On Tuesday, The Recording Academy announced the nominees for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards and they were unlike any other. Mickey Guyton became the first solo black woman to receive a nom in a country music category. No men were nominated in the Best Rock Performance and Best Country Album categories, which has never happened before. In fact, more women and more musicians of color were represented overall, save for an inexcusable snub of The Weeknd. Clearly, though, even with an increase in diversity, the Academy doesn’t really know what to do with artists of color who teeter across genre lines, especially when those lines have been racialized since the beginning of the music industry. (However, the only person that actually seems to be upset is Justin Bieber, who wanted his Changes album to be recognized as an R&B release and not Pop. Hm.)
And yet, I can’t help but feel a sharp, slight ping of excitement, because the 2021 Grammys are gearing up to be a wonderful year for boy band fans. Harry Styles is nominated for the first time ever: for Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Music Video. One Direction—like most boy bands, despite their total pop culture dominance and radio ubiquity—were never nominated. Styles is also the first of his group to receive a Grammy nom for solo work. K-pop boy band fans have a reason to celebrate, too: BTS is up for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their first-ever fully-English language hit, “Dynamite.” It is not their first nomination—they were up for Best Recording Package in 2019 for their album Love Yourself: Tear, but this is their first nomination in a major category. They also presented on stage at last year’s ceremony—could this be the year K-pop finally wins at the Grammys?
I hope so! You’d be hard-pressed to find boy bands receiving Grammy nominations in the last decade or two—certainly the post-Y2k, *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys era. The last example I can think of are the Jonas Brothers, who’ve been nominated twice: in 2008, for Best New Artist, and in 2019, for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with their comeback single, “Sucker.” They lost both. Styles and BTS may have more luck, but in some ways, it already feels like they’ve already won.
However, the Grammys will really only feel like a victory if something is done about the firing of President and CEO of the Recording Academy Deborah Dugan. Earlier this year, Dugan was let go a few months after she filed a 44-page complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging a slew of unsavory behavior including sexual harassment, voting irregularities, conflicts of interest, a toxic “boys’ club” mentality, and an accusation that Neil Portnow, the CEO she was hired to replace, raped an artist. According to a statement the Recording Academy released to its members at the time of her firing, “Ms. Dugan’s consistent management deficiencies and failures, and other factors,” caused “the elected leaders of the Academy to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Academy to move on.” The Academy informed NPR that “all [Dugan’s’] allegations against the Recording Academy are categorically false and that the allegations made against her are true,” but the means of sharing that information was conveniently obscured.