Our Reactions To The Nominations for the 64th Grammy Awards

Wizkid, Tems and more earn nominations

After an almost year-long wait for the 64th Grammy Awards nominations, they are finally in. Widely seen as the most prominent and coveted music awards system, the award show has, for better or worse, come to be regarded as the most-respected arbiter of music in America and, in recent years, exciting, emergent sounds from across the world.

In a way, the Grammys has helped project a sense of normalcy to a world still dealing with the changes imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, when the 63rd edition of the awards ceremony returned, it did so partly in person, eschewing the largely virtual format that other major award ceremonies had fallen back on. It also served as a semi-final return to live music events which were put on hold for much of the past year, ushering in a summer of festivals and artist tours. Once again, music could be enjoyed in person and despite the fleeting feeling of everything else, the communities it nurtured were able to thrive.

This year, the 64th Grammy Awards arrived with more controversy than would typically underscore the hot-ticket event. Undoubtedly, the controversial call to not nominate The Weeknd, despite the record-breaking achievements of his album, ‘After Hours,’ robbed the Grammys of some credibility, leading to a long-overdue reckoning with its archaic structure. That reckoning came earlier this year when a change was announced to the Recording Academy’s nominating committees. Among those invited to join the organisation this year were a recorded 48 percent are female, 32 percent Black, 13 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 4 percent Asian or Pacific Islander. Already, we’re seeing the effects of this change with a record number of five Black artists including Kanye West, Jon Batiste, and more, in the race for an Album of the Year win.

Sensing an opportunity to finally receive some love from the Recording Academy with the installment of the popular votes, Drake and Kanye West, who have complicated relationships with the Academy, submitted their respective albums, ‘Certified Lover Boy’ and ‘Donda’ for consideration in the Album of the Year category, with ‘Donda’ getting the nod for AOTY alongside bigwigs like Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Billie Eilish, and Lil Nas X. In a snub that is sure to sting, Drake missed out on all the top categories, only getting nominated in Rap categories. The Toronto native was recognised for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance for “Way 2 Sexy” with Future and Young Thug. Also, J. Cole received nominations in all the Rap categories, following his debut Grammy award earlier this year. With the use of the popular votes, the Rap album category is led by stellar names such as Nas (‘King’s Disease II’) and Tyler, the Creator (‘Call Me If You Get Lost’). Other big categories like the Best New Music category offered little surprises with hitmakers like The Kid Laroi, Baby Keem, Saweetie, Finneas, Japanese Breakfast, and favorite Olivia Rodrigo rounding up a solid list while Pakistani vocalist and music composer Arooj Aftab got a surprise nod.

Last year, the Recording Academy renamed its contested ‘Best World Music’ category, announcing that it would now be known as Best Global Music Album category. The refurbishing of the controversial title was celebrated as a move in the right direction to combat the harmful idea that all music outside the Western gaze belonged in one category. Further progress in defeating these colonial and racist connotations of these narrow categories is being proposed by the Grammy Award who also recently introduced the ‘Best Global Music Performance’ category to “honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position. The album is reserved for performers exhibiting “non-European, indigenous traditions.”

With contemporary music from Africa in the thick of a global expansion, Afropop’s moment in the sun is being supported by the Grammy. Over the last two years, music from Africa has featured more prominently on the nominees’ roll call, Burna Boy has received two consecutive nominations in the Best Global Music Album category, snagging the 2020 gramophone for ‘Twice As Tall,’ following Angelique Kidjos’ win for ‘Celia’ in 2019.

This year, the Best Global Music categories spot more representatives from the African continent, featuring a delicate balance of contemporary music and traditional music, led by Wizkid’s globally-resonant ‘Made In Lagos.’ Thanks to the far-reaching success of “Essence,” his late-summer soundtrack with Tems, Wizkid is also nominated in the ‘Best Global Music Performance’ category, meaning that the boy from Ojuelegba could potentially walk away with two gramophones come January 22, 2021. Outside of this, West Africa is well represented in the two categories, with Femi and Made Kuti also earning their first-time nominations for their joint project, ‘Legacy +’

With all these points taken into consideration, the NATIVE team has decided to share our real-time reactions to the nominations for the 64th Grammy Awards which is set to take place next January.

Best Global Music Performance

Arooj Aftab – “Mohabbat”

Angelique Kidjo & Burna Boy – “Do Yourself”

Femi Kuti – “Pà Pá Pà”

Yo-Yo Ma & Angelique Kidjo – “Blewu”

WizKid Featuring Tems – “Essence”

This is the first time that this category is being awarded so it’s hard to get a picture of what might happen. The central idea is to reward music that doesn’t conform to the typical formats of “American or European” music but there are generally red flags if the goal is to be inclusive because how do you deservingly honor the glut of music that’s coming out of Africa, South America, North America, and Asia with one category? For me, it feels a little impossible and I can’t escape the feeling that this is one of those categories that would come down to lobbying and eventually descend into a popularity contest.

I expected to see some curveballs from the Recording Academy in terms of the music that made it to the shortlist but it feels pretty nailed-on that Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence” would win this category. With the cultural cachet that Afropop has right now, I wasn’t surprised to see more songs from Africans on the list. It’s heartwarming to see Femi Kuti get a nomination for “Pà Pá Pà” and this field is pretty tightly-contested for the sort of “technical proficiency” that the Grammy prides itself on. Arooj Aftab’s “Mohabbat” has that languid, folkloric core that could make it a shoo-in for the award.

Angélique Kidjo is a Grammy favourite and she has two songs on the shortlist, and I expect that her familiarity with the Recording Academy might help her curry some favour but it’s hard to look past Wizkid and Tems for this one. Good luck to all nominees and I’m looking forward to what the timeline would look like on the morning of February 1.

– Wale

Record of the Year

Billie Eilish – “Happier Than Ever”

Olivia Rodrigo – “drivers License”

ABBA – “I Still Have Faith in You”

Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”

Silk Sonic – “Leave the Door Open”

Jon Batiste – “Freedom”

Doja Cat – “Kiss Me More” (feat. SZA)

Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – “I Get a Kick Out of You”

Justin Bieber – “Peaches” (feat. Daniel Caesar & Giveon)

Brandi Carlile – “Right on Time”

At the last two editions of the Grammys, Billie Eilish picked up the gramophone for Record of the year, becoming just the third artist to accomplish that feat. Ahead of next year’s ceremony, there’s every possibility of a 3-peat for the inventive pop singer. Her sophomore LP, ‘Happier Than Ever’, dropped in the summer to warm critical reception, and its title track is nominated in this category. I don’t think it’s the best song on the album, but “Happier Than Ever” looks like one of the better bets to win this category. Honestly, the competition isn’t that fierce, if you ask me.

Catering to production, instrumental arrangement and sound quality, the Record of the Year category is often tilted towards “sophisticated” choices, with truly experimental recordings rarely getting any shine. It’s why Hip-Hop and contemporary R&B are almost always shut out in this category, despite the experimentation in those genres ultimately leaking into, and driving, Pop music. Track record considered, don’t be surprised if Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s reunion gets them the gramophone—they did win a few last time.

For my money, I’m going with Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open.” The Soul revivalist sound is easy bait for academy voters, and the song is actually pretty good. Also, Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” is a solid contender, not because I love the song, but because the Grammys love nothing but a new darling and she seems like a good candidate—especially so Gen Z can help boost ratings. I’m slightly disappointed Wizkid and Tems’ “Essence” didn’t get a look, as well as BTS’ summer smash “Butter,” but it’s on pace for an award that obviously didn’t give a damn about globalised pop hits like Drake’s “One Dance,” “Despacito” and Cardi B’s “I Like It.” On a final note here, I’d revolt if Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” wins, that’s as beige and as bland a song I’ve heard in my entire life.

– Dennis

Rap Album of the Year

Tyler the Creator – ‘Call Me If You Get Lost’

Drake – ‘Certified Lover Boy’

Kanye West – ‘Donda’

J. Cole – ‘The Off Season’

Nas – ‘King’s Disease II’

Last year’s nominees for Rap Album of the Year was arguably the funniest and second most frustrating part—after the whole Abel Tesfaye snub—of the nomination announcements. The Academy decided to go #RealHipHop, selecting projects by traditional lyricists and totally overlooking the experimental, younger and more popular side of Rap music. Yeah, Nas finally won a Grammy, but for ‘King’s Disease’? And over Freddie Gibbs and the Alchemist’s ‘Alfredo’?! Oh, please.

In an obvious bid to avoid the murmurs of last year’s contenders, the academy simply reverted to type this time, nominating the most popular rap albums around. Yeah, J. Cole sounded looser and more engaged on ‘The Off Season’ but this category is meant to be chess and not checkers. Drake’s ‘CLB’ and Kanye’s ‘Donda’ are data dumps, and you can’t even call them competent, talk more of being wholesomely compelling. Nas’ ‘King Disease II’ is even more boring than its predecessor, all that rose-tinted nostalgia and black capitalist talk only works in bursts. That leaves Tyler the Creator’s part-personal, part-conceptual, part-triumphant tour de force ‘Call Me If You Get Lost’ as the only true representation of the best rap albums for the year in review.

What would my nominations look like? Glad you asked. In addition to Tyler, I’d add the following: Megan Thee Stallion’s Good News, which is easily better than the rest of the nominees, and gets better with every revisit, even though many people wanted that woman to catch an L so bad; Young Nudy’s ‘Dr. EV4L’, because it’s punishing and consistently exhilarating Trap music; Navy Blue’s ‘Songs of Sage: Post Panic’, because it’s one of the best confessional, Soul/Jazz sampling rap albums I’ve ever heard; and Vince Staples’ self-titled album, a concise, mood-setting album that unpacks itself with repeat listens. Anyways, congrats to Tyler on his win. Any other nominee here wins, and it’ll just be another day at the office for the Grammys.

– Dennis

Best Global Music Album

Rocky Dawuni – ‘Voice Of Bunbon, Vol. 1’

Daniel Ho & Friends – ‘East West Players Presents: Daniel Ho & Friends Live In Concert’

Angelique Kidjo – ‘Mother Nature’

Femi Kuti And Made Kuti – ‘Legacy +’

WizKid – ‘Made In Lagos: Deluxe Edition ‘

After completely reshaping the Best Global Music Album category from its previous title ‘Best World Music Album,’ it seems that this year the Recording Academy finally made good on its promise to reflect the diverse sonic landscape emerging across the globe and reform its rewards system, following criticism over the years that they remain stuck in their ways.

Previously held by past winners such as Angelique Kidjo who is nominated once again for her recently released album ‘Mother Nature,’ Fatoumata Diawara, Seun Kuti and Burna Boy whose album ‘Twice As Tall’ won the newly minted music award category last year, taking the title from other contenders such as legendary Afrobeat artist Antibalas, Brazilian music icon, Bebel Gilberto and Tuareg musicians, Tinariwen. This time around, the competition is tighter despite some of our favourite Afropop albums making the cut. Hawaiian-American singer, composer and songwriter, Daniel Ho returns this year with a nomination in the category after winning the title twice in the past, including the category for Best Hawaiian Music a record four times as well. His run for the win is contested by Kidjo who has similarly held this title four times in the past.

Nonetheless, there are leaps made in this category, bolstered by the inclusion and representation of West African music through Wizkid, the Kuti’s and Rocky Dawuni. Perhaps unsurprising is Wizkid’s nomination for his magnum opus ‘Made In Lagos,’ solidified in its standing after a vibrant summer of warming its way up the Billboard charts and festival circuits. It’s in great company alongside Dawuni’s afro-reggae offering ‘Voice of Bunbon, Vol.1’ and Femi and Made Kuti’s ‘Legacy+,’ a joint project which builds on the father-son duo’s unyielding ethos as socio-political activists with impressive technical writing abilities. I’m not too certain how this category will play out next January but I can bet that Ho and Kidjo are the two most likely to snag the title, going by their track records. However, the Grammys do love to reward a first-time nomination win so Wizkid is potentially vying for the win this time around.

– Tami

Album of the Year

Jon Batiste – ‘We Are’

Tony Bennet & Lady Gaga – ‘Love For Sale’

Justin Bieber – ‘Justice’

Doja Cat – ‘Planet Her’

Billie Eilish – ‘Happier Than Ever’

H.E.R. – ‘Back Of My Mind’

Lil Nas X – ‘Montero’

Olivia Rodrigo – ‘Sour’

Taylor Swift – ‘Evermore’

Kanye West – ‘Donda’

A tag as prestigious as ‘Album of the Year’ is one worthy of acclaim for any artist, especially one with a Gramophone-sized record attached to it. Last year, Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ landed the coveted title, becoming the first woman to win the award three times since the Academy’s existence. The singer beat off competition from strong contenders such as Haim, Jhene Aiko, Coldplay and Dua Lipa. Many contested Swift’s win, especially as the singer’s pandemic-inspired project didn’t follow the patterns of previous AOTY winners and lost in its genre category to another AOTY nominee, Dua Lipa. This year, however, there’s more room to manouvere as the Academy has now extended the number of nominees for the Big 4 categories, including AOTY, to 10 in total.

Kanye’s ‘Donda’ features at the token Rap album to make the AOTY cut but we’re not too miffed as it’s been a comparatively boring year for Rap. Epically, however, Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s recent albums both snag nominations this year. While the pair have since buried their differences, their nomination within the same category has already spurred memes and gif reactions on Twitter, as listeners battle out who’ll be crowned the winner. With a record number of 21 Grammys to his name, West is tied with fellow rapper, JAY-Z for the most nominations and we won’t be too surprised if he smoothly sails to victory this year off the back of the inimitable ‘Donda,’ though undeservingly. Also nominated within the category is newcomer, Olivia Rodrigo who received seven Grammy nods including all the Big 4 categories including AOTY and becomes the second-youngest after Eilish to be nominated.

Doja Cat also monumentally snags a nomination for AOTY alongside fellow Black artists like H.E.R, Lil Nas X, and Jon Batiste. The last Black artist to take home AOTY was Herbie Hancock in 2008, for a tribute to Joni Mitchell and the stakes are even lower for Black women who haven’t held the title since Lauryn Hill in 1999. What would my nominations look like? I’d definitely throw in Jazmine Sullivan whose recently released album ‘Heaux Tales,’ was nominated for Best R&B album but missed out on an AOTY nomination. I’d also have liked to see a female rapper earn her spot for AOTY and although I’m not completely convinced Megan thee Stallion’s ‘Good News’ is AOTY-material, it wouldn’t have mattered because who really gets to define these value systems? The Grammys wants us to believe that sales aren’t the metric for Grammy success but we’ve seen the Academy play into a popularity contest time and time again. This has proven to fall short of fully representing today’s diverse sonic landscape. Despite this, this year’s nominations are definitely a step up from last year and I, for one, am just happy to see more women deservingly earn their flowers.

– Tami

Featured image credits/NATIVE