Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X lead diverse, youthful Grammy 2020 nominations
By RANDY LEWIS | Los Angeles Times | Published: November 20, 2019
Freshman-class recording artists Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X collectively landed 20 Grammy Award nominations for 2020 on Wednesday, as the Recording Academy, which determines nominees and, ultimately, award recipients, wholeheartedly embraced the music industry’s newest faces and sounds.
The singer, rapper and instrumentalist Lizzo, 31, whose sassy empowerment songs became unexpected chart-topping anthems, leads the field with eight nominations. Seventeen-year-old goth-pop phenom Eilish, who tied with rapper Lil Nas X for the second-most nominations with six, and Lizzo further distinguished their nascent careers by landing nominations in all of the Grammys’ top four general categories: record, album, song and best new artist, the first time in the awards’ 62-year history that two artists have done so in the same year.
Nominations were revealed in New York during a televised announcement on CBS by Deborah Dugan, the Recording Academy’s new president and chief executive; the academy’s board chair, Harvey Mason Jr.; Alicia Keys, who will host the upcoming ceremony; singer Bebe Rexha and “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King.
Eilish, a native of Los Angeles’ Highland Park, also earns the distinction of becoming the youngest artist in Grammy history nominated for album of the year, for her chart-topping debut, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”
“I never thought it would be a reality in my life,” she told The Times recently when asked about the prospect of Grammy recognition. “I grew up watching the Grammys with my family. I would judge all the girls’ dresses and all the dudes’ suits. To think about sitting in a room with, like, every person I grew up idolizing,” Eilish added, “is terrifying.”
The history-making aspect of the latest Grammy slate extends to Lil Nas X, the openly gay rapper who earned nominations for record, album and new artist, propelled by his genre-hopping, record-breaking hit single “Old Town Road.”
“Today’s announcement reflects a new era for the Recording Academy -- an army of engaged members that welcomes diversity, embraces creativity and champions young musicians on the rise,” Dugan said in a statement issued Wednesday.
The nominations recognize hundreds of musicians, songwriters, producers and engineers stretching across 84 categories spanning pop, rock, rap, R&B, country, folk, gospel, Latin music, jazz, classical and film music. Winners will be announced Jan. 26 at Staples Center in Los Angeles in a ceremony that will be telecast on CBS.
With its nomination slate dominated by so many young acts, women and hip-hop artists, the academy also tacitly has embraced the shifting tides of music consumption today. Increasingly left behind is the old model: music in physical form predominantly exposed via terrestrial radio. In the digital age, artists cultivate audiences for their music through a plethora of new outlets such as TikTok -- the social media platform that gave Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” its initial attention -- before seeing it more broadly disseminated by dominant streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.
The other album of the year nominees are plaintive indie-rocker Bon Iver, singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey, pop singer Ariana Grande, R&B singer-guitarist H.E.R. and long-running alt-rock group Vampire Weekend.
Among the biggest surprises was the single nomination in the top four categories for Taylor Swift, whose seventh album, “Lover,” was the year’s biggest seller as well as being widely praised by critics.
The title track earned her a nomination among song of the year contenders, joining Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way” from “A Star Is Born”; Eilish’s “Bad Guy”; veteran country star Tanya Tucker’s comeback hit “Bring My Flowers Now”; H.E.R.’s “Hard Place”; Del Rey’s “Norman F - Rockwell”; Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi’s wounded ballad “Someone You Loved”; and Lizzo’s breakthrough hit “Truth Hurts.”
The best new artist nominations include one of the day’s big surprises: Black Pumas, the nascent Austin, Texas-based duo of singer Eric Burton and guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada, who earned a Grammy nomination individually in 2008 for his playing on Grupo Fantasmo’s album “Sonidos Gold” in the Latin rock or alternative album category.
Along with Black Pumas, Eilish, Lizzo and Lil Nas X in the new artist competition are indie-rock singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers, New Orleans R&B-funk collective Tank and the Bangas, Spanish flamenco pop singer Rosalia, fresh off her five wins at last week’s Latin Grammy Awards, and English soul singer-songwriter Yola.
In addition to Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” -- the remix version he released in collaboration with country singer Billy Ray Cyrus -- the record of the year nominations, which award musical performance and record production, are Bon Iver’s “Hey, Ma,” Grande’s “7 Rings,” H.E.R.’s “Hard Place,” Khalid’s “Talk” and Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower.”
The most nominated artists following Lizzo, Eilish and Lil Nas X, with five each, are Beyonce -- also notable in her absence from the top four categories -- H.E.R. and Eilish’s brother and musical collaborator, Finneas O’Connell.
The emphasis on new faces left some artists who had become Grammy favorites as little as a decade ago with little to show for their 2019 efforts: In addition to Swift, whose three nominations also include pop solo performance for her single “You Need to Calm Down” and pop vocal album for “Lover,” English pop phenomenon Ed Sheeran received just a single nomination, in the pop vocal album category for “No. 6 Collaborations Project.” Canadian rapper, singer and blockbuster hit maker Drake was nominated twice: in the R&B and rap song categories.
Bolstering the ranks of former Grammy favorites left wanting this year is Bruce Springsteen. The veteran New Jersey rocker landed no nominations for either of two recordings he released during the eligibility period: “Springsteen on Broadway,” the audio from his one-man theatrical production, and “Western Skies,” his well-reviewed studio album channeling expansive themes and orchestral sounds of 1960s and ’70s California pop recordings.
Lady Gaga collected three nominations related to her music in “A Star is Born”: Beyond the best song nod, the album is recognized in the compilation soundtrack for visual media category, and the song “I’ll Never Love Again” is a contender for song written for visual media.
Although this year’s nominations signal the Recording Academy membership’s support for artists and recordings that are at the heart of the most important conversations over pop music in 2019 -- such as the blurring of genre lines as exemplified in “Old Town Road” -- the hard proof of voters’ commitment to a new definition of musical currency will come with the announcement of winners in January. It’s the annual awards ceremony that often is the source of the most pointed groans and grimaces over the entire Grammy process.