grammys 2023

The Snubs and Surprises of the 2023 Grammy Nominations

Bad Bunny, nominated for Album of the Year; Mary J. Blige, who received six nominations; and Taylor Swift, who came up short for Red (Taylor’s Version). Photo: Getty Images

It feels like the Grammy nominations snuck up on us this year. There was no outrage at anonymous nominating committees (which were done away with in 2021), no stewing about genre-field switches (aside from Nicki Minaj), and, thankfully, no last-minute updates to the nominees. Instead, after a year of drastic change, the Recording Academy wanted to ease back into things, only adding a few generally popular awards (long overdue recognitions for songwriters and video-game composers; more trophies in alternative and Americana). Not to mention that this year’s top nominees felt remarkably predictable, after big years from A-listers including Adele, Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and yes, Beyoncé. But as always, once the nominations hit, all bets are off. None of that could insulate the Grammys from chaos this year — largely in the form of holdovers from last year’s especially batshit list. So let’s run through a few snubs and many, many surprises from this year’s nods.

Beyoncé runs the table.
Album of the Year aside, it’s looking like a good year for Beyoncé. She showed up nearly everywhere expected, including her first dance/electronic nominations for Renaissance and “Break My Soul,” R&B nominations for three more Renaissance songs (impressive, despite the album’s classification!), and Best Song Written for Visual Media for her King Richard cut “Be Alive” — plus, yes, key nods in Record and Song of the Year. She also tied the record for most Grammy nominations of all time, with her own husband, Jay-Z (who caught two thanks to his work on “Break My Soul”). Even without a long-awaited Album of the Year trophy (an equally key part of her Grammys history, after losses for her self-titled album and Lemonade), Beyoncé should have something to dance about at the 2023 ceremony. One win would break her out of a tie with Quincy Jones for the second-most all-time Grammy awards, three would tie her for first with conductor Georg Solti, and a fourth would net her the record. And she doesn’t even need the generals to get there: The R&B field has always taken care of her, giving her more than half of her current slate of awards. Plus, with rare top-ballot attention for the dance/electronic field, Renaissance and “Break My Soul” will be the odds-on favorites in those categories.

The Grammys aren’t seeing Red again.

Nine years from her AOTY loss for Red, Taylor Swift won’t have another shot. The Grammys largely didn’t fall for her attempt to submit Red (Taylor’s Version) (which, even without the new additions, counts as a fully new recording), only giving her three nominations for the set (plus one more for her Where the Crawdads Sing song “carolina”). Her ten-minute “All Too Well” could still have legs in Song of the Year, and she seems like a lock for the corresponding short film in Best Music Video, but it mostly looks like Academy voters thought her submissions would be unfair — especially from someone already holding a record three AOTY trophies. Could this affect how she submits future Taylor’s Version recordings? We probably won’t know for a while, with Swift set to pin her Grammys hopes on Midnights next year.

Bad Bunny’s endless summer continues.
Given the Academy’s abysmal record with non-English music, I wasn’t confident Bad Bunny would receive due attention for Un Verano Sin Ti, the most dominant album of the nominating period by a mile. But I’ve never been more glad to be wrong. Bad Bunny made a rare showing in AOTY with Un Verano, along with Best Pop Solo Performance for “Moscow Mule,” in addition to Best Música Urbana Album, the new award he won for the first time last year. Time will tell if his AOTY nomination is part of a larger sea change at the Grammys; right now, let the man lounge in this recognition.

Mary’s back.
Mary J. Blige used to be a favorite in the R&B field, with 22 past nominations there alone (of 31 total, and nine wins). But she hadn’t received a solo nomination since the 2000s. That changed today, when the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul showed up as a surprise top nominee, earning Album and Record of the Year nods for Good Morning Gorgeous and its title track, along with four more nominations in R&B. As much of a surprise as she is up top, the nominations do make sense: Blige timed her album release to her Super Bowl halftime performance, where she was the decisive highlight, and she’s been in an ongoing career reevaluation since she was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2021. And she surely had a little campaigning help from Grammy favorite H.E.R., who, even in an off year, shared in a few nominations as a producer on the song “Good Morning Gorgeous.”

God did!

DJ Khaled’s leap of faith paid off with six total nominations, a shocking career high from one of the most middling figures in hip-hop. And while Khaled’s name is on God Did, really, Hov did. That’s because three of those nods, including one in SOTY, came for the title track, which centers on a conversation-driving four-minute verse from Jay-Z (alongside features from Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and singer Fridayy). Also on Khaled’s thank-you list? Blige, who carried him to another nomination for his work on Good Morning Gorgeous.

The Academy doesn’t shut ABBA down.
Last year, pundits weren’t just shocked to see ABBA nominated for Record of the Year — they were shocked it came for “I Still Have Faith in You,” instead of the infinitely more exciting single “Don’t Shut Me Down.” Turns out, that was part of some Grammys gamesmanship (slash one step removed from cheating) from the band and Universal Music Group. If a song is released as a single during the past eligibility period, but part of an album released during the next one, an artist can save that song to submit with the album — as it seems ABBA did, despite submitting co-single “Faith” last cycle. It paid off, earning those Swedes four more nods this year, also for their first album in 40 years, Voyage.

A rare Brandi Carlile miss.

In the category thought to be her strongest, SOTY. Grammy darling Brandi Carlile received a nod for “You and Me on the Rock” in Record (and corresponding album In These Silent Days in Album), but missed for the same track on the writing side. Maybe her nom went to fellow roots artist Bonnie Raitt, who showed up with four total nods the year after the Grammys gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award. Or, maybe it went to Gayle, a wild surprise in Song for “abcdefu,” an achievement in that it sounds like it was written by an algorithm. (More likely, Carlile split votes with her other SOTY entry, Alicia Keys’s “Paper Flowers (Originals),” after she received two nominations last year for the Keys collaboration “A Beautiful Noise” and her own “Right on Time.”) Anyway, Carlile will be fine: She’s still a top nominee at seven, has returned to her home field of American roots, and caught two nominations in rock for “Broken Horses” (which, to my ear, should’ve been her general-field contender).

The Best New Artists are actually new.
A stacked slate of established artists — everyone from rapper Bennie the Butcher to singer-songwriter Mitski — submitted for Best New Artist this year, in a frenzy to capitalize on a year without many clear breakouts. (Steve Lacy, who showed up handsomely with four nominations including Song and Record of the Year for “Bad Habit,” was ineligible due to a past nom, never mind that he’s been working since 2015 in the Internet.) Instead, the Academy stuck to new musicians for once, with a diverse slate including rapper Latto, neo-post-punks Wet Leg, ever-visible Brazilian singer Anitta, Eurovision winner Måneskin, queer heartthrob Omar Apollo, and jazz wunderkinds DOMi and JD Beck. One of the only legitimate snubs ended up being country maverick Zach Bryan, who was expected to clean up for his massive album American Heartbreak, but only eked out one nomination in Best Country Solo Performance.

Best Alternative Performance is more of the same, while Americana Performance spreads the love.
The alternative field received an overdue expansion this year, with Best Alternative Performance introduced to stop those songs from having to compete in rock. Three of the five nominees come from Best Alternative Album nominees, for Big Thief, Wet Leg, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (congrats to featured artist Perfume Genius on his first nomination!). Meanwhile, the new Best Americana Performance gave the American roots field a chance to spread recognition, with zero overlapping nominees between that award and Best American Roots Performance, despite some double submissions.

The bad men count: An egregious few.
The Grammys deserve no praise for doing the bare minimum and not nominating Dr. Luke, Morgan Wallen, or Ye (f.k.a. Kanye West). That’s especially true when looking at the rest of the slate, and seeing Chris Brown and Louis C.K. once again nominated, Arcade Fire nominated for Best Alternative Album after sexual assault allegations against Win Butler, and Dave Chappelle nominated for his anti-trans rant The Closer in Best Comedy Album.

Rock is caught between past and present …

After last year’s bizarre, dusty rock slate, this year’s shows signs of progress. Breakout hardcore band Turnstile caught three late nominations, while English protest-punks Idles earned two, and even Machine Gun Kelly earned a (deserved!) first nod in Best Rock Album. Genre elders the War on Drugs and Spoon filled out a few more nominations for some of their best work — alongside past-their-prime rockers like Ozzy Osbourne, Bryan Adams, and Elvis Costello. However, a good example of rock not quite finding its footing in the post-committee world is Beck being nominated in Best Rock Performance for a cover of a Neil Young song.

… And so is rap.
Once again, the rap field is a battle of the giants. Past the “God Did” trio (none of whom are under 40), Kendrick Lamar showed up across the board for Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers and “The Heart Part 5,” while Future received his best showing ever off I Never Liked You and features with DJ Khaled and Gunna. Gunna is one of the few young artists, with two earned nods for “pushin P,” alongside GloRilla, who surprised with a Best Rap Performance nod for “F.N.F. (Let’s Go).” Jack Harlow also surprised, less pleasantly, with three nominations off Come Home the Kids Miss You — proving maybe the Academy is just paying attention to the wrong young artists.

Country remains strong post-committee.
While rock and rap submitted uniquely homogenous post-committee slates last year, country focused on women, especially those like Mickey Guyton, who’d been shut out of the country awards shows. (Somehow, Grammy voters can diverge vastly from CMA and ACM voters.) That trend continued this year, with women making up a majority of the nominees in the field: everyone from giants Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift to new-guard stars Maren Morris and Ashley McBryde to even legends Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire. Still, the Grammys have one major overlap with the other country shows — they all love Luke Combs.

Producer and Songwriter of the Year have a bit of everything.
The Academy turned in one of the more diverse Producer of the Year lineups in years: There’s pop giant Jack Antonoff, roots-rock champion Dan Auerbach, hip-hop mainstay Boi-1da, Kendrick Lamar right-hand Dahi (a rare two hip-hop producers in this category), and R&B favorite D’Mile (nominated in part for his work with Silk Sonic, despite their otherwise absence). And the new Songwriter of the Year started off on equally good footing, with nominations across pop (Amy Allen, Tobias Jesso Jr.), R&B and hip-hop (Nija Charles, the-Dream), and country (Laura Veltz).

Engineering could hold the secret to some big wins.
Want to know what voters are really listening to? Look down ballot, at the craft categories. Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Harry Styles, and Adele all had nice representation in Songwriter and Producer of the Year, good signs they could get those votes in the generals. But further in, the engineering awards hold some surprises. Maybe Beyoncé’s most surprising miss came in Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (where Harry’s House caught a nod) — although Terry Hunter’s remix of “Break My Soul” did manage a nod in Best Remixed Recording, so don’t count her out among the engineers. And, curiously, Wet Leg received nods for both engineering and remix, proving they could actually be the ones to beat in Best New Art

Album of the Year has too many spoilers to count.
Back to the one question on your mind: Is this Beyoncé’s year for AOTY? Her nominations, across multiple fields, are a good sign, as are the years of attention on her snubs here, and generally unending love for Renaissance. But in the second year of a ten-nominee AOTY field, after dark horse Jon Batiste took the trophy, it’s even harder to read this. Beyoncé has strong competition in Harry Styles (who showed up across the board for Harry’s House, and could float to a win here off the strength of his ROTY favorite “As It Was”), Kendrick Lamar (a fellow past snub who also earned all the right noms), and Lizzo (also earning out for Special and “About Damn Time”) — on top of Adele, vying for a third AOTY trophy in a row. Brandi Carlile could be a dark horse (she showed well in roots, like Batiste, and feels due for a general-field win), as could Bad Bunny (if the Academy has really had a change of heart about non-English music). But most crucially, there are the spoilers, from Coldplay (who kept their surprise AOTY nom streak going after Everyday Life, along with some pop noms) to Mary J. Blige (who could consolidate the R&B field here) to ABBA (who likely have the backing of the entire country of Sweden behind them). But hey, if the race weren’t both stressful and weird, would it even be the Grammys?

The Snubs and Surprises of the 2023 Grammy Nominations