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The Winners and Losers of the 2021 Grammy Nominations

Taylor Swift is finally back in the Academy’s good graces, but what did the Weeknd do to get snubbed?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On Tuesday, the Recording Academy announced the nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammys, slated to be held on January 31. While we’ll have to wait a few months to find out who’s actually taking home awards, we’re ready to crown some winners and losers based on who made the field. There were some egregious snubs and some big breakthroughs, but the best place to start is with an old favorite who finally made her way back into the Academy’s good graces …

Winner: Taylor Swift’s Perfectly Engineered Comeback

The Academy has not been kind to Taylor’s past two records. 2017’s tepid Reputation was her least-nominated since her self-titled 2006 debut, snagging a lone nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album. 2019’s Lover saw a warmer reception both from critics and fans, but the Grammys shut her out of the Album of the Year category. 2020, however, is a different story for Swift. On Tuesday, Taylor received six nominations, tied for the second most this year. That includes an Album of the Year nod for Folklore, her cabin-core excursion released in July.

A win in that category in January would give her the most ever by a female solo artist and tie her with Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder for most all time. And she has to like her odds: While the AOTY category also includes Ringer favorites Haim and Dua Lipa, Swift doesn’t appear to have much competition. (That Coldplay somehow got a nomination for an album everyone forgot happened is Peak Grammys.) After a few years in the wilderness, Taylor appears ready to return to the Grammy spotlight. She just had to take her music to the wilderness to get there.

Loser: Grammy Pandemic Brain (No Weeknd? Seriously?)

You know the lockdown phenomenon where you can’t remember if something happened last week or last year? That’s the only explanation for the absence of the Weeknd in Tuesday’s nominations. The Toronto singer released the year’s biggest song (“Blinding Lights”) and one of its biggest albums (March’s pretty decent After Hours). Yet the Academy seems to have forgotten both. There were other surprising snubs—Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, and Justin Bieber were all shut out of the big general categories—but none were bigger than the Academy’s passing over the Weeknd, who came into the day as the betting favorite in both song and album categories, according to Gold Derby. But while it’s likely disappointing for Abel, he can console himself with the knowledge that he’ll be the lead performer at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, where he’ll be crooning songs vaguely about cocaine sex in front of a half-empty crowd. Don’t see how we’ll forget that happened.

Winner: Off-Year Beyoncé

Beyoncé received the most nominations on Tuesday with nine. That brings her career total to 79, making her the most nominated woman in Grammys history. (Overall, she’s tied with Paul McCartney for third most; she’ll presumably pass both Quincy Jones and her husband, Jay-Z, both of whom have 80, at some point soon.) The most impressive part of Beyoncé’s nomination tally this year is that it comes during something of an off year: Her nods came from July’s stunning visual film Black Is King, the expanded edition of The Lion King: The Gift, and her OnlyFans-referencing guest spot on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage (Remix).” It’s hard to imagine any other artist leading the nominations without an album’s worth of new material. But if anybody could release crumbs and get this kind of acknowledgement from the Academy, it’s Beyoncé.

Loser: The Grammys’ Handling of K-Pop (and Latin Pop)

Today was supposed to be something of a coronation for BTS, the biggest group in the world. The boy band’s Map of the Soul: 7 made them the best-selling artist in South Korean history, topped the charts in the U.S., and launched them into another stratosphere of fame. But they landed just one nomination on Tuesday: Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Dynamite.” It’s a big disappointment for the group, which had been angling for big nominations. “I think the Grammys are the last part, like the final part of the whole American journey,” band member RM told Esquire recently. One bright side: The group’s latest album, Be, is eligible for the 2022 awards, meaning they’ll get another chance at completing the journey. (There were also rumblings that BLACKPINK and SuperM could get some love in the Best New Artist category, but neither scored a single nomination on Tuesday.)

Meanwhile, the Grammys largely ignored Latin pop, nominating “Un Dia” by J Balvin, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, and Tainy in that same Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category. (Bad Bunny, who had a breakout 2020, received another nod for Latin Pop Album for YHLQMDLG.) With international and non-English music becoming more popular in the United States than ever before, it raises the question of how long will it take the Grammys to fully acknowledge those artists—and how long the ceremony can maintain any relevancy if it doesn’t.

Winner: TikTok

Roddy Ricch got six nominations, including Song of the Year for “The Box.” Megan Thee Stallion got four and Doja Cat got three; both were nominated for Best New Artist and Record of the Year. All three artists owe at least part of their success to their viral breakouts on TikTok. The Grammys ignored a lot of important new music, but they’re at least not letting these artists slip through the cracks.

Loser: Big Crossover Country Releases

There was one important milestone in the country section this year: The album category is made up entirely of woman artists (including Little Big Town, which is composed of two women and two men). Given Nashville’s well-documented struggles with gender equality, this shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Country as a whole, however, had a strange day on Tuesday. No country acts snuck into the big general categories. More bizarre: Crossover albums from Luke Combs, Sam Hunt, and the Chicks were shut out from even the country categories. (Jack Antonoff received a Producer of the Year nomination for his 2020 résumé, which included his work on Gaslighter.) While we should celebrate history being made, we should also be asking why these major releases were nowhere to be found.

Winner: Phoebe Bridgers (Plus a Few Other Nominations We Like)

On Monday, Bridgers earned her first Hot 100 hit with her and Maggie Rogers’s cover of “Iris” and released a great Christmas EP. On Tuesday, she picked up four nominations, including one for Best New Artist. Is any musician on a hotter streak at the moment?

Some other Ringer favorites—including Fiona Apple, Fontaines D.C., Sturgill Simpson, Beck, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Big Thief, and the Strokes—received nominations. But no nomination excites this writer more than Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist getting a nod for May’s excellent Alfredo in the rap album category. If they win in January, let’s hope Freddie puts his son on camera.

Loser: The Grammys’ Ability to Meet the Moment

Recording Academy chair Harvey Mason Jr. opened the nomination ceremony by noting that 2020 was a year unlike any in the Academy’s history, with a raging pandemic that has had untold effects on the music industry and a fight for social and racial justice that has taken on renewed vigor. Yet his words were hardly reflected in Tuesday’s nominations. The music of Pop Smoke—the Brooklyn drill artist who was killed this spring—has dominated charts this year, and his song “Dior” became a staple at demonstrations across the country. Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” is arguably the best (and easily the biggest) song to come out of the protest movement this year. Despite their impact, these artists were relegated to the rap category.

Award ceremonies are meaningless, ultimately. The Grammys have never understood rap music. (Hell, they’ve barely understood popular music at times.) But an awards show should at least attempt to reflect the current moment. The Academy had every opportunity to do that this year, but it failed to tap into the music that resonated most in 2020. It makes you wonder why we even bother to track this ceremony.