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The 2021 GRAMMY nominations are here, and with them, a new crop of Album of the Year nominees. From well-known chart-toppers like Dua Lipa and Post Malone to return nominees like Taylor Swift and Coldplay to less familiar acts like Jacob Collier and Black Pumas, this year's AOTY nominees span a variety of genres and sounds, leaving even the most well-versed music fan with something to discover.
Chilombo, titled for Aiko's given last name, is the singer's third studio album, and her first to land any GRAMMY nominations. (She earned three for debut EP Sail Out back in 2015.) Featuring collabs with Big Sean (her ex), Nas, Miguel, H.E.R. and more, the album -- which was also recognized in the Best Progressive R&B Album category -- was recorded with a spiritual and meditative focus, utilizing the tone of "sound bowls" on each track.
"In a sense, I am like a volcano, and this album is an eruption," Aiko told Billboard upon Chilombo's release back in February. "It starts with 'Triggered,' and there’s a lava flow with all these songs where it’s a free-flowing jam session. And then it settled -- and it became this beautiful land where there's new life."
Last year's dark horse Best New Artist nominees, Black Pumas -- the Austin-based band led by singer/songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada -- impressed the Recording Academy once again this year with the deluxe version of their debut album, featuring singles "Black Moon Rising," "I'm Ready," and "Colors." (The latter of which was also nominated for Record of the Year and Best American Roots Performance.)
"We didn’t really set out to be a soul revival band or anything like that," Quesada told Rolling Stone of the duo's psychedelic, soulful sound. "I wanted the soul to be that it came from our souls, not so much a carbon copy of any particular era or artists."
Though Coldplay has 29 GRAMMY nominations -- and seven wins -- to their name, they've only been nominated for Album of the Year once before, for 2008's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Oddly enough, the Big Four nod is the only one the band scored this year, apart from a nomination for art director Pilar Zeta in Best Recording Packaging. The Everyday Life double album, which was released with corresponding "Sunrise" and "Sunset" concerts in Amman, Jordan, was a reflection of the band's broadened global consciousness, singer Chris Martin explained.
"It’s all about just being human," he told Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1 upon the album's release. "Every day is great and every day is terrible…It just feels kind of free. There’s so much life bursting out on the planet."
English musician Jacob Collier is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, though he may be an unfamiliar name to some. (Maybe you saw his viral "Vote" video and didn't even realize it!) The jazz prodigy already has four GRAMMY Awards to his name -- though all came in the arrangement categories -- and has continued to gain fame and popularity in recent years for his innovative split-screen looping videos.
Collier won two of his GRAMMYs last year for the first two volumes of his four-part Djesse project, and the electronic focused third volume -- which features artists like Daniel Caesar, Tori Kelly, Ty Dolla $ign and more -- has landed him his first-ever nomination in the GRAMMYs Big Four general categories. He also added another nomination for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for his song "He Won't Hold You," as well as one for Best R&B Performance for "All I Need."
The Haim sisters initially postponed their third studio album from its planned April release amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but by June, they decided to share tracks that ultimately resonated with the unusual summer mood, like the sunny "The Steps" -- which also landed a nod for Best Rock Performance -- and social distance anthem, "I Know Alone." It paid off, landing HAIM their first GRAMMY noms since they were nominated for Best New Artist back in 2015.
"For the last few months much of the world has been self-isolating, which has brought about feelings of loneliness, depression and loss — and those are all feelings and emotions that inspired this album," Danielle told EW ahead of the album's release. "We've heard from fans how the songs we’ve released like 'Hallelujah' or 'Summer Girl' have helped them get through a difficult time and we hope that the album continues to do that."
The 2019 winner for Best New Artist, Dua Lipa turned in some of the best pop music of 2020 with the release of her disco-tinged sophomore album. In a year when we couldn't go out and dance, the joyful and focused Future Nostalgia was a smash, led by singles like "Don't Start Now" -- which earned additional nods for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance -- "Physical," "Hallucinate" and "Levitating.". Lipa also landed noms for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for her "One Day" collab with Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Tainy.
"When I started [making] Future Nostalgia, I had a couple people be like, 'All right, you sure this is what you want to do?' Because obviously it is so different from the last record and the last record had the success it did, but I felt, as an artist, I had to grow and I had to mature," she explained to Apple Music's Zane Lowe upon the album's release.
It's probably not accurate to say that Post Malone -- who now has nine GRAMMY nominations to his name, including three this year -- is underrated, but there is something about the rapper that still feels underestimated. Maybe it's his fun-loving persona, or the face tattoos, or the way his professional ascent lined up perfectly with a surge in more melodic, cross-genre rap artists. But with his third studio album proving to be even more critically and commercially successful than its predecessor -- the lauded Beerbongs & Bentleys -- it's past time to take the young artists seriously, even if he mostly shrugs off his own accolades.
"Honestly, the whole thing is such a blur because these last couple of years have felt like two weeks... I'm not trying to make hit records. I'm just trying to make something that I Love," Posty told Apple Music's Zane Lowe with the release of Hollywood's Bleeding. His single, "Circles," is also nominated for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Swift found inspiration in the early months of quarantine, heading to the woods to craft her folksy eighth studio album with the help of The National's Aaron Dessner. What emerged was the singer's softest, most mature music to date, featuring a duet with Bon Iver ("Exile"), a single that sent Swift back to the country charts ("Betty") and the cozy lead-off track, "Cardigan," which is a Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance nominee this year.
The album marks Swift's fourth shot at Album of the Year, which she's won twice with 2008's Fearless and 2014's 1989. Folklore is also up for Best Pop Vocal Album, with "Exile" landing in Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. (Swift also picked up a nomination for Best Song Written For Visual Media for her original Cats song, "Beautiful Ghosts.")
"Before this year I probably would've overthought when to release this music at the 'perfect' time, but the times we're living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed," Swift told fans ahead of the album's surprise release. "My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That's the side of uncertainty I can get on board with."