How The Weeknd Overcame a Shocking Grammys Snub to Dominate the Billboard Music Awards

After being shut out at the 2021 Grammys, The Weeknd is heading into the Billboard Music Awards with the most nominations of any artist.

By Tierney Bricker May 23, 2021 7:00 AMTags
Watch: The Weeknd Calls Out Recording Academy After Grammys Snub

A sweep for The Weeknd at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards? We feel it coming.

Heading into Sunday night's ceremony, the "Blinding Lights" singer, is the most nominated finalist, securing 16 nods including top artist, top male artist and top Hot 100 artist. Given the smash success of his 2020 album After Hours—which made him only the second artist in history to have three No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in three different years from one album—The Weeknd, is also set to take the stage. 

But sandwiched between this sure-to-be-legendary performance and his Super Bowl halftime show, was a gaping The Weeknd-sized hole at music's biggest night. With the singer (born Abel Tesfaye) completely left off the list of Grammy nominations, fans, fellow artists and even the mother--kin' Starboy himself were left stunned by the snub. 

30 Fascinating Facts About The Weeknd

"The Grammys remain corrupt," he tweeted after the nominations were revealed in November, taking the first shot at the Recording Academy's voting process. "You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency..."

His tweet opened the floodgates for artists to voice their frustrations.

 Teyana Taylor called out that the Best R&B Album category had no female nominees, while Zayn Malik tweeted, "F--k the grammys and everyone associated. Unless you shake hands and send gifts, there's no nomination considerations. Next year I'll send you a basket of confectionary."

Halsey, who's been nominated twice as a featured artist, spoke out in the wake of her snub about alleged "bribes" and other business dealings being a part of the nomination game.

Alex Alonzo/E! Illustration/Getty Images

Suddenly it was time for the Recording Academy to face the music.

"We understand that The Weeknd is disappointed at not being nominated," Harvey Mason Jr., Chair & Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy said in the statement defending their voting process. "I was surprised and can empathize with what he's feeling. His music this year was excellent, and his contributions to the music community and broader world are worthy of everyone's admiration."

Mason Jr. went on to deny reports that The Weeknd was snubbed because he chose to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime Show over the Grammys. 

"To be clear, voting in all categories ended well before The Weeknd's performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process," Mason stated.

But the singer didn't buy the statement, tweeting in response, "Collaboratively planning a performance for weeks to not being invited? In my opinion zero nominations = you're not invited!"

In the future, he'll be RSVPing no. In March 2021, The Weeknd declared he would not submit his music to future Grammys, telling the The New York Times, "Because of the secret committees, I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys."

But what are the secret committees he's referring to and how do they decide the nominations? And, more importantly, why do they have the final say? 

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"Y'know, it really just comes down to the voting body that decides," Mason told Variety last November. "We have eight nomination slots to fill in [the Big Four categories: Best Album, Song, Record and New Artist], five in others, and the voters vote for their favorites."

So, a committee of about 20 anonymous music professionals makes the call for four major awards, narrowing down a shortlist of the "20 top vote-getters in the general field" to even shorter lists.

Joseph Okpako/WireImage

Per Mason, "The people in that room care: There's no agendas in there, there's no 'let's snub this person' or that person. It's about, 'Let's try and find excellence.'"

Mason added that he believed that The Weeknd's omission didn't "show a flaw in the process."

But others would respectively disagree. Even before The Weeknd called out that process, the Recording Academy's former CEO Deborah Dugan spoke out after she was ousted in January, claiming that board member attempted to "push forward artists with whom they have relationships." (The Recording Academy has denied Dugan's claims.)

Yet, despite all of that, the 2021 Grammys came and went in March, with Taylor Swift collecting top honors with the award for Album of the Year. The Weekend, meanwhile, pulled $7 million from his personal funds to deliver a chaotic, bandaged-up, mirrored hallway-filled Super Bowl Halftime Show performance that dominated the next day's headlines.

And when the nominees for the Billboard Music Awards were announced on April 29, The Weeknd's 16 nods—the most for any finalist—made his Grammys snubs all the more shocking.

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Compared to the Grammy's voting process, the BBMAs' finalists and winners are based mostly on numbers and key fan interactions with the music. Stats such as album and digital song sales, streaming, radio airplay and social engagement, which are tracked by Billboard and its data partners, including MRC Data, are all taken into account. 

And The Weeknd's numbers were blazing. "Blinding Lights" was the Billboard Hot 100's top song of 2020 and became the only song to ever spend an entire year in the Hot 100's top 10 list. After Hours, his fourth album to debut at No. 1, delivered two other No. 1 tracks, "Heartless" and "Save Your Tears."

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Then, just one day after the Billboard Music Award nominations were revealed, the Grammys made an announcement that indicated The Weeknd hadn't just made waves with his music.

According to a press release from the Recording Academy, there will no longer be any anonymous nomination committees.

"It's been a year of unprecedented, transformational change for the Recording Academy, and I'm immensely proud to be able to continue our journey of growth with these latest updates to our Awards process," Mason said in a statement. "This is a new Academy, one that is driven to action and that has doubled down on the commitment to meeting the needs of the music community. While change and progress are key drivers of our actions, one thing will always remain—the GRAMMY Award is the only peer-driven and peer-voted recognition in music. We are honored to work alongside the music community year-round to further refine and protect the integrity of the Awards process."

So how will it work moving forward? 

The press release confirmed that while there were previously between 15 and 30 "highly skilled music peers who represented and voted within their genre communities for the final selection of nominees," now, "the results of Grammy nominations and winners are placed back in the hands of the entire voting membership body, giving further validation to the peer-recognized process."

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While he called the change "an important start," The Weeknd told Variety he still has no plans to submit his music for consideration moving forward.

"The trust has been broken for so long between the Grammy organization and artists that it would be unwise to raise a victory flag," he explained. "I remain uninterested in being a part of the Grammys, especially with their own admission of corruption for all these decades. I will not be submitting in the future."

In other words, Grammy organizers, save your tears for another day.