What do you mean, Justin Bieber has never won for a Grammy? It’s true: the pop sensation has never, ever taken home an award from the Recording Academy. He has been nominated, both for Best New Artist, one of the big four awards, and his 2011 record My World 2.0 got a Best Pop Vocal Album nod. And he’s nominated this year along with Diplo and Skrillex’s Jack Ü for “Where Are Ü Now” in the Best Dance Recording category. It’s a furtive trip into the back door of a nomination, but none the less, if Jack Ü take home a trophy, so will Bieber. The odds are looking good — their stiffest competition in the category seems to be Flying Lotus, mostly because GRAMMY darling Kendrick Lamar does vocals on their track.
The lack of Grammy love has been a source of frustration for Bieber. He revealed he cares a lot about the awards and accolades in 2013 when Believe got no nominations — so he scheduled an event on Livestream to chat with fans and play new music at the same time as the Grammy telecast, in an attempt to draw away viewers and show the Academy his might. Sadly, it failed, but not because no one cared; there were just too many Beliebers, and the platform was so overcrowded that the star himself couldn’t log on.
Bieber has no guarantee that his new album Purpose — which features further Jack Ü collaborations as well as work with Grammy-anointed producers Benny Blanco and Mike Dean — will land him any more Grammy looks when it becomes eligible for next year’s nominations. He may try to shake off his teen pop past, but the Grammy voters are not known for overlooking less-than-auspicious beginnings.
The Grammys have looked on teen pop stars with disdain for decades, since rockism was ushered in with the ‘70s. While they had no fear of nominating and awarding Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand — who never wrote a song nor played an instrument — throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, things took a turn when the Beatles came on the scene. They won Best New Artist in 1965 (yes, that category was weird even then!), and you can see the shift in Grammy voter thinking aligning with the public’s growing belief that artists should write and perform their own songs — that it’s more authentic that way.
Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC have never been nominated for a Grammy, although breakout star Justin Timberlake has managed to shake off the shackles of his teen pop stardom well enough to enjoy multiple nominations. Max Martin, the impresario behind most of the major pop hits on the radio since the mid-‘90s only won his first Producer of the Year statue in last year’s pre-telecast. But for every chink in the Grammy armor against teen pop stars, there’s a list of slights. This year’s includes yet another shutout for One Direction, who can’t get any love despite their association with Grammy darling Ed Sheeran or their massive, demanding fan base; former Disney stars Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, whose excellent singles earned them nary a pop nomination; and Nick Jonas, who has been doing his best to ingratiate himself to the Grammy voters by showing up at events for the past few years and even taking part in their Frank Sinatra salute this year, to no avail. Apparently, to Grammy voters, Nick Jonas is no Justin Timberlake.
The exception to the Grammys’ teen music snobbery is Taylor Swift. The Grammy voters bet on her early and heavily, giving her a Best New Artist nod for her second album in 2008 and going all the way by awarding her Album of the Year for 2010’s Fearless. Her secret? She passes muster by co-writing her own songs, being able to play the guitar, and showing up to perform alongside whichever legacy artist they ask her to join. She meets the rockist criteria in addition to having millions of fans and breaking sales records.
Whether you agree or disagree with this rockist point of view, it’s worth noting that it is also applied to country artists who are nominated for Grammys. More and more, the Recording Academy awards people in the genre who are not broadly embraced by country radio, who write their own songs and produce their own albums. They are not fan favorites, and the Academy does not care.
Bieber’s early accolades from the Grammys came courtesy of his instrumental bona fides as much as his voice: he is a celebrated drummer, you know.
The main thing the Grammys are missing by not taking heed of the output of these former teen pop stars, who have all created songs and albums this year that genuinely shift them into a more grown-up direction, is relevance. One Direction have the chops and have spent the time on their songwriting skills — and in 2015, they deserve a Best Pop Album nomination more than James Taylor.