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HASHING OUT THE GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
Who Will Win What?

HITS contributor Paul Grein (a.k.a. the Grammy whisperer) has been trying to correctly predict the five nominees in the four "General Field" categories. So he came for counsel to the only other person who really understands how the Grammys work—HITS editor Lenny Beer. Here, they hash it out.

Paul gave HITS readers his initial picks in September, just before the eligibility year closed. He revised his picks slightly and then sat down for his session with Lenny. Will Lenny sway the guru or will Paul hold firm? And will either of them be right? We'll bring you the final results Monday morning.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Paul's picks in September:
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's revised picks:
The first three still seem like locks to me. I think Chris Stapleton's late surge with Traveller (which re-entered the chart at #1 following his CMA sweep) may push him into the finals, which may squeeze Hunt out. I'm torn between Henley's album and James Taylor's Before This World for the fifth slot.

Lenny:
Irving will receive the President’s Merit Award at the 2016 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons the night before the Grammys.

Paul: That's right. I don't want to suggest that that this is a quid pro quo—I don't believe it is—but in a close race, everything matters. That makes me lean even more toward Henley. How about you?

Lenny: I still think Taylor Swift, Kendrick and The Weeknd are sure things. I think the other two slots are between Henley, Hunt, the Hamilton cast album and Chris Stapleton. Stapleton may knock out Hunt and Hamilton could take out Henley. I don’t think James has a chance.

Paul: Hamilton is a possibility. The album made the top 10 on the Album Sales chart and the top 15 on the SPS chart. But just as the Grammys don't usually nominate soundtracks for Album of the Year, they are probably not going to give up one of their five slots to a Broadway show. They'd rather promote music acts.

Lenny:
 They nominate soundtracks sometimes.

Paul:
 In the last 20 years, just two soundtracks have been nominated for Album of the Year. And in both cases, the soundtracks were produced by a recording veteran: Babyface on Waiting to Exhale and T Bone Burnett on O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Lenny:
 Questlove and Black Thought (founding members of the Roots) executive produced the Hamilton album.

Paul: That's right. But they didn't produce it. The producers are Broadway people—Alex Lacamoire, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bill Sherman. They're the ones who would win the Grammy.

Lenny
: The Grammys would love to be able to present Hamilton on TV prior to the Tonys.

Paul:
 But they could do that even without an Album of the Year nomination. It's certain to be nominated for Best Musical Theater Album. Lenny, this is a really bold call on your part. Do you realize Hamilton would be the first cast album to get an Album of the Year nomination since Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972?

Lenny:
 Do you mean the rock opera album in 1971?

Paul:
 No. That was nominated for Album of the Year in '71, and then in '72, the Broadway cast album was nominated, too. I've always thought that some of those voters thought they were voting for the original album. In any event, that's a long drought for cast albums in this category. Dreamgirls wasn't nominated, nor was Rent or The Book of Mormon.

Lenny:
 That adds to the sense of occasion.

Paul: OK, for this to become a reality, two things would have to happen. First, it would have to rank among the top 20 albums in the voting of rank-and-file members. If it comes in, say, 22nd, it won't even be presented to the nominations review panel. And then a few panelists would have to talk it up and make the case for why it should be in the final five.

Lenny: I can see both things happening.

Paul: Can we agree that the bigger hurdle for Hamilton will be making the top 20 in the first place?

Lenny: That sounds fair.

Paul: I'm having a hard time coming up with my fifth album. So let me step back a bit. In addition to Henley and Taylor, and now Hamilton, top candidates include Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color, Leon Bridges' Coming Home, D'Angelo and the Vanguard's Black Messiah, Jason Isbell's Something More than Free, Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard's Django & Jimmie, twenty one pilots' Blurryface, Fall Out Boy's American Beauty/American Psycho and Jill Scott's Woman.

Lenny:
 You're all over the place.

Paul:
 That's what happens when you think about this too much.

Lenny
: So why not just go with Hamilton? It's probably no more of a long-shot than any one of those.

Paul:
I think you're on to something there. OK, I'll go with Swift, Lamar, The Weeknd, Stapleton and Hamilton.


RECORD OF THE YEAR

Paul's picks in September:
"Uptown Funk!" by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face," Taylor Swift's "Blank Space," Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" and Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud."

Paul's revised picks:
I wouldn't change a thing. I wish I could have found a spot for "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth. It's precisely the kind of rap hit that a Grammy voter would love—a sweet pop ballad with a hip-hop overlay. But I don't know what to knock out to get it in there. Sometimes, even great records (like "See You Again") just miss.

Lenny:
 I agree with your Record picks.

Paul:
 I think it's a good field. I'll stick with those then.


SONG OF THE YEAR

Paul's picks in September:
"Thinking Out Loud," "Girl Crush," "Blank Space," "Uptown Funk!" and a Weeknd song, either "Can't Feel My Face" or "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)."

Paul's revised picks:
As it turned out, The Weeknd entered only "Can't Feel My Face" in this category. Smart guy: He didn't want to split his votes. I'll still go with these five songs, though, again, I wish I could have found room for "See You Again."

Lenny:
 I agree with your Song picks too.

Paul:
 It would be very unusual for the Song nominees to line up exactly with the Record nominees, which is what I'm suggesting will happen. It hasn't happened since 1992. And, frankly, it probably won't happen this year either. But I think it's the safest way to go, in terms of predictions, and then we'll see what happens.

Lenny:
 What were the nominees in 1992?

Paul: Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart," Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson's "Beauty and the Beast," k.d. lang's "Constant Craving" and Vanessa Williams' "Save the Best for Last."

Lenny:
 "Achy Breaky Heart"?

Paul:
 Yeah.

Lenny:
 No wonder they set up the nominations review panel.

Paul:
 I'm sure that was one of the reasons.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Paul's picks in September:
Meghan Trainor, Sam Hunt, Leon Bridges, Tori Kelly and Elle King.

Paul's revised picks:
The first three still seem like locks. And King helped her chances by scoring a top 10 hit with "Ex's & Oh's" just as the nominations review panel was meeting. But I now think Hozier will snag the fifth slot instead of Kelly. True, he has yet to follow "Take Me to Church" with another pop hit, but his album has held up nicely on the charts even without a follow-up hit.

Lenny:
 I think the Scooter Braun typhoon nails the pick for Tori.

Paul: Carly Rae Jepsen wasn't nominated for New Artist three years ago. She was a Scooter client too, wasn't she? I guess you could say that Justin's comeback has put Scooter in the forefront.

Lenny:
 Scooter wasn’t as powerful in '12 as he is now. He is really fucking powerful at leveraging things.

Paul:
 Can we say "fucking" in HITS?

Lenny:
 Are you kidding me?

Paul:
 Oh right. With Tori, I'm concerned that she hasn't had a home-run Top 40 hit yet.

Lenny:
 She has had a lot of airplay at Top 40 and Hot AC and has won over a lot of people. And James Bay is alive too.

Paul:
 I haven't forgotten about him. He won the Critics' Choice award at the Brit Awards this year. The winner of that award last year, Sam Smith, went on to win four Grammys.

Lenny:
 That's right.

Paul: It will be interesting to see what they do with Hozier. Last year, "Take Me to Church" was up for Song of the Year. He has yet to land another pop hit. But he's still the same artist. Will they continue to support him or will they say, "We gave you a shot last year and you didn't really follow up. You need to come up with something else."

Lenny: That's why I don't think he'll make it.

Paul: Or they could say, "OK, maybe he's not a singles artist. Maybe not every song will become a hit. But he's a quality artist and we're not going to bail on him just because he didn't have a follow-up pop hit."

Lenny: That's the question.

Paul: It will be interesting to see what they do with Hozier. Last year, "Take Me to Church" was up for Song of the Year. He has yet to land another pop hit. But he's still the same artist. Will they continue to support him or will they say, "We gave you a shot last year and you didn't really follow up. You need to come up with something else."

Lenny: That's why I don't think he'll make it.

Paul: Or they could say, "OK, maybe he's not a singles artist. Maybe not every song will become a hit. But he's a quality artist and we're not going to bail on him just because he didn't have a follow-up pop hit."

Lenny: That's the question.

Paul: How about these names, which I think are just below the first five: twenty one pilots, Fetty Wap, WALK THE MOON, Shawn Mendes, Rae Sremmurd, X Ambassadors and Cole Swindell.

Lenny:
 twenty one pilots is big. Shawn will be big.

Paul: Do you think either of them could get a nomination?

Lenny
: I don’t think Shawn makes it—maybe too pop/boy-band/uncool for the voters—but he is gonna be big. twenty one pilots' record is breaking pop right now, probably too late for voters. It's giant with tweener girls. I'll stay with my six (Trainor, Hunt, Bridges, Kelly, King and Bay). But neither of these other two you mentioned would shock me, nor be unqualified…I think you can list six names and say it will be five of these six names.

Paul:
 I like to live dangerously. I'm going to stick with my five: Trainor, Hunt, Bridges, Hozier and King.

Lenny: This was fun.

Paul:
 It was. Thanks, Lenny.

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