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GREIN ON GRAMMYS: HANDICAPPING THE NOMINEES, PT. 4

It doesn’t take a genius to know that Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Adele’s 25 are headed for Grammy nominations for Album of the Year. Two of Beyoncé’s last three albums—I Am… Sasha Fierce and Beyoncé—were nominated in the category. Adele won the award with her previous album, 21.

But who will these megastars face in the finals?

The eligibility year for the 59th annual Grammy Awards ends 9/30. Let’s see how the key races—Album, Record and Song of the Year and Best New Artist—are shaping up.

As you probably know, there’s a two-step process to becoming a nominee in these top four categories. First, voting members of The Recording Academy make their choices. Then, a select committee of Grammy insiders reviews the voters’ top 20 choices in each category. This panel’s vote determines the final nominees. So the committee can catapult something from #20 in the first round of voting into the top five. But if it’s #21 in the first round, the committee never sees it. That makes predicting these things a little tricky.

I wrote an earlier version of this piece that ran in June. Much can change in three months, so I adapted that earlier piece to bring it up to date.

Beyoncé has amassed 20 Grammys, but just one of those awards came in one of the Big Four categories. That was when “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” took the 2009 award for Song of the Year. This may lead to a sense that she’s due for another big win. Lemonade was the critics’ choice as the best album of the first half of the year at three key outlets—Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and Metacritic.com.

It’s too early to know if Adele’s 25 will win the Grammy for Album of the Year on Feb. 12. But just being nominated would defy the odds. This would be the first time that an artist’s follow-up to an Album of the Year winner has been nominated in that category since Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft (the follow-up to Time Out of Mind) was a 2001 finalist. (How to explain this? It’s hard to follow an Album of the Year winner. Greatness is expected. Anything less than that is viewed as a disappointment.) Could 25 somehow fall short of a nomination? That’s really hard to imagine. It will be there.

A dozen albums are duking it out to fill the other three nomination slots. Let’s take them in descending order of their perceived likelihood of landing a nomination.

Drake’s Views is the year’s top album in terms of Sales Plus Streaming, with 13 weeks at #1. The album’s success has dramatized the increasing importance of streaming, which gives it an added sense of significance. But it has drawn mixed reviews. And Drake has yet to be nominated for Album of the Year. (Of course, he has never had a year like this before.)

The Recording Academy changed its rules in June to extend eligibility to albums that haven’t been commercially released. That’s good news for Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, which made history when it became the first album to hit the charts based solely on streaming. The album has drawn rave reviews. EW hailed the album’s “fusion of gospel, electronic and hip-hop music.” Grammy voters often respond to music that bridges genres.

Grammy voters also like a compelling back-story. How’s this? Faded teen idol comes back convincingly with a #1 album that spawns three #1 singles. The songs update his sound and allow him to neatly segue into a mainstream pop career. I’m talking, of course, about Justin Bieber and his album Purpose. Pop’s other Justin, Mr. Timberlake, received Album of the Year noms for his first two solo albums, on which he made a similar transition.

Paul Simon and Grammy voters are “Old Friends,” to cite the title of a song from Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 album Bookends. Simon’s latest album, the well-reviewed Stranger to Stranger, may give him his eighth career Album of the Year nomination. That would allow Simon to set three Grammy records. He would have the longest span of Album of the Year nominations (48 years, going back to Bookends). He would become the first artist in Grammy history to receive Album of the Year nominations in six consecutive decades. Finally, Simon, who turns 75 on Oct. 13, would become the oldest lead artist ever nominated for Album of the Year. The only hitch (and it’s a big one): The album came and went quickly. Here’s a possible hint: Simon will appear at the Grammy Museum in L.A. on 9/30 for “A Conversation With Paul Simon.” Tickets, priced at $100, benefit the museum. I don’t think this means that Simon is assured a nomination. But it does suggest that the album is on the Grammy radar. The committee that selects the final nominees will likely have a spirited debate on Bieber vs. Simon; on the importance of reflecting the current music scene vs. honoring pop traditions. Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall for that one?

Sia’s This Is Acting also has a good chance. The album’s second single, “Cheap Thrills,” became her first #1 hit.

David Bowie received one Album of the Year nom in his lifetime, for 1983’s Let’s Dance. If he’s nominated for Blackstar, which was released two days before his death in January, he’ll become the first lead artist to receive a posthumous nomination in this category since Ray Charles was nominated (and won) 12 years ago for Genius Loves Company. Here’s a possible complication: There’s no way to “pay off” the nomination with a performance on the telecast. Besides, the Grammys already paid tribute to Bowie on this year’s show (via Lady Gaga’s 10-song medley).

Maren MorrisHero and Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood are the top country contenders. Don’t take my word for it: Morris and Church are the only artists to be nominated for Album, Single and Song of the Year at the upcoming CMAs.

Frank Ocean’s sophomore album, Blonde, is also a strong contender. Ocean’s 2012 debut, channel ORANGE, was an Album of the Year nominee. Ocean would become the first artist since Lady Gaga to be nominated in this category with both of his or her first two studio albums.

Rihanna could land her second nomination in this category with the hit-laden ANTI. She was a finalist five years ago for Loud.

Radiohead, who have been nominated for Album of the Year three times, could be back for a fourth time with A Moon Shaped Pool. Only two rock bands have amassed four or more Album of the Year noms—The Beatles, who lead with five, and U2, who have had four.

Bon Iver’s 22, a million is due to be released on 9/30, the last day of eligibility. It’s the group’s first album since 2011’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver, which won two Grammys—Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album.

Other top candidates include Coldplay’s A Head Full of Dreams, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman, Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, The 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep…, Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered, Keith Urban’s Ripcord, DJ Khaled’s Major Key and The Lumineers Cleopatra. 

Note: twenty one pilotsBlurryface isn’t eligible. It was entered for Album of the Year last year. The album’s key tracks, “Stressed Out” and “Ride” are, however, eligible for Record and Song of the Year.

To recap: The likely nominees are Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Adele’s 25, Drake’s Views, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Justin Bieber’s Purpose.

Click the links below to go to the other categories.

Record of the Year

Song of the Year

Best New Artist

Paul Grein has been reporting on the Grammys long enough to know that Alessia Cara wouldn’t be the first artist with that surname to receive a Best New Artist nomination. Irene Cara (no relation) was nominated in 1980.

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