit from former CEO Deborah Dugan, who’s accused the organization of being a toxic “boys’ club” where sexual harassment ran rampant, engaging in corrupt voting practices, and alleging that her predecessor as CEO, Neil Portnow, raped an unnamed female artist. (Portnow and the Academy have “emphatically denied” the allegations.)
Whether or not these disturbing charges are true, the suffocating maleness of the Recording Academy is one reason why the newest Album of the Year crop is so disheartening—particularly when it comes to the omission of the Fiona Apple tour de force, Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Apple’s latest, her first in eight years and inspired in part by the odious Brett Kavanaugh hearings, is an urgent and defiant outcry for catharsis, as the singer-songwriter telegraphs her trauma and simmering rage over 13 canorous tracks. Unlike the lion’s share of the nominees, it is an album that feels like a précis of the torment so many, particularly women and people of color, are feeling in 2020, as a racist and sexist madman lays waste to our democracy—and in the midst of a global pandemic that he’s helped accelerate, no less.
Imagine overlooking the best-reviewed album of the year, and the first to receive a perfect ‘10’ rating from Pitchfork in nearly a decade, that wrestles with rape culture, while being accused of fostering it yourself?
Who knows if the Recording Academy will get it right anytime soon—I’m still haunted by the time Macklemore received Best New Artist over Kendrick Lamar—but it has a long road back to respectability.
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