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GREIN ON GRAMMYS: OPENING SALVO
With the Grammy Year Winding Down, Taylor Swift Leads Likely Nominees

With just a few months left in the Grammy eligibility year, Taylor Swift is in a commanding position. The pop megastar is likely to be nominated for both Album of the Year for 1989 and Record of the Year for “Blank Space.” That would hardly constitute a surprise. Swift has been nominated in both categories multiple times. But here’s a more unexpected possibility: The Weeknd could also be nominated in both categories for his upcoming album Chapter III and his smash single “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey).” Such a strong showing would be a career-making moment for him.

Let’s take a look at the likely nominees and runners-up at this point in the “Big Four” categories. (The eligibility year ends Sept. 30.)


ALBUM OF THE YEAR

KENDRICK LAMAR, ALABAMA SHAKES, KACEY MUSGRAVES, D’ANGELO, DRAKE

In addition to 1989, likely nominees include Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, Kacey MusgravesPageant Material and, to round out the field, a rock album, with the leading contenders for that fifth spot being Alabama ShakesSound & Color, Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Mumford & Sons Wilder Mind and Foo Fighters Sonic Highways.

Swift and Mumford & Sons are past winners in this category. Foo Fighters were nominated in this category with their last two albums. Lamar was nominated in this category with his previous album, good kid, m.A.A.d city.

Musgraves won Best Country Album with her previous album, Same Trailer Different Park (it beat Swift’s Red, no less). D’Angelo won Best R&B Album with his previous album, 2000’s Voodoo.

If any of these front-runners falters, The Weeknd could move up with his upcoming Chapter III, which is due in late summer. He also is a leading contender for Record and Song of the Year noms for his smash single “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey).”

Drake’s hit mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is also in the mix (pun intended). Drake has yet to be nominated for Album of the Year. Even Take Care, which won for Best Rap Album, was passed over in the top category. 

Soundtracks don’t usually make the finals. Even Frozen was passed over last year. (The last soundtrack to receive a nom was O Brother, Where Art Thou?) But two soundtracks—Empire and Fifty Shades of Grey—are in serious contention this year.

Numerous veteran (read: older) artists are also in the running, including Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard (who are 82 and 78, respectively), Bob Dylan (74) and Neil Diamond (74). But newer and younger artists are more apt to excite the panelists who select the final nominees in the top four categories (and, by extension, CBS).

Also: Little Big Town’s Pain Killer, Sam Hunt’s Montevallo, Wale’s The Album About Nothing, J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint, Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt, Dwight Yoakam’s Second Hand Heart, Brandi Carlile’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter and Meghan Trainor’s Title.

Two of this week’s releases, Muse’s Drones and Of Monsters and Men’s Beneath the Skin, will get a look, as will such upcoming albums as Miguel’s Wildheart, James Taylor’s Before This World and Jill Scott’s Golden Moments.

To the great relief of many rival artists, Adele’s follow-up to the Grammy-sweeping 21 will miss the deadline.

At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, Swift has a good chance of winning for Album of the Year when the Grammys are presented on Feb. 15. That would make her the first female artist to win Album of the Year twice for her own albums. She first won for her sophomore album, Fearless. (Lauryn Hill, Alison Krauss and Norah Jones have each won Album of the Year twice, but only once, in each case, for their own albums.)


RECORD OF THE YEAR

MARK RONSON, THE WEEKND, LITTLE BIG TOWN, ANDY GRAMMER, SAM HUNT

The Grammys’ recent practice of booking performances on the telecast that won’t be eligible for awards consideration until the following year will again complicate this year’s nominations. On the telecast in February, Ed Sheeran performed “Thinking Out Loud,” John Legend & Common performed “Glory” and Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney performed “FourFiveSeconds.” All three would have been serious Record of the Year candidates this year. But will they now seem like yesterday’s news?

Obviously, the producers won’t want these performances on the show two years in a row. The panelists shouldn’t take such factors into account, but they’re obviously aware of them. That may lead them to pass over these works in search of material that seems fresher.

What’s the harm? Isn’t it all about the TV show anyway? Here’s the harm: Somebody looking over a list of the nominees, now or many years from now, isn’t going to know that, let’s say, “Thinking Out Loud” was passed over for a Record of the Year nomination only because it was performed on the show a year ahead of time. They’ll assume that the list represents what the voters considered to be the most award-worthy recordings released that year. I hope the Recording Academy doesn’t forget that long view in its quest for current ratings advantage.

Assuming the exceptionally graceful “Thinking Out Loud” makes it through this minefield, what will it face? I think the rest of the field will consist of “Blank Space,” The Weeknd’s striking R&B ballad “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” and two terrific, chart-topping collabos: “Uptown Funk!” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars and “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth.

This would be Mars’ fifth Record of the Year nom (his fourth as an artist) and Swift’s fourth.

If both “See You Again” (from Furious 7) and “Earned It” (from Fifty Shades of Grey) make the finals, this will be the first time that two hits that originated in movies have been nominated for Record of the Year in the same year since 1998, when Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (from Titanic) and Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” (from City of Angels) were both cited.

“Uptown Funk!,” which logged 14 weeks at #1, may be the record to beat. It’s a sensational single, one that easily justifies its exclamation point. It would be Ronson’s second Record of the Year winner. He won the 2007 award for producing Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” (Ronson would become the first person to win in this category both as an artist and as a producer for another artist.)

Little Big Town’s bluesy and provocative “Girl Crush” has a good chance of moving up if any of the presumed front-runners falter. The hit, which echoes Grammy favorite Bonnie Raitt, is the group’s biggest crossover hit to date. A second country crossover hit is in contention: Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time,” which seamlessly blends singing and spoken elements.

Andy Grammer’s “Honey, I’m Good” may get extra points for its positive social message (the video is a cheerful PSA for monogamy).

Other possibilities include Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do,” Sia’s “Elastic Heart,” Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” Jason Derulo’s “Want to Want Me,” Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” Nick Jonas’ “Chains” and a clutch of collabos: “Hey Mama” by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha & Afrojack, “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande & The Weeknd, “The Hanging Tree” by James Newton-Howard featuring Jennifer Lawrence, “Post to Be” by Omarion featuring Chris Brown & Jhené Aiko, “You Know You Like It” by DJ Snake & AlunaGeorge and the aforementioned “Glory” and “FourFiveSeconds.”

Sam Smith’s elegant “Lay Me Down” would have been a strong contender, but it’s not eligible because it appears on an album that won a Grammy. The remix featuring John Legend isn’t eligible because remixes are eligible only for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical.

SONG OF THE YEAR

“Thinking Out Loud,” “Earned It” and “See You Again” will probably also be nominated for this songwriter’s award. “Blank Space” also has a pretty good shot, but “Uptown Funk!” may be judged to be more of a record than a song. “Girl Crush” and “Honey, I’m Good” are prime candidates to replace the one or two Record of the Year finalists that come up short here.   


BEST NEW ARTIST

TOP ROW, L-R: HOZIER, FIFTH HARMONY, RACHEL PLATTEN, TOVE LO, TINASHE, RAE SREMMURD, JAMES BAY
BOTTOM ROW: TORI KELLY, ELLE KING, LEON BRIDGES

Front-runners include HozierSam Hunt, Fifth Harmony, Rachel Platten, Tove Lo, Tinashe, Rae Sremmurd and the critically lauded James Bay and Elle King.

Walk the Moon had a big breakout hit in “Shut Up and Dance,” but did they first achieve prominence this year or were they already prominent? Expect a lively debate on that question at the annual Grammy screening meeting. There will likewise be debate about whether Echosmith should be considered new. The quartet’s 2013 debut album has been a slow-building success story. How about Twenty One Pilots and Marina and the Diamonds?

Charlie Puth and Fetty Wap, who gave us two of the year’s biggest and most memorable singles, need to release full-length albums (or EPs consisting of five or more songs) before they can be considered in this category.

Leon Bridges, Maddie & Tae, Tori Kelly and the aforementioned Platten have upcoming albums that will make them eligible.

Other artists in the mix include Natalie La Rose, Shawn Mendes, Hoodie Allen and Logic.

Pentatonix, whose smash Christmas album falls into this eligibility year, won’t be eligible because they had more than three previous releases. You + Me won’t be eligible either. Both members (P!nk and Dallas Green, aka City and Colour) had previously established their identities. Andy Grammer will probably be disallowed as well, on the grounds that he became known for his earlier song “Keep Your Head Up.”

Hozier is eligible even though he was nominated for Song of the Year earlier this year for "Take Me to Church." This is because of two things: He didn't win and his debut album was released in this eligibility year. (The Grammy rules on this are ever-changing, but this is the very latest.)

Meghan Trainor, who was nominated for Record and Song of the Year earlier this year for "All About That Bass," will apparently not be eligible. She had three independently released albums prior to her major-label debut, Title.

Paul Grein has been reporting on the Grammys since back when Pageant Material wouldn’t have been an ironic title.

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