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Why Taylor Swift’s 2017 album Reputation got a 2019 Grammy nod

Why do the Grammy nominations feel so outdated? An offset eligibility window.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born Warner Bros.
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The 2019 Grammy nominations were announced Friday morning, and while albums like Ariana Grande’s Sweetener, Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack, and Drake’s Scorpion were acknowledged by the Recording Academy, there were some omissions — like Grande’s hit song “thank u, next,” and most of Lady Gaga’s work on the soundtrack for A Star Is Born — that may be confusing.

But “thank u, next” and the overall Star Is Born soundtrack weren’t excluded because Grammy voters just have really selective taste. Rather, the Grammys have an atypical eligibility period that leaves casual onlookers scratching their heads annually over seemingly obvious frontrunners that didn’t make the cut.

It’s a straightforward situation, but an often frustrating one nonetheless.

Like the Oscars, the Grammys air annually in February. But unlike the Oscars, the Grammys’ eligibility period doesn’t cover the previous year from January to December. Instead, its 12-month window usually starts on October 1, two years prior to the awards, and ends on September 30 of the previous year.

So the eligibility period for the 2019 Grammys runs from October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018 — and covers music like Taylor Swift’s Reputation, which was released on November 10, 2017, but not the Star Is Born soundtrack, which was released on October 5, 2018.

That’s why Reputation snagged a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Album alongside Pink’s Beautiful Trauma, another late 2017 bloomer.

However, just to make things that much more complicated, the lead single from the Star Is Born soundtrack, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow,” is eligible for recognition at the 2019 Grammys. The song was released on September 27, just in time to have a chance at scoring a few nods — and, indeed, it received four. It’s only the film’s soundtrack album, which was released five days after the close of the eligibility window, that’s not.

In Ariana Grande’s case, the pop star’s earlier 2018 singles like “No Tears Left To Cry,” and her album Sweetener, have earned nominations for 2019 — but “thank u, next,” which didn’t drop until November 3, won’t be in the running for the Grammys until 2020.

The Grammys’ offset eligibility window can be especially frustrating when combined with the awards’ general criteria for the Best New Artist category, one of the top four honors. Best New Artist is supposed to recognize artists who’ve had a “breakthrough” period during the previous 12-month eligibility window — but even Recording Academy voters sometimes find themselves at odds about who deserves to be nominated, and when their “breakout” moment actually arrived, as the 2018 Grammys’ baffling snub of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” moment proves.

Going into the 2019 Grammys, the Academy has already fielded questions about its omission of Cardi from the Best New Artist race. Though she was technically eligible for the title at the 2018 Grammys, she wasn’t deemed major enough to be nominated at the time, even though her breakout song “Bodak Yellow” was up for both Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. (She lost both to Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.”) And now, even though she’s arguably attained “major” new artist status, as her nomination for Album of the Year for Invasion of Privacy would suggest, she’s not eligible for the category because she was nominated for other awards last year.

It’s this kind of Catch-22 that frequently makes the Grammys seem, literally, years out of step with the music industry and the world at large, with major trophies often going to albums and songs that haven’t been in the news for nearly 18 months. But at least this peculiar quirk keeps the Grammys interesting — which is often more than we can say for the awards show itself.

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