Grammys 2019: 'Music's biggest night' faces battles to stay relevant

With a rap musician yet to win record of the year at the Grammys, several major artists reportedly refusing to perform and Ariana Grande accusing the show's producer of stifling her creativity, here are a few things to watch for at tonight's ceremony.

Toronto rapper Drake is among the top nominees, but it's uncertain he'll show up

Drake, left, Post Malone, centre, and Kendrick Lamar, right, are among the top Grammy nominees, though it's unclear whether Drake and Lamar will show up to the awards show Sunday evening. (Jonathan Short/Matt Sayles/Amy Harris/Associated Press)

With a rap musician yet to win record or song of the year at the Grammys, several major artists reportedly refusing to perform at this year's ceremony and Ariana Grande accusing the show's producer of stifling her creativity, the ceremony often billed as "music's biggest night" is facing a number of battles in its efforts to stay relevant.

Here are five things to watch for:

1. Will Drake show up?

According to the New York Times, Drake is among the major artists who refused to perform at this year's Grammy Awards.

His chart-topping album Scorpion scored him seven nominations, trailing behind only Kendrick Lamar, who has eight. But Drake's turbulent relationship with the awards show is raising the question of whether the Toronto rapper will even show up.

Drake received seven 2019 Grammy Awards nominations including artist of the year and album of the year but reportedly declined to perform at the show. (Getty Images)

Despite having multiple nominations in 2017, he didn't attend the event, explaining his frustrations in an interview the following day.

"The only category that they can manage to fit me in is in a rap category, maybe because I've rapped in the past or because I'm black."

In reference to Hotline Bling taking two rap trophies that year, he added, "I won two awards but I don't even want them because it feels weird to me."

2. Hip hop tries to break through

Despite hip hop's domination of mainstream music, the genre can't seem to conquer the biggest awards of the night: record, song and album of the year.

No rap track has ever won record or song of the year. The last time a hip hop artist won album of the year was in 2004, when Outkast took it home for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

This year's album of the year hopefuls, which come from a larger field because the number of nominees has been increased, include:

  • Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy.
  • Kendrick Lamar's Black Panther soundtrack.
  • Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer.
  • Post Malone's Beerbongs & Bentleys.
  • Drake's Scorpion.
Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer is among the nominees for the coveted top prize, album of the year. (Evan Agostini/Invision/Associated Press)

Despite the Grammys track record, some musicians remain hopeful. Toronto native Sevn Thomas — who produced songs on Grammy-nominated hip hop albums Astroworld (Travis Scott) and Beyoncé and Jay-Z's Everything is Love — says this year could be the one to finally make history.

"Especially black artists, we haven't really gotten what we've deserved in the past at the Grammys," said Thomas. "I feel like now they're coming to the realization that urban music and hip hop music is kind of leading the charge."

Toronto-based producer Sevn Thomas worked on songs from two Grammy-nominated hip hop albums: Travis Scott's Astroworld and Jay-Z and Beyonce's Everything is Love. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

3. Canada's 'hotbed of talent'

Pop star Shawn Mendes, jazz artist Diana Krall and R&B crooner Daniel Caesar are among the other Canadians up for awards.

"We've always had talented producers and songwriters in the city, but it's like, now, everyone's looking to Toronto as a new hotbed of talent," said Matthew Burnett, one of Caesar's producers. Burnett has also worked with Childish Gambino, Eminem and Drake.

"It's cool that there's visibility now for us. The talent has always been there but I'm happy to have this moment to let it shine."

Jazz pianist Diana Krall is nominated for two Grammys this year: best pop duo/group performance and best traditional pop vocal album. (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

Behind the scenes, Toronto's Boi-1da, whose real name is Matthew Samuels, was nominated six times, including for producer of the year for his recent collaborations with Drake, Cardi B, and Beyoncé​ and Jay-Z, among others.

"I dreamed about this as a kid and it's happening," Samuels said about his producer of the year nomination. "I've been working hard for 10 years."

Noah Shebib, known as "40," is another of Drake's associates and is recognized with four nominations for songs from Scorpion.

Canadian music producer Boi-1da is up for six Grammys, including producer of the year for his work with Drake, Cardi B, Beyonce and Jay-Z among others. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

4. Thank U, Next

One person unlikely to put the event in her calendar is Ariana Grande, even though she's nominated for two awards. She said Thank U, Next to Grammy show producer Ken Ehrlich when he told media that the superstar was asked about the possibility of performing but couldn't "pull something together" in time.

Ariana Grande fired back on social media at the Grammys' show producer, who was quoted as saying the singer wouldn't be able to pull a performance together in time. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

In a tweet to her 60 million followers, she fired back by saying Ehrlich was "lying" and that she declined to attend because her "creativity and self-expression" were being "stifled." Grande went on to say they couldn't agree on which song she would sing. The songstress might offer some colourful reactions on social media from her couch, should she win.

5. Women more prevalent, gender gap looms

Musicians such as Cardi B, Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves and Janelle Monae are among the women nominated in top categories — an improvement over last year's notable lack of equality.

In 2018, Canadian Alessia Cara was one of only three female performers to win a major prize. The other two were members of the band Little Big Town, who won for best country duo/group performance.

Alicia Keys, seen here at the Grammy Awards' red carpet rollout on Thursday in Los Angeles, will host the show. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

While women are better represented in this year's list of nominations, a recent study done by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative shows a huge gender gap overall at the awards show. According to the report published last week, only 10 per cent of Grammy nominees from 2013 to 2019 were female. Of that number, 37 per cent were women of colour.

Alicia Keys, one of the few women of colour in Grammy history to win song of the year, in 2002 for Fallin', will host the awards.

The 61st annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast live Sunday, Feb. 10, at 5 pm PT/8pm ET, and CBC News will be on the red carpet for the event.


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