After the last gala in January quickly drowned in criticism that the winners were consistently too white and too male, the Recording Academy created a diversity task force.
The head of the academy — which includes more than 13,000 music professionals — said in May he would step aside when his contract expires near year, amid outrage after he said women artists should “step up.”
Then in June, it announced an expansion from five to eight of the 2019 nominee fields for Album of the Year; Record of the Year, for best overall song; Song of the Year, which honors songwriting; and Best New Artist.
The other categories will remain at five nominees for the ceremony to take place on February 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The last Grammys marked the first time that hip-hop dominated the nominations — but the academy fell under sharp criticism after pop funk revivalist Bruno Mars swept the top awards.
Rap mogul Jay-Z, who led with eight nominations, left New York’s Madison Square Garden empty-handed. For the second time, Kendrick Lamar swept the rap awards but was shut out in the general categories.
This year, Jay-Z and his superstar wife Beyonce are expected to get a nod in the coveted Album of the Year category for their joint project “Everything is Love,” which dropped in June to critical acclaim.
Canadian rapper Drake is another likely nominee for his album “Scorpion,” while perennial favorite Taylor Swift could snag a spot for “Reputation.”
Grande’s fourth studio album “Sweetener” and Cardi B’s debut “Invasion of Privacy” are other likely frontrunners for the top award, and critical darling Janelle Monae could enter the running with “Dirty Computer.”
“Golden Hour” — a smooth fusion of pop and country that showcases singer Kacey Musgraves’ rolling drawl — is also a likely contender in the prestigious category.
Gaga: Globes and Grammys?
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper — who each snared two Golden Globe nominations on Thursday for musical romance “A Star Is Born” — could get some Song of the Year love from the academy for their performance of the film’s hit single “Shallow.”
The film’s soundtrack however came out after the Grammy eligibility period so is therefore not in the running for the album prize.
Other Song of the Year contenders include Ed Sheeran and Beyonce for “Perfect,” Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You,” or Swift’s “Delicate.”
Other possible nominees are Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” — whose graphic music video went viral with its powerful message on gun violence and racism — or one of Drake’s six singles from “Scorpion.”
Some overlap is likely in the Record of the Year category, which recognizes track producers and performers.
Cardi B’s saucy summer hit “I Like It” — which features Puerto Rican Latin trap artist Bad Bunny and Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin — is among the obvious choices.
But last year’s Grammy snub of bilingual mega-hit “Despacito” in the Record of the Year and Song of the Year categories has critics skeptical that a non-English track, no matter how popular, can score a major award.
The controversial Best New Artist category is likely to again be contentious, after Canadian singer Alessia Cara won the 2018 award for a nearly three-year-old album.
Rapper Post Malone is reportedly out of the running as is former Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello, while late rapper XXXTentacion — who was shot dead in an apparent robbery in June — could be ruled out on a technicality over the number of songs he had released.
Despite her year of whirlwind success, relative newbie Cardi B is also ineligible to garner a nomination for Best New Artist, having already been nominated in other categories for the 2018 Grammy Awards.
Pop stars Dua Lipa and Troye Sivan are possible contenders, as is country singer Luke Combs, British singer Jorja Smith or rapper Lil Pump.
And in another voting revision to promote inclusion, this year’s Best World Music Album nominations — persistently dominated by a few favorites — will be chosen by a review committee out of a pool of 15 put forward by Academy members.
The nominations come two days later than originally scheduled — they were pushed back from Wednesday for the state funeral of former US president George H.W. Bush.