When the nominations for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards are announced Friday, expect three trends: a whole lot of nominations for female artists, a whole lot of nominations for Drake and a whole lot of nominations in general.
“I think it will be a big year for women,” predicts Yahoo Entertainment chart and Grammy expert Paul Grein. “As many as six of the eight Album of the Year nominees will go to women. I think there are two reasons for that. One is women have had a great year. Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello — they all became huge stars and really dominated. But a second reason is Neil Portnow’s slip-up comment. … He spoke clumsily, but we’re in an era where there isn’t much forgiveness for people who make mistakes.”
Grein is referring to a controversial remark that Recording Academy president and CEO Portnow — who will leave the academy in 2019 — made after the Grammy telecast earlier this year, claiming that women need to “step up” in order to earn more nominations. “It was a clumsy comment, and I don’t think it reflects a deep-seated sexism or bias on his part or on the academy’s part. But the academy is aware that the nominations will be heavily scrutinized and heavily watched,” says Grein. “So, they will make sure that women do very well — but legitimately so. I don’t think they’re going to stock it with women just to look good; women really did dominate the year. I just hope it isn’t seen as the Grammys put a lot of women up to make up for Neil’s comment, because I think they’re deserving nominees.”
You may have noticed that Grein mentioned there will be eight nominees, not the usual five, for Album of the Year this time around. There will also be eight nominees for the other “Big Four” categories — Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. It’s a similar move to the Oscars expanding the Best Picture category to 10 slots, but Grein doesn’t think it’s the best idea.
“I think five is a nice number,” says Grein. “It’s about the maximum number — you can keep them all in your head at the same time. Eight is just a lot. But, that’s what the academy is doing. Their attitude is, they’re making a lot of people happy; instead of having five people being happy, now they have eight people being happy! But I think that for the viewers, for the people trying to follow this, it just makes it awfully complex and crowded.”
Regardless of the number of nominations per category, or the fact that women will likely comprise the majority of those nominations, Grein still thinks the biggest artist of next year’s Grammys will be a man. “I think the main story will be Drake,” he says. “You know, Michael Jackson and Babyface each got 12 nominations. Drake is going come up with something like that. He had three No. 1 records this year, all of which are nominated or entered in different categories, so he could conceivably pile up a dozen nominations. He just dominated the arena, and historically, most artists who just really own a year get nominated for Record of the Year. The Beatles in ’64. The Bee Gees in ’78. Michael Jackson in ’83. Usher in 2004. Black Eyed Peas in 2009. And now, Drake in 2018.”
Let’s dig deeper into the newly expanded Big Four categories:
Album of the Year
Grein believes the four locks for this race are Drake’s Scorpion, Ariana Grande’s Sweetener, and the debut albums from Camila Cabello and Cardi B. Several other women could round out this category, including Kacey Musgraves with her CMA Awards Album of the Year winner Golden Hour, Taylor Swift with Reputation, and outlier Janelle Monáe with Dirty Computer. “Janelle wasn’t as big a commercial success as these other albums, but she got a lot of critical acclaim and is exactly, I think, what they’re looking for: somebody who’s really good, who they could maybe boost to the next level,” says Grein.
Two soundtracks, Black Panther and The Greatest Showman, were huge in 2018, but expect only the former to score an Album of the Year nod. “It’s pretty rare for a soundtrack to be nominated for Album of the Year,” Grein notes. “Only two have been nominated in the last 25 years, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Waiting to Exhale, and both of those were overseen by individuals who were very well-known and respected in the music community — Babyface in the case of Waiting to Exhale, T Bone Burnett with O Brother. The reason I bring that up is Kendrick Lamar oversaw Black Panther. So, I think the fact that a very credible person was in charge of that album will help it.”
Other possibilities: Paul McCartney’s Egypt Station, Leon Bridges’s Good Thing, St. Vincent’s Masseduction, John Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness, Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys, P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma and Colors by Beck (who was the surprise winner in this category in 2015, with Morning Phase).
Record of the Year
The shoo-ins here are Childish Gambino’s topical “This is America,” Drake’s “God’s Plan,” and Ariana Grande’s “God is a Woman.” Grein also thinks Juice Wrld’s “Lucid Dreams” (“a very interesting record, a mix of pop, rap, and almost baroque elements”) has a strong shot, along with “Perfect” by Grammy darlings Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé, Cardi B’s “I Like It,” and Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey’s “The Middle.” The latter, which ironically debuted during the previous Grammys telecast in a Target commercial, “has artists from different genres collaborating, and that’s something that the Grammy voters have always been attracted to,” Grein explains.
Other possibilities, many of which are also collaborations: “All the Stars” by SZA & Kendrick Lamar, “Rockstar” by Post Malone, “Shallow” by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “Love Lies” by Khalid & Normani, “Happier” by Bastille & Marshmello, “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5 & Cardi B, and the Weeknd’s “Call Out My Name.”
Song of the Year
This category honors songwriters (as supposed to the Record of the Year award, which goes to recording artists), but there will still be some overlap, with Grein predicting nods for “This is America,” “God’s Plan,” “Lucid Dreams,” “Shallow” and “Call Out My Name.”
But other, non-Record nominees here could be a different Ariana Grande single (“Her camp entered ‘No Tears Left to Cry’ for song and ‘God Is a Woman’ for record, maybe just to give each song its own moment”), Sam Smith’s “Pray,” and a favorite of Grein’s, “Boo’d Up” by Ella Mai. “That is one of the year’s biggest R&B hits that isn’t hip-hop. It could’ve been a song in the ’70s. I love it. It’s a great, chill R&B ballad. It has a good chance.”
Best New Artist
This category requires some explaining, because, as Grein points out, “They change the rules all the time for Best New Artist. One reason for that is the industry changes constantly, and how artist’s break changes constantly. I think also sometimes they change the rules because they realize they were too generous or went too far in one direction, so sometimes they go too far in the other direction. It’s kind of human nature, to overcorrect sometimes.”
That said, Post Malone has been ruled ineligible in this category — which Grein says is controversial, because last year’s Best New Artist winner, Alessia Cara, was in a similar situation. “Alessia had had a big hit previous to the eligibility year, and Post Malone had had ‘Congratulations’ prior to the eligibility year. They both broke big in their second year. But the academy changed the rules.”
Things get even more confusing when Grein predicts that Troye Sivan will be nominated, even though he’s kind of in the same boat as Post Malone. You’re eligible for Best New Artist in the ‘year you achieve prominence’ — which is an amorphous word, but sales and popularity do enter into prominence. The academy would argue, I guess, that even though Troye had a debut album that did well, it didn’t do as well as Post Malone’s debut album. So they would say they were giving Troye a second shot at the award. These are judgment calls.”
Other seemingly obvious nominees who’ll be passed over because of this category’s capricious rules are Camila Cabello and Niall Horan (“They rose to fame in groups, so they don’t let those people in”), and Cardi B, Leon Bridges and Midland, because those three were all nominated previously. “It’s especially a shame that Cardi B can’t compete for Best New Artist in the year she releases her debut album. The same thing happened nine years ago to Lady Gaga,” recalls Grein.
So, who will be eligible? Expect nominations for Dua Lipa, Juice Wrld, Ella Mai and Greta Van Fleet, one of the few rock acts that will be recognized in the Big Four categories. As for the controversy surrounding Greta Van Fleet — that they are derivative and basically Zeppelin copycats — Grein shrugs, “Well, that’s not a bad thing to sound like. And Led Zeppelin was up for this award 49 years ago.”
Other possibilities: Luke Combs, Marshmello, Brett Young, Chloe X Halle, lovelytheband and Bebe Rexha.
The 61st Annual Grammy Awards nominations will be announced on the morning of Dec. 7.
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