You can give the credit (or blame, depending on how you see it) to the committee of Grammy insiders that selects the final nominees in the top four categories (the three categories named above plus Best New Artist). The rank-and-file membership of the Recording Academy selects the nominees in most of the other categories, but since 1995, a panel has second-guessed the voters in the Big Four categories.
The panel was put in place after many critics and music industry figures criticized the 1994 nominations as being out-of-touch. The panel system was also instituted to give rap, rock, and alternative artists a better chance at a nomination and to keep a check on the voters' tendency to shower nominations on favorite artists year-in and year-out.
It's also possible that the lackluster sequel to "The 20/20 Experience" dampened enthusiasm for Timberlake's project right at the time that the panel was casting its votes.
This year's nominations have sparked controversy in the music industry. There is even grumbling that the panel is out-of-touch (which echoes the criticisms that led to the panel's formation in the first place).
As a long-time Grammy analyst and prognosticator, I think the Recording Academy should re-examine whether it still needs to have a panel review the members' choices. In the nearly two decades that the panel has been in place, the Academy has made strides to recruit more a younger and more diverse membership. Maybe the Academy can dispense with the panel and return to letting rank-and-file members make the final selections. (What a radical idea!)
If the panel must be retained, its power, which appears to be almost limitless, should be curtailed. Maybe it should have the ability to add one or two finalists to the lists of nominees, but not to take away from what the voters have decided. (This would expand the lists of nominees in these categories to six or seven.) Or, if five is deemed to be the magic number, the panel would have to accept the voters' top three picks, but could make its own choices to fill out the final two slots. (I imagine this year Timberlake was in the voters' top three, and probably #1, so he would have made it under this rule tweak.)
Neil Portnow, President and CEO of the Recording Academy, didn't respond to requests for comment by press time. When he does, I'll follow up with the Academy's perspective.
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