“Music’s Biggest Night” returns to downtown Los Angeles Sunday evening with the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center, but the event will be held under a cloud of discontent among some artists — including top nominees Kendrick Lamar and Drake — who declined to perform at the ceremony.
As the event approached, there was still uncertainty about whether Lamar and Drake will even attend the show amid a growing feeling of resentment among rap and hip-hop artists, who are very often among the top nominees but rarely win in the top categories of song, album and record of the year.
“The fact of the matter is, we continue to have a problem in the hip-hop world,” Grammy ceremony producer Ken Ehrlich told The New York Times last week. “When they don’t take home the big prize, the regard of the (Recording Academy), and what the Grammys represent, continues to be less meaningful to the hip-hop community.”
Ehrlich told the paper that Lamar, Drake and Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) were all offered the chance to perform on the show, but all declined. The Times noted that the issue with hip-hop artists was highlighted last year, when top nominee Jay-Z didn’t win any awards, while Lamar was passed over for album of the year, but won a Pulitzer Prize for music three months later.
Also declining to perform on Sunday night’s show was Ariana Grande, who said she pulled out due to a clash with Ehrlich over creative differences. Ehrlich claimed the singer felt “it was too late for her to pull something together,” but Grande disputed that on Twitter, saying she withdrew “when my creativity & self expression was stifled” by Ehrlich.
Despite the rancor, the Grammys will still feature a star-studded lineup of performers, including Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, Travis Scott, Mark Ronson, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Dan + Shay, Little Big Town, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton. The show will also include an Aretha Franklin tribute by Andra Day, Yolanda Adams and Fantasia.
When it comes to the actual awards — the vast majority of which will be handed out during an afternoon-long pre-telecast ceremony at the Microsoft Theater — Lamar leads the pack with eight nominations, followed by Drake with seven.
Lamar, Drake and Brandi Carlile are each nominated in all three of the top Grammy categories of album, record and song of the year. Those categories were expanded from five to eight nominees this year in an effort to boost diversity, countering an issue that came to a head in recent years over the lack of female representation in the top award slots.
This year, however, women have five of the eight nominations for album of the year and are strongly represented in the other top categories, including six female acts nominated for best new artist.
Lamar is up for album of the year for the “Black Panther: The Album” film soundtrack. Drake landed in the category for “Scorpion,” while Carlile’s “By the Way, I Forgive You” earned her a nod. Also nominated for top album are H.E.R. for her self-titled release, Post Malone for “Beerbongs & Bentleys,” Cardi B for “Invasion of Privacy,” Janelle Monae for “Dirty Computer” and Kacey Musgraves for “Golden Hour.”
For record of the year, an honor presented to the performer, Drake has one of his seven nominations for “God’s Plan,” while Carlile is nominated for “The Joke” and Lamar for his collaboration with SZA, “All the Stars.” Rounding out the category are Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin for “I Like It,” Childish Gambino for “This is America,” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for “Shallow,” Post Malone and 21 Savage for “Rockstar” and Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey for “The Middle.”
Song of the year nominations, which recognize songwriters, include Lamar’s “All the Stars,” Drake’s “God’s Plan,” Carlile’s “The Joke,” Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up,” Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood” and Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” Also nominated are “Shallow,” the Lady Gaga-Bradley Cooper tune from the movie “A Star is Born,” and “The Middle,” the hit from Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey.
Women dominate the best new artist category, with nominations going to Chloe X Halle, Greta Van Fleet, H.E.R., Dua Lipa, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha, Jorja Smith and Luke Combs.
The expansion of top Grammy categories was announced in July, with Recording Academy President Neil Portnow saying the move “creates more opportunities for a wider range of recognition in these important categories and gives more flexibility to our voters when having to make the often-challenging decisions about representing excellence and the best in music for the year.”
The change came on the heels of a USC report released last year that found only 9.3 percent of nominees in the top Grammy categories were women over the past five years. Portnow also came under fire when, after being questioned about a lack of female representation among nominees, he responded that women need to “step up” to be recognized.
Portnow has announced that he will step down this year at the end of his term.
The Grammys will recognize recordings released between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 30, 2018.
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