NEW YORK: The soundtrack of Marvel’s “Black Panther” propelled rap superstar Kendrick Lamar to the front of this year’s Grammy pack with eight nominations, closely followed by fellow rapper Drake with seven, organisers said Friday.
Women performers also made their mark in the top categories after being largely snubbed a year ago, with rapper Cardi B, pop diva Lady Gaga and folk-rock singer Brandi Carlile all nabbing key nominations for music’s top awards.
Six of the eight 2019 nominees for Best New Artist are women.
After last year’s show sparked a major backlash, the Recording Academy created a diversity task force responding to criticism that the show was consistently too male and too white, and ultimately expanded four of the top categories from five nominees to eight.
Hip-hop dominated across the board for a second year running — though last year, rap mogul Jay-Z racked up the most nominations but left empty-handed, and Lamar was shut out of the general categories.
Thanks to the blockbuster film “Black Panther,” Lamar — whose album “DAMN.” made him the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize for music — once again has a chance to win the coveted Album of the Year prize after three prior losses.
His song from the Marvel superhero movie’s soundtrack, “All the Stars,” is also in the running for both Record of the Year, which recognises the overall performance of a song, and Song of the Year, which awards songwriting.
Canadian rapper Drake meanwhile got love from the academy across the top categories for his album “Scorpion” and hit “God’s Plan.”
The leading nominees will face stiff competition on February 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles from fellow rappers Cardi B and Childish Gambino as well as Lady Gaga, who snared nominations in both of those top categories for her hit “Shallow,” performed with co-star Bradley Cooper in the film “A Star Is Born.”
Women top the list
In May, the head of the Recording Academy — which includes more than 13,000 music professionals — said he would step aside when his contract expires near year, amid outrage after he said women artists should “step up.”
Then in June, the academy announced an expansion from five to eight of the 2019 nominee fields for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.
The move did appear to have a positive effect for female artists, with five of the Album of the Year nominations going to women: Cardi B, Carlile, R&B singer Janelle Monae, R&B prodigy H.E.R. and country songstress Kacey Musgraves.
Monae, whose futuristic blend of funk and psychedelic soul is a favourite of critics, teared up on hearing she had snagged the top nomination.
“Being a young, black queer woman in America, there was something I had to say and there was a group of people I wanted to celebrate,” she said with glassy eyes on “CBS This Morning,” where she was helping announce the nominees.
“I’m happy to be representing them,” she said. “I hope they feel seen, I hope they feel heard.”
Carlile — a folk-rock singer known for her bluesy, dynamic voice — is the woman with the most nominations this year at six, including three across the major categories.
And Cardi B — the New York rapper whose “Bodak Yellow” catapulted her to runaway success — scored five, including two of the most prestigious.
The 26-year-old’s saucy summer hit “I Like It” — which features Puerto Rican Latin trap artist Bad Bunny and Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin — is among those up for Record of the Year.
But last year’s Grammy snub of bilingual mega-hit “Despacito” in the Record and Song of the Year categories has critics sceptical that a non-English track, no matter how popular, can score a major award.
Thank u, next… year
Among this year’s major snubs, Jay-Z and his pop queen wife Beyonce were left out of the top categories despite acclaim for their joint project “Everything is Love.”
The Carters did get nominations for Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best R&B Performance and Best Music Video.
Rapper Kanye West — who despite his fame has never won a Grammy in a major category — earned just one nomination for Best Non-Classical Producer, for work on his GOOD Music label’s 2018 releases that included his own album “Ye.”
Perennial favourite Taylor Swift — West’s on-off foe — also appeared to fall out of grace, earning just one nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album for “Reputation.”
And woman of the moment Ariana Grande — whose smash hit “Thank U, Next” was released after this year’s nomination deadline — was also passed over for the top awards, receiving just two nominations in the pop categories.
The late rapper Mac Miller, Grande’s ex-boyfriend who died of a drug overdose in September, is up for Best Rap Album for “Swimming.”
The Grammy 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.