On Tuesday morning, nominations for the 59th annual Grammy Awards were revealed, and now everybody's talking. Like clockwork, losers are getting sore, conspiracy theories are unfurling, snubs are being announced, and the BeyHive is saying hurtful things about Rihanna. Business as usual.
To provide some context for the process Bill Freimuth, the official Head of Awards, spoke with Complex over the phone not long after the nominations came out, and he cleared up our most pressing questions about the proceedings.
There was some surprise that “Hotline Bling” wasn’t nominated last year—why was it still eligible this year?
When "Hotline Bling" was initially released as a single, it wasn't entered into our process, though it was eligible for last year’s period from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015. But because "Hotline Bling" is a track featured on the album Views, released in April 2016, and falls within the current awards year; and has never been submitted for consideration before, it was eligible this year.
In the rap-sung category, “Hotline Bling,” which is a song resulting from D.R.A.M.’s song “Cha Cha,” is competing against a song by D.R.A.M.—do you find that as ironic as we do?
We don’t shy away from irony here at the Grammy Awards.
Is it unusual for an artist to have nominations across as many as four genres, like Beyoncé does? She’s nominated in Pop, Rock, Rap-Sung, and Urban Contemporary.
This is actually the first time that’s it's happened all in the same year. You’ve had other artists in the past, say Michael Jackson maybe, who have been nominated in that many different fields, but not in the same year and on the same album. This is a first timer for us and personally I think it's appropriate and pretty cool.
How did “Don’t Hurt Yourself” end up in the Rock category?
Well firstly it was entered there by Beyoncé’s label. But then that went to the sorting committees. We have 24 different committees that based on genre, with people who are experts in that genre. They listen through everything and discuss it and decide whether where it was originally entered is the best place for it. Lots of moves are made by those committees and sometimes where an artist thinks they should be, or where a label thinks they should be, doesn't necessarily match up with our definitions of a particular genre. But in this case it did. The committee listened to it and said, “Yeah, that's rock."
Was Beyoncé’s “Daddy Lessons” submitted for any Country nominations?
I’m not sure about that. But if it had, evidently the committee said it didn't belong there.
This is actually the first time that’s it's happened in the same year and on the same album.
Just for kicks, what does “Urban Contemporary” mean?
Give me just a minute and I'll grab that for you. [Long-ish pause.] Not every one one of our categories has a definition, but I do recall that this one does. Most of the rock categories don't have specific definitions because, you know, it either rocks or it doesn't. But for Urban Contemporary: "This category is intended for artists whose music includes the more contemporary elements of R&B and may include samples and elements of hip-hop, rap, dance and electronic music. It may also incorporate production elements of urban pop and urban rock."
Which album category would A Seat at the Table have been competing for, and who should Solange fans complain to?
That was entered for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
In the office, there isn’t much good will around Kanye’s song “Famous”—how much did the video impact it getting the nomination over another song from Pablo?
With that, it's impossible to speculate if it had any influence at all. To my knowledge that wasn't really part of the discussion about the video. I would say minimal.
Does Kanye not getting an “Album of the Year” nomination for Pablo have anything to do with the album’s revisions, songs being added, et cetera?
Isn't that wild that he did that? I think it's very unusual. But given certain artists and how they strive for perfection and take advantage of the technology to be able to do that, I think it's pretty cool. But it did not have anything to do with whether or not he was put into Album of the Year. I think that when you look at the albums that are nominated for Album of the Year, and you see that Drake is in there, I guess on a whole the folks voting felt that Drake’s album was really the one that they wanted to go with. But Kanye does have eight other nominations and we’re hoping that he’s not terribly upset for getting second only to Beyoncé.
Chance getting a nod for an album that was streaming-only is a big deal, and the result of a recent Grammys rule change. Did the Grammys have Chance in mind when this change was made?
Uh, no. We had been talking about streaming and how to approach it and what to do with it via our awards process for a full year or more before we heard anything from Chance about that. I would really like to do my best to dispel that thought that we were just reacting to Chance. We try to maintain rules that are dynamic and progressive. We try to stay at least at the crest, if not ahead, of what's going in the entire industry. We spent a year or two figuring out how to incorporate that into our process and it just so happened to coincide with Chance’s petition.
Do you think Kanye’s behavior this year affected the voters?
That’s not really for me to speculate. I think that Kanye is great artist and he's put together a remarkable body of work over the years. I wouldn't be surprised if some of his behavior rubbed some people the wrong way, but we strongly encourage our voters to vote on what they hear strictly on the record, not any external sources. We trust that they did that in this case.
Beyoncé vs. Adele: Who you got?
That's funny because I have Beyoncé vs. Adele vs. Justin Bieber vs. Drake vs. Sturgill Simpson. I’m not an odds-maker. I’m just really happy that we have this wonderfully diverse slate that recognizes all five artists are, in their way, pushing music to a new place. They're not really worrying quite so much about genre, not engaging in the debate of art vs. commerce as mutually exclusive. These are all really great artists and we’re proud that they are in our Album of the Year category.
Any word on performances this year?
The TV production committee had their very first meeting last night, when they could view the nominations, so that process has just begun. As nerve-wrecking as that might be for the producers who would have preferred to book the shows in September, it's also really important to them to build a telecast with nominees in mind and they have a lot to choose from. It's very difficult to predict who might be featured on the show. And of course it's impossible to have every different genre on there but we do our best, leaning on the collaborations, and try to mix it up and be as inclusive as possible.