On Tuesday evening, as I sat in my room reflecting on the day, my wind-down was interrupted and I was adversely wound up by the release of the 2021 Grammy nominations. My exact sentiments can be summed up by one powerful and self-explanatory word: shock.
Once the R&B star that you would casually listen to and claim to love for brownie points with your friends, Abel Tesfaye has far surpassed his original career parameters. 2020 has played arena not only to a global pandemic, but to The Weeknd’s transformation from an ever-lamenting R&B crooner into a fully-fledged pop star. He is arguably the biggest singer on the planet. His success over the past year is unparalleled and so his snubbing comes not only as a shock, but as an incomprehensible tragedy.
In March, The Weeknd released his fourth studio album, After Hours, to critical acclaim and wild commercial success (it debuted at #1 on both the Billboard 200 and the UK Albums Chart). On top of that, it spawned two chart topping hits, ‘Heartless’ and ‘Blinding Lights’. The latter experienced record-breaking success; at the time of writing this article, ‘Blinding Lights’ has spent 40 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and also broke the record for most weeks spent in the top five with 33. Based on stats alone, surely this level of success constitutes at least one Grammy nomination?
The Record of the Year and Song of the Year nominations are often confused because they both go to an individual track. The Record of the Year award is concerned with the production and performance of the song, whilst the Song of the Year award is dedicated to the writers of the song. ‘Blinding Lights’, in the minds of many, is the biggest song of the year, co-written by The Weeknd himself, and has achieved more than enough to deserve nominations in these categories. Its mainstream appeal has far surpassed that of any other song from the past year and, regardless of its overwhelming chart success, its exclusion by the Recording Academy is groundless when based on the sheer cultural relevance that it has experienced.
If any further evidence was needed of how deserving The Weeknd is of Grammy nominations, he’s been announced as the halftime show act for next year’s Super Bowl: a prestigious event generally only headlined by the biggest acts on the planet such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. The NFL’s election of The Weeknd into the halftime slot is a reward for his chart domination throughout 2020 and his ascension to the position of current pop overlord. So, with so much success this year, what possible explanation is there for The Weeknd’s Grammy snub?
The short answer is that there is no watertight explanation. The Recording Academy could argue that The Weeknd’s label, Republic, did not submit After Hours for consideration. However, Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding are both up for nods and under the same label, so this excuse is automatically redundant.
The Recording Academy’s audacity to ignore him so boldly during the nominations process is definitely cause for concern, and irrefutably disappointing
A popular justification, even prior to the nominations being announced, is that it is hard to define The Weeknd as a strict pop act or a strict R&B act, hence the individual committees for these respective genres could have believed The Weeknd belonged in the opposing genre and therefore left him with no nominations for either. The issue with this excuse is that it doesn’t explain his omission from the Album, Record and Song of the Year categories of which he has every right to be a part of.
Perhaps the most terrifying, yet the most believable and ‘on trend’ with 2020, is that this is a case of institutionalised racism. If we turn the clocks back to the last Grammy Awards ceremony, Billie Eilish’s ‘Bad Guy’ won both Song of the Year and Record of the Year over Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’. ‘Bad Guy’ was undeniably a massive song during 2019 but ‘Old Town Road’ had record-breaking success sitting at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 19 consecutive weeks. There was major conversation and confusion surrounding Lil Nas X’s loss and so it is frustratingly viable that the oversight of After Hours is connected to racism rooted within the Academy.
Ultimately, there is clearly an issue with the nomination process regardless of the Recording Academy’s reasoning for not giving The Weeknd, After Hours, and its singles award nominations at the very least. This snub came from out of left field and its effect is amplified by the fact we aren’t even discussing the winners, we’re merely discussing the nominees.
The Weeknd’s exclusion from the nominees list for the most sought-after music award in the industry, despite carrying the charts and pop culture on his back for a year, is a wrath-fuelling mistake that the Recording Academy will undoubtedly come to regret.
The Weeknd himself took to social media to label the Academy as corrupt and demanded transparency for himself, his fans and the industry as a whole. He noted that he has been “collaboratively” working with the Academy on a performance at the show in February, and feels his lack of nomination success can be easily translated into a rescission of his invite. Spectators feel it is likely that the Recording Academy have turned on him for agreeing to perform at the Super Bowl the week after the Grammy Awards ceremony, even though there is no clear reason why this would truly matter. Nevertheless, his work has been unavoidable for the past year, so the Academy’s audacity to ignore him so boldly during the nominations process is definitely cause for concern, and irrefutably disappointing.