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THE EIGHT TIGHTEST RACES ON THIS YEAR'S GRAMMY BALLOT

Some Grammy categories are so easy to predict, the accountants hardly need to bother tallying the votes. Even the other nominees for Best Song Written for Visual Media must know that “Shallow” is going to win. And if anybody other than Tony Bennett takes Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, it will be a shock. (That prediction is good almost every year.)

But other categories are extremely hard to predict. Here are eight categories this year that are tight as a drum.


Album of the Year: For the first time, there are eight nominees in this category. You could winnow the field by keeping this fact in mind: Since the Grammys introduced genre album awards in 1994, no album has won Album of the Year that wasn’t at least nominated for its genre album award. That could spell doom for Black Panther and Drake’s Scorpion, which weren’t nominated for Best Rap Album; Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, which was passed over for a Best Urban Contemporary Album nom; and Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys, which missed out on a Best Pop Vocal Album nom.

The four albums left standing are Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour, which is nominated for Best Country Album; Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You, nominated for Best Americana Album; Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, nominated for Best Rap Album; and H.E.R.’s H.E.R., nominated for Best R&B Album.

And how do the genres represented by these four albums tend to fare in this category? The last rap album to win was OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below 15 years ago. The last country album to win was Taylor Swift’s Fearless nine years ago. The last Americana album to win was Mumford & SonsBabel six years ago. The last R&B album to win was Bruno Mars24K Magic just last year. But Mars, of course, is a pop artist who made an R&B album.

Under this two-step process of elimination, the best bets here may be By the Way, I Forgive You and Golden Hour. But these albums appeal to the same basic voting bloc. I told you this wasn’t going to be easy.

When my fellow Grammy nerd Lenny Beer and I predicted the winners in the Big Four categories a couple of weeks ago, we both thought Black Panther would be the voters’ pick, despite its failure to land a Best Rap Album nom. The album has a lot going for it. Kendrick Lamar curated the album. Lamar, the most respected rapper of the last decade, has yet to win in this category despite three previous noms—and a Pulitzer Prize, to boot. Moreover, Lamar has more Grammy noms this year—eight—than anyone else. And, of course, the movie made history. That said, it’s going to be close. I think this is one of those years where the winning album and the #5 album in the voting won’t be that far apart. My pick: Black Panther: The Album, Music from and Inspired By.

Best Pop Vocal Album: This could easily go to any of three albums—Ariana Grande’s Sweetener, P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma or Camila Cabello’s Camila. This is P!nk’s fourth nom in this category; Grande’s third. Neither artist has ever won in this category. Turning to the second tier, Shawn MendesShawn Mendes is the only nominee by a male artist, which could conceivably work to his advantage if the female artists split the vote. Taylor Swift, nominated for reputation, won in this category with her last album, 1989. Swift is vying to become just the second artist (following Adele) to win here with back-to-back albums. Kelly Clarkson, nominated for Meaning of Life, is vying to become the first three-time winner in this category. (That would be a shocker). I peg Grande’s album as the likely winner, if only because her “thank u, next” (which is not on the album) was #1 throughout the voting period. If P!nk loses again, she’ll have more noms in this category without winning than anyone else. My pick: Sweetener.

Best Rock Performance: Two of the nominated tracks are from albums that are vying for a genre album award. Greta Van Fleet’s “Highway Tune” is from From the Fires, which is up for Best Rock Album. Arctic Monkeys’ “Four Out of Five” is from Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, which is nominated for Best Alternative Music Album. But I’m going with Chris Cornell’s “When Bad Does Good,” because this will probably be the voters’ last chance to honor the late co-founder of Soundgarden. Cornell hasn’t won a Grammy since 1994, when Soundgarden won two. He was nominated in this category posthumously last year for “The Promise,” but he lost to another recently departed legend, Leonard Cohen. If Cornell wins, this would be the third year in row that this award has been presented posthumously; David Bowie won two years ago. The other two nominees are Halestorm’s “Uncomfortable” and Fever 333’s “Made an America.” My pick: “When Bad Does Good.”

Best Alternative Music Album: St. Vincent, nominated for Masseduction, won in this category with her previous album, St. Vincent. She would be the first female solo artist to win twice in this category. Beck, nominated for Colors, won Best Rock Album and Album of the Year with his previous album, Morning Phase. He’s a two-time winner in the Alternative category for a pair of 1990s albums. If he wins, he would tie Radiohead and The White Stripes as the only three-time winners in the category’s history. Björk (Utopia) has never won in this category, despite eight noms, more than anyone else in the category’s history. Rounding out the field are two past nominees in the category—David Byrne (American Utopia) and Arctic Monkeys (Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino). A win would be something of a lifetime-achievement award for Byrne, who co-founded Talking Heads in 1975. (Other veteran artists who have won in this category are Tom Waits and Bowie.) I’m going with Beck, who has three noms this year, more than anyone else in this category. My pick: Colors.

Best Traditional R&B Performance: Three of the nominated tracks are from albums that are vying for a genre album award. Leon Bridges’ “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” is the opening track on Good Thing, which is up for Best R&B Album. PJ Morton featuring Yebba’s cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” is from Gumbo Unplugged (Live), which is also nominated for Best R&B Album. Bettye LaVette’s “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight” is from Things Have Changed, which is up for Best Americana Album. But I’m going with Charlie Wilson featuring Lalah Hathaway’s “Made for Love.” Wilson, a founding member of The Gap Band, has never won a Grammy, despite 13 noms. Hathaway has won five, including three in this category—more than anyone else in the category’s history. The fifth nominee is MAJOR.’s “Honest.” My pick: “Made for Love.”

Best Rap Performance: Kendrick Lamar has won in this category in three of the last four years, so “King’s Dead,” his Black Panther collaboration with Jay Rock, Future & James Blake, has an excellent chance. But it must get past Cardi B’s “Be Careful” and a pair of #1 pop hits, Drake’s “Nice for What” and Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” (on which the Grammys elevated Drake, Big Hawk and Swae Lee to star billing). The fifth nominee is Anderson .Paak’s “Bubblin.” I’m leaning toward “Sicko Mode,” if only because it hit #1 during the voting period. Scott really should have gotten some Big Four category recognition. He probably would have, too, if the noms had come out just a month or two later. My pick: “Sicko Mode.”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance: Here’s an oddity: While collaborations have won in the equivalent pop category five out of the seven times it has been presented, just one collaboration—Pentatonix featuring Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”—has won in this category in the same seven-year period. That could be bad news for collabs by Maren Morris featuring Vince Gill (“Dear Hate”) and the megahit collaboration by Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line (“Meant to Be”). Little Big Town is vying for its fourth award in this category with “When Someone Stops Loving You.” They face Brothers Osborne’s “Shoot Me Straight” and Dan + Shay’s “Tequila.” Dan + Shay’s follow-up single, “Speechless,” was #1 on the country chart throughout the voting period, which could give them an edge. My pick: “Tequila.”

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media: Ludwig Göransson’s score for Black Panther could be boosted by a Black Panther sweep, even though, of course, this isn’t the Kendrick Lamar-curated album. But it’s facing soundtracks by four repeat winners in this category. John Williams (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) is an 11-time winner in this category. (Three of those wins are for scores for the Star Wars franchise.) Two-time category champs who are nominated are Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water), Michael Giacchino (Coco) and Hans Zimmer (Blade Runner 2049, which he composed with Benjamin Wallfisch). I’m going with The Shape of Water, which won the Oscar and Golden Globe last year. Closer to home, Desplat is nominated for Grammys for Best Instrumental Composition and Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella for the film’s title song. My pick: The Shape of Water.

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