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GRAMMY CHEW: ALBUM OF THE YEAR GENDER GRUDGE MATCH


The Grammy furor over “step up” seems like a million years ago, and an array of other injustices, social crises and disasters have dominated the headlines since the last time trophies were handed out by maskless celebs under the same roof. Nonetheless, gender parity is still very much top of mind in Grammyland, and it so happens that female acts are due to figure prominently in the Big Four categories this time out. There are so many serious female contenders for Grammy’s Album of the Year category that the men will likely be fighting for just a few spots. 

As we’ve said before and will say again, Grammy does what Grammy wants, anyone who claims to be able to predict the outcome with any certainty is nuts and we’ll probably end up eating at least some of our words later on. Let’s first take a gander at some of the top women artists vying for Album of the Year.

THE WOMEN

THE SUPERSTARS

Lady Gaga: Chromatica, the latest installment in the Interscope megastar’s fascinating, multi-faceted career, bowed at #1 (with 276k) and yielded a hit in the energizing Ariana Grande duet “Rain on Me.” Given this brilliant pop chameleon/movie star/TV vampire/standards crooner’s capacity to do, well, anything, Grammy is quite eager to have her on the show. Look for an AOTY nod to acknowledge her vision.

Taylor Swift: Tay’s latest #1 set, folklore, has enjoyed seven non-consecutive weeks of chart dominion, and marked the Republic idol’s pivot from the glossy pop of the last half-decade to a rootsier, more eclectic set that highlights her considerable gifts as a storyteller. Given the ardor with which both fans and critics responded, the momentum is huge for an AOTY nom.

Dua Lipa: 2019’s Best New Artist has more than lived up to the hype with big radio hits (notably “Don’t Start Now”); her widely admired 2020 full-length, Future Nostalgia (Warner), offers a brisk, confident update of disco-diva pop. Dua’s a Grammy darling now and should end up on the shortlist.

Megan Thee Stallion: Buoyed by a gigantic single with Beyoncé (“Savage”), this rapper is a bona fide badass and pop-culture supernova—but will Grammy find the ultra-explicit lyrics on her EP Suga out of sync with the moment?

Halsey: The Capitol pop explorer’s third album, Manic, would easily have scored a #1 bow early in 2020 but for Eminem’s surprise drop; it was also the first set of the year to be certified platinum. With eclectic hits like “Without Me” and “Graveyard”—and high-profile forays into prose and painting—Halsey continues to prove herself an artist of substance.

Camila Cabello: Her “Havana” on the 2019 Grammys was a showstopping throwback to the great Broadway production numbers, and subsequent smash “Senorita” with Shawn Mendes kept her on the radar. The triple nominee’s Romance, released by Epic late last year, could well earn a nom here and provide the platform for another splendid segment on the telecast.

Miranda Lambert: Vanner/RCA Nashville star Lambert continues to evolve creatively, and her moving performance of “Bluebird” on the ACMs was a reminder of her potency as a performer. Wildcard, which was edged for ACM Album of the Year by red-hot Luke Combs, looks likely to get a Grammy Country Album nod and could be a contender for AOTY. 

THE BREAKTHROUGHS

Summer Walker: A seeming shoo-in (if there is such a thing) for a Best New Artist nod, this LVRN/Interscope breakout has led a renaissance in R&B, with songs that feel intimately specific and universal all at once. She’s also fared brilliantly in the marketplace. A nom for her album Over It would properly affirm her importance to the musical moment.

Jhené Aiko: Another trailblazer in new-school soul, ARTium/Def Jam’s Aiko draws listeners in with a jazzy, meditative vibe—and delivers biting lyrics like “you’re motherfucking right I’m bitter.” Sonic beauty and sharp honesty coexist gracefully on her Chilombo; her moment could be now.

Gabby Barrett: The Warner Nashville newcomer’s gloriously vengeful “I Hope” was a monster, but even her admirers wondered if she could prove herself more than one big song. After her ACMs appearance threw a bit more light on her set Goldmine, it appears she might. She’s already got BNA heat; could AOTY also be in the mix?

Doja Cat: With one giant hit (“Say So”) and huge pop-cultural impact, RCA’s biggest arrival of the year blends a colorful presence and raw, vivid rhymes. She’s clearly in the mix for BNA; if Grammy decides to anoint her, full-length Hot Pink could sashay into this category too.

Phoebe Bridgers: This indie singer/songwriter has been widely touted for BNA, and in her case the buzz derives from her album, Punisher, which brashly blends old-school troubadour values with timely experimentation. If one outsider ends up among the nominees, it could well be Phoebe.

WILDCARDS

Brittany Howard: The erstwhile Alabama Shakes frontwoman has kissed a lot of babies—and earned four trophies—in Grammyland, setting the table for her highly personal solo debut, Jaime (ATO), to get a good look. Will her expansive, genre-defying set be the outlier nominee in the next AOTY crop?

Fiona Apple: 1998’s Best New Artist remains unpredictable and inventive—and on her most recent set, some might say downright perverse. But Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Epic) earned swoons from critics itching for adventurous new music. Is it too adventurous?



THE MEN

Here are the guys we think have a shot at an AOTY nom. We’ve divided the contenders as we see them into (a) the favorites—who appear to have the best odds of getting those spots—(b) serious contenders, whose odds are longer, and (c) the wildcards.

THE FAVORITES

The Weeknd: Given the impact of his album and the ubiquity of “Blinding Lights” (along with the intangible cool factor), we’d be shocked if the XO/Republic superstar weren’t included. A lot of people feel strongly he should win in this category. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Harry Styles: Columbia’s British phenom might be the biggest star in the world, and in addition to showing growth creatively, his Fine Line yielded two giant hits. He looks like a lock, but might he end up being rewarded in ROTY and SOTY instead?

Lil Baby: Quality Control/Motown/Capitol’s rap breakout had the biggest album of the year with My Turn and became the musical face of the Black Lives Matter movement. With creative, commercial and cultural impact all on his side, Baby seems a natural for a nom.

SERIOUS CONTENDERS

Post Malone: The eclectic Republic superstar is so big that it’s easy to take him for granted. Grammy has done just that in the past and may continue to do so as it addresses systemic inequality. But his album was enormous, “Circles” is beyond behemoth and his stylistic reach is impressive. Could he squeak in?

Juice WRLD: The departed rapper’s posthumous Grade A/Interscope set culminated a real cultural moment, with the hip-hop community united in creating the record and celebrating an impressive talent taken too soon. Grammy will be attuned to the significance.

WILDCARDS

Pop Smoke: Another posthumous smash, the late rapper’s debut album on Victor Victor/Republic is even bigger than Juice’s and it’s clear that it’s culturally important.

Luke Combs: The only Nashville contender, in all likelihood, River House/Columbia Nashville’s Combs has earned enormous streams, assorted country-music awards and tons of credibility. Could his album represent for Music City?

Justin Bieber: Biebs made strides creatively and commercially with his Changes set (RBMG/Def Jam) and scored hits with “Intentions” and “10,000 Hours.” His newly devout image, meanwhile, may play well with many voters who were inclined to ignore him during his enfant terrible days.

Future: The Freebandz/Epic rapper occupies his own extraterrestrial plane, and continues to stretch into trippy new territory. Does he have the gravitas to carve out a place in this moment?

Polo G: This Columbia breakout has definitely established himself as an act, building respect every minute. His set The Goat could be a surprise entry, though it seems likelier that his impact will be felt in the Rap categories.

DaBaby: SCMG/Interscope’s streaming monster has earned major credibility in the hip-hop world, and his “Rockstar” just won’t quit. Did his Grammy-eligible Kirk set get overshadowed by huge follow-up Blame It on Baby?

 

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