With today’s unveiling of the 2020 Grammy nominations, high-profile snubs like Taylor Swift and BTS have attracted the most attention. But there’s plenty more to look for among the field of nominees. Here are 12 noteworthy takeaways.
1. Two artists racked up nominations in the four major categories — a Grammy first.
For breakout acts, the ultimate Grammy achievement is landing nominations in all four major categories — Song, Record, and Album of the Year, and Best New Artist. It’s happened only sporadically in the past — Bobbie Gentry in 1967, the Carpenters in 1970, Cyndi Lauper in 1984, Amy Winehouse in 2007, and Sam Smith in 2015. This year, not one but two artists — Billie Eilish and Lizzo — have pulled it off, no doubt helped by the fact that the number of acts that can be nominated in each category has risen from five to seven. The odds that either will run off with all four are slim (Smith came close, winning Song, Record, and Best New Artist), but it’s a landmark moment nonetheless.
2. With a Song of the Year win, Taylor Swift could stand alone.
Song of the Year is a category that recognizes songwriters (as opposed to Record of the Year, which bows to the songs themselves) and in recent years, the songwriting field has been dominated by songwriting teams. Over the past 10 years, this trophy has been shared by an average of almost four songwriters each, each year, so Swift could this year possibly break that trend by winning a Grammy in the category for “Lover” all by herself. The last single songwriter to do so was Winehouse for “Rehab” in 2008. But even then, the odds are slim, since Ed Sheeran, Hozier, and Sara Bareilles, among others, have been nominated by themselves in the category and lost in recent years.
3. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” caused a country radio controversy — but didn’t get any country Grammy nominations.
“Old Town Road” earned Lil Nas X a jolt of free publicity when it was unceremoniously booted from the country charts earlier this year, tossing some gas on the eternally smoldering argument about who actually gets to qualify as country. After dominating most of 2019, it’s now rightly included among the top all-genre Grammy nominees, but surprisingly didn’t receive a single nomination in country (nor, for that matter, in rap). Considering that the song won a CMA Award last week, it’s mystifying that a majority of Grammy voters took it the other direction.
4. Rosalía broke the Grammys’ Hispanic quarantine with a Best New Artist nod.
At the 2020 Grammy Awards, Latin music is in a state of quarantine. Things seemed to look up in 2019, when “I Like It,” the hit song by Cardi B, J Balvin, and Bad Bunny, received the nomination for Record of the Year. But in spite of skyrocketing streaming numbers and a growing ubiquity even in Anglophone pop culture, not a single Hispanic artist has made the cut for the night’s most prestigious awards: including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, nor Album of the Year. Barcelona native Rosalía, however, is the only Spanish-language recording artist — as well as the first ever — to break into the general category with a Best New Artist nod.
5. Rodgers & Hammerstein are cool again.
Nobody was really worried about the reputation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalog from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. Then Ariana Grande’s team reached out looking for permission to release a new song based around the melody of “My Favorite Things,” the classic composition from the 1959 musical The Sound of Music. Now “7 Rings” is nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. On top of that, the current dark, brilliant remake of Oklahoma! now on Broadway — which features a seven-piece band performing the enduring classics in an Americana roots-arrangement — is nominated for Best Musical Theater Album, making the corny seem cool 60 years later.
6. Billy Ray Cyrus is country music’s Forrest Gump, always in the right place at the right time.
Let’s all take a second to marvel at the ways Billy Ray Cyrus has been intersecting with popular culture for nearly 30 years. His 1992 juggernaut “Achy Breaky Heart” was a goofy song, sure, but its release coincided perfectly with the rise of line dancing as well as country music as an institutional heavyweight. His early acting efforts (remember Doc?) also introduced the world to the talents of his daughter Miley, whose artistic evolution continues to fascinate. In 2019, he’s right back at the center of the conversation thanks to his role in Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which has been the musical story of 2019 and just earned the singer his first Grammy nominations in 25 years.
7. Want an R&B nomination? Sing a duet.
The key to a Best R&B Performance nomination this year was strength in numbers: Four of the five tracks up for an award in the category featured two vocalists. Duets have always been useful for cross-pollinating fanbases; this may be more true than ever in the streaming era, when a curiosity listen comes at zero extra cost. The only R&B singer in this category who didn’t need a partner in crime was Lucky Daye. He garnered four total nominations on Wednesday, marking him as an academy favorite.
8. Michelle Obama is facing off against John Waters and the Beastie Boys.
What do Orson Welles, Joan Rivers, and Bill Clinton have in common? They’ve all won Grammys in the Best Spoken Word Album category. This year will be an especially nail-biting competition when former First Lady and America’s Role Model Michelle Obama faces off against the Prince of Puke, John Waters, and the Beastie Boys, among others. Obama has an edge — her husband has won twice in this category already — but the Beastie Boys did put out Rolling Stone‘s Audiobook of the Year in 2018 and Waters will forever proudly accept the title of “The People’s Pervert,” so it’s anyone’s trophy to win.
9. The rock categories continue to miss the mark.
The Grammys’ Rock Album category rewards chart-topping acts over critical successes, which means that more critically lauded acts tend to get marginalized. Maybe it’s due to the ever-growing muddiness of the “Alternative” genre that “indie rock” bands like Big Thief are nominated for Best Alternative Album instead of Rock — alongside artists who fall on the more “indie” side of the scale, Thom Yorke and Bon Iver included. The Rock Album category itself is usually largely male, with the exception this year of the Cranberries, and arena act-centric. True innovators in rock today — including Sharon Van Etten, Charly Bliss, Priests, and many more — are missing.
10. The Americana nominees are surprisingly diverse.
Since its inception in 2010, the Best Americana Album category has become something of a refuge for Sixties-era veterans like Levon Helm and Mavis Staples. But this year’s Americana nominees represent a fresh crop of millennial artists of color like J.S. Ondara, Rhiannon Giddens, and Our Native Daughters (which includes Giddens) — not to mention Best New Artist nominee Yola — who are currently helping steer the genre away from its white Nashville roots. Not a single artist of color under the age of 70 has ever won an Americana Grammy. This could be the year that finally changes.
11. Lil Nas X’s nominations are a victory for queer artists.
After Lil Nas X came out on June 30th, the final day of LGBTQ Pride month celebrations, the 20-year-old became the biggest openly gay pop star in the world. Now he’s nominated for six Grammys, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best New Artist. Those nominations tie him with Frank Ocean’s six nominations in 2012 for Channel Orange, another out artist who was nominated in those same categories. The fact that Lil Nas has done it by mixing country and hip-hop, genres that have historically snubbed queer artists, has been groundbreaking — although he’s not nominated in either of those two categories.
12. Elton should be proud of his protégé.
British actor Taron Egerton has been singing Elton John’s songs to promote Rocketman, the big-budget biopic in which he stars as Reginald Kenneth Dwight as he’s catapulted to superstardom, since earlier this year. Unlike in Bohemian Rhapsody, where Rami Malek lip-synced to recordings by Freddie Mercury, Egerton does all of his own singing and now has been nominated for it in the Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media (a.k.a. the movie soundtrack) category. The irony may be that Elton himself didn’t get a nomination, but it also means his protégé has the right stuff. The fact that Egerton is up against Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born, however, may mean it’s all a moot point.