Sunday Reading: Grammy Nominees, Past and Present

If all goes well, Sunday night’s Grammy Awards will fail to attract anything like the sour notoriety and social-media mania of this year’s Academy Awards. We’ll hope for a more pacific spirit in Las Vegas than we saw on the stage in Los Angeles. Even if the Grammys never really make perfect sense of the past year in music—this week, on The New Yorker Radio Hour, Sheldon Pearce tells us which performers and recordings have been unjustly overlooked—the show is usually more spirited and less sanctimonious than the proceedings in Hollywood.

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In that optimistic spirit, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about nominees past and present—the heart of any Grammys ceremony. In “The Unexpected Introspection of Lil Nas X,” Carrie Battan explores the rapper’s savvy, thoughtful vision. (“We’ve experienced Lil Nas X as an Internet troll, a hypersexual provocateur, a pop star with a Warholian visual sensibility, but ‘Montero’ shows something different: a human being.”) In “Billie Eilish and the Changing Face of Pop,” Doreen St. Félix writes about the artistry of one of Gen Z’s most radiant stars. In “The United States of Dolly Parton,” Lauren Michele Jackson examines the life and evolution of a songwriter and performer who seems to be revered by nearly everyone. In “The Queen,” Sasha Frere-Jones considers Beyoncé, who holds the title for the most nominations of any female musician in the history of the Grammys. Finally, in “The Misunderstood Talent of Gladys Knight,” Emily Lordi chronicles the singer’s central role in the evolution of soul music. “Gladys Knight and the Pips became known,” Lordi writes, “for songs that are now so ingrained in our popular consciousness that we take their innovations for granted.”

David Remnick

Portrait of Lil Nas X

Fans may have thought that the artist’s début album, “Montero,” would be a bawdy romp. Instead, it takes a turn toward the morose and the self-searching.

Singer Billie Eilish poses for a portrait as her recently released debut album "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" has had more than 1 billion plays.

The singer-songwriter provides a covertly girlish perspective on the current male-dominated wave of moody and pessimistic “sad pop” music.

Dolly Parton smiling.

A voice for working-class women and an icon for all kinds of women, Parton has maintained her star power throughout life phases and political cycles.

Beyoncé performing in a black and white outfit

Beyoncé, at last.

Black-and-white photo of Gladys Knight and the Pips performing.

Gladys Knight and the Pips have always been more beloved by fans than by music historians, but they are essential to the evolution of soul.

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