Given that this is the award show where Christopher Cross beat The Wall, the Grammys are—historically, presently, perhaps eternally—bound up with a sense of confusion. But the confusion this year might, at least, be of a novel sort. Rarely has predicting the outcomes been more of a challenge.
That’s because the Recording Academy expanded the nominee pool for each of its “big four” cross-genre awards—Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist—from five to eight. At the same time, its nomination committees snubbed the sort of stars who might have been labeled “inevitable” winners, such as Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, name-brand singers who fit a familiar trophy-winning model. Instead, the Grammys nominated a number of well-respected but relatively obscure types from R&B and alt-country, as well as some super-famous rappers.
These are reforms meant, presumably, to address long-running criticisms that the Grammys are not only out of touch, but that they’re sexist, racist, and genre-ist. The most flagrant example is hip-hop. America’s most vibrant category of music has never generated a Song of the Year or Record of the Year winner, and it hasn’t won the best-album award in 15 years. A more diverse voting pool has been assembled, though, and rappers are well represented in the big categories this time. Drake, Cardi B, Post Malone, Kendrick Lamar (via the Black Panther soundtrack he produced), or the sometimes-rapper Janelle Monáe could walk away with Album of the Year, the night’s most prestigious prize.