(January 30, 2019). For the second year in a row at the Grammys, there were eight nominees in each of the Big Four categories: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.
But it really boiled down to a race between two people: Lizzo and Billie Eilish, the past year’s music industry darlings who each had a No. 1 single, one of which – Eilish’s “Bad Guy” – achieved heroine status when it ended the reign of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” which had ruled the Hot 100 for a record-breaking four-and-a-half months.
Eilish and Lizzo were the only artists nominated in each of the four main categories and, given that the Grammys anymore are really just a popularity contest, did anyone truly think that such left-field newcomers as Yola or Tank and the Bangas – talented as they may be (and British singer Yola really is, I’m checking out her album right now) – stood a chance against either Lizzo or Eilish as this year’s Best New Artist.
So it really was a race between two people, and DJROBBLOG offers the following explanations for why the queen of emo-but-not-emo Eilish took all four from the latest in big girl swag, Lizzo.
First, the easiest to explain, Best New Artist.
The past year isn’t the first time the Grammys nominated musicians who’d had products in earlier years in the Best New Artist category. It’s a correction the Recording Academy made after the late superstar Whitney Houston was disqualified from the Best New Artist of 1985 category simply because she had a one-off single in 1984 with Teddy Pendergrass on his “Hold Me,” which had originally been recorded for his solo album and was a medium chart hit at best.
Now, as a result of the backlash caused by that slight, artists are eligible for the Best New Artist category in the year that they first reach public consciousness, as judged by the Recording Academy, whether they’ve had releases in previous years or not.
That explains why Lizzo and Eilish both got nods this year, despite both having earlier releases than their smash 2019 LPs Cuz I Love You and When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, respectively.
And while she was nominated, it would have been a very tall order for the Recording Academy to defend Lizzo who, prior to 2019, had released two full studio albums, plus three mixtapes and two EPs – one of which (2016’s Coconut Oil) contained the song that is her “latest” hit, “Good as Hell” – as this past year’s best new artist.
Sure Eilish had her own earlier EP in 2017. But Lizzo’s catalogue dates back to 2013 when her first studio album, Lizzobangers, was released. I believe the Academy’s voters, despite having nominated Lizzo, had this in mind as they were weighing their voting options, and it came back to bite Lizzo in those exposed buns.
Album of the Year.
Actually, this one may be easier to explain.
Even if you have strong opinions about which album you like better between the two main contenders, Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep was simply better as a 2019 release. All of its hits songs were new originals – songs that were either intended for the album or ones that had been hits in the past 18 months.
Lizzo’s two biggest hits from Cuz I Love You were “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell” – both songs that had been released on previous albums in 2017 and 2016, respectively. And while it’s easy to dismiss this as being merely the same argument as the one in the Best New Artist example above, when one considers that none of the other songs from Cuz I Love You got any higher on the Hot 100 than No. 82 (“Juice”) – and that Lizzo had to release both a Deluxe and a Super Deluxe version of Cuz to belatedly add both of the bigger hits – how worthy was Cuz I Love You as this year’s Best Album really?
Personally, I’d like to see some of the other cuts on Cuz get some love (Lizzo did win a Grammy in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category for “Jerome”), because there are better songs on it than the two biggies.
Record of the Year.
This is where things get a little more dicey, because the race included other legitimate contenders who were arguably as good or better than the songs by either Eilish or Lizzo.
But given the apparent backlash against pop princess Ariana Grande, the dark horse status of indie folk band Bon Iver, and the fact that the remaining five nominees (including Lizzo) all fell in the R&B/Hip-Hop category, making a split-vote likely to eliminate all five as viable contenders, Eilish’s “Bad Guy” becomes a no-brainer.
Let’s face it, a song like “Truth Hurts” would have to be in a field exclusively containing other hip-hop tunes to have a real chance of winning Best Record. Just ask Sean “Diddy” Combs, who blasted the Recording Academy for this type of shenanigans at the pre-Grammy gala on Saturday, January 25.
The only exception to this unwritten rule was last year when Childish Gambino’s “This is America” won in a field containing five hip-hop contenders. But, whereas “America” was a song with a powerful sociopolitical statement, “Truth” was not. And “Truth” wasn’t about to become the second hip-hop tune in a row – and the second in history – to win Record of the Year.
Song of the Year.
In a field dominated by women – seven of the eight nominees were songs written and performed by the ladies – this is another one that’s not as intuitive as the first two categories above, although the sisterhood at this year’s Grammys was palpable (Eilish could be seen rooting for Ariana Grande in the album category before Billie was announced as the winner).
But it’s clear that Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” had more going against it from the start than the others. First, as mentioned above, the song was originally written for and included in a 2017 album. It’ll be three years old later this year.
Secondly, one of the key lyrics from “Truth” came under attack as part of a copyright dispute when a woman claimed Lizzo stole the line “I’m 100% that bitch” from her social media post years earlier. Is that unsubstantiated claim enough to penalize it from winning a Grammy?
But Best Song is a songwriters award, and the fact that some of “Truth Hurts” lyrics were the subject of a copyright dispute had to be on the minds of some Academy voters given the negative press. The Grammys didn’t need that controversy on top of all the other drama its had in recent years.
And finally, “Truth Hurts,” again, is an R&B/Hip-Hop song. And songs of that genre family, particularly the hip-hop part, just don’t win Song of the Year.
In the past 40 years of rap’s existence, while eight R&B songs – including hits by Bruno Mars, Beyoncé, Luther Vandross, Alicia Keys, Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle, Natalie Cole, Dionne Warwick and Tina Turner – have taken the Best Song award, none of those had a hip-hop edge to them.
Given all that it had going against it, “Truth Hurts” wasn’t going to become the first to do it this year.
Those are just some of the technical reasons we believe explain why Lizzo lost to Billie E. in all four of the big categories this year.
A more fundamental reason could be that Eilish simply had a better album and group of songs than Lizzo, but that’s a subjective statement fueled by opinion, and we all know the Grammys are better than that, right?
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
You can also register for free to receive notifications of future articles by visiting the home page (see top for menu).