Album of the Year is an intensely competitive category in any year, but the current crop of high-profile releases makes narrowing down the contenders especially challenging. We’ve broken out a handful we consider “favorites” and others that are strong contenders. We’ll take up the ones we regard as long shots in a separate discussion.

A caveat: Grammy will do what Grammy wants. Just because we think a particular selection should be a lock doesn’t mean it couldn’t be excluded (remember The Weeknd). And an album we’ve never heard of may well make its way to the inside track. Our picks are based on the hope that sanity will prevail.


Olivia Rodrigo, SOUR (Geffen): 2021’s biggest breakout thanks to mega-streams on singles like “drivers license” and “good 4 u” (not that stats count), Rodrigo delivered a solid, highly listenable album that showed range, creativity and a compelling point of view. The set was also among a handful of big releases underscoring that rock (in this case spiky alternative pop-rock) was poised to find a large new audience.

Lil Nas X, MONTERO (Columbia): The kid who rocked the planet with “Old Town Road” has grown into a cultural force whose gay-positive messaging is delivered with an irresistible sense of fun and a wide-ranging musicality even as it delves into painful questions of identity and connection. This project ticks every box that matters to Grammy.

Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever (Darkroom/Interscope): Grammy adores Billie and lavished her with hardware in 2020 and 2021. She remains a vibrant, inventive artist, a persuasive performer and a genuine “influencer” by any metric. It seems likely that she’ll return to the short list.

Doja Cat, Planet Her (Kemosabe/RCA): 2021 saw Doja graduate from riveting artist with hot singles to full-blown superstar. She solidified that transition as host of the VMAs, where she was funny, glam and ingratiating—and a fierce performer. The stylistically diverse, groove-heavy Planet Her should be acknowledged as a true arrival.

GIVĒON, When It’s All Said and Done… Take Time (Epic): This gifted artist’s appealing baritone and strong songwriting made the biggest noise in R&B, driven by monster single “Heartbreak Anniversary.” But there’s plenty more convincing material where that came from. As far as adult-skewing releases in soul and hip-hop are concerned, this set has a lane to itself.


Justin Bieber, Justice (RBMG/Def Jam): We’ve already expounded at length about the need for Grammy to recognize Biebs’ creative growth. On his latest set he runs the emotional gamut, and the material and performances are stellar. Will he finally get the full-tilt recognition he deserves?

Halsey, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Capitol): Bringing in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to helm an album of songs about the disruption of motherhood was a risky move—and it paid off with a totally original, disarmingly candid and sonically adventurous set that feels like an album in the classic sense. Halsey truly pushes the envelope here and should be rewarded with a nom.

Taylor Swift, Evermore (Republic): After cavorting, über-successfully, in the pop mainstream for several years, Taylor shifted gears, lighting out for new territory. The alternative-Americana hybrid she forged fits her songwriting to a T and brings tantalizing new shades of gray to her storytelling. The Academy agreed, giving her the 2021 AOTY prize for Folklore. Will its sequel repeat that feat?

Kacey Musgraves, star-crossed (Interscope/Mercury Nashville): Musgraves took AOTY in 2019 for Golden Hour as well as Country album, though she was booted from the latter category this time under dubious circumstances. With this evocative, sophisticated set, she weaves her eclectic musical passions into something singular and striking. Could she be headed for the short list again, or will the current plethora of solo female challengers work against her?

Drake, Certified Lover Boy (OVO/Republic): No stats in “for your consideration” ads? That seems like a rule built for artists like Drake, whose gigantic streaming activity and fan engagement would, in a sane world, guarantee acknowledgement. True, it can be argued that CLB didn’t find the artist breaking new ground. That, combined with his stated indifference to the Grammys, may mean he’s more of a contender in other categories.

Polo G, Hall of Fame (Columbia): While his single “RAPSTAR” got more attention than his full-length did, the Chicago rapper has earned considerable acclaim for his ever-evolving gifts as a storyteller. Poignant and reflective even when acknowledging the most harrowing realities, Polo is also a bona fide album artist, creating a world of his own, and his moment is now. Will he be formally recognized?

Ariana Grande, Positions (Republic): Grande is typically rewarded in the Pop categories, and there’s no denying that she makes ravishing pop singles (such as this set’s monster, “34+35”). But her stunningly supple vocals, irresistible, R&B-inflected melodies and some seriously silky production add up to one intoxicating listening experience, genre notwithstanding. If vibe counts at all, Positions should get a serious look.

Next time: The Album contenders we consider long shots, which—for all we know—could be locks.

Grammy Chew cartoon by the late, great Van Arno. We miss him something fierce.