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Grammys flashback: Revisiting The Weeknd’s notorious, confounding 2021 snub

Every time Grammy season comes around we’re reminded of the times when the Grammys “got it wrong.” Fans and sometimes even the artists themselves make sure to tell us how the Recording Academy messed up. But there is one huge omission that will go down as, quite simply, the biggest Grammy snub of all time. In November 2020 when the Grammy nominations were announced, everyone was vocal about one thing: where the hell was The Weeknd?

The pop-R&B crossover star’s complete absence from the nominations list was a huge shocker. The biggest song of 2020 was The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” which actually went on to become the biggest Hot 100 hit of all time and broke many, many records. The artist’s dominance was felt throughout the year, with his album “After Hours” being a big smash, also netting the hits “Heartless” and “Save Your Tears” (which would go on to become an even bigger hit thanks to a remix collab with Ariana Grande). “After Hours” wasn’t necessarily as big as his previous albums “Beauty Behind The Madness” and “Starboy,” but it was still one of the year’s bestselling and most acclaimed albums. That was especially important in 2020 considering that was the first pandemic year. Many stars decided to push back their albums due to the inability to promote, so the eligibility period was marked by only a few significant names, The Weeknd being inarguably among the top three of those.

Another important factor that year was the political climate. 2020 was marked by two things: the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Indeed, the summer 2020 protests due to the murder of George Floyd by police were an impactful moment in every sphere of society, shining a light on systemic racism and oppression in the U.S. and all around the globe. The protests’ impact extended to the music scene, where Black artists shared their experiences of racism in the industry. As such, many expected Black artists to show out at the Grammys, especially in a year of many successful Black musicians like Roddy Ricch, H.E.R., Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and of course The Weeknd. These artists would’ve deserved nominations in any other year too, but in 2020 in particular there seemed to be an urgency to make it up to Black musicians, who are generally under-rewarded at the Grammys.

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So many thought “Blinding Lights” was headed for a Grammy sweep, seeming like an obvious frontrunner for Record and Song of the Year, as well as Best Pop Solo Performance and even Best Music Video for its VMA-winning visual. “After Hours” marked The Weeknd’s first fully pop era at the Grammys, with the album being submitted in Best Pop Vocal Album rather than his typical Best Urban Contemporary Album (that year renamed Best Progressive R&B Album). It felt like all the stars were aligned: the biggest hit of the year was by a Black, pop-leaning, critically-acclaimed previous Grammy winner who had a banner year.

So what went wrong? There’s no way to know for sure. Some sources alleged that the incident was a shady move by the Recording Academy to punish The Weeknd for choosing to perform at the Super Bowl over the Grammys. This, however, wasn’t that credible, especially since many artists have performed at both events in the same year before, like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, and many artists who decline or outright shade the Grammys publicly still get nominated every year (see, for example, Kanye West getting an Album of the Year nomination even after urinating on a Grammy and posting it to Twitter).

Harvey Mason Jr., the Recording Academy’s CEO, also shut down this particular theory, clarifying that “voting in all categories ended well before The Weeknd’s performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process.” Plus, while many others blamed the secret nomination review committees for the snub, the pop categories weren’t decided by committees, so those snubs were 100% a result of academy members simply not voting for him.

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Did voters dislike his material? That seems random too, especially since The Weeknd was already a three-time winner at that point and “After Hours” was one of his poppiest, most accessible albums, especially “Blinding Lights.” Was it the alphabetical ballot? Perhaps that could’ve been a factor since voters sometimes have a hard time looking down the alphabet for picks as low as the letter W. However, if Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Vampire” showed us anything this year with their 2024 Song of the Year nominations, it’s that voters will look for impactful music no matter how low on the ballot they are. And The Weeknd’s alphabetical issue wouldn’t have been a problem for Song of the Year (which is alphabetical by song title), but the committee also snubbed him there.

The Weeknd’s failure to earn any nominations remains a mystery. A lot of voters might’ve assumed he was getting in anyway and supported other artists instead. Maybe the academy was a bit sick of “Blinding Lights” after a year of very heavy exposure on the radio. Maybe the committee had some ill intentions. Or perhaps voters simply didn’t care. Regardless, the impact of the snub will live on forever, especially with how it served as a catalyst to eventually get rid of the nomination review committees, giving us more accurate (and honestly, better) nominations based on what voters and audiences alike care about.

Make your predictions at Gold Derby now. Download our free and easy app for Apple/iPhone devices or Android (Google Play) to compete against legions of other fans plus our experts and editors for best prediction accuracy scores. See our latest prediction champs. Can you top our esteemed leaderboards next? Always remember to keep your predictions updated because they impact our latest racetrack odds, which terrify record executives and music stars. Don’t miss the fun. Speak up and share your huffy opinions in our famous forums where thousands of showbiz leaders lurk every day to track latest awards buzz. Everybody wants to know: What do you think? Who do you predict and why?

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