Five key takeaways from the 2021 Grammy Awards

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Five key takeaways from the 2021 Grammy Awards

Words by Chloe Karis

Analysing the music industry's night of nights.

Yesterday was the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, hosted by Trevor Noah which took place in and around the Los Angeles Convention Center with no in-person attendance. Harry Styles opened the Grammys with ‘Watermelon Sugar’ which won Best Pop Solo Performance on the night. Followed by Billie Eilish performing, which ended up winning Record of the Year with ‘Everything I Wanted’ and HAIM performing ‘The Steps’.

With other major performances from Lil Baby, Dua Lipa, DaBaby with Roddy Ricch, Silk Sonic, Taylor Swift and Megan Thee Stallion with Cardi B. This year no one had swept up the awards as usual, like last year Billie Eilish took home five Grammys, four being the main categories.

Despite being the least watched show in Grammy history, last night’s ceremony was just as unique as any that preceded it, with the music industry’s night of nights revealing a number of key takeaways about the function of the Grammys and the music industry as a whole – here’s some of our thoughts.

This year’s major winners:

  • Record of the Year: ‘Everything I Wanted’ – Billie Eilish
  • Album of the Year: Folklore – Taylor Swift
  • Song of the Year: ‘I Can’t Breathe’ – H.E.R.
  • Best New Artist: Megan Thee Stallion

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The snubs were a-plenty

Every single year, there’s a major outcry about one particular artist being nominated for a copious amount of Grammys and subsequently walking out empty-handed. You might recall that at the 2018 event, Jay-Z was nominated for no less than eight awards for his late career opus 4:44 and was overlooked in all categories, with the Brooklyn mogul going on to diss the academy the very same year in his keynote Beyoncé collaboration ‘Apeshit’.

This year, things were no different. Roddy Ricch and Phoebe Bridgers were both expected to win big yesterday with multiple nominations each – Roddy Ricch was the most nominated male artist with six nominations including a Record of the Year nod for his viral hit ‘The Box’, while Phoebe Bridgers received four nominations, including Best New Artist. Both artists left the award show with no Grammy in their hand.

However, if there’s any artist to receive the snub treatment at this year’s ceremony, it’s The Weeknd, who received zero nominations off the back of his chart-breaking fourth album After Hours, despite being a critical and commercial success and his single ‘Blinding Lights’ making history with the first song in Billboard Hot 100 to spend a full year in the Top 10.

The Weeknd took his frustration after the nominations were announced on social media saying, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.” He also tweeted, “Collaboratively planning a performance for weeks to not being invited? In my opinion zero nominations = you’re not invited!” Before the award show went ahead, he said to The New York Times he is no longer allowing his record label to submit his music to the Grammys, boycotting the award show going forward.

He is not the only artist to do the same – in the past, Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye have spoken out disapproving of the awards. Frank Ocean decided in 2016 not to submit his music and said “it just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down”, while Kanye simply took one for the team and pissed all over one of his many Grammys in a now-infamous Twitter rant – and still managed to add another to his collection this year with his win for Best Christian Contemporary Album for Jesus Is King.

The Grammys are still woefully behind the times

The award show can sometimes nominate artists in the wrong category where they would not be seen as eligible to the public, or not be inclusive in their nominations. Kaytranada was nominated for Best New Artist even though he has released music for 10 years, with his first mixtape released to SoundCloud in 2010 and his debut album 99.9% arriving in 2016.

On that note, Kaytranada also made history last night with his wins for Best Dance/Electronic Album and Best Dance Recording for ‘10%’, becoming the first Black producer to win in this category since it launched in 2004. Considering electronic dance music’s undeniably Black roots, it’s absolutely baffling that it’s taken this long for the Grammys to recognise artists of colour in this category – yet also perfectly on brand for the organisation, who’ve been hit with several accusations of racial prejudice in the past.

Adding to that point, it did feel slightly bizarre to have Lil Baby perform his incredibly poignant track ‘The Bigger Picture’ alongside an unnecessary reenactment of a Black man being shot by police. We can understand the moment may have been acted out in good faith, but still – read the room guys.

Once again, sympathy awards run supreme

The Grammys have a pattern with them handing out a ‘sympathy Grammy’ to those who deserved a gong years ago, but were overlooked back then. They then try to iron things out by giving the award to that said legacy artist for a less exciting project, instead of recognising and awarding a Grammy to a more deserving project at the time – yet another example of them being woefully behind the times.

This year was no different, with last night’s ceremony seeing two notable sympathy Grammys go to two of New York’s very best: The Strokes and Nas. Despite their undeniable impact and status as rock icons, The Strokes have only been nominated for the Grammys once, and won their only nomination with Best Rock Album for The New Abnormal last night after their previous projects that were undeniably more deserving – Is This It or Room On Fire, anyone? – were overlooked by the voters.

Similarly, Nas won Best Rap Album for King’s Disease, which was undeniably one of the most refined projects from the Queens MC in recent years and was certainly worthy of a look-in. However, the fact that he’d been nominated for 13 Grammys over the past 25 years without winning any is certainly worth questioning, particularly after it pipped the likes of Jay Electronica’s long-awaited debut A Written Testimony and Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist’s incredible collaborative project Alfredo to take home the prize – although Freddie’s reaction to losing was definitely a side-splitter.

Now, it’s important to note that we’ve got nothing against Nas and The Strokes winning: both parties have made immeasurable contributions to their respective genres over the years, and are fully deserving of receiving their flowers while they can still smell them. That being said, it shouldn’t take the Grammys over 20 years to celebrate artists like this, and we’re sure it won’t be the last time the Grammys follow their pattern and continue to give out a sympathy Grammy to those artists who deserved it previously.

Songwriters and producers are finally starting to receive their dues

There’s been a number of discussions lately around the need to give more credit to the songwriters and producers behind the scenes in the music industry. Of course, the Grammys always recognise the achievements of these figures by making sure they’re listed as a Grammy winner when the artists they work with bag a prize, but celebrating them in a public playing field is still hard to come by for the most part.

Yesterday, when Taylor Swift won Album of the Year for folklore, she brought up two of the primary songwriters and producers who contributed to the record – mega-producer Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner – onstage to accept the award with her.

Aaron Dessner spoke first on stage accepting the award, later with Swift doing an acceptance speech and thanking further people who worked on the album who weren’t on stage with her. Swift had also become the first woman artist to win this category three times, and ties with Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon to win it three times.

Ensuring that Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner received due credit for their contributions to Folklore, while a minor gesture from Swift herself, puts the role of producers and songwriters to the forefront of public consciousness – not to discredit Taylor’s own knack for songwriting and composition, of course.

Everyone knows that superstars have teams of these people working with them in the studio to forge their hits, but it’s rare to see them clamber onstage and collect awards for their toil, and Taylor making sure that Antonoff and Dessner were up there with her made for an incredibly wholesome moment of musical friendship.

Beyoncé just keeps making history

Beyoncé received nine nominations for this year’s Grammy Awards, being the most nominated artist for this year’s awards, and took home four awards. She became the first woman artist and singer with most wins in history with a total of 28 Grammys, last night winning Best R&B Performance with ‘Black Parade’, Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Savage’  and Best Music Video for ‘Brown Skin Girl’.

As of yesterday, Beyoncé has overtaken Alison Krauss who has 27 total Grammy wins. Beyoncé now ties with Quincy Jones with 28 Grammy wins but Georg Solti still holds the record with 31 total Grammy Awards. Beyoncé has received a total of 79 nominations and in 2010 for the 52nd Grammy Awards she had won the most Grammys for a female artist with six wins, being matched only by Adele in 2012. Beyoncé said she “wanted to uplift, encourage, and celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the whole world.”

With ‘Brown Skin Girl’ – featuring Wizkid, Saint Jhn and Bey’s own daughter Blue Ivy – winning Best Music Video, who features Wizkid, Saint Jhn, Beyoncé and her daughter Blue Ivy, Blue Ivy has become the second-youngest Grammy winner at the age of nine. Given the star-power of her parents, it’s only fair to assume that it’s probably not going to be her last either…

Head here to view the full list of the 63rd Annual Grammy Award winners.