6 Takeaways from the 2022 Grammy Nominations

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From mostly bland Big Four nominees to perplexing rock and rap categories

Ye outside
Ye, October 2020 (Neil Mockford/GC Images)

Every year, the Grammy nominations act as a barometer for how the mainstream music industry sees itself. This year, it seems the Recording Academy has recognized its own image in jazz everyman Jon Batiste, who leads the nominations with 11. Although Batiste is hugely talented, social-justice-minded, and by all accounts a great guy, he’s also largely inoffensive, making music for children’s movies when he isn’t soundtracking a once-great satirist’s CBS show. He’s followed by Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, and H.E.R., each with eight nods, and then Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, who have seven apiece.

Of course, how the Grammys gauge the mainstream music biz’s self-perception depends on the methodology they use each year. The most striking change for the 2022 awards is that the Academy has expanded the number of nominees to 10 in each of the four major categories (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist), up from eight last year and five as recently as 2018. But the secret nominating committees targeted by the Weeknd last year have also had their role reduced. Another rule-change widened the pool of songwriters and producers who can be recognized in the Album of the Year category. And bear in mind the eligibility window for this year, from September 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, which means Adele is not gonna just sweep this thing.

Here’s our breakdown of the intriguing, the cringey, and the Grammys-gonna-Grammy of this year’s nominations. The awards show airs January 31, 2022 on (but of course) CBS.

The Big Four Categories Are a Perplexing Snooze

As any dedicated maker of annual year-end lists will know, the longer the list, the more room for error. Pick only one album of the year and nobody can tell which great records you completely overlooked, but try ranking 100 and the potential for embarrassing blind spots only multiplies. The Grammys may be running into a version of this problem as they keep lengthening their shortlists for top four categories, because this year’s Big Four picks make the past year in music seem at once more dull and scattered than it seemed in real time.

Album of the Year ends up as an industry-friendly slurry of polite traditionalism (Batiste’s WE ARE, Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga collab Love for Sale), next-gen pop (Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat), relatively minor works by long-established stars (Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Kanye West), and recent Grammys darling H.E.R. (likely thanks to her next-gen traditionalism?). Sure, a few big albums fell outside of the eligibility window (Lana Del Rey, War on Drugs), but was 2021 truly so uninspiring, even focusing only on Grammy-sized releases? Jazmine Sullivan, whose brilliant Heaux Tales didn’t make it past the R&B categories, might beg to differ.

Despite a few surprises (more on those later), the other leading categories are a similarly bland buffet. The list for Record of the Year includes ubiquitous hits from Bieber, Rodrigo, and Silk Sonic—and also the return of ABBA. The two Brandi Carlile songs vying against each other in Song of the Year seem destined to cancel each other out, but how votes will split between Ed Sheeran and, again, H.E.R. seems impossible to predict. The Best New Artist category’s absurdity is stretched to the limit when an eight-time Grammy winner is in the running, and (name any actually new artist of your choice) is not. Overall, the Big Four look almost as if the Grammys are throwing up their hands and leaving it to the voters to sort out their mess. —Marc Hogan

You Love to See It

Seemingly in spite of its byzantine nomination process, the Grammys sometimes get it right, or mostly right. Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince is inarguably one of the best albums of the year, so it was shocking enough that its most beautiful composition, “Mohabbat,” was recognized in the Best Global Performance category, even if she’s lived in the U.S. since 2005. But her Best New Artist nomination is legitimately shocking, a welcome surprise in a category that regularly produces decidedly less deserving head-scratchers. And Japanese Breakfast’s unexpected Best New Artist nod feels like a well-deserved career achievement award for Michelle Zauner’s project, recognition for making three of the most exciting indie rock albums of the last five years. She was also nominated in the Best Alternative Music Album category, where four out of the five nominees are women—itself an acknowledgement of the incredible guitar music being made by women. That is, until you get to the rock and metal categories… —Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Rock Is Dead, Again

The Grammys’ typically moribund rock categories reared to life last year, perhaps in no small part due to an abundance of women. The contenders for Best Rock Performance were all women or women-led groups, with Fiona Apple eventually beating out Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, HAIM, Brittany Howard, and Grace Potter. Howard won too, for Best Rock Song. And while the Strokes may by now be distinguished gentlemen, their Grammy for Best Rock Album last year was their first-ever Recording Academy trophy, which was both a fun coup and a case in point for why you shouldn’t take these statuettes too seriously. Even if Bridgers ended up going home empty-handed, her four nominations across rock, alternative, and Best New Artist were a sign of hope for a slightly less Jurassic awards ceremony.

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