Ultimatums and secret deals: All the 'corrupt' Grammys drama you need to know ahead of today's ceremony.

The 2021 Grammy Awards are mere hours away, but the awards ceremony hasn't been able to shake off criticism over its controversial nominations.

The Grammy nominations are not new to controversy and criticism. Over a lack of diversity, over consistently overlooking particular artists and music, over placing mostly 'pop' artists of colour in 'urban' categories, etc. 

It's difficult to recall a year where the nominations were routinely accepted as fair by not just the artists, but their fans too.

Watch: In 2017, Adele dedicated her Grammy win to Beyonce. Post continues below video.

Video via Mamamia.

But in 2021, this has reached a peak.

Beyonce leads the nominations with nine in total, followed by Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Roddy Rich who scored six nominations each. Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion and Justin Bieber are also up in multiple categories.

As always, there are noticeable snubs - and this is mostly where the drama is. 

The Weeknd - who released a critically acclaimed album and whose single 'Blinding Lights' was the sound of the year (and that TikTok dance you've definitely done in secret) - did not receive any nominations.

Listen: Mamamia's The Spill on the Grammy nominations. Post continues below audio.

Other snubs included Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt CuttersHalsey's Manic, Kiwi artist Benee (whose song 'Supalonely' was another lockdown and TikTok banger) and K-pop groups BTS and BLACKPINK.

We don't know how/if the controversy will rear its head during the show, but just in case... well, here's what you need to know.

"The Grammys remain corrupt."

The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, demanded transparency from the Grammys after receiving zero nominations in November.

"The Grammys remain corrupt," he wrote across his social media platforms.

"You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency."


He later said: "Collaboratively planning a performance for weeks to not being invited? In my opinion zero nominations = you're not invited!"

He received some big name support too, with Elton John saying 'Blinding Lights' was his Song and Record of the Year.

In response to the nomination announcements, Nicki Minaj tweeted:

(Minor correction: Bon Iver is a band. Minaj is referring to frontman Justin Vernon).

Ahead of the ceremony, The Weeknd said he would permanently boycott the Grammys. 

"Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys," he told the New York Times.

A stranger reaction to November's nominations came from Justin Bieber, who lamented the fact he was nominated for Best pop solo performance for 'Yummy' and Best pop vocal album for Changes (he also got Best country group performance and best pop group performance nods).

"To the Grammys, I am flattered to be acknowledged and appreciated for my artistry. I am very meticulous and intentional about my music. With that being said, I set out to make an R&B album. Changes was and is an R&B album," Bieber wrote on Instagram.

"It is not being acknowledged as an R&B album, which is very strange to me. I grew up admiring R&B music and wished to make a project that would embody that sound. For this not to be put into that category feels weird, considering from the chords to the melodies to the vocal style, all the way down to the hip-hop drums that were chosen, it is undeniably, unmistakably an R&B album!"


The response to this is best summed up by two takes on Twitter:

"Y'all Justin said he is TIRED of his blackness being erased," one user said, with 38,000 likes.

"They typecast him into pop like how they typecast black pop artists into R&B and 'urban'," another responded.

Meanwhile, Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams was not nominated for her debut solo album 'Petals of Armor', nor was Halsey for her third studio album Manic.

While likely disappointed (Halsey criticised the Grammys last year after her song 'Without Me' was also snubbed), both were more celebratory of the fact 2021 is the first year that all the nominees for Best rock performance are women.

On March 9, 2021, Zayn Malik criticised what he perceived as bribery and flattery for Grammy nominations.


His latest album, released in January, missed the cut-off period for this year's show (though it could be nominated for 2022) so people were quick to assume he was either shading former bandmate Harry Styles or defending other stars.

He then clarified it wasn't personal, but instead because of the lack of transparency about the nomination process (more on that soon!)

Then just hours ahead of the show, Malik said he intended to keep speaking out on this.

'We need to make sure we are honoring and celebrating 'creative excellence' of ALL," he wrote.


Another controversy follows the nomination of producer Lukasz 'Dr Luke' Gottwald under the pseudonym of Tyson Trax, for his work on Doja Cat's 'Say So'.

The 2018 Grammys invited Kesha to perform a song about surviving abuse at the ceremony, after Kesha alleged sexual abuse by Dr Luke (he denied all allegations, and sued for defamation).

Nominee Fiona Apple told The Guardian she was furious about this.

"I keep going back to them putting Kesha on stage like, 'We believe you' – and I believe her – then two years later, f***ing Tyson Trax. Not to go back to that word, but it's bullshit... I don't know if anybody who's nominated can help having the thought: what would I do If I won? My vision was that I would just get up there with a sledgehammer and I wouldn't say anything, I would take the Grammy and smash it into enough pieces to share and I would invite all the ladies up. My second thought was I wonder if I can get all these ladies to boycott this shit because of Dr Luke."

An ultimatum and the Super Bowl.

The Weeknd has been nominated 10 times and won three Grammys in the past, making his snubs in 2021 even more strange. And he's also been sweeping all the other award shows, including taking home Best R&B trophy and Video of the Year at the MTV VMAs. 

Image: Getty. 

According to Rolling Stone, part of the snub may be due to the fact the Recording Academy reclassified its R&B categories. In June, the Grammys announced it was renaming the Best Urban Contemporary Album award - the category where The Weeknd has won 2/3 of his awards - to Best Progressive R&B Album. 


But the change hasn't stopped the criticism of the category which rapper Tyler, the Creator once called a "catchall" for Black artists across multiple genres.

But, there could be more to The Weeknd's snub.

The Weeknd performed at the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show, and this contract may have cost him awards. 

Sources told TMZ he was in talks to perform at the Grammys too (and of course, performers are pretty much always nominees) but fears of duplicate performances and uh, "bitter" back-and-forth talks put a pin in the plans, with the Grammys effectively using an ultimatum.

TMZ said the Tesfaye camp felt his Super Bowl contract may have cost him nominations.

Grammy secrets.

The Grammy process is supposed to go like this:

The Recording Academy receives submissions from artists and their labels, organises them into categories and then sends them to its 12,000 eligible voting members (made up of music industry professionals, from label execs to engineers) who select around 20 contenders per category, by popular vote.

Those shortlists are then submitted to the Academy-organised review committees (whose identities are kept a closely guarded secret), who whittle them down to the list of announced nominees.

This is the part of the process criticised by stars like The Weeknd, because it's really unknown how or why these committees chose the nominees, leaving many to believe it's down to artists and labels offering favours and gifts to court favouritism.

"The Grammys are an elusive process," Halsey wrote on Instagram after once again being snubbed. 

"It can often be about behind the scenes private performances, knowing the right people, campaigning through the grapevine, with the right handshake and 'bribes' that can be just ambiguous enough to pass as 'not bribes.'"

The committee process has also been accused of bias, poorly representing artists of colour in the top awards. 

A final popular vote determines the winners.

But in early 2020 then-president and CEO of the Recording Academy Deborah Dugan made claims the organisation was complicit in corruption, citing "voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, 'exorbitant and unnecessary' legal bills, and conflicts of interest involving members of the academy's board, executive committee and outside lawyers". 

She was on administrative leave at the time, and officially fired on March 2.


Dugan claimed in a 45-page document corrupt practices included booting names on the list for their own favourite artists and songs, not following the democratic voting.

She claimed longtime Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich sent her an email attempting to influence nomination votes.

"Specifically, Mr. Ehrlich attempted to press the Academy into nominating a song by a particular superstar in order to increase his ability to convince the superstar to perform at the Grammys," Dugan claimed, as reported by CNN.

"The email reads, in part: looking at the AMA nominations this morning, it's more about who's NOT there than who is.... and [superstar] is definitely not gonna be happy. Minor representation at best... sooo. I think there's a case to be made to [superstar] that a performance of [song] from [album] on our show, should it be nominated."

Dugan also made claims of misogyny and sexual harassment within the Academy.'

Listen: The Spill discusses the 2021 Grammy nomination controversy. Post continues below video.

On Mamamia's entertainment podcast The Spill, hosts Laura Brodnik and Kee Reece discussed how committee members are required to vote across multiple categories, even those they don't have expertise in, which can manipulate the selections.

"So what we have then is someone who is in a really specialist group, you could be in sound mixing, but you're also voting for Pop Artist of the Year or Country Artist of the Year. Now, you may not have any expertise in these areas or you may not even know who all of the artists are, so often you're just going to tick the name that you know," Mamamia entertainment editor Laura Brodnik explained.

"You're seeing Adele's name there and you're thinking 'Oh I know Adele!' ... It's these people who are voting in categories that they're not across, but they're only voting so they can stay within the Grammys pool."

The Grammys' many issues - in regards to diversity and possible issues in its voting system - is unlikely to change without major pressure from some of its key stars. Think Beyonce and Taylor Swift; the huge names with the industry sway to make a difference.

"It's going to fall on someone like [Swift] to step away and say 'I'm not being involved until there's a fairer process around this'," Brodnik said.

What to expect from the 2021 awards.

Given all of the controversy, there is a lot of interest in how the 2021 awards show, hosted by Trevor Noah, will go down.

The ceremony will be unusual regardless, mostly virtual due to the pandemic.

There will still be a red carpet but it will be massively stripped back, so we're unlikely to get any meat dresses this year. 


There will only be five media outlets covering the carpet, and each are only permitted to have three staff each. There will be four photographers in the photograph area, rather than the typical 30.

And talent will have to forgo an entourage - they're only allowed a plus-one.

As for the ceremony, we know there will be some pre-recorded stuff, but thankfully most of the musical performances will take place live across a number of different Los Angeles venues.

Harry Styles will open the show; other performers include Taylor Swift, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Billie Eilish, HAIM, Dua Lipa, Post Malone and John Mayer.

Presenters include Lizzo, Ringo Star and Jhene Aiko.

There's also a few records up for grabs: 

If Swift wins Album of the Year for her (first) pandemic release, folklore, she'll be the only woman to ever win in this category three times. 

And if Beyonce wins four awards, she'll top the list for most Grammys won by a female artists. With five wins, she'll match Quincy Jones' record as the living artist with the most Grammys.

The Grammys red carpet will air on E! from 9am AEDT. The Grammys ceremony will air in Australia from 11am AEDT on Channel 10.

This article was originally published on November 26, 2020 and has been updated.

Feature image: Getty.

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