The Grammy Whisperer Previews the “Big Four” Categories and More

I’ve given you my initial picks on Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar’s likely rivals in the Album of the Year finals. But what about the other top categories? We’re about three-quarters of the way through the eligibility year (which ends Sept. 30), so let’s take a look. Next up: Best New Artist.

This is always the hardest category to predict. The rules change practically every year. The cast of characters changes every year. Music and music delivery systems are constantly changing. When you think about it, only a fool would even attempt such a task.

So, let’s get to it. Styles will presumably be nixed on the grounds that he was a superstar before he set foot in the studio to record his first solo album. Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani and other group alumni were ineligible to compete here.

It’s no longer necessary for an artist to have released an album within the eligibility period. The new rules say an artist “must have released a minimum of five singles/tracks or one album,” but cannot have released “more than 30 singles/tracks or three albums” prior to the start of the current eligibility year. (Got all that?) I believe the latter rule renders the prolific Migos and Lil Uzi Vert ineligible.

Julia Michaels has a great backstory, having written hits for such artists as Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Selena Gomez and Fifth Harmony. If all the artists for whom she has written hits vote for her, she could easily win.

SZA cites an exceptionally diverse list of artists as influences, including Billie Holiday, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Björk, Jamiroquai and Wu-Tang Clan. The Nominations Review Committee, which loves it when artists cross genre lines, will eat that factoid up.

Kehlani got some Grammy attention two years ago when her EP You Should Be Here was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album. The final nominations in the R&B field are also determined by a Nominations Review Committee, so the “Big Four” committee may reasonably infer that a Kehlani nom for Best New Artist would be well-received in the R&B community.

James Arthur’s “Say You Won’t Let Go” is one of the year’s top ballad hits. Arthur has a chance to become the first artist to be nominated for Best New Artist and Song of the Year in the same year since Sam Smith did it three years ago.

Rag’n’Bone Man has an excellent chance—if enough rank-and-file voters are familiar with “Human.” (He would need to make the top 20 on the list of initial choices by the voting members to even be considered by the Nominations Review Committee.) Grammy trivia: If both Arthur and Rag’n’Bone Man are nominated, this will be the second time in the past five years that two English male solo artists have been Best New Artist finalists in the same year. James Blake and Ed Sheeran made it in 2013.

Country rookies Brett Young, Luke Combs, Kane Brown and Dylan Scott are also in the mix. Since 2000, three country male solo artists have received nominations—Brad Paisley, Hunter Hayes and Sam Hunt.

Other possibilities include Post Malone, Kodak Black, Khalid, KYLE, Playboi Carti, Russ, Lil Yachty, Kygo, AJR and Skip Marley.

My early picks: Julia Michaels, SZA, Kehlani, James Arthur, Rag’n’Bone Man.

Note: Last year, 376 artists were entered for Best New Artist, making it the least crowded of the “Big Four” categories.

See Album of the Year predictions