Britain's reign at the Grammys comes to an end as diversity flourishes | Ben Beaumont-Thomas

With Ed Sheeran, Calvin Harris and various One Direction members snubbed, it paves the way for one of the most ethnically diverse Grammys ever – though female musicians have been sidelined

The iconic moment of the 2017 Grammys was Adele beating Beyoncé for album of the year, and the former acknowledging what a force of nature the latter is. “The way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my black friends feel, is empowering,” she said. “And you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you.” She vocalised what everyone else already knew: that Beyoncé, and indeed black American music, had become culturally dominant in the US.

It seems that Grammy voters have finally caught up, acknowledging a huge number of non-white artists in its 2018 nominations, in a year when the US charts have been more dominated by rap and R&B than ever before. In 2017, there were cries of #GrammysSoWhite, following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy – artists including Frank Ocean, Kanye West and Drake boycotted the awards, and the latter didn’t make his More Life project eligible for nomination this year. Perhaps the academy heeded their anger, because there has been a significant turnaround.

All five nominees for record of the year are non-white – Luis Fonsi, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars and Childish Gambino – with all but Fonsi nominated for the top award, album of the year. The last non-white winner of that award was Herbie Hancock in 2008. Jay-Z holds the most nominations this year with eight – including his first album of the year nomination – while Kendrick Lamar has seven.

Cardi B, nominated twice for Bodak Yellow.
Cardi B, nominated twice for Bodak Yellow. Photograph: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for E11EVEN

Their domination means that a crop of MCs who have ruled the charts this year – in particular Post Malone, 21 Savage, French Montana and Future – have sadly been shut out entirely, as has the beloved old-school rapper J Cole. As satisfying and admirably self-lacerating as Jay-Z’s 4:44 is, the numerous R&B and rap categories should have better shown off the breadth and arresting bleakness of the American rap scene.

The top categories are also heavily skewed towards men, with Lorde and Julia Michaels the only lead female artists across 15 nominations – hopefully the witty, unpretentious R&B singer SZA can clean up in her five categories. With her magisterial, magnificently contemptuous flow on Bodak Yellow, Cardi B could perhaps edge out Kendrick and Jay-Z in two of the rap awards.

But these categories are positively cosmopolitan compared to the rock ones. Leonard Cohen and Chris Cornell are, of course, powerful songwriters, but their posthumous nominations suggest the styles are struggling to produce new stars. Other usual suspects include Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and Metallica, who get nominated with numbing predictability, though there is space for breakthrough bands such as Kaleo and Nothing More, the latter scoring an impressive three nominations.

Other non-white winners include Bruno Mars with six – his unashamedly retro 24k Magic might find favour amongst the more august academy members – and the actor-comedian-musician Donald Glover with four as Childish Gambino. His song Redbone partly got its breakthrough via its appearance in the racially charged film Get Out, and it will be interesting to see if the that movie is now acknowledged by the Oscars. Puerto Rican singer Fonsi’s hit Despacito – the most successful video on YouTube with more than 4 billion views – was rightfully nominated for record of the year, and more surprisingly song of the year, a category generally fenced off to non-English lyrics.

Adele’s success also capped an extremely successful decade for British performers at the Grammys. Ever since Amy Winehouse almost swept the board in 2008 with her five awards, the UK has punched above its weight – six of the song of the year awards in the last decade have gone to Brits; for the last three years British artists have taken home that category and the record of the year award. But they have now been edged out in the Grammy’s eventual recognition of homegrown black music stars.

Adele winning – and breaking – her record of the year Grammy award in 2017.
Adele winning – and breaking – her record of the year Grammy award in 2017. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Ed Sheeran, who had the biggest selling album in the US this year until Taylor Swift’s Reputation was released, was expected to be nominated in all three major categories, but ended up with only pop vocal and pop solo performance nominations. He is likely to win both, although there could be support for Kesha after her protracted legal battle with her producer – and accused abuser – Dr Luke.

Calvin Harris got nominated for producer of the year, but was snubbed elsewhere. Other Brits who might have expected a nod in lower categories are Sam Smith, for his excellent power ballad Too Good at Goodbyes, and former members of One Direction like Harry Styles; Irish 1D-er Niall Horan was overlooked for massive US radio hit Slow Hands, though Zayn Malik did get nominated for his song with Taylor Swift for the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack (Swift was not eligible for Reputation, although she also got nominated for a song she wrote for country band Little Big Town). There was even talk of comeback kid James Arthur getting recognised for Say You Won’t Let Go, though it wasn’t to be.

In the end, this was the year in which America reclaimed the music that’s been sitting on its doorstep – and at the top of its charts – for years.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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