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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Women lead Grammy nominees

Olivia Rodrigo in Los Angeles on July 25, 2023. She is among the women dominating this year’s Grammy Award nominations, which were announced on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023.

By Ben Sisario

SZA, Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo, indie supergroup boygenius and eclectic bandleader Jon Batiste are among the top nominees for the 66th annual Grammy Awards, leading a class of contenders dominated by young women.

SZA, the R&B singer and songwriter born Solána Rowe, has nine nods — more than any other artist this year — for her album “SOS,” which led the Billboard chart for 10 weeks and spawned an in-demand arena tour. “Kill Bill,” its standout hit, is up for both record and song of the year at the next ceremony, set for Feb. 4 in Los Angeles.

Swift and Rodrigo will face off against SZA in all three top categories, with Swift’s “Midnights” — the studio LP she released last year, in between a slew of rerecordings — and Rodrigo’s “Guts” up for best album, and Swift’s “Anti-Hero” and Rodrigo’s “Vampire” each competing for both record and song.

The awards were announced in an online stream Friday morning by the Recording Academy, the nonprofit organization behind the Grammys.

Miley Cyrus and Batiste are also contenders in each of the most prestigious categories. Cyrus’ mellow, disco-inflected hit “Flowers” is up for record and song of the year, and “Endless Summer Vacation” for album. Batiste, the surprise album of the year victor in 2022 for “We Are” — a rootsy, uplifting collection that had barely made a dent on the charts — earned a string of nominations, including best album for “World Music Radio,” a high-concept amalgam of global pop that was also far from a hit. Its track “Worship” is up for record, and “Butterfly” for song. (Record of the year recognizes a single recording; song of the year is a songwriter’s award.)

Boygenius, the project of three of indie-rock’s leading young women — Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, all in their late 20s — will compete for record of the year with “Not Strong Enough,” and best album with “The Record.”

Swift, Rodrigo, Cyrus, boygenius, Batiste and Americana singer-songwriter Brandy Clark have six nods apiece, as does Billie Eilish, another Grammy favorite; Victoria Monét, an R&B singer and songwriter, has seven. Bridgers, of boygenius, also nabbed a seventh, through a collaboration with SZA.

The “Barbie” soundtrack, curated by producer Mark Ronson and filled with female artists — Eilish, Dua Lipa and Nicki Minaj among them — has a total of 11 nominations in seven categories. In best song written for visual media, for example, “Barbie” tracks occupy four of the five slots.

The contenders for best new artist include Monét; banjo-playing pop-folkie Noah Kahan; Jelly Roll, who started as a rapper before finding fame in Nashville; British dance producer Fred again..; R&B singer and actor Coco Jones; husband-and-wife soul duo the War and Treaty; and two artists who have gotten a boost from their associations with Swift — singer Gracie Abrams and drill-meets-pop Bronx rapper Ice Spice.

In past years, the Grammys have been criticized for failing to adequately reward female artists, and this year’s woman-heavy nominations will likely be welcomed in the industry as a sign of progress. Still, the key will be who ultimately wins.

As always, the nominations included some surprises in the top tier, particularly when it came to country artists.

Luke Combs, who had a cross-generational smash with a reverently faithful version of Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song “Fast Car,” got a nod for country solo performance, but not record of the year, which many in the industry had expected. (“Fast Car” was not, however, eligible for song of the year, since it had already been nominated for that award in the ’80s.)

Zach Bryan, an admired songwriter who found chart success this year with a self-titled album, was recognized only in country categories, for that LP and for “I Remember Everything,” a duet with Kacey Musgraves. And Morgan Wallen, a streaming titan whose album “One Thing at a Time” was a blockbuster this year, is absent completely — a sign, perhaps, that the coastal industry mainstream has not forgiven Wallen for his use of a racial slur two years ago, as establishment Nashville seemingly has. (Wallen’s hit “Last Night” is up for best country song, though Wallen was not among its four writers.)

Harvey Mason Jr., the CEO of the Recording Academy, said in an interview that the nominations simply reflect the musical judgment of the academy’s 11,000 or so voting members.

“There’s really no other explanation or calculus here,” Mason said. “The voters come in, they listen to the music, and the stuff they like the best, and feel is the most excellent, they vote for.”

The nominations arrived two days after Neil Portnow, a former academy chief, was sued in a New York court by an anonymous female musician who accused him of drugging and raping her five years ago. The suit also accused the academy of negligence.

Portnow has denied the accusation, and the academy on Wednesday called the woman’s claims “without merit.” Mason declined to comment about the case.

The major Grammy nominations this year largely hew to popular hits, and they notably over-index with female artists, though country and hip-hop are scarce in the top categories.

In addition to LPs by SZA, Swift, Rodrigo, Cyrus, boygenius and Batiste, the album of the year slate includes Lana Del Rey’s “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” and Janelle Monáe’s “The Age of Pleasure.”

Record of the year also includes Monét’s “On My Mama” and Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?,” from “Barbie.” Del Rey’s “A&W,” “What Was I Made For?” and another “Barbie” number, Lipa’s “Dance the Night,” round out song of the year.

The number of slots on the ballot for the four top Grammy categories has been a moving target for years. This year, the academy set it to eight, after two years at 10. It was the third such change in five years.

Among other rule changes this year, the academy moved the producer and songwriter of the year categories to the general field, which allows all voting members to vote on those awards.

Nominees for producer of the year, nonclassical, include Jack Antonoff, known for his work with Swift and Del Rey; Daniel Nigro (Rodrigo); Hit-Boy (Nas, Don Toliver); Dernst Emile II, known as D’Mile (Monét); and Metro Boomin (Travis Scott; Drake & 21 Savage). Songwriter of the year, meant to recognize writers who largely work behind the scenes, has nods for Edgar Barrera, Jessie Jo Dillon, Shane McAnally, Theron Thomas and Justin Tranter.

For best pop vocal album, Swift’s “Midnights,” Rodrigo’s “Guts” and Cyrus’ “Endless Summer Vacation” are up against Kelly Clarkson’s “Chemistry” and Ed Sheeran’s “-” (called “Subtract”).

In the rap album category, Drake & 21 Savage’s collaboration “Her Loss” and Travis Scott’s “Utopia” will contend with Killer Mike’s “Michael,” Nas’ “King’s Disease III” and Metro Boomin’s “Heroes & Villains.”

For country album, Bryan’s LP is up along with Kelsea Ballerini’s “Rolling Up the Welcome Mat,” Lainey Wilson’s “Bell Bottom Country,” Tyler Childers’ “Rustin’ in the Rain” and the self-titled album by Brothers Osborne.

The contenders for best rock album are Foo Fighters’ “But Here We Are,” Greta Van Fleet’s “Starcatcher,” Metallica’s “72 Seasons,” Paramore’s “This Is Why” and “In Times New Roman …” by Queens of the Stone Age.

For best African music performance, a new category, the nominees are Asake & Olamide’s “Amapiano,” Burna Boy’s “City Boys,” Ayra Starr’s “Rush,” Tyla’s “Water,” and Davido’s “Unavailable,” which features Musa Keys.

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