We all know it: snubs happen. What were the biggest in the dance categories this year?
Kat Bein: Can I just say The Weeknd, because it’s the greatest continuing Grammy snub of our era? As far as traditional electronic/dance music goes, I think it’s interesting how different this list looks from Billboard Dance‘s list of best songs and best albums of 2020. Not one mention of Kylie Minogue, a legend in all respects, at the Grammys. We picked Jessie Ware for the No. 1 album, and she’s not on the nominations list at all either. Not to say that I dislike the Grammy’s choices — there are some bangers on there — but it’s interesting.
I also thought Whethan and Louis the Child did a great job with their albums, and they’re absent from both lists. Also, I don’t know exactly what 100gecs did exactly this nomination season, but at this point they deserve a nod for carrying the future.
Krystal Rodriguez: For me, it’s not just about who is missing, but what is missing, and that’s disco. More than 40 years after the infamous Disco Demolition night at Comiskey Park, the sound rebounded bigly in 2020 with the joie de vivre of Bianca Jagger on the horse at Studio 54. You’ll find it sprinkled among the pop category nominations (Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Doja Cat’s “Say So”), but disco is dance music!
The Vision’s self-titled album was glorious modern disco. And while another excellent disco album, Roisin Murphy’s Roisin Machine, didn’t make the eligibility deadline, Club Future Nostalgia, Lipa’s remix album — overseen by The Blessed Madonna — did. I thought with its hype beyond the dance world, that one would appear somewhere. The absolute lack of nominations for Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? in any Grammy category, however, has me channeling Michael Jordan “And I took that personally” energy.
Zel McCarthy: In a way, the fact that there are only two awards in the Dance Field is a snub itself. Every other major genre — country, Latin, pop, R&B, rap, rock — all have at least four awards. Jazz, which I think accounts for about one percent of record sales in the U.S. each year, has five awards. Yes, jazz is the quintessential American artform, but house and techno are quintessentially American too. And people actually listen to it.
So is it a snub for Detroit techno legends Inner City not to be nominated for their 2020 album, We All Move Together, or for modern disco torch-bearers from across the pond like Jessie Ware and Róisín Murphy not to be included? Absolutely. American house bosses Junior Sanchez, Honey Dijon, and MK each released material worthy of consideration this year, too. But the snub is bigger than any individual nominee. The snub is how entire genres of dance music are systematically ignored and excluded from this event.
Katie Bain: I too thought that surely something from Club Future Nostalgia was a shoe-in for Best Remixed Recording, and that it’s strange that the big love Dua Lipa and Future Nostalgia got over in the Big Four didn’t trickle down. Also agree that a nom for Inner City’s We All Move Together would have been a big moment not only for techno, but for the Black pioneers of dance music — to whom so many nominees in 2021 and years prior more or less owe their careers.
What does this crop of nominees say about where the Recording Academy’s tastes in dance and electronic music currently lie?
Kat Bein: It seems to me they’re moving away from the big EDM-pop — except maybe in the remix category, where you’ve got massive radio hits (like Imanbek’s take on “Roses” and Haywire’s rinse of Bazzi). To nominate something as experimental as Arca’s KiCk i is not unprecedented, but it feels to me to show a continuation down a path of… is maturity the right word? You’ve got your big (yet reputable) stars with Disclosure and Flume, and long-time scene heroes like Baauer, Kaytranada and Madeon getting their play. It’s expected, but doesn’t seem wrong — and is in decent step with where I hear the culture at large giving out praise.
Krystal Rodriguez: The Recording Academy knows who’s on the radio, at the top of festival lineups and on their kids’ playlists. That’s not a bad thing, but with so much commercial dance on the table and not much electronic (i.e. club music), these nominees only skim the surface of the excellence our world has to offer. This lean is what makes Jayda G and Louie Vega’s nominations so pleasantly surprising and validating for the house community.
Zel McCarthy: I think the Recording Academy does a good job of letting its members guide the direction it goes in. That’s reflected most effectively in the top categories, where nominees represent the intersection of popular and critical success from the last year. It might be weird to some of us that Kaytranada is a Best New Artist nominee when Bubba is his sophomore album, but that LP was an undeniable artistic breakthrough and the honor is well-deserved, as it is for Best Dance/Electronic Album.
However, it seems that no matter how the Academy tries to enforce the integrity of the nomination process, the interests of their members on the genre committees are represented above any semblance of merit. That’s the only explanation for why Baauer is nominated for his deeply forgettable album, Planet’s Mad. Similarly, Diplo and Sidepiece’s “On My Mind” is unobjectionable, but it’s not the best of Diplo’s 2020 output. It’s not even the best use of a Missy Elliott sample in the last year. (That would be Bad Bunny’s “Safaera.”) Why there was a push for it to be considered for Best Dance Recording is a mystery.
Katie Bain: I feel like year’s nominees, particularly in best dance recording and dance/electronic album, recognize a generation of producers that have been killing it in the dance scene for the better part of a decade and are, with these nominations, being cemented as some the (relatively) new leaders of the scene. Disclosure, Flume and Diplo in particular are clear Academy favorites, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they just keep getting nominated every time they do something, like The Chemical Brothers before them. Also, I really liked that Baauer album!
And then, what do you think this year’s nominations say about the state of dance music as a whole?
Kat Bein: I think we’re pretty far removed from the festival anthems and bro banger days of our past. People are looking to electronic music to be thoughtful again, more emphasis on groove than in-your-face spectacle – though they still like a spectacle, no doubt. I think the way pop has merged with more experimental and genre-bending sounds these past couple of years via SOPHIE (may the artist rest in peace), Charli XCX, 100gecs and the like shows that audiences are hungry for something “more” – none of those artists are nominated this time around, but still, I think the nominations echo that sentiment, too. Of course, people are still gaga over tech house, and that’s what Diplo and Sidepiece’s “On My Mind” is for.
Krystal Rodriguez: The groove is still strong! Love that Disclosure, Jayda G, Louie Vega and Kaytranada are flying the flag for house music in their own way. Meanwhile, Diplo and Sidepiece’s “On My Mind” marks the return of tech house to the Grammys for the first time since 2019, when Fisher’s “Losing It” lost to… Diplo (for “Electricity,” as one-half of Silk City). Considering how tech house has seeped into mainstage artists’ catalogs and sets, I’m curious if we’ll see more of it here in future years despite the limitations I previously mentioned.
Zel McCarthy: For years, the dance music industry worked to convince the Academy that unlike other genres, dance and electronic music’s popularity couldn’t be measured through sales and airplay, successfully expanding the realm of Grammy-worthy music to include artists whose recordings flourished in festival and club settings. With those venues silent for the majority of this eligibility year, it’s not clear what some of these nominees reflect in terms of the larger world of dance music, beyond the backroom politics of an industry which defaults to favoring sameness over innovation and diversity. It’s great to see Jayda G, Arca, and Kaytranada included in these nominations, but they’re still exceptions to the dominance of largely homogenous music made by a largely homogenous type of artist.
Katie Bain: That what we’ve always known remains true: this is a massive genre, and while the Recording Academy has done a commendable job of acknowledging a smattering of its best and brightest, there are more deserving artists and styles than could ever be fully represented in just three categories.
How do you think the pandemic has affected the 2021 nominations?
Kat Bein: Maybe it’s less party-centric because no one was going to parties? I don’t think many of these albums or tracks were written during quarantine. I think we’re actually going to “feel” the pandemic in music a lot more this year.
Krystal Rodriguez: Has it? If we’re talking about how COVID affected who made the shortlist, many of these records — especially those with crossover collaborations — are ones that can exist organically beyond the clubs and festivals that are currently shut down, at home or on the radio. Given the Recording Academy’s historical preference for pop-leaning dance music, I think the nominations would be the same with or without COVID.
Zel McCarthy: As with the rest of society, those who were doing well at the start of the pandemic seemed to fare better than those who weren’t. Disclosure had big plans for 2020 around Energy, and while those plans were derailed and the album’s release delayed, they still snagged two nominations. Artists who weren’t as established as Disclosure simply didn’t make this list. That said, maybe the inclusion of more headphone-friendly artists like Kaytranada, Jayda G, and Flume reflects the headphones-on kind of year we had.
Katie Bain: I think Kat is right in that the effects of the pandemic will be clearer next year, when the music made during quarantine is the music being nominated.
Diversity check! How does this list of nominees look in terms of inclusivity?
Kat Bein: I see a lot of white dudes I love, but I still see a lot of white dudes. I’m gonna quote Phife Dawg and say “you get an E for effort, and T for nice try.”
Krystal Rodriguez: Still pretty white, straight and male — an accurate snapshot of the larger industry — but a significant improvement from last year. Out of 15 spots, Jayda G and Arca are the only solo women producers to be nominated, but I’d be remiss to exclude Kali Uchis, who features on Kaytranada’s “10%.” Speaking of percentages, 60 percent of the best dance recording and dance album nominees are by or feature artists who identify as women, POC and/or LGBTQIA+, when last year that number was zero. That’s pretty cool, though the remix category could still use some work. Hopefully this is the beginning of a cultural shift.
Zel McCarthy: Award shows are a tricky place to evaluate inclusivity because we only really see the nominee and not the team of co-writers, producers, engineers, and musicians who may have worked on a particular project. Instead of talking about how nominees individually represent factors of diversity, it might be useful to consider how each nominee is doing the work of creating diversity, equity, and inclusion within their own work and beyond.
Katie Bain: Well said, Zel. I’m with that. Like Krystal said, this year is a statistically significant improvement from years past. Could it still be better? Yes. Much better? Yah. Is it better than it was? Definitely, and that feels like progress.
Best dance/electronic album: Who should win, and who will win?
Kat Bein: This is a hard thing to stake a claim on. I think every album on this list is a spectacular achievement of passion and ingenuity, but there’s a redemption story I’d love to see play out. Baauer is without a doubt one of the most talented producers of our time, and I cringe that anyone ever referred to him as “the ‘Harlem Shake’ guy.” Planet’s Mad is multi-dimensional rave journey. (A lot of credit goes to his collaborator Holly, who Baauer is always giving props.) He also set the whole album to computer animation, creating a visual story about an alien world colliding with our own. Planet’s Mad is a whole universe – Madeon did something similar with Good Faith, but not to the same extent. Truly, I just want Baauer to stand up there with sunglasses on and accept a trophy for something that isn’t a meme.
Krystal Rodriguez: Disclosure’s last two albums were up for best dance album, and though both LPs had significant impact beyond the dancefloor, they simply had the misfortune of being up against Daft Punk and… you guessed it, Diplo (as one-half of Jack Ü). Maybe third time’s the charm? I could see it going to either them or Kaytranada, for whom a win would also vindicate voters overlooking his 2016 album 99.9%. I’d be happy with either.
Zel McCarthy: Kaytranada’s Bubba is phenomenal, and Grammy voters just might agree. But it wouldn’t be shocking if they chose Disclosure. It’s their third time nominated in this category, and they’ve never won before.
Katie Bain: Energy was my favorite Disclosure album since Settle, and for everything those two have done to bring house to a new generation and to mass audiences, I think they deserve the trophy. Bubba could take it though, and that would honestly be fine too.
Best dance recording: Who should win, and who will win?
Kat Bein: I personally most enjoy the frenetic cockiness of Disclosure’s “My High.” The beat is bossy, the sounds make me feel like I’m in the middle of a crowded room — such a novel idea in 2021 — and the lyrical and vocal performances from Aminé and slowthai seal the deal. I wanna give big honorable mention to Jayda G’s “Both of Us,” though, because any song that can half-time its tempo and still keep DJs interested is a legend in my book. It also sounds like being at a party. Double nice! Diplo might win though? Because Diplo?
Krystal Rodriguez: This is a toss-up! I could see mostly anyone in this category winning: Disclosure or Kaytranada as voter make-ups, Flume because he makes the perfectly leftfield-yet-accessible music that the Academy seems to like, and Diplo because, like Kat said, he’s Diplo. She’s a longer shot, but I’d love to see Jayda take this one home, with Kaytranada and Disclosure coming in at second and third, respectively.
Zel McCarthy: Jayda G’s “Both Of Us” should win and is made with the kind of technical precision Grammy voters love. I think it could claim the prize.
Katie Bain: This is a perhaps unpopular opinion, but “On My Mind” is such a banger, and awarding it with a win would cement the tech house era in the annals of Grammy history. I think it could win, but I also think every single song nominated is deserving.
Best remixed recording: Who should win, and who will win?
Kat Bein: You know what? I’m gonna say “Roses” is gonna win, and I’m gonna say that it should. It does exactly what a remix is supposed to do; changing the whole vibe of the song without losing a sense of familiarity. It started as a random middle of the night upload from Kazakhstan and ended up making the career of both Saint Jhn and Imanbek. It’s the perfect come-up, and it’s a bop, even if it was a little too inescapable for a minute there.
Krystal Rodriguez: I don’t see how “Roses” remix doesn’t win. It was all over pop radio, and its streams are in the billions. But last year most of us thought Soulwax’s “Work It” remix was the clear winner, and we saw how that turned out. Again, I’m pulling for the long shot in Louie Vega because I’m rooting for everything and everyone house, but I’m also fully prepared to be surprised.
Zel McCarthy: This category is the bastard child of the dance music industry because it’s only voted on by the production branch of the Academy. Those voters have been on a streak for a few years now, adeptly choosing winners that embody excellence while also being exceptionally relevant for that eligibility year. For that reason, there’s hardly a more worthy winner than Imanbek, and this award is his to lose.
Katie Bain: A Kazakh railway worker uploading a remix in the middle of the night only to watch it go viral, get licensed and become one of the biggest dance hits of the last few years is a Cinderella story that absolutely deserves a Grammy. Give it to Imanbek.