Even people not obsessed with music are likely asking some of the big questions set to be answered Friday morning, when the Recording Academy announces its nominations for the 61st Grammy Awards.
Will Taylor Swift earn her fourth nod for album of the year — more than Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Prince or Madonna have received — with the polarizing “Reputation,” which sold well but drew mixed reviews?
Will Cardi B become only the third female rapper in history (after Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott) to be nominated for that prize with her blockbuster debut, “Invasion of Privacy”?
With much of the world’s recorded music available online, now more than ever we’re never done with the past. A dusty soul record lands in a ubiquitous ad, and, within a month, it’s on everyone’s tongue. An algorithm catches that you like Julia Holter and tips you to psychedelic folk singer Linda Perhacs’ 1970 electronic folk music.
Such resurrections don’t happen by accident, and the thriving reissue and archival scene offers evidence. So much so that it’s criminal that the Grammys reserve a single category for old recordings, especially considering so much money is earned through back catalog sales, licenses and streams. To only pick five seems random.
However random, voters got it right this year, with five remarkable old sets of recordings that jump decades and continents, in the process updating the slights and oversights of the marketplace.
One of the most nominated songs at the 61st Grammy Awards first reached many listeners as part of the 60th Grammy Awards.
A three-way pileup involving a young country singer, an established EDM star and an up-and-coming dance-pop production team, “The Middle” premiered during January’s annual telecast in a splashy music video sponsored (and shamelessly branded) by Target.
Now the catchy track billed to the unlikely trio of Maren Morris, Zedd and Grey will vie for record of the year and song of the year at the Recording Academy’s next ceremony, nominations for which were announced Friday morning.
H.E.R.’s first Grammy nominations are the result of the young star’s meteoric rise over the past year and a half as the brooding, slow-dripping soul she began releasing anonymously in 2016 caught fire on streaming platforms and solidified her status as one of the most exciting R&B voices to arrive in recent years.
Her records have been streamed over 1 billion times, she’s got fans in Janet Jackson and Rihanna, is in the middle of her second headlining tour and is part of a seismic shift that has pushed the genre out of the shadows of hip-hop.
The rap categories for the 2019 Grammy nominations are full of a number of the usual, laudable contenders (Kendrick Lamar, Drake) as well as worthy ascendant acts (Cardi B, Travis Scott). What they lack, notably, is much representation from the wilds of streaming service SoundCloud and the young, often troubled stars who redefined the genre for young fans on the internet.
Call it a generation gap or a values question. But no other genre has such a split between the breakout acts that racked up gobsmacking streaming numbers in 2018 and the Grammy establishment looking for less-divisive acts to champion as standard-bearers.
And in a year with, sadly, so much significant hip-hop from deceased young artists in contention, those absences are even more striking.
The past year was a banner one for K-pop in the U.S., with BTS becoming the first South Korean act to land atop the Billboard album charts.
“Love Yourself: Tear” hit the chart milestone in May for an album universally applauded as a sleek, inventive statement piece for contemporary K-pop. If K-pop were ever to get Grammy acceptance on its own terms, this would be the album to do it (even if the Grammys are terminally reluctant to award pure pop that appeals to young audiences).
Grammy voters are probably due to reckon with K-pop as a genre sooner or later. So it’s a little curious and a little obvious that they chose best recording package as the way to get BTS (and the attendant social media deluge) into the ceremony without having to grapple with what its music means in a Grammy context.
Putting it mildly, 2018 was not a great year for Recording Academy President and Chief Executive Neil Portnow.
After 15 years of steady stewardship of the organization with little in the way of controversy under his watch, Portnow ignited a firestorm of criticism on the heels of a comment after this year’s Grammys that it was time for women to “step up” if they wished to be better represented in the annual gala.
Portnow’s quick mea culpa did little to quell the outrage among many who argued vociferously that if it was time for anything, it was time for Portnow to step down. Several weeks later he announced that that was precisely what he would do — after his current contract expires in July.
For the first time in more than 15 years, the Backstreet Boys are nominated for a Grammy.
That’s right, the bestselling boy band in history (not counting the Beatles) is up for pop duo/group performance for “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” — the first release from the group’s upcoming album, “DNA,” its first in six years.
And considering the category also includes Christina Aguilera’s “Fall in Line” featuring Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake’s “Say Something” featuring Chris Stapleton and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” featuring Cardi B, it’s a race that conjures up some serious nostalgia for the days of "Total Request Live," MTV's groundbreaking video countdown show that once upon a time was required after-school viewing.
In terms of sheer breadth and impact, there’s likely never been a better year for movie music at the Grammys than the upcoming 2019 awards.
Two films, “A Star Is Born” and “Black Panther,” have soundtracks or singles contending in several top categories. A third, “The Greatest Showman,” got a pair of nods (it was the first million-selling album in the U.S. in 2018, and currently clocks 51 weeks on the Billboard album charts).
The three are very different films — a big-tent, big-message Marvel franchise movie with a Kendrick Lamar-driven soundtrack; a classic Hollywood tale updated for contemporary crowds, which revitalized Lady Gaga’s pop career and gave Bradley Cooper one of his own; and a traditional musical-spectacle from a nimble movie star and a lauded songwriting team.