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THE GRAMMY WHISPERER HANDICAPS NEXT YEAR’S NOMS
A Look at Some Top Categories at the ¾ Mark of the Eligibility Year

Now that the Recording Academy has expanded the number of nominees in the “Big Four” categories from five to eight, how will the move affect the nominations that will be announced in December?

Will the Nominations Review Committee—the mysterious group of Grammy insiders that determines the final contenders in the top four categories—use the three extra slots to give female artists, artists of color and artists and recordings from specialized genres a boost? Or will the nominees be more or less the same as usual?

Time will tell.

But it does seem likely that women will do well in this year’s nominations, for two reasons.

First, women have had a great year. Cardi B had a smash debut album. Camila Cabello emerged as a solo star. Ariana Grande released her first new music since the One Manchester concert raised her profile.

Second, the Grammys know that the nominations will be heavily scrutinized. This will be the first Grammys since Neil Portnow’s unfortunate remark that women need to “step up,” and the first since the Recording Academy, in reaction, formed a task force to look at the larger issue of diversity in its membership and awards process.

We’re a little more than three-quarters of the way through the Grammy eligibility year, so it’s time to see how the fields are shaping up in three of the highest-profile Grammy categories. The eligibility year for the 61st annual Grammy Awards runs through 9/30.

Album of the Year

At this early stage, there are six favorites—Camila Cabello’s Camila, Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, Drake’s Scorpion, the “from and inspired by” soundtrack Black Panther: The Album, Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour and Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer.

Cabello left a successful group, Fifth Harmony, and became an even bigger star on her own. How often does that happen? Grammy trivia: Cabello is vying to become the first woman who became famous in a group or duo to be nominated in this category with her first solo album since Gwen Stefani in 2005.

With her debut album, Cardi B became one of the most successful female rappers in history. She’s vying to become the third female rapper to be nominated in this category, following Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott.

Drake’s double album would be the first multi-disc release to be nominated in this category since Vince Gill’s four-CD set These Days in 2007. It would also be the first multi-disc hip-hop album to be nominated since OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which won 15 years ago. Drake’s last studio album, Views, was nominated in this category two years ago.

Only two soundtracks have been nominated for Album of the Year in the last 25 years, so why am I picking Black Panther? It was compiled and produced by Kendrick Lamar, a three-time nominee in this category (and a recent Pulitzer Prize winner). Both soundtracks nominated in the last 25 years were, likewise, overseen by respected members of the music community: Babyface wrote and produced the songs on Waiting to Exhale, a 1996 nominee, while T Bone Burnett produced O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the 2001 winner. Also, Black Panther was both a box-office smash and a cultural milestone—the first black superhero film.

Camila Cabello left a successful group, Fifth Harmony,
and became an even bigger star on her own.
How often does that happen? 

Musgraves’ Golden Hour appears to be the leading country contender. No country album made the finals last year. The committee members aren’t likely to stiff a major genre two years running, especially now that they have eight slots to work with. This would be the first nominee in this category by a female country artist since Taylor Swift’s Red five years ago.

Dirty Computer wasn’t a big commercial hit, but it has drawn stellar reviews. And Monáe came out as pansexual this year, which would give the roster added diversity.

If all six of these early front-runners pan out, that leaves two remaining slots. Here are seven leading contenders to fill them.

Swift has been nominated in this category with three of her last four albums. While reputation hasn’t done as well as Swift’s previous album, 1989, it had the biggest first-week sales of any album in this eligibility year—bigger, even, than Drake’s smash. But there’s a complication: The committee has to know that if it gives voters the opportunity to vote for a huge pop name, they may very well take it. The last three Album of the Year winners are Swift, Adele and Bruno Mars. If Swift is nominated and wins, she would become just the fourth artist in Grammy history to win Album of the Year three times. The first three were Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon. Should the committee let such considerations affect their decision-making? Should they try to block all that out and focus strictly on the album’s merits? If they do, how does the album stack up to this year’s other contenders? The committee will doubtless spend a fair amount of time discussing these questions.

Ariana Grande’s Sweetener (due 8/17) is sure to get a look. Grande has yet to receive a nomination in one of the Big Four categories, so she’s overdue.

The CartersEverything Is Love is vying to become the first collaboration by a married couple to be nominated in this category since John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, which won the 1981 award. Both Jay-Z and Beyoncé were nominated in this category with their last studio albums—or last two, in Beyoncé’s case. (In terms of the Grammys, they could have titled this album Always the Bridesmaid…)

After nearly two decades of stardom, P!nk has yet to be nominated for Album of the Year as a lead artist. Her seventh studio album, Beautiful Trauma, may change her luck.

John Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness has received glowing reviews. Prine, likewise, has never been nominated in this category; his only “Big Four” nom was for Best New Artist of 1972. He lost to America. A decade ago, an album like this would probably have been nominated. But I think the committee will be nervous about the prospect of a 72-year-old white guy taking Album of the Year. That’s not the image the Grammys want to project right now. Prine would be the oldest solo lead artist ever nominated in this category, surpassing Tony Bennett, who was 68 when he took the 1994 award for MTV Unplugged. But Prine probably won’t go home empty-handed; he’ll probably win Best Contemporary Folk Album for the third time.

Ariana Grande has yet to receive a nomination in one
of the Big Four categories, so she’s overdue.

Another septuagenarian, Paul McCartney, 76, is also in the mix with Egypt Station, due 9/7. McCartney has received nine career noms in this category, more than any other artist. If Egypt Station is nominated, McCartney will become the only artist with Album of the Year noms in six decades. McCartney and Paul Simon are currently tied as the only artists with Album of the Year noms in five decades.

The Greatest Showman soundtrack has been a smash hit. But, as noted above, soundtracks that aren’t spearheaded by a music-biz power player rarely make it. Even such blockbusters as Titanic and Frozen were passed over in this category.

Numerous albums by former nominees in this category are also in the mix. These include Sam Smith’s The Thrill of It All, Chris Stapleton’s From A Room, Volume 2, Dave Matthews Band’s Come Tomorrow, The Weeknd’s My Dear Melancholy (an EP), Jack White’s Boarding House Reach, Beck’s Colors, Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods, U2’s Songs of Experience, Eminem’s Revival and Kanye West’s ye.

Other albums that are vying for a nom in this category include J. Cole’s KOD, Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys, Shawn MendesShawn Mendes, St. Vincent’s Masseduction, Jason Aldean’s Rearview Town, Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Pusha T’s Daytona, MigosCulture II, Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Miguel’s War & Leisure, Florence + the Machine’s High as Hope, Nicki Minaj’s Queen (due 8/10) and Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty (due 9/14).

Record of the Year

There are four early favorites in this category.

The surest thing is ’s “This Is America,” his timely and provocative social commentary with a must-see video. This would be Childish’s second nom in a row in this category. He was a finalist last year for “Redbone.” The multitalented performer is vying to become the fifth African-American artist to receive back-to-back noms in this category. The first four were Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Boyz II Men and the mostly black Black Eyed Peas.

After nine years of stardom, Drake has yet to be nominated in this category as a lead artist; he was nominated two years ago as a featured artist on Rihanna’s “Work.” Drake has two #1 hits—“God’s Plan” and “Nice for What”—in contention this year. Either could be nominated. I give the edge to “Nice for What,” a nod to old-school R&B. The track samples Lauryn Hill’s 1998 hit “Ex-Factor,” from her Album of the Year winner The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar’s “Pray for Me” is the closing track in Black Panther. This would be the second nom in this category for both artists. The Weeknd was nominated three years ago with “Can’t Feel My Face”; Lamar was nominated last year with “HUMBLE.” Another very fine top 10 hit from that soundtrack—“All the Stars” by Lamar and SZA—is also in contention. Either of these would be the first song written and recorded for a film to be nominated in this category since Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” from 8 Mile, 15 years ago.

The title of Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry” evokes the Manchester tragedy, but the stylish record isn’t the sad ballad you might expect.

Here are 10 leading contenders to fill the four remaining slots:

Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey’s “The Middle” was introduced on last year’s Grammy telecast as a two-minute Target ad. If the committee is able to get past the hit’s commercial origins, it’s a winning pop record. Voters will be attracted to the fact that artists from different genres—in this case, EDM and country—came together on the smash.

Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin’s “I Like It” could put some Latin flavor in the finals for the second year in a row. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” (featuring Justin Bieber) was nominated last year.

Post Malone’s “Rockstar” (featuring 21 Savage) was Post’s first #1 hit. It’s a good capsulation of his moody hip-hop sound.

In addition to the collab with Lamar, The Weeknd may be nominated for a hit of his own, the soulful ballad “Call Out My Name.”

Imagine Dragons were nominated in this category five years ago with “Radioactive.” They’re vying this year with “Whatever It Takes.” They’d be the first rock band to make a return trip to the finals since Coldplay 10 years ago.

If the committee is able to get past the commercial origins of "The Middle," it’s a winning pop record. Voters will be attracted to the fact that artists from different genres—in this case, EDM and country—came together on the smash.

Shawn Mendes’ soul-baring “In My Blood” is his most mature-sounding hit to date. The teen pop star (finally) turns 20 in August.

Justin Timberlake featuring Chris Stapleton’s “Say Something” marked a reunion of the two stars who first teamed so memorably on the CMAs in 2015. This would be Timberlake’s fourth nom in this category; Stapleton’s first.

XXXTentacion’s “SAD!” shot to #1 following his untimely death.

Maroon 5 has yet to be nominated in this category, and it’s unlikely their fortunes will change this late in their career, but their longevity is impressive. They have two Top 10 hits in contention, “What Lovers Do” (featuring SZA) and “Girls like You” (featuring Cardi B).

Camila Cabello’s chart-topping “Havana” (featuring Young Thug) was entered in this category last year and thus is ineligible here this year. But Cabello’s top 10 follow-up hit, “Never Be the Same,” is a contender.

Here are eight more possibilities: Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be,” Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up,” Taylor Swift’s “…Ready for It?”, Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams,” NF’s “Let You Down, Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel,” Bazzi’s “Mine” and Marshmello & Anne-Marie’s “Friends.”

Dua Lipa’s smart and stylish “New Rules” and Sam Smith’s “Too Good at Goodbyes” aren’t eligible because they, like “Havana,” were entered last year. (I hate it when that happens!)

Ed Sheeran & Beyoncé’s “Perfect” and Bruno Mars & Cardi B’s “Finesse” are both potentially strong contenders, but they may not be eligible. They will be allowed to compete in this category only if Grammy sleuths determine that the duet versions were newly recorded. Otherwise they will be eligible only for Best Remixed Recording. Both songs originated as solo recordings on albums that won Grammys last year.

Best New Artist

This is always the hardest category to handicap because the rules are fluid and ever-changing and because so much depends on how a Screening Committee decides borderline cases.

Post Malone and Dua Lipa are the early favorites, assuming the Grammys accept Post Malone in the category. His hit debut album, Stoney, was released in the previous eligibility year, but he blew up in year two. It’s similar to the situation with last year’s winner, Alessia Cara, who also had a previous year’s hit, “Here,” and an even bigger sophomore year. Post is vying to become the first white hip-hop act to be nominated in this category since Iggy Azalea four years ago. Lipa would be first Englishwoman to be nominated since Adele, who won 10 years ago.

Here are leading contenders to fill the six remaining slots:

Ella Mai has a top 10 hit with the chill R&B ballad “Boo’d Up.” She would be the first black British artist to be nominated since Corinne Bailey Rae 12 years ago.

Marshmello, who had his biggest hit to date with “Friends,” is vying to become the third EDM star to be nominated in this category in this decade, following Skrillex and The Chainsmokers.

H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar performed together at the recent BET Awards. They were both nominated for Best New Artist as well as Best R&B/Pop Artist, Female and Male, respectively.

A Boogie wit da Hoodie was also nominated for Best New Artist at the BET Awards.

Bazzi’s mellow “Mine” is a Top 20 hit with broad appeal.

Post Malone and Dua Lipa are the early BNA favorites,
assuming the Grammys accept Post Malone in the category. 

Metro Boomin has had success as a record producer, record executive and songwriter, in addition to his success as an artist.

Chloe x Halle, a sister duo consisting of Chloe and Halle Bailey, was nominated for Best Duo/Group at the BET Awards.

Juice WRLD has a current top 10 hit with “Lucid Dreams.” He’ll turn 20 in December, right around the time the nominations are announced.

Bebe Rexha had three Top 10 hits before the release of her debut album, Expectations.

Several acts that have topped the country airplay chart are in contention. They include Carly Pearce (“Every Little Thing), LANCO (“Greatest Love Story”), Russell Dickerson (“Yours”), Jordan Davis (“Singles You Up”) and Morgan Wallen (“Up Down”). Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Brett Young also topped the Country airplay chart, but they may be too far along in their career development to be considered new—though if Post Malone is allowed in, I’m not sure how these acts can be denied. The Screening Committee will decide.

If you want a long-shot, Soccer Mommy’s album was picked as one of the year’s best in both Entertainment Weekly and Time.

Other artists who may get a look include MAX, Playboi Carti, Lord Huron, Chris Lane, Vance Joy, LOCASH, Sofi Tukker, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Jade Bird, 21 Savage, Lil Skies, Grey, Lil Pump, Lil Baby, Lil Xan, 6ix9ine, Nipsey Hussle, Rich the Kid, Tee Grizzley, NAV, BlocBoy JB, Anne-Marie, Lauv, Famous Dex and King Princess.

Some big names that might have added some luster to the category will probably be ruled out. Camila Cabello and Niall Horan rose to fame in groups. Cardi B, Leon Bridges, Midland, Goldlink, Quavo and Offset have been nominated for Grammys as lead artists previously, and thus are not eligible. By my count, BTS, Troye Sivan, NF and Lil Yachty had released more than 30 tracks prior to the start of the eligibility year, and thus ran afoul of another Grammy rule.

P.S.: This will be Neil Portnow’s final Grammys as the Academy’s President/CEO. Let’s hope his last Grammys is one of his best Grammys.

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