If you’ve downloaded Kendrick Lamar's new album, streamed a Cardi B song on Spotify, or jammed to the Top 40 while driving, you’ve inadvertently participated in the selection for the Billboard Music Awards. Unlike the nominations for most other entertainment awards shows, nominees for the Billboard Music Awards — which air on Sunday, May 20 at 8 p.m. ET – are chosen mathematically, not subjectively.
Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, and Bruno Mars are dominating the 2018 Billboard Music Awards nominations with 15 nominations apiece because they also topped the charts between April 8, 2017 and March 31, 2018, the period of data collection for this year’s awards. According to NBC, which will broadcast the awards, “Finalists and winners are determined based on album and digital songs sales, radio airplay, streaming, touring, and social engagement.” Simply put, we, listeners of music and partakers in fanbases, have a say in who gets the BBMAs glory.
The reliance on data distinguishes the Billboard Music Awards from the Grammys, which is largely considered to be the most prestigious award in the music industry (it is, after all, part of the illustrious EGOT). Like the Academy Awards and the Emmys, Grammy nominations and winners are selected by a group of industry professionals.
The Grammys’ confusing voting process is heavily reliant on people and opinions, not chart-topping data. First step: The Recording Academy, a coalition of about 13,000 music industry professionals, submit products for consideration. Then, a 350-person committee comprised of industry experts combs through eligible submissions, sorts them into categories, and forms the initial ballot sent around to Recording Academy members. The votes on the first round ballot define the five nominees in each category on the final ballot. The final voting ballot is sent around to the Record Academy’s members, who can vote in up to 15 of the Grammy Awards’ genre categories in which they have expertise. All members can vote in the four all-genre categories, like Album of the Year. This final ballot determines Grammy winners.
The goal of the Grammys, then, is fundamentally different than the Billboard Music Awards. The BBMAs reward artists who sell well. The Grammys ostensibly reward artists who are well-respected by their peers, regardless of sales. But the Grammys are dogged by criticism from within and outside of the industry, and it's largely because of the flawed voting process. Even collecting the award isn't always a moment of tears and reverence. "I don’t think this means anything," Eddie Vedder said as he collected his gold gramophone for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1996.
The Grammys have a larger problem than whether or not winners actually assign value to the award. The subjectivity of its voting system has contributed to the Grammys' history of snubbing hip-hop and R&B artists, especially in the general categories. In 2013, Beyoncé lost Album of the Year to Beck's Morning Phase; in 2017, it happened again when Lemonade lost to Adele's 25. Only 10 Black artists have won Album of the Year.
Since they're not subjective, the Billboard Music Awards have less room for shades of gray and snubs. A song like "Despacito" illustrates the difference between the Billboard Music Awards and the Grammys. Despite tying for longest-running No. 1 ever, "Despacito lost in the Grammys' Song of the Year category. Though "Despacito" was deemed unworthy by the Recording Academy, the song will probably do well at the Billboard Music Awards, where it's nominated for Top Hot 100 Song, Top Selling Song, Top Streaming Song (Audio), Top Streaming Song (Video). Top Latin Song, and Top Collaboration.
Excited by the prospect of having a role in the awards ceremony? Two BBMAs categories invite even more direct participation from viewers. You can vote for Top Social Artist, which honors artists' social media presence, or Chart Achievement Award, which honors artists who made chart history in the past year. Get your vote on now.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated to clarify the Grammy submission and voting process.