One of the biggest surprises of Friday morning’s Grammy nominations announcement was the absence of Taylor Swift from the main categories, with the singer excluded from the record, song and album of the year races.
This wasn’t what any Grammys race-watchers were expecting to happen, considering that Swift has won more albums of the year over the past decade than any other artist except Adele, taking home the ceremony’s biggest award in 2010 for her “Fearless” album and again in 2016 for “1989.”
Her November 2017 album “Reputation” missed the cutoff for the 2018 Grammys, which aired on Jan. 28, and was instead eligible for the 2019 awards, which airs next year on Feb. 10. That seemed like a blessing in disguise for Swift, as the similarly Grammys-beloved Bruno Mars went on to sweep the record, song and album of the year categories at the 2018 awards. With “Reputation” competing in the 2019 Grammys instead, Swift seemed destined for an album of the year nomination, with her single “Delicate” predicted to land among the song and record of the year contenders.
Instead, “Reputation” earned only one nomination, for best pop vocal album, becoming Swift’s first album of her pop-music era not to receive an album of the year nod — with “Red” and “1989” getting that distinction, an award that “1989” would eventually win.
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Of course, Swift doesn’t automatically deserve a boatload of Grammy nominations just for being Taylor Swift, and “Reputation” wasn’t the best-reviewed album of her career upon its release. But — with many of the breathless media storylines that accompanied the album’s release having faded to the background concerning Taylor, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, her new boyfriend Joe Alwyn — revisiting “Reputation” reveals an album that’s aged well with time. At the very least, it’s a release that’s less bloated than Drake’s “Scorpion” and certainly better-realized than Post Malone’s “Beerbongs and Bentleys,” two albums that nevertheless still scored albums of the year nominations this year.
Swift’s surprising absence in the main categories is reminiscent of last year’s Grammy nominations, when Ed Sheeran, who was also thought at the time to be a shoo-in for the ceremony’s biggest awards, got totally shut out from the album, artist and record of the year categories.
Yet, Swift has historically been much more powerful of a Grammys’ force than Sheeran, which makes Friday morning’s events all the more surprising.
Perhaps it was a bad sign when Swift’s “Reputation” lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” didn’t earn any nominations at the 2018 Grammys, despite being released early enough to make the cutoff for the previous year’s awards.
Yet, “Look What You Made Me Do” was a polarizing choice for a single that even some Swift megafans couldn’t get behind, and its lack of Grammy nominations seemed to have more to do with the song than the artist. And even without an album in contention, Swift still earned two nominations for the 2018 Grammys, for best country song category with her writing on Little Big Town’s “Better Man,” and best song for visual media with her “50 Shades Darker” track “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.”
That means that Swift earned more Grammy nominations in her off-year than she did for a year with an actual album in contention.
Either way, the Grammys’ ice-cold reception to “Look What You Made Me Do” last year and lukewarm recognition of “Reputation” in Friday’s nominations suggests that the awards’ voters have cooled on Swift, at least compared to the last time we saw Swift on the Grammys stage, when she was delivering a fiery speech to accept the album of the year trophy at the 2016 ceremony.
In a broader sense, it’s a good thing that the Grammys’ main categories aren’t just dominated by the same group of megastars who get showered with nominations just for showing up. It was a thrill to see Kacey Musgraves and Janelle Monae nominated for album of the year — artists who, while extremely established in their own right, don’t quite have the same high-profile status as Swift or Ariana Grande, another pop star who got snubbed in the main categories.
And yet, while there’s certainly an argument for voters passing over Swift’s new music in favor of smaller artists who have gained less recognition over the years, that’s not how the Grammys work. If the entirety of the Grammys’ main categories this year was made up of shining examples of representation, then sure, Swift’s exclusion would make sense. But the Grammys isn’t a benevolent process — it’s an inscrutable rat race that pits the actual-best albums of the year against random nominees whose names seem drawn from a hat to fill out the categories.
And if Post Malone got an album of the year nod, which says it all about the kinds of music the Recording Academy deems Grammy-worthy, Swift sure as hell deserved to be recognized too.
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