At Last Minute, Kanye West, Taylor Swift Added as Top Grammy Nominees

Taylor Swift presents the Video Vanguard Award to Kanye West at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, California, August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
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The organization behind the Grammy Awards decided at a meeting on Monday — just 24 hours before this year’s nominees were announced — that the top categories should expand to 10 nominees from eight, a last-minute move that added stars like Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Abba and Lil Nas X to the existing slate of potential winners.

When the nominations were revealed on a live webcast the next morning, Harvey Mason Jr., the CEO of Recording Academy, hailed the surprise shift as a way “to make room for more music, more artists and more genres, and to embrace the spirit of inclusion.”

But among the added names were some of pop’s biggest stars and people who were already on the ballot elsewhere.

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For album of the year, the two contenders added to the ballot were Swift’s “Evermore” and West’s “Donda,” joining titles by Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, Doja Cat, H.E.R., Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X and Jon Batiste.

The nod for “Evermore” was Swift’s sole nomination for her own music on Tuesday. (She is also nominated as a songwriter on Rodrigo’s “Sour.”) West’s nomination for “Donda” brought his career total to 75.

It was possible to discover which artists benefited from the expansion because their names were absent from an early version of the “final nominations list” that had been created several days before the announcement and included only eight names in those categories. That version had begun circulating outside the Recording Academy before the nominations were announced Tuesday, and a copy of it was obtained by The New York Times.

The expansion in the top categories comes after the academy has trumpeted a new era of openness and transparency in its awards process. The 64th annual Grammys will be the first in more than 30 years without the use of anonymous nomination review committees, which were charged with whittling down voters’ choices to create the final ballot — a step that was intended to safeguard the awards’ integrity but was accused of allowing manipulation behind the scenes.

Mason defended the move to add more nominees as a sign of a newly nimble, responsive Recording Academy, and said that the added names brought new sounds, styles and faces to the top categories. “For us this is all positive movement,” he said. “This is us honoring more great artists, more great music, giving artists an opportunity to shine and showcase.”

Mason said that the artists added to the list were simply the ninth and 10th most voted by the academy’s members, and were determined by Deloitte, the academy’s longtime partner in collecting and tabulating votes.

In the record of the year category, Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” and Abba’s “I Still Have Faith in You” joined tracks by Rodrigo, Bieber, Bennett and Gaga, Batiste, Doja Cat, Eilish, Silk Sonic and Brandi Carlile. This was Abba’s first-ever Grammy nomination.

For song of the year, which recognizes songwriters, the change brought in Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me More,” which features SZA, and “Right on Time” by Carlile, who was already on the list for another song, “A Beautiful Noise,” with Alicia Keys. Best new artist added rapper Baby Keem and Pakistani American composer and vocalist Arooj Aftab.

Representatives for each of the added artists declined to comment.

As recently as the 2018 Grammys, there were only five slots in the top field. In an interview Wednesday, Mason said that the expansion had been considered for years, but that this year’s change was inspired by his visit last week to the Latin Grammys, at which as many as 12 artists competed in some top categories. He said he and his team moved quickly to propose and implement the change.

“It lines up perfectly everything that we’ve been trying to do in the last year and a half,” Mason said, “which is to honor excellence in music, serve our music community, and do it in a thoughtful but proactive way.”

Valeisha Butterfield Jones, the academy’s co-president, added, “While it may seem rushed, it really was a thoughtful, well intentioned process that was also data-driven,” pointing to internal numbers that showed an increase in voting by its members.

The revelation that nomination lists were expanded on the eve of their release — unbeknown to voters until the full ballot was announced — is the latest twist in the Grammys’ tumultuous recent history, with the academy’s last chief dismissed after accusing the institution’s leadership of rampant conflicts of interest and of covering up accusations of sexual harassment and rape.

The move to end the nomination review committees for the 2022 Grammys came after years of complaints by artists, especially Black musicians in rap and R&B, who said they had been relegated to the genre categories but not ultimately recognized in the four general field awards.

Ahead of the most recent Grammys ceremony, the pop star the Weeknd — who received no nominations for his top-selling album, “After Hours” — said he would boycott the awards in the future, calling the Grammys “corrupt.”

The academy said that without the committees this year, the artists who appeared on the final ballot were those who got the most votes from their music industry peers, and that the expansion to 10 nominees from eight in the top four categories was made without knowing which artists would benefit.

The winners will be determined by votes from the 11,000 members of the Recording Academy, who must qualify as working musicians. The ceremony will take place Jan. 31 in Los Angeles.

Mason also said that the addition of Swift and West — superstars in their own right, whose rivalry is a perennial media spectacle — was solely a matter of the votes they received and that they were not selected for their appeal on the Grammys’ television show.

“A thousand percent no,” Mason said. “That was not a consideration.”

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