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GRAMMY CHEW: CHEWING ON ALBUM OF THE YEAR

There’s an unusually large list of albums that we would consider “locks” among this year’s possible AOTY candidates. In the anything-goes world of Grammy, of course, nothing is guaranteed. With that caveat, here are some potential nominees, arranged into helpful subgroups.

TOP CONTENDERS (WE THINK)

Adele, 30 (Columbia): When the Brit goddess took AOTY in 2017, she was in the same category as Beyoncé (whom she tearily said deserved the trophy), and this circumstance looks very likely to recur. 30 spawned a huge single that enjoyed a lengthy reign at #1, not to mention an Emmy-winning TV special. It’s virtually impossible to picture Grammy not putting Adele on the short list.

Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti (Rimas): With the year’s #1-selling album—and the first non-English-language set to achieve this feat—Puerto Rico’s superstar has changed the game. (You know, not that sales matter.) A colossal live act, he has edged into wider fame with movies and TV. His success is the leading edge of a massive Latin-music wave.

Beyoncé, RENAISSANCE (Parkwood/Columbia): One of the true culture-shifting megastars of our time delivered a set that’s both a joyous crowd-pleaser and a bold creative move. It’s also a heartfelt valentine to the ballroom culture that has been, in so many ways, an R&D lab of modern pop. After shortchanging the mighty Bey in recent years, Grammy has the opportunity to reward her properly.

Zach Bryan, American Heartbreak (Warner): The hottest new roots-music act and “red dirt” breakout is part of a burgeoning wave of troubadours honing an intimate new form outside of Nashville. A BNA favorite, Bryan is a riveting presence whose songs connect instantly and whose shows make lifetime fans. All eyes are on him.

Encanto (Disney): Lin-Manuel Miranda was never properly acknowledged for the brilliance that was Hamilton; the lively, soulful soundtrack to Disney’s animated smash offers an opportunity for atonement. It’s a terrific work and a streaming juggernaut. The moving, funny film was family comfort food during the pandemic. It’s time for Grammy to “talk about Bruno.”

Brent Faiyaz, WASTELAND (Lost Kids/Venice/STEM): Indie R&B breakout Faiyaz and his team stunned the biz with a big chart debut that was achieved entirely outside the major-label system. This coup was the result of patient, committed artist development. Faiyaz is an R&B trailblazer whose work is fresh and unstintingly genuine.

Future, I Never Liked You (Freebandz/Epic): The rap superstar ruled the DSPs over the last year with “WAIT FOR U” and other cuts, and a GQ cover hailing him as “The Best Rapper Alive” showed how his profile has grown in the mainstream. It’s time for Grammy to acknowledge an artist who is shaping the direction of this vital genre.

Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights (L-M/RCA): Thanks to smash single “Bad Habit,” which has been perched at #1 on the Spotify U.S. chart for weeks, Lacy has made a huge impression on the marketplace. This former member of innovative group The Internet has also won over critics—and evoked comparisons to Prince—with his confident, genre-blurring songs. 

Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (pgLang/TDE/Aftermath/Interscope): It’s easy to see why the Pulitzer-winning hip-hop firebrand’s latest set earned critical plaudits for this intensely powerful, daring, confrontational work. Mr. Morale is meant to be experienced as an album and rewards that sustained attention. Its inclusion here is a must.

Rosalía, MOTOMAMI (Columbia): The multifaceted Spanish artist-songwriter (and Latin Grammy winner) was already the talk of the tastemakers before her single “DESPECHÁ” caught fire at the DSPs. Fusing traditional and ultra-current musical styles, she’s right in the sweet spot for Grammy glory.

Harry Styles, Harry’s House (Columbia): Harry is the biggest music star in the world, with a monster single and a massively successful tour. His album is a critical and commercial smash. He’s also a movie star and pop-cultural presence who commands as much tabloid ink as any Brit outside the royal family. To exclude him would be bananas.

Taylor Swift, RED (Taylor’s Version) (Republic): Can a re-imagining of a 2012 album be a 2022 contender? Anything’s possible. A strong case can be made that this megastar’s reassessment of a breakthrough recording—especially given her jaw-dropping, Video of the Year-winning 10-minute version of “All Too Well”—was among last year’s most provocative pop developments.

OTHER STRONG CANDIDATES

Jack Harlow, Come Home the Kids Miss You (Generation Now): Harlow’s considerable star power is undeniable on this set, which includes streaming powerhouse “First Class” and guests like Drake and Pharrell.

Muni Long, Public Displays of Affection (Supergiant/Def Jam): After big success as a songwriter for Rihanna, Ariana Grande and others, Priscilla Renea rebranded as Muni, scored a huge streaming hit with “Hrs & Hrs” and became an instant force in R&B.

Post Malone, Twelve Carat Toothache (Republic): Posty is a bona fide superstar and a marketing/branding genius, and his latest set has spawned a hit with “I Like You (A Happier Song)” f/Doja Cat. He’s comfortable—and convincing—in virtually any genre.

PJ Morton, Watch the Sun (Empire): This musical chameleon was an MVP on the last AOTY winner, Jon Batiste’s We Are; he’s also a member of Maroon 5 and has won Grammys on his own for R&B Song, R&B Performance and Gospel Album.

Maggie Rogers, Surrender (Capitol): The Alaskan singer-songwriter and 2020 BNA nominee ventured into looser, freer pop terrain here and showed a new kind of star power while continuing to flex her considerable chops as a tunesmith.

Vince Staples, Ramona Park Broke My Heart (Blacksmith/Motown): Hip-hop isn’t typically retrospective, let alone nostalgic, but Staples’ meditation on his youth is heady, heavy, heartbreaking stuff.

Summer Walker, Still Over It (LVRN/Interscope): One of the architects of the “new” R&B, Walker continues to deliver nakedly honest material with genuine swagger—and continues to impress.

Rod Wave, Beautiful Mind (Alamo): Wave's hip-hop-infused R&B is gritty, soulful and real—and has cracked the code of the marketplace. His voice is a fine instrument, caressing sweet, sad melodies with aplomb.

THE BRANDI CARLILE FACTOR

Grammy can’t get enough of Americana mover Brandi Carlile, so it’s reasonable to expect that she’ll somehow figure among the nominees. It might be for her most recent album, In These Silent Days, or for her role (along with Sturgill Simpson and other roots-music all-stars) on Oh Boy’s acclaimed tribute to the late, great John Prine, Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows.

ROCK/ALTERNATIVE CONSIDERATIONS

The Lumineers, BRIGHTSIDE (Dualtone): An enormous live act with multiple Alternative radio hits, these 2013 BNA nominees deliver emotional punch with their finely honed sound. 

Machine Gun Kelly, Mainstream Sellout (Bad Boy/Interscope): MGK has brought the punk swagger back to rock and is an undeniable force in the marketplace. This Travis Barker-produced set is his strongest statement yet.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love (Warner): Four decades in, the Peppers show how gracefully they’ve gone from tube-sock tyros to elder statesman.

Florence + The Machine, Dance Fever (Republic): Amazingly, the band has never won a Grammy (they were edged out for BNA in 2011 by Esperanza Spalding). Their dynamic, engaging set merits consideration.

THE COUNTRY QUESTION

Several country acts are vying for limited space on the AOTY shortlist. As we await the results of the bellwether CMAs to pare the field, let’s consider a few strong entries.

Miranda Lambert, Palomino (Vanner/RCA Nashville): Packed with vivid detail, this sassy wanderlust diary embodies Lambert’s charisma and verve.

Carrie Underwood, Denim & Rhinestones (Capitol Nashville): Über-siren Underwood swings for the fences on this sparkly, stadium-rocking set.

Maren Morris, Humble Quest (Columbia Nashville): Morris pursued interesting new themes and addressed myriad life changes on this ambitious album.

Lainey Wilson, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ (Broken Bow): This newcomer and Yellowstone favorite's edgy, independent-minded take on classic country tropes feels very of the moment.

Ingrid Andress, Good Person (Warner Nashville): The gifted singer-songwriter brings more of the confident material that earned her three prior Grammy noms.

Ashley McBryde, Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville (Warner Music Nashville): This whimsical concept album filled with offbeat character studies is a true wild card.

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in the catalog game is...
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Totally less fraudulent than Trump Corp.
IS IT CHRISTMAS YET?
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