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PLAYING THE
GRAMMY GAME

The Grammys are of course a high-minded artistic competition, not a game. (Perish the thought!) But there are a couple of unspoken rules that can enhance your chances of winning. Don’t flood a category with multiple entries by the same artist. And try to be smart about entering in the category where you’ll have the best chance of winning. (The final decision on where entries wind up is made by a Grammy screening committee.)

Let’s look at some of this year’s top artists and see how they played the Grammy game.

Bruno Mars—Mars had two monster hits during the year. His camp entered just one of them, “24K Magic,” for Record of the Year. They also entered just one of them for Song of the Year—but it was the other song, “That’s What I Like.” They were smart not to split their votes with multiple entries, but I don’t see the logic of going with different songs in these two categories. Usually, artists’ reps pick what they perceive to be the strongest entry and go with it everywhere.

Mars is practically the definition of a pop artist, but he isn’t entered for Best Pop Solo Performance (where he was nominated in the past for “Grenade” and “When I Was Your Man”). “That’s What I Like” is entered for Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song. His 24K Magic album is entered for Best R&B Album. Both album and single did well on the R&B charts, but I would call “That’s What I Like” a pop record with retro-soul shading, not an R&B record. I would guess this will be controversial, especially if Mars is nominated or wins in the R&B field. The Grammys have taken heat in recent years for the fact that contemporary R&B and hip-hop artists rarely win in the marquee categories. They may have just given their critics fresh ammunition.

Post Malone—The hip-hopper’s camp entered his Top 10 hit “Congratulations” (featuring Quavo) for Record and Song of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance. It didn’t enter his current smash “rockstar” (featuring 21 Savage)—which has gone on to become an even bigger hit. Presumably, they didn’t realize “Rockstar” would become this big. Also of note: Post Malone’s debut album, Stoney, is entered for Best Urban Contemporary Album, not Best Rap Album.

Imagine Dragons—The group’s camp took the opposite approach. They entered the current hit, “Thunder,” rather than the earlier hit, “Believer,” for Record and Song of the Year. The two hits are entered in different performance categories. “Thunder” is vying for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. “Believer” is contending for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. I might have gone with “Believer” instead for Record of the Year. The Nominations Review Committee, which selects the final nominees in the top four categories, may be more inclined to go with a rock record to balance the pop records that tend to predominate. The group’s third album, Evolve, is competing for Best Pop Vocal Album. Its last album, Smoke + Mirrors, competed for Best Rock Album, but its 2012 debut, Night Visions, was also slotted in the Pop Album category.

Drake—Drake didn’t enter his playlist album, More Life, or any of its singles in the Grammy process. Last year, you may recall, Frank Ocean opted to sit out the Grammy dance with his #1 album, Blonde. The odd part is that both of these artists are past Grammy winners and past Album of the Year nominees. Ocean was nominated for Album of the Year five years ago for his debut, channel ORANGE; Drake was nominated last year for Views.

The Grammys have taken heat in recent years for the fact that contemporary R&B and hip-hop artists rarely win in the marquee categories. They may have just given their critics fresh ammunition.

Ed Sheeran—Sheeran’s camp entered only his giant hit “Shape of You” for Record and Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. They didn’t chance it by also entering his other hits, “Castle on the Hill” or “Perfect.” For a while I thought Sheeran might become the first songwriter in 23 years to land two Song of the Year noms in the same year—for “Shape” and “Castle.” He would have been deserving too. Both are excellent songs, and very different from one another. But his camp seems to have decided, “Let’s not get greedy.”

Harry Styles—”Sign of the Times” is entered for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. His solo debut album, Harry Styles, is entered for Best Rock Album. Styles’ camp entered a follow-up single, “Two Ghosts,” for Best Pop Solo Performance—where it’s competing with former 1D colleague Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands.” “Sign of the Times” has echoes of such rock legends as David Bowie and John Lennon, but it could just as easily have been slotted in the Pop category.

Shawn Mendes—It was the other way around with this teen star. His Top 10 hit “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” is competing for Best Pop Solo Performance, not Best Rock Performance, despite his new, more aggressive sound.

Childish Gambino—The actor/musician’s “Redbone” is entered for Best Traditional R&B Performance, not Best R&B Performance. It echoes classic hits by Sly & the Family Stone and Prince, but it’s contemporary in its execution. As is often the case, this was right on the line. Childish Gambino’s third album, “Awaken, My Love!,” is entered for Best Urban Contemporary Album. His first two albums were entered for Best Rap Album. His sophomore album, Because the Internet, was nominated for that award.

DJ Khaled—The DJ could wind up with nominations in three different fields. His 10th album, Grateful, is entered for Best Rap Album. Its two giant singles are entered in different fields. “I’m the One” (featuring Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne) is vying for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. “Wild Thoughts” (featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller) is contending for Best R&B Performance.

Pentatonix—The vocal group entered their EP, PTX, Vol. IV—Classics (rather than their smash Christmas album, A Pentatonix Christmas) for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Since the Christmas album made headlines for reaching #1 and has already shown signs of becoming a holiday perennial, I think I would have entered that instead.

Billy PorterBilly Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers is entered for Best Urban Contemporary Album, not Best Traditional Pop Album. That’s a surprise, as albums devoted to the Great American Songbook almost always go in the Trad Pop category. Another oddity: The album is attributed to Various Artists, not to Porter. That’s because he is credited on just five of the album’s 12 tracks. If he had taken one or two more lead vocals, the billing on the Grammy entry list would have been Billy Porter and Various Artists—which would have been helpful to him as busy voters scan the list of eligible entries.

The Chainsmokers—The duo entered its collaboration with Coldplay, “Something Just Like This,” for Record and Song of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. It decided to forget about its other Top 10 hit, “Paris.” Smart move. Both are great records, but the Coldplay collab has a better shot, partly because of the rarity of two top groups teaming up. And Coldplay are Grammy favorites. They are past winners of Record of the Year for “Clocks” and Song of the Year for “Viva La Vida.”

Hits are powerful things. If you’re lucky enough to have one, go with it.

Future—The rap star had two eligible albums—FUTURE and HNDRXX. Both are entered for Album of the Year, so he’s competing against himself there, but the albums are entered in different genre album categories. FUTURE is competing for Best Rap Album; HNDRXX for Best Urban Contemporary Album.

Selena Gomez—”It Ain’t Me,” her hit collabo with Kygo, is entered for Best Dance Recording, but it wasn’t entered for either Record or Song of the Year. Gomez is focusing on her other hit, “Bad Liar,” which is entered in both of those categories.

J. Cole—The rapper’s camp entered the title track of his latest album, 4 Your Eyez Only, for Record and Song of the Year and Best Rap Performance, rather than that album’s lead single, “Deja Vu,” which was a Top 10 hit. I don’t see the point of that move. Hits are powerful things. If you’re lucky enough to have one, go with it.

Paramore—The group’s fifth studio album, After Laughter, is entered for Best Pop Vocal Album. The group’s three most recent studio albums, Riot!, Brand New Eyes and Paramore, competed for Best Rock Album.

Norah Jones—The singer’s sixth studio album, Day Breaks, is entered for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Jones’ five previous studio albums were all entered for Best Pop Vocal Album. Her 2002 debut, Come Away with Me, won that award, as well as Album of the Year.

Sting—The veteran musician’s 12th solo studio album, 57th & 9th, is vying for Best Rock Album. Sting usually competes for Best Pop Vocal Album, a category he won for 1999’s Brand New Day.

Garth Brooks—The country icon has two albums vying for noms for both Album of the Year and Best Country Album. He’s represented with both his solo album Gunslinger and Christmas Together, a collabo with his wife, Trisha Yearwood. He would have been better off entering just one of the albums, but which one? You want to try explaining to your wife why you’re not entering her album? Better to split your votes!

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