Lil Nas X and Brandi Carlile are just a few of the queer artists taking up some of the highly coveted spots on the list of major nominees.
For the past two years, the Recording Academy has spoken early and often about bringing more inclusivity to the Grammy Awards. They took action when they added 900 new voting members after forming a task force to foster more diversity within the organization. Skeptics wondered how effective the new class of voters would be in creating inclusivity — but if the 2020 nominations are any indication, then the awards may be in good hands.
The nominations for the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards were announced on Wednesday (Nov. 20), and among the nominees, LGBTQ artists made a significant impact, earning nominations across the board in categories both big and small. Spanning multiple genres and various artistic roles, the nominations paint a picture of an awards show that, at the very least, is working toward a broader claim to inclusion.
Lil Nas X is undoubtedly leading the charge for queer artists at the Grammys. The out rapper earned six nominations, tying pop singer Billie Eilish for the second-most nominations (after Lizzo’s eight nods), three of which occupy the event’s Big Four general categories: “Old Town Road” earned a nomination for record of the year; 7 was recognized as a nominee for album of the year; and Nas himself snagged a best new artist nod. The star also received nominations for best pop duo/group performance and best music video for “Old Town Road,” as well as best rap/sung performance for “Panini.”
Let it sink in for a moment: a queer black rapper, who lived in relative obscurity a year ago, just earned the second-most Grammy nominations of any artist this year. That fact speaks volumes to the progress being made in the music industry and at the Recording Academy, and sends a clear, powerful message to aspiring LGBTQ musicians everywhere.
Even in song of the year, the Big Four category where Lil Nas X didn’t earn a nomination, queer talent received some major recognition. Brandi Carlile took up one spot for her writing on Tanya Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now”; Lady Gaga earned yet another A Star Is Born nod with “Always Remember Us This Way”; and queer songwriter Jesse Saint John earned his first nomination for co-writing Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.” The collection of nominees showcases the spectrum of queer artists that are being recognized by the Academy, from global megastar to bubbling-under songwriter.
Move your way down into the genre categories, and you’ll find even more queer artists racking up nominations. Brittany Howard scored two nominations, in best rock performance and best rock song, for “History Repeats.” Tyler, the Creator earned his third nod, this time in the best rap album category, for Igor. The Internet‘s Steve Lacy saw his debut solo project Apollo XXI secure a nomination for best urban contemporary album. Che Apalache got their first nomination for best folk album with Rearrange My Heart.
This isn’t to say that the Recording Academy perfectly encapsulated the breadth of queer music this year. Halsey, who finally achieved her first solo No. 1 for “Without Me” earlier this year, was shut out. Sam Smith also didn’t receive any love, despite the massive success of their Normani collaboration “Dancing With a Stranger.” While Igor showed up in the rap categories, Tyler, the Creator’s critically acclaimed album failed to score a possible album of the year nod.
So, there is still progress to be made. But what these nominations tell us is that the Recording Academy’s open-minded approach to highlighting undervalued voices is more than a coincidence. The 2019 ceremony was heralded as a moment of triumph for queer women, with Carlile, Gaga, Janelle Monáe and Bebe Rexha all earning nominations in the Big Four categories. Some commentators saw that moment as, at best, a fluke, and at worst, a publicity stunt to earn praise from progressive audiences.
But with a second year in which queer artists are being ushered to the forefront of the world’s premier music award ceremony, the Recording Academy is showing, not telling, queer audiences that they can hear them loud and clear.