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GREIN ON GRAMMYS, PART ONE
Likely Nominees for Album of the Year

Expect to hear Taylor Swift and The Weeknd mentioned a lot when the Grammy nominations are announced in early December. Both of these overachieving 25-year-olds are likely to be nominated for Album, Record and Song of the Year. Swift was nominated in all three categories once before, six years ago, but this would represent a new level of recognition for The Weeknd.

Swift has such a lock on Album of the Year that the Recording Academy might as well send the trophy to the engravers now. She has simply owned the year, not just in sales, but in the confident way she has taken a leadership role in the industry.

“Uptown Funk!” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars is the front-runner for Record of the Year. The sleek and snazzy single is the year’s biggest hit.

Both Swift and Ronson stand to make Grammy history if they win as expected on Feb. 15. Swift would become the first female artist to win Album of the Year twice for her own albums. She first won for her sophomore album, Fearless. Ronson would become the first person to win Record of the Year both as an artist and as a producer for another artist. He won the 2007 award for producing Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.”

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

Three albums seem like sure things—Swift’s 1989, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness.

This would be the third nomination in this category for Swift; the second for Lamar. To Pimp… is the highest-rated album so far this year at Metacritic.com, with a 96 score. The Grammys know that they need to shore up their credibility in the rap world, so his nomination is assured.

This has been a good year for country, so one or more country albums could make the finals. The strongest contenders are Sam Hunt’s Montevallo, Little Big Town’s Pain Killer, Kacey MusgravesPageant Material and Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights. Hunt’s album has spawned three #1 hits on the country chart, more than any other album this year. I think it has the strongest shot.

Don Henley and James Taylor, two respected veterans (and past MusiCares Person of the Year honorees), may fight it out for the fifth slot. Henley’s upcoming Cass County, his first solo studio album since 2000, features such A-listers as Mick Jagger & Miranda Lambert, Merle Haggard, Martina McBride and Dolly Parton. Before This World, Taylor’s first collection of new songs since 2002, got extra attention for becoming his first #1 album.

I’m going to go out on a limb and pick Henley’s album for the fifth slot. This would be Henley’s fourth Album of the Year nomination. (He scored his first two with the Eagles.) There is some resistance to non-country artists releasing country albums. Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee was passed over three years ago. The difference is that the Eagles played a huge role in shaping modern country.

What’s more, if both Montevallo and Cass County make the finals, it will mark the first time in Grammy history that two country albums have received Album of the Year noms in the same year.

Other country albums that are in the running include Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free, Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde and Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt.

There are also many other strong hip-hop candidates that could conceivably join Lamar in the finals. A nomination for Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint would allow the Grammys to one-up the VMAs, where the omission of “Anaconda” from the Video of the Year category prompted complaints (from Minaj, mostly). A nomination for Dr. Dre’s Compton would recognize the impressive success of the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, which has become the top-grossing movie biopic. Drake has two mixtapes in the running: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (the first 2015 album to sell 1 million copies) and the new What a Time to Be Alive (a collabo with Future). Drake won a Grammy for Best Rap Album for his second studio album, Take Care, but he’s never been nominated for Album of the Year.

Other rap albums that are in the running include Wale’s The Album about Nothing and J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

D’Angelo & the Vanguard’s Black Messiah drew rave reviews (and a 95 score at Metacritic) when it was released late last year. D’Angelo’s previous album, 2000’s Voodoo, won a Grammy as Best R&B Album. One bad sign: Black Messiah has fallen off the charts.

The panel may want to recognize Nick Jonas’ surprising and convincing emergence as a solo star with a nomination for Nick Jonas. The panel nominated Justin Timberlake’s solo debut, Justified, in 2003.

It wasn’t a great year for rock. Even so, several rock albums are contenders: Alabama ShakesSound & Color, Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Fall Out Boy’s American Beauty/American Psycho, Tame Impala’s Currents, Foo Fighters Sonic Highways, Of Monsters and Men’s Beneath the Skin and Twenty One PilotsBlurryface. Foo Fighters was nominated in this category with its last two albums. (Mumford & Sons won Album of the Year with its previous release, Babel, but its latest, Wilder Mind, drew mixed reactions.)

In addition to Henley, 68, and Taylor, 67, numerous other veteran (read: older) artists are in the running, including Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard (who are 82 and 78, respectively), Bob Dylan (74) and Neil Diamond (74). A case can be made for each of them. But newer and younger artists are more apt to excite the panelists (and, by extension, demo-minded execs at CBS).

Pentatonix’s That’s Christmas to Me, last year’s best-selling holiday album, may face an insurmountable obstacle: No Christmas album has ever made the finals in this category.

Other candidates include Meghan Trainor’s Title, Leon BridgesComing Home, Miguel’s Wildheart, Hozier’s Hozier, Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell, Fifth Harmony’s Reflection, Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show, Jill Scott’s Woman, Van Morrison’s Duets, Tori Kelly’s Unbreakable Smile and a pair of hit soundtracks—Fifty Shades of Grey and Empire.

(Earlier, I said that Swift is vying to become the first female artist to win Album of the Year twice for her own albums. If that sounded as carefully worded as a Hillary Clinton statement about her server, it was: 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.)

My five picks are Taylor Swift’s 1989, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness, Sam Hunt’s Montevallo and Don Henley’s Cass County.

Paul Grein has been tracking the Grammys since the “Bad Blood” on the Grammy ballot was by Neil Sedaka.

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