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THE GRAMMY WHISPERER ON RECORD OF THE YEAR

The VMAs are one of the last big events before the Grammy nomination process begins. So what does this year's VMA telecast tell us anything about how the Grammys might play out?

Kendrick Lamar and Ed Sheeran each won a big award—Video of the Year for Lamar, Artist of the Year for Sheeran—befitting their status as Grammy front-runners.

Khalid took Best New Artist (in an upset win over Julia Michaels), which pushes him to the front of the pack in that Grammy category. Can he also take a Record of the Year nom for "Location"?

Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid delivered one of the most emotional performance spots of the night with their building hit "1-800-273-8255" (whose title doubles as the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline). That will help it move up in Record of the Year voting.

Bruno Mars was shut out, which could hurt his Grammy chances.

And what to make of Taylor Swift, whose "Look What You Made Me Do" has been polarizing, to say the least? Critics have panned it, but her fans are eating it up. 

We're going to start rolling out pieces in which we look at the likely nominations in the top Grammy categories. Let's start today with Record of the Year.

There are three singles that I think are locks—Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You," Kendrick Lamar's "Humble." and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" (featuring Justin Bieber). Let's take them one by one.

The zesty, dancehall-infused "Shape of You" was a convincing step for an artist who made his name with ballads.  Sheeran introduced "Shape of You" on the Grammy telecast earlier this year. The Nominations Review Committee, which makes the final selections in the top four categories, could conceivably go with Sheeran's "Castle on the Hill" instead, but "Shape of You" was clearly the bigger hit. "Thinking Out Loud" was nominated in this category two years ago.

"Humble." was Lamar's first #1 single as a lead artist. This took the VMA for Video of the Year. If it also wins Record of the Year—a longshot, given Grammy voters' resistance to rap—it would become the first hip-hop record to win Record of the Year. And it would become only the second work ever to win both the VMA for Video of the Year and the Grammy for Record of the Year. The first was Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

"Despacito" is a global, genre-bridging smash. The bilingual, multi-cultural aspect takes on added import in the age of Donald Trump. The song has had the longest run at #1 since the 1995 Mariah Carey/Boyz II Men juggernaut "One Sweet Day." (That smash was nominated for Record of the Year.) This would be would be the first song primarily recorded in a foreign language to be nominated in this category since Los Lobos' "La Bamba" 30 years ago. It would be Bieber's first Record of the Year nomination. (If it makes it, he'll have been nominated in each of the Big Four categories, a neat trick—and one that few besides Scooter Braun thought would ever happen.)

If the three singles listed above are locks, that leaves just two open spots—unless the Grammys expand the field to six nominees as they did five years ago. (That was the first time the Grammys had six nominees in this category since 1962.)

I count about a dozen singles with a realistic chance of taking those last two spots.

Harry Styles' "Sign of the Times" is one of the year's best singles and a major step forward for this young star. Grammy trivia: This would 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 in this category since Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" 12 years ago. Styles' 1D cohort, Niall Horan, is also in the running with his appealing hit "Slow Hands," but Styles' record seems more distinctive; more of an artistic breakthrough.

Kesha's power ballad "Praying" is widely seen as a rebuke to her former producer/mentor, Dr. Luke. As a song that directly responds to a pivotal event in an artist's life, this ranks with Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," which won both Record and Song of the Year for 1992, and Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice," which took both awards for 2006. The inspirational aspect of standing up to bullies gives this song a sense of importance and universality. It's widely known that the Grammys' executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, has a fondness for gospel choirs. It's easy to picture a big one gathered behind Kesha as she sings this song.

Imagine Dragons' "Believer" could give the rock band its second nom in this category. They were nominated four years ago for "Radioactive." That would make Imagine Dragons the fourth rock band to gather two Record of the Year noms in this century. The first three were U2, Coldplay and Green Day.

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). This stylish, superbly arranged song is one of the year's biggest sleeper hits. Childish Gambino, of course, is the musical alter-ego of actor Donald Glover. Glover is nominated for three Emmys this year for his work on the FX series Atlanta. Will he also get multiple Grammy noms this year? Count on it.

Khalid's "Location" is an interesting, sophisticated R&B hit, with some jazzy notes. If it makes the top 20 on the rank-and-file voters' initial list of choices (a prerequisite for being brought to the attention of the Nominations Review Committee, according to Neil Portnow), the committee could hoist it into the final five. This is exactly the kind of quality, progressive choice the Grammys would love to champion.

Lady Gaga came up with her biggest and best single in years with "Million Reasons." The ballad cracked the top five following her half-time performance at the Super Bowl. It would be her second nomination in this category, following "Poker Face." Alas, it may have come out too early in the eligibility year. It was released Nov. 8.

Logic's "1-800-273-8255" (featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid) is in the running, thanks to the VMAs. The staging of this song on the VMAs, with survivors of suicide attempts gathered onstage, echoed the Grammys' staging of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' marriage equality anthem "Same Love" four years ago. That was nominated for Song of the Year. This will probably factor in somewhere.

Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road" broke Florida Georgia Line's record for the longest run at #1 on the country chart. But, come to think of it, the Florida Georgia Line hit in question, "Cruise," was passed over for a Record of the Year nom four years ago. The last non-Taylor country single to receive a Record of the Year nom was Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," which won the 2010 award.

As another song with a strong Latin flavor, DJ Khaled's "Wild Thoughts" (featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller) could give "Despacito" a run for its money. The song leans heavily on a sample from Santana's "Maria Maria," a Grammy-winning track from the 1999 Album of the Year winner. This would be Rihanna's fourth nomination in this category; her second in a row. She was in the finals last year with "Work" (featuring Drake). Could two hits with a Latin music component make it in the same year? Sure. In 1999, Santana's "Smooth" (featuring Rob Thomas) and Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" were both nominated for both Record and Song of the Year.

Taylor Swift is vying for her fifth Record of the Year nom—which would put her in a tie with Barbra Streisand and Beyoncé for the most noms in this category by a female artist. Is the chilly "Look What You Made Me Do" in the same league as her four previous singles that were nominated in this category—"You Belong with Me," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," "Shake It Off" and "Blank Space"? The committee will debate that point. The song targets Swift's long-time nemesis Kanye West. The committee may be reluctant to take sides in the endless Taylor/Kanye feud. They could instead reach back to "I Don't Wanna Live Forever (50 Shades Darker)," Swift's collabo with Zayn, but that single, from a forgettable film sequel, seems a bit generic for the top award.

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." But The Chainsmokers were passed over in this category last year for their megahit "Closer" (featuring Halsey). This may garner added attention for the sheer rarity of two top groups or duos teaming up.

Bruno Mars is also vying for his fifth Record of the Year nom. He 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. But "24K Magic" is less cutesy. But neither is as compelling as Mars' four singles that were nominated for this award—"Nothin' on You," "Grenade," "Locked out of Heaven" and "Uptown Funk!"

Other singles in the conversation include James Arthur's "Say You Won't Let Go," Julia Michaels' "Issues," Lil Uzi Vert's "XO Tour Llif 3," Alessia Cara's "Scars to Your Beautiful," P!nk's "What About Us," Calvin Harris' "Feels" (featuring Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean) and Lorde's "Green Light."

My early picks: Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You," Kendrick Lamar's "Humble.," Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's "Despacito" (featuring Justin Bieber), Harry Styles' "Sign of the Times," Kesha's "Praying."

Note: The nominations will be announced on Nov. 28. The awards will be presented on Jan. 28. Last year, 991 singles or tracks were entered for Record of the Year.

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