Anyone who follows contemporary music might have predicted that superstars Beyoncé, Adele, Kanye West and Drake would earn a lot of Grammy nominations.
And they did — to the tune of 30 of them.
But as with every year, the rest of the field is pretty much wide open. In some places, maybe some works were nominated that shouldn’t have been. Elsewhere, great music that languished on the charts was resurrected by voters who know what they’re talking about.
Below, a few notable snubs, surprises and under-card achievements among the new Grammy class.
Wait, who is Kelsea Ballerini?
The new artist category has advanced the careers of musicians including Mariah Carey, John Legend, Amy Winehouse and — who could forget — Milli Vanilli, This year’s best new artist roster is dense with could-be superstars that landed the nod via boutique imprints. Chicago breakout rapper Chance the Rapper could have written his own major label check, but for “Coloring Book” he, instead, charted an independent course that has paid huge dividends.
The rising country-pop artist Kelsea Ballerini earned attention through her hit “Love Me Like You Mean It,” which was issued by the independent label Black River. And the Oxnard-born .Paak, best known for his work on Dr. Dre’s “Compton,” first issued his “Malibu” via the small Steel Wool Entertainment. Two other acts, EDM team the Chainsmokers and country singer Maren Morris — got their nominations via Sony/Columbia.
How did Beyoncé receive nine nominations but Adele only five?
Going into the announcement, the presumption was that the two superstars would compete for the most awards, but that’s not the case. Beyoncé nearly doubled Adele’s tally.
How’d it happen?
Even though both earned nominations in three of the four major categories, as well as the pop solo performance, Beyoncé advanced her count with, among others, a wildcard rock performance nomination for her collaboration with Jack White, “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” She also earned two video nominations for work from “Lemonade.” Adele didn’t.
The yin and yang of Sturgill Simpson and Justin Bieber.
Few major category nominees are more different than Simpson and Bieber, who will be competing for album of the year alongside Beyoncé, Adele and Drake.
The country singer Simpson is 38, came up in Kentucky and paid his bills working for Union Pacific Railroad before moving to Nashville and sweating his way to the top. Bieber’s vehicle wasn’t a train but YouTube, which he conquered as a teenager.
Now 22, he shares his “Purpose” nomination with a list of collaborators a few dozen people deep. By comparison, Simpson self-produced his “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” and his collaborators included a quartet of recording engineers.
Those who know Kip Winger from his days as a metal guitarist heading the band Winger or, before that, performing with Alice Cooper, might get aesthetic whiplash to learn that the “Charles Frederick Kip Winger” nominated for contemporary classical composition is, in fact, the same dude.
But it’s the same dude, and he’s in the running for “Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky,” an extended work devoted to the life of ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky.
Laugh all you want, classical snobs: C.F. Kip Winger understands your dismissive chuckles, but that hasn’t prevented him from stepping up. The nominated collection features a number of his orchestral works, including the ballet “Ghost” and a piece of chamber music.
Where are the “legends”?
Though baby boomer dominance has recently waned in the major categories, the album of the year roster has often contained a mid- or late-career, critically acclaimed artist whose current work hadn’t registered on the pop charts but who had nonetheless built an enduring catalog. Think Herbie Hancock’s “River: The Joni Letters,” Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ “Raising Sand” and Beck’s “Morning Phase.”
This year two artists were expected to compete for that role: Paul Simon for his “Stranger to Stranger” and the late David Bowie for his “Blackstar” swan song.
Simon was ignored altogether; Bowie earned nominations in the rock categories, as well as for the “Blackstar” package design.
Kanye West can’t catch a Grammy break.
The polarizing rapper has won nearly two dozen Grammy awards in his career, but he’s never taken home a major-category trophy. Instead, and much to his dismay, West’s critically acclaimed work has earned its victories in the genre categories.
This year is no different.
Music from West’s “The Life of Pablo” was nominated eight times, but the only major nod came for his production work on Drake’s album of the year nominated “Views.” Which is to say: West could be invited onto the prime-time stage not as the result of his own achievement but because of Drake’s more commercially successful one.
Despite her surprising eight nominations, including record of the year for “Work,” pop star Rihanna’s accomplishments will likely be overshadowed by the Adele versus Beyonce narrative.
Rightly or wrongly, Rihanna’s pop-oriented new music hasn’t received the kind of attention that either “Lemonade” or “25” did. That likely won’t change when the winners are announced. Rihanna is an underdog in many of her categories.
“Stranger Things” score gets a double nod.
One of the year’s breakout TV hits was the Netflix thriller “Stranger Things,” and its score was the talk of the business. Crafted by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of the Austin, Tex., synthesizer group Survive, its left-field success earned them two Grammy nominations in the score soundtrack for visual media category.
Both “Stranger Things Vol. 1” and “Stranger Things Vol. 2” were acknowledged — alongside veterans John Williams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), Ennio Morricone (“Quentin Tarantino’s the Hateful Eight”), Thomas Newman (“Bridge of Spies”) and Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alvo Noto (“The Revenant”).
The metal performance category gets it … right?
The metal performance category has long been polarizing because Grammy voters have been known to reveal an ignorance as to what’s really moving the metal meter. (Recall Jethro Tull’s infamous nomination in the category.)
This year, in an attempt to prevent questionable nominations, the Recording Academy tweaked the rules to limit the number of categories in which members can cast votes (down from 20 to 15, plus the four big prizes). The result: underground metal luminaries Baroness, French metal band Gojira and prog-metal band Periphery rose from the depths.
Their more established adversaries? Korn and Megadeth.