Like most music pundits, I woke up early this morning fully prepared to call out the Grammys for nominating yet another slate of bland, lily-white artists while largely freezing artists of color in general, and hip-hop artists in particular, out of the major categories. After back-to-back years of seeing Taylor Swift beat Kendrick Lamar and Adele beat Beyoncé, I assumed most of the conversation about this year's nominees would revolve around how likely it was that Ed Sheeran's “Shape of You” would defeat “Despacito” and Kendrick's “Humble” and keep the Grammys' milquetoast reputation intact.
Boy, was I wrong. In the major categories, this is probably the most diverse class of nominees in Grammy history, and certainly the most hip-hop–centric. Jay-Z and Bruno Mars are the only artists nominated for all of the big three: Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year. Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover, whose hit show Atlanta is an awards magnet) are both up for Record of the Year and Album of the Year, and Logic is up for Song of the Year for “1-800-273-8255.” Lil Uzi Vert is repping hip-hop in the Best New Artist category. Overall, hip-hop accounts for nearly half the nominees in the major categories — and that's not even including Daddy Yankee's rap contributions to Luis Fonsi's “Despacito,” the song of the summer that garnered well-earned nods for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year (the first song sung in Spanish ever to do so).
You want diversity? Artists of color account for 16 of the 20 nominations in the major categories. In the Record of the Year category, the only white artist included is Justin Bieber, as a feature on “Despacito.” Never before in Grammy history has every lead artist nominated for Record of the Year been nonwhite. The only other lead white artists in this year's major categories are Lorde (up for Album of the Year), Julia Michaels (up for both Best New Artist and Song of the Year) and Alessia Cara (up for Best New Artist as well as a co-writer on “1-800-273-8255”).
In fact, artists of color dominate this year's Grammy nominees across the board. Jay-Z leads all nominees with eight nods; Kendrick received seven; Bruno Mars, six; and Childish Gambino, hip-hop producer No I.D. and Best New Artist nominees Khalid and SZA each got five apiece. Perennial favorites Taylor Swift and Katy Perry were snubbed entirely (though only Swift's poorly received single “Look What You Made Me Do” was released during the eligibility window), and even the ubiquitous Sheeran was relegated to just two nominations in the pop categories.
None of this happened by accident. The Recording Academy, which votes on the Grammys, has made a concerted effort to diversify its membership after years of criticism that its nominees and winners have not reflected the tastes of younger music fans or the demographics of the talent producing most of today's biggest hits. This year, finally, those efforts appear to have paid off. The Academy also allowed online voting for the first time, which may have encouraged more younger members of its 13,000-member voting bloc to participate. An obviously relieved Recording Academy president Neil Portnow told Billboard that this year's nominees are “a wonderful reflection on our organization and how relevant and in touch and savvy our voting members are.”
So what happens now? There's always a chance that little of this could matter come Jan. 28, when the awards are handed out. Julia Michaels could win Song of the Year and Best New Artist, Lorde could win Album of the Year (an outcome it would be hard to be mad about) and Bruno Mars' “24K Magic,” the least interesting song in the category, could walk away with Record of the Year after Hova, Kendrick and Childish split the hip-hop vote. More likely, this will be Jay-Z's year; although his 4:44 made far less impact on hip-hop than Kendrick's DAMN. in 2017, it's still a very fine late-career album by the kind of veteran, high-prestige artist the Grammys love to honor (see such past upset Album of the Year winners as Beck, Herbie Hancock and Steely Dan). He might not sweep, but he'll win at least one major category, and probably two — and there's a good chance “Despacito” will make history and join him in the winner's circle (though I, like most hip-hop fans, hope Kendrick finally gets his first major-category golden gramophone).
The only bummer in all of this? Beyoncé didn't release any new music in 2017, so she can't ride this year's wave of recognition for African-American artists. (She did get one nomination, in the Best Rap/Sung Performance category with Jay-Z for “Family Feud” — and knowing her, she'll probably win it, since her only awards show kryptonite is Adele and Taylor Swift.) But if this represents a watershed moment for the Grammys and not just a one-time anomaly, her time will come soon enough.