The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A Grammy nominee list that capitalizes on endless uniformity

This year’s slate is riddled with stylized monikers and song titles. Does the road to victory begin with the shift key?

Future performs in Atlanta in 2019. He is nominated for six Grammy Awards this year. (Paul R. Giunta/Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP)
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Poring over the way-too-big slate of nominees for the 65th annual Grammy Awards — a freshly expanded total of 91 prizes announced Tuesday and scheduled for laborious disbursal Feb. 5 — you may have noticed this teeny, tiny thing.

Noms for song of the year included Beyoncé’s “BREAK MY SOUL” and Gayle’s “abcdefu.” Among those nominated for best new artist were the Italian rock band Måneskin and the production duo DOMi & JD Beck. For best rap song, Future was in competition with himself: his collaboration with Drake and Tems, “WAIT FOR U,” was up against his collaboration with Gunna and Young Thug, “pushin P.” Squint hard, and a question forms: What if a modern pop star’s journey from attention-garnering to prestige-accrual no longer starts with how we hear them but with how we read them?

Sure, pop acts have been playing fast and loose with capitalization and punctuation for years now, hoping that their names and works might stand out in the drab uniformity of the most widely used streaming service interfaces. But now the practice appears to be cementing in Grammyworld, too. How come? Maybe because the Grammy electorate keeps telling the same story over and over and over again.

Grammy nominations 2023: Beyoncé leads with 9 nods, Kendrick Lamar follows with 8

Once again, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar were nominated for album of the year, a prize that neither zeitgeist soundtracker has ever won. Once again, a legacy act that the recording academy snubbed back in the artist’s prime was nominated for the night’s most vaunted trophy — Abba’s “Voyage” for album of the year. Related to that, once again, rap music — the 21st century’s defining pop idiom — remained embarrassingly underrepresented in the top three Grammy categories. And once again, those top three categories felt thick with superstar redundancy: Adele, Beyoncé, Lamar, Lizzo and Harry Styles were each nominated for song, record and album of the year. It’s enough to make you want to scream in all-caps but with one random lowercase letter thrown in there somewhere.

At least the capitalization freaks among these new Grammy nominees seem to have already scored their own little respective victories. As the major streaming services stretch their unfathomably vast offerings toward the margins of human comprehension, today’s artists remain forced to compete with the greater history of recorded music on an hourly basis. There are so few ways for musicians to assert themselves in these flat, sprawling, highly regulated corporate spaces. If toggling the shift key while they type out their song titles has officially become the first tiny step toward the red carpet, we’re likely to see more of it.

And maybe the household names near the top of this year’s Grammy heap saw this whole world coming. Beyoncé leads this year’s noms with nine, putting her career total at 88 — which means she’s tied for the most nominations ever with her husband, Jay-Z, who snared five of his own nods Tuesday. Obviously, these two have made era-shaping music, but let it be noted that Beyoncé has always had that beautiful l’accent aigu levitating over the conclusion of her name. Meanwhile, her spouse continues to negotiate an on/off relationship with his hyphen.

Or maybe there’s no use zeroing in on this niche of nonsense, even in the broader nonsense-gush that is the Grammys. But here’s one fundamental thing worth knowing: shiny prizes and eccentric punctuation are good for making introductions, but the only way to understand the dynamism that animates contemporary music’s true greatness — the thing that the Grammys perennially attempt and fail to properly celebrate — is to listen.