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GREIN ON GRAMMYS, TAKE 1: RECORD & SONG OF THE YEAR

In the third and final presentation of our Grammy Whisperer Paul Grein's early ruminations about the Big Four categories' potential 2018 nominees, he covers both Record and Song of the Year. While Harry Styles might not get an Album nod, and will presumably be nixed for Best New Artist due to the superstardom he reached as part of a group, his "Sign of the Times" seems to be a shoe-in for Song and/or Record honors. And what about Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar? And Childish Gambino?

Remember: We’re already about three-quarters of the way through the eligibility year (which ends Sept. 30), and you'll wanna be in-the-know before you start placing those yearly bets.


RECORD OF THE YEAR

Ed Sheeran is a sure thing, probably for his megahit “Shape of You” (which he performed on the Grammys), but possibly for the nostalgic “Castle on the Hill.” His “Thinking Out Loud” was nominated in this category two years ago.

Harry Styles is also a sure thing for “Sign of the Times,” one of the year’s best singles and a major step forward for this young star. Grammy trivia: This will be the first time that a single from the first solo album by an artist who rose to fame in a group or duo has been nominated since Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” 12 years ago. (ZAYN, who teamed with Styles in One Direction, also has a chance to make the finals this year. Read on.)

That’s it for sure things. Numerous singles are vying for the two remaining spots.

Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.,” his first #1 single as a lead artist, has a good chance. The Nominations Review Committee will probably put him in all three of the top categories, as it did last year with Beyoncé, to send a signal to the broader membership which makes the final choices. (The committee is more comfortable with contemporary R&B and hip-hop than the broad membership is.)

Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” shows the influence of Sly & the Family Stone and Prince (neither of whom was ever nominated for Record of the Year, if you can believe that). Childish Gambino, of course, is the musical alter-ego of actor Donald Glover. A good backstory never hurts. HITS editor (and fellow Grammy nerd) Lenny Beer tipped me to this single as a potential Record of the Year contender months ago. Lenny was among the first to spot the Grammy potential of such future winners as Norah Jones and Mumford & Sons.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (featuring Justin Bieber) is a global, format-defying smash. In its genre-bridging scope, it was a Grammy Moment that Ken Ehrlich didn’t even have to put together. If the committee views it that way, and not as a novelty hit like “Macarena,” it could make the finals. It would be Bieber’s first Record of the Year nomination. It would be the first song recorded in a foreign language to be nominated in this category since Los Lobos’ “La Bamba” 30 years ago.

The Chainsmokers & Coldplay’s “Something Just like This” is a pleasing blend of pop and EDM. Coldplay won the 2003 award in this category for “Clocks” and was nominated again five years later for “Viva La Vida.” Coldplay would become only the fourth group to land three or more noms in this category. The Beatles, fittingly, lead all groups with four. U2 and Black Eyed Peas have each had three. This would be the second time that a collab by two groups or duos has been nominated in this category. “Feels Good Inc.” by the British virtual group Gorillaz and the American hip-hop trio De La Soul was nominated 12 years ago.

Rag’n’Bone Man’s “Human” is a superb single. It echoes Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” (a Record of the Year nominee 11 years ago). But I’m not sure it has been successful enough in the U.S. to rank in the top 20 on the list of initial choices by the voting members. (In the top four categories, only candidates that made the top 20 on those initial lists are seen by the select committee that determines the final nominations.)

Lady Gaga came up with her biggest and best single in years with “Million Reasons.” The country-tinged ballad cracked the top five following her halftime performance at Super Bowl LI. It would be her second nomination in this category, following “Poker Face.”

Two megastars, Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, are each vying for their fifth Record of the Year nom. Mars could make it with either “24K Magic” or “That’s What I Like.” The latter, which he performed on the Grammys, was the bigger hit. It’s a likeable record, but it’s a bit light compared to “Uptown Funk!,” which won in this category two years ago. Swift has an outside chance of a nom for “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker),” her collab with Zayn. (If she’s nominated, she’ll pull into a tie with Barbra Streisand and Beyoncé for the most career noms in this category by a female artist).

Rihanna, a three-time nominee in this category, could return to the finals with “Love on the Brain,” which features one of her most soulful vocals. Rihanna was in the finals last year with “Work” (featuring Drake).

Imagine Dragons and Lorde, who were nominated four years ago for “Radioactive” and “Royals,” respectively, could score with “Believer” and “Green Light.”

Other singles with a good chance include Julia Michaels’ “Issues,” James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go,” Miley Cyrus’ “Malibu,” Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful” and Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” (featuring Lil Uzi Vert).

Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” is a country blockbuster, but the committee may wrongly dismiss it as bro country. The Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming” (featuring Daft Punk) (which they performed on the Grammys) sounds so much like Michael Jackson, the committee may just view it as a spot-on imitation. Drake is represented with two solid hits, “Passionfruit” and “Fake Love.” But since his megahit “One Dance” didn’t make the finals last year, what are the chances for these hits?

My early picks: Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.,” Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (featuring Justin Bieber).

Note: Last year, 991 singles or tracks were entered for Record of the Year.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Ed Sheeran is headed for his fourth nom in this category with either “Shape of You” or “Castle on the Hill.” It’s even possible that both songs will be nominated, which would mark the first time that one songwriter or team of songwriters had two nominees in this category in the same year since Elton John & Tim Rice scored 23 years ago with two songs from The Lion King.

Sheeran co-wrote “Shape of You” with Steve Mac. (The song also carries a co-writing credit for the writers of TLC’s “No Scrubs,” due to a similarity.) Sheeran co-wrote “Castle on the Hill,” with its nod to Elton’s “Tiny Dancer,” with Benjamin Levin (a.k.a. Benny Blanco). The two writers co-wrote Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” a nominee last year.

Harry Styles will likely be nominated for “Sign of the Times.” His co-writers include Jeff Bhasker, who received three consecutive noms in this category from 2011-13 for co-writing Kanye West’s “All of the Lights,” fun.’s “We Are Young” and P!nk’s “Just Give Me a Reason.”

Kendrick Lamar will probably be nominated for “HUMBLE.” He was nominated in this category two years ago for co-writing “Alright.” He co-wrote “HUMBLE.” with Michael Williams II (a.k.a. Mike Will Made It), a nominee here last year for co-writing Beyoncé’s “Formation.”

James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go” is a tender, instant-classic ballad. It contains one of the most vivid images in a pop song this year: “I held your hair back/When you were throwing up.” Arthur co-wrote the song with Neil Ormandy and Steve Solomon.

Lady Gaga co-wrote “Million Reasons” with Hillary Lindsey and Mark Ronson. Gaga was nominated in this category for co-writing “Poker Face.” Lindsey was nominated for co-writing Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.” This would, surprisingly, be Ronson’s first nom in the category.

As I’ve indicated, it’s rare for a songwriter to have two nominations in this category in the same year. But Sheeran isn’t the only one who is songwriter with a reasonably good chance of doing that this year. In addition to co-writing “Castle on the Hill,” Blanco co-wrote Julia Michaels’ “Issues.” The song’s use of pop psychology terms like “issues” and “judge me” gives it a fresh twist.

Another of the co-writers of “Issues,” Justin Tranter, also co-wrote Imagine Dragons’ “Believer.” Tranter co-created that song, the year’s biggest rock hit, with the members of the group plus Mattias Larsson and Robin Fredriksson.

Jack Antonoff co-wrote the Zayn/Taylor Swift hit “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)” (with Swift and Sam Dew) and also Lorde’s hit “Green Light” (with Lorde and Joel Little). Antonoff co-wrote fun.’s “We Are Young,” the 2012 winner.

Here are some other songs that have a good chance of landing a nomination.

“Scars to Your Beautiful,” which Alessia Cara co-wrote with Warren Felder, Coleridge Tillman and Andrew Wansel, has the same empowering message as Linda Perry’s “Beautiful,” which was a 2003 nominee.

Coldplay and The ChainsmokersAndrew Taggart co-wrote “Something Just Like This.” Coldplay won in this category nine years ago for “Viva La Vida.”

Bruno Mars co-wrote “That’s What I Like” with Philip Lawrence and Christopher Brody Brown, among others. These three writers were nominated for co-writing Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You” and Mars’ “Grenade.” Mars and Lawrence were nominated again for co-writing “Locked out of Heaven.”

Rihanna co-wrote “Love on the Brain” with Fred Ball and Joseph Angel. (Lucy’s brother was named Fred Ball, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t the same guy.)

Rag’n’Bone Man co-wrote “Human” with Jamie Hartman.

Miley Cyrus co-wrote “Malibu” with Oren Yoel.

My early picks: “Shape of You,” “Sign of the Times,” “HUMBLE.,” “Say You Won’t Let Go,” “Million Reasons.”

Note: Last year, 1,033 songs were entered for Song of the Year, making it the most crowded of the “Big Four” categories.

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