Music fans got to pregame their Thanksgiving table arguments today after the Recording Academy announced its 2022 Grammy nominations. To some, there was more pressure on the Academy to right the wrongs of last year’s baffling general-category choices; to others, there was less — with the 2021 nominations as more evidence of the Grammys’ slipping relevance. On top of it all, this year’s nominations were first without nominating committees after calls against them came to a head with the Weeknd’s across-the-board snubs last year. This year’s nominations lacked the shock of that snub; expected nominees like Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, and Doja Cat showed up exactly where expected. Still, the day wasn’t without its surprises, hotly debated across social media from the moment the nominations were announced. Who overperformed? Who came up short? Who could we have done without recognizing at all? And what can we make of the first nominations without committees? Here are the day’s biggest takeaways.
The general categories grow even bigger … at the last possible second.
Just hours before announcing the nominations, the Recording Academy said the four general categories — Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist — would grow from eight to ten nominees, effective immediately. The change came three years after the Academy expanded those categories from five nominees to eight and the same year the Academy got rid of the long-criticized nominating committees in most categories. CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said the Academy expanded the generals “to celebrate” the elimination of the committees and because “there’s a lot more excellence to recognize and celebrate.” But dropping it on us at the last possible second (and, ahem, throwing our Grammy picks into disarray)? “This is a new time, and this is a new Academy,” Mason said.
There’s room for it all in the generals.
It’s hard to draw early takeaways from the first nomination slate without nominating committees because of the change to expand the generals. What all that seems to mean this year is there’s room for the expected hits, the Grammy darlings, and a few wild cards. The generals saw few snubs; hitmakers Rodrigo, Eilish, Doja Cat, Justin Bieber, and Lil Nas X ran the table as expected. They also had room for usual suspects like H.E.R., Brandi Carlile, and newly crowned Grammy darling Jon Batiste — despite my speculation that without nominating committees to narrow the field, some of these releases would fall through the cracks. And there’s even a few true wild cards like ABBA’s Record of the Year nod for comeback single “I Still Have Faith in You” (their first Grammy nomination ever) and Kanye West’s Album of the Year nod for Donda (his first nomination in that category). If the Grammys are gonna Grammy, at least it’s coming at fewer musicians’ expenses.
Jon Batiste can do it all.
These days, you can’t become the Grammys’ top nominee without showing up in multiple fields. Batiste proves this with his whopping 11 nominations coming across six fields — R&B, jazz, American roots, music for visual media, classical, and music video/film — plus a few in the general category for good measure. (He previously appeared in New Age as well as roots and classical categories as well.) Batiste’s cleanup, owing largely to his solo album, We Are, and his Oscar-winning score to the movie Soul, may be a surprise to lay viewers, but he’s really an archetypical Grammy pick: a multitalented artist who gets by on impressive musical skill over popularity while making music that sounds familiar. As with recent surprises like Jacob Collier and H.E.R., his nomination illuminates an ongoing question: Do the Grammys want to recognize talent, popularity, or innovation?
The youth are inheriting the Academy.
The Grammys have long had a reputation for nominating legacy acts past their peak. There’s still plenty of that this year (more below), but the headline is the amount of young talent getting recognized by the Academy. After 35-year-old leader Batiste, the next five top nominees are under 28: Bieber (27, eight nominations), Doja Cat (26, eight nominations), H.E.R. (24, eight nominations), Eilish (19, seven nominations), and Rodrigo (18, seven nominations). The slate has echoes of the 2020 awards, which saw first nods for Eilish, Lil Nas X, and Lizzo. This year anoints that generation of artists as the next ones running the show.
But where’s BTS?
We can’t talk about young talent in music without talking about the biggest act at the moment, BTS. After breaking into the pop category last year with a Best Pop Duo / Group Performance nod for “Dynamite,” they returned this year in the same category for “Butter” — and nowhere else. Some, including me, wondered if eliminating the nominating committees could help BTS break into a general category like Record of the Year since Pop Duo / Group Performance never had committees in the first place. That answer turned out to be no, leaving one more barrier left for a record-smashing group like BTS to break.
And speaking of, where are the new artists?
Over the past decade or so, there have been more than a few jokes about established artists catching a Best New Artist nomination, from Bon Iver to Phoebe Bridgers. On this year’s slate, many of the nominated artists already have pretty significant careers, from long-acclaimed musicians like Japanese Breakfast and Arooj Aftab to festival fare Glass Animals to multiple-time Grammy winner Finneas (now nominated for his solo music). At least the nominee to beat, Rodrigo, is a truly new artist.
One last hurrah for Tony Bennett.
One of the most prolific musicians of the past century, Tony Bennett hung up his hat this year as he turned 95 and revealed a yearslong Alzheimer’s diagnosis. But the crooner went out on a high note, tapping Lady Gaga once again to record a duets album to follow their 2014 hit, Cheek to Cheek. The resulting Love for Sale, a collection of Cole Porter standards that prompted a popular multi-night farewell from the pair, surprised at the top with an Album of the Year nod along with Record of the Year for single “I Get a Kick Out of You,” which made Bennett the oldest general-category nominee in Grammy history. (He’s a previous winner in both categories: Record in 1963 for his recording of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and Album in 1995 for his MTV Unplugged.) Bennett earned five more nominations in total, amounting to a great victory lap.
Taylor Swift breaks her Album of the Year pattern — but doesn’t break through anywhere else.
After winning Album of the Year for Folklore this year and tying the record for the musician with the most wins in that category at three, Taylor Swift had an uphill battle at the 2022 Grammys: She’d never been nominated for Album of the Year for a follow-up after winning. That changed this year, with Evermore earning an Album of the Year nod — and, in a rare move, nothing else. (Remember, though, Folklore won Album of the Year while also losing Best Pop Vocal Album, possibly showing that Swift’s current indie-inspired turn curried more favor outside the pop field than within it.) In a twist, Swift is a two-time nominee this year thanks to writing credits for two interpolations on Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour.
Justin Bieber finally cracks the R&B field.
Last year, Bieber made headlines for complaining that the Academy moved his album Changes, which he said was R&B, to the pop field. This year, Bieber got his wish — just a little late. He’s nominated in Best R&B Performance for “Peaches,” featuring voter favorites Daniel Caesar and Giveon, off the decidedly more pop album Justice. Getting that nod outside the pop field — where Bieber is also up for Best Pop Solo Performance (“Anyone”), Best Pop Duo / Group Performance (“Lonely” with Benny Blanco), and Best Pop Vocal Album — was key in helping tie Bieber get the second most nominations of the year, adding up to his best nom day yet.
Brandi Carlile breaks through in pop …
Among a few controversial genre-field shake-ups, Carlile’s single “Right on Time” was moved from American roots, where she has competed for much of her career, to pop. Carlile criticized the decision, which seemed to dash her hopes of a nod in a significantly more competitive field. Yet she won out, earning a Best Pop Solo Performance nomination for “Right on Time” along with Record of the Year. And she still popped up in Best American Roots Performance for her duet “Same Devil” with Brandy Clark.
… but Kacey Musgraves doesn’t.
But there wasn’t room for two outcasts in the pop field after Kacey Musgraves was also moved there for her album Star-crossed, the follow-up to her Album of the Year winner, Golden Hour. Musgraves came up empty in the pop field along with the generals, earning just two nominations on her home turf: Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song for “Camera Roll.”
The Grammys have no problem nominating alleged abusers.
This isn’t news after Dr. Luke returned to the awards in a big way last year with a Record of the Year nomination on Doja Cat’s “Say So” — his first Grammy nod since the sexual-abuse allegations from Kesha. He’s back this year under his real name, Lukasz Gottwald, in three categories: Album of the Year (for Doja Cat’s Planet Her (Deluxe)), Song of the Year (for Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More”), and Best Rap Song (for Saweetie and Doja Cat’s “Best Friend”). Joining him in two of those categories is Marilyn Manson, accused of abuse and assault by a still-growing number of former associates, who contributed to West’s Best Rap Song nominee “Jail” off Album of the Year nominee Donda. And if you’re thinking, Okay, but those are all fine-print nominations, look at Best Comedy Album, where Louis C.K. is up for Sincerely Louis C.K., his first special since multiple women accused him of exposing himself and masturbating in front of them.
It’s too soon for Morgan Wallen.
The Grammys marked the first awards ceremony to have no restrictions for Morgan Wallen after the country star said a racial slur on video in February. He still got nominations in the chart-based categories at the American Music Awards, which he was barred from attending, and for Album of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, which he wasn’t allowed to compete in as an individual. That led some to worry he could break big at the Grammys — especially off the strength of his huge No. 1 album Dangerous. Instead, Wallen came up empty-handed, even for his duet with Grammy favorite Chris Stapleton, perhaps showing that his return to the stage is too soon for some peers.
The rock categories are in true disarray.
Just last year, Best Rock Performance was being touted as evidence of the Grammys’ progress with women up in all five of the slots. This year — with no less talent on the docket — rock voters regressed, instead going largely for legacy acts like Foo Fighters, AC/DC, and Paul McCartney, nominating zero women in the process. To me, this is clearly the field where the lack of nominating committees has hurt the Academy the most with lowest-common-denominator picks winning out over legitimately interesting fare like Big Thief (a previous nominee who should’ve appeared for career-high single “Little Things”) and Julien Baker (a dark horse for her album Little Oblivions after Bridgers similarly broke through last year). The rock categories sit in stark contrast to Best Alternative Album, which does feature some amazing rock music: Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee, and Fleet Foxes’ Shore, among others. That divide continues to raise questions over whether the rock categories are due for a restructuring.
Rap shuts out most new blood.
Nearly everyone nominated in the rap field is a known quantity to the Academy, from heavy-hitters like Kanye West, Drake, and J.Cole to other past winners like Nas, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Tyler, the Creator. This year could’ve seen the first nomination for Polo G (who couldn’t crack Best New Artist, either, despite his No. 1 hits “Rapstar” and Hall of Fame), 42 Dugg, or NLE Choppa, among many others. Instead, Baby Keem got through thanks to a Kendrick Lamar appearance while NBA YoungBoy and Morray slipped in on features. Saweetie is the only new talent with close to proper representation in the form of her Best Rap Song nomination for “Best Friend” with Doja Cat.
Check your assumptions about country and roots at the door.
Because these fields have a remarkably diverse slates of nominees. Mickey Guyton, who earned a historic Best Country Solo Performance nomination for “Black Like Me” last year, returns with three nods across country for her album Remember Her Name and its title track. Also in country, Brothers Osborne earned their first Grammy nominations since singer T.J. Osborne came out as gay — including in Best Country Duo / Group Performance for “Younger Me,” a song about T.J.’s coming out. Over in roots, a large number of the nominees are Black including Batiste, Yola, Allison Russell, Rhiannon Giddens, Valerie June, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. (Every song nominated for Best American Roots Song is performed by a Black musician.) And a few of country’s most politically outspoken artists — including Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, and Tyler Childers — earned nods throughout.
The Grammys recognize musicians running the show outside the U.S.
The Grammys’ new Best Global Music Performance category, the song counterpart to Best Global Music Album, could not have come during a better year — that is, the year when a sleeper Afrobeats hit, Wizkid and Tems’s “Essence,” became a song of the summer and climbed the charts. Wizkid and Tems showed up in that category along with other talent including past Grammy winner Burna Boy; the Best New Artist–nominated Aftab; Fela Kuti’s son, Femi Kuti; and Afropop icon Angélique Kidjo (nominated twice!). Wizkid, Kuti, and Kidjo also appeared among the Best Global Music Album nominations. Best Música Urbana Album, in the Latin field, was full of even more hits, recognizing albums by Bad Bunny, Kali Uchis, Karol G, Rauw Alejandro, and J Balvin. If you needed another sign of the strength of pop music from outside the U.S., this is it.
As always, there were a few category surprises.
Most notably, Selena Gomez earned her first Grammy nod ever in Best Latin Pop Album for her debut Spanish-language project Revelación. And H.E.R., continuing to pop up across the board at the awards, was nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance / Song for “Hold Us Together (Hope Mix),” a duet with Tauren Wells from the Disney+ movie Safety.
And wait, is that the Weeknd?
Yep! After boycotting the awards because of his claim that nominating-committee corruption shut out “Blinding Lights” and After Hours from last year’s competition, the Weeknd still got a few nods on technicalities: Best Melodic Rap Performance for “Hurricane,” submitted by West, and Album of the Year for appearances on West’s Donda and Doja Cat’s Planet Her. Today, he seems to care more about Billboard naming “Blinding Lights” the No. 1 song of all time.