That’s right, sports fans, the Grammys are on this year — and they’re happening in just a month! Here’s what you need to know about “music’s biggest night”…in COVID time.
When are the Grammys happening?
January 31, “rain or shine” says the official website with a straight face. The main awards ceremony airs at 7 p.m. CST on CBS; the “premiere ceremony,” when all but the biggest awards are handed out, streams live on Grammy.com the same day at 2 p.m. CST.
How are the Grammys happening during a pandemic?
Still at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but with no audience and — mostly — no artists. “Only those with a scheduled role” will be literally in the house. Carpool Karaoke co-creator Ben Winston will be this year’s executive producer, taking the reins from 40-year veteran Ken Ehrlich (think about it: the first year he ran the show, Gloria Gaynor got a Grammy for Best Disco Recording).
Daily Show host Trevor Noah. “I think as a one-time GRAMMY nominee,” said Noah in a statement, “I am the best person to provide a shoulder to all the amazing artists who do not win on the night because I too know the pain of not winning the award!” Noah, who clarified that he meant a virtual shoulder (“I’m not trying to catch Corona”), was nominated for Best Comedy Album last year, when the Grammy went to Dave Chappelle for Sticks and Stones.
Performers and presenters haven’t been announced yet, but here at The Current we’re hoping Taylor Swift gets Justin Vernon to play with her.
What have the Grammys done to address issues of representation?
Various things, with very various effects. Maybe the most significant change has been increasing the Recording Academy’s voting membership, extending thousands of invitations with a very pointed eye toward diversity.
The organization that presents the Grammys also tried to shake things up by hiring Deborah Dugan to replace Neil Portnow (who infamously asked women to “step up” for recording industry recognition) as chief executive — only to fire her amid a messy tumult, suspending her in January after only five months in the job and just ten days before the 62nd Grammys. Producer Harvey Mason Jr. is now running the Recording Academy on an interim basis.
This year’s nominations reflect progress, with Beyoncé leading nominations and high-profile nods for artists like Megan Thee Stallion and H.E.R. Still, the Recording Academy has work to do. The Album of the Year category in particular is “glaringly not inclusive,” writes USA Today — and as Beyoncé herself learned (appalling even the winner, Adele) with her masterpiece Lemonade in 2017, nominations don’t necessarily translate into wins.
What are the big races to watch this year?
Last year (which feels like ten years ago now), Billie Eilish stormed the Grammys, sweeping all four top categories. With nominations for Song of the Year and Record of the Year (“Everything I Wanted”) she could take rare back-to-back awards in those categories…but like Adele, she’s probably hoping Beyoncé wins, either for “Black Parade” or (in Record of the Year) for her Megan Thee Stallion collaboration “Savage.” There are also plenty of people rooting for Megan to win Best New Artist, which would make her the second female rapper to win — after Lauryn Hill in 1999.
Farther down the card (unjustifiably far down, argue their fans), BTS could become the first K-pop act to win a Grammy: they’re nominated for “Dynamite” in Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Listeners to The Current will be watching races including Best Alternative Music Album (where Fiona Apple is favored to win for Fetch the Bolt Cutters) and the all-woman-fronted slate for Best Rock Performance (Fiona Apple, Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, Haim, Brittany Howard, Grace Potter).
Any local angles?
You know it! When nominations were announced, it looked like the biggest local connection was the success of Taylor Swift’s folklore, which drew heavily on the talents of artists associated with Justin Vernon and the Eau Claire/Twin Cities scene. Now, though, the biggest Minnesota-connected buzz surrounds a local duo who rejected their nomination: the Okee Dokee Brothers, who joined with two of their fellow nominees to step aside in protest over the longstanding lack of diversity in their category, Best Children’s Album.