AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Three new artists dominated the pop charts in 2019 - Lil Nas X, Billie Eilish and Lizzo.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUTH HURTS")
LIZZO: (Singing) Why men great till they got to be great? Don't text me. Tell it straight to my face.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD (REMIX)")
LIL NAS X: (Singing) Yeah. I'm going to take my horse to the Old Town Road. I'm gonna ride till I can't no more. I'm going to...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD GUY")
BILLIE EILISH: (Singing) I'm that bad type, make-your-mama-sad type, make-your-girlfriend-mad type, might-seduce-your-dad type. I'm the bad guy. Duh.
CORNISH: Together, these three artists received a combined 20 Grammy nominations. Each of them was nominated for album of the year, record of the year and best new artist. Now, the Grammys aren't actually awarded until January. But in the meantime, we brought in Stephen Thompson from NPR Music and Pop Culture Happy Hour.
STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: Hey. It's great to be here.
CORNISH: Let's start with the three nominees. We said Billy Eilish, Lil Nas X and Lizzo - very different artists.
CORNISH: They topped the charts this year. Does that always translate into Grammy nominations?
THOMPSON: Not always - the Grammys generally like to reward popular artists. But you want to meet at a happy medium where you have kind of commercial popularity and high artistic quality, so there's kind of a sweet spot that you're looking for. Now, in this year's Grammy nominations, what really stands out is the strength of new artists, people who've never been nominated for Grammys before. It's very unusual for new artists to dominate the field quite the way Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Billy Eilish...
THOMPSON: ...Have. And for the Grammys to so directly mirror the pop charts - because those three songs that we've heard we've heard a thousand times. Now, because they do mirror the pop charts, it feels like the major categories were a little bit less forgiving to genres that are usually represented in these major categories. It's interesting that in the year of "Old Town Road," a song that mixes hip-hop and country, hip-hop and country aren't really heavily represented in those major categories, especially when you're looking at, like, album of the year and best new artist.
CORNISH: Although, hip-hop artists have often complained that they're frequently left out of those...
CORNISH: ...Big categories. And speaking of which, who are the big names who were expected to clean up and got shut out?
THOMPSON: Well, they weren't quite shut out. But people like Ed Sheeran, the Jonas Brothers, Maren Morris, Tyler the Creator - talking about hip-hop - only got one nomination apiece. Taylor Swift wasn't quite the juggernaut that, I think, a lot of people were expecting. One of the big ones for me - BTS is a huge, worldwide pop phenomenon. They had a massive pop crossover hit with Halsey this year. They got completely shut out of the Grammy nominations. That's a pretty major and, I think, disappointing upset. Bruce...
CORNISH: Especially people who are fans of K-pop, right?
THOMPSON: Yeah. K-pop, in general, really wasn't well represented this year in the Grammys. Bruce Springsteen got shut out, so did the country supergroup The Highwomen, who made, actually, my favorite album of 2019. I was really surprised to see that get left off. And finally, in the best new artist category, it is shocking to me that Lil Nas X is the only hip-hop artist represented in a year that gave us these huge young stars like DaBaby and Megan Thee Stallion. Megan Thee Stallion was completely shut out of the Grammys this year. And that - yeah - that is a surprise.
CORNISH: Any happy surprises?
THOMPSON: Yeah. I was delighted to see so much love from the Grammys for Tanya Tucker. She's a country legend whose comeback album was nominated for four Grammys this year. That was a surprise. A singer named Yola also got four nominations. She mixes pop and soul with, I think, really great charisma and power. I absolutely love her. My biggest joy this year, though, is a best new artist nomination for Tank and the Bangas. They got their big break in 2017 when they won the Tiny Desk Contest...
CORNISH: Heard of it.
THOMPSON: Yeah, exactly. That is...
CORNISH: Heard of it - a little bit of a bias here (laughter).
THOMPSON: Little bit of a bias - that is a project we do every year at NPR Music. We got to witness their rise firsthand. I really got to take this personally. I wasn't expecting such a huge Grammy moment for them quite this soon, so I am absolutely thrilled.
CORNISH: Nice - we're going to go out on some Tank and the Bangas then. Can I hear some?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT AIR BALLOONS")
TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) The greenest...
CORNISH: Oh, nice.
CORNISH: The Grammys air January 26.
Stephen Thompson of NPR Music, thank you.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Audie.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT AIR BALLOONS")
TANK AND THE BANGAS: (Singing) ...All the color. It's like rocky climbing on a rocket ship; two seconds from falling then you take a dip. Missing colors in my rainbow, ocean float different than before, before the beginning of time, I still flew. I will still fly, and then I float - hot air balloon... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.