Awards season is off to a limping start and, unfortunately, we’re not talking red carpet stumbles. COVID-19 delayed the original dates for the Grammys and Oscars, and the scandalized Golden Globes couldn’t quite live up to its tipsy reputation amid the pandemic.
Whether it’s genuine boredom (look, I haven’t been to a show in a year) or my unhealthy love of uncomfortable celebrity reaction shots, I’m optimistic the entertainment factor will improve, starting Sunday with the 63rd annual Grammy Awards (5 p.m., CBS) hosted by Trevor Noah. The COVID-19 edition of “Music’s Biggest Night” will take place “in and around” the Los Angeles Convention Center, Variety reports, a few doors down from the show’s usual home at Staples Center.
Performances will be a mixture of prerecorded and live, with an audience limited to nominees, performers and their guests. Two years after a career-altering showing at the Grammys, Washington’s own Brandi Carlile (who’s up for two awards) joins the list of performers that includes Taylor Swift, Post Malone, Cardi B, BTS, Billie Eilish and more.
Artists with Seattle and Washington state ties — from small-town banjo kings to the estimable Seattle jazz diaspora — are well represented among this year’s nominees, though it’s likely most (if not all) of those awards will be doled out during a daytime ceremony preceding the televised fete.
Still, intriguing storylines abound. Will Beyoncé’s field-leading nine nominations translate to the win column? Will Taylor Swift nab her first Grammy in five years, after being shut out on her last two albums? Does anyone still care about Coldplay?
Outside of the Big Four categories (album, record and song of the year, and best new artist) the Recording Academy doesn’t publicize exactly which awards will be given out during the telecast. But based on recent years, we have a hunch. Strap in for our semibold predictions and medium-spice takes as we size up some of the year’s marquee categories. After all, the best part of any award show is scrutinizing their decisions.
(Note: Some of these videos contain explicit lyrics.)
Album of the Year
Jhené Aiko, “Chilombo”; Black Pumas, “Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition)”; Coldplay, “Everyday Life”; Jacob Collier, “DJESSE Vol. 3”; Haim, “Women in Music Pt. III”; Dua Lipa, “Future Nostalgia”; Post Malone, “Hollywood’s Bleeding”; Taylor Swift, “Folklore”
So smitten is the academy with soul-rockers Black Pumas (not without reason) that they blessed the musicians’ musicians with a belated AOTY nom for the “deluxe” rerelease of its 2019 debut — the same album that made the Texas club sizzlers a best new artist nominee last year, with a few covers and live cuts tacked on. It’s a goofy, industry-gaming precedent to set, but would beat seeing Posty get his first-ever Grammy with an empty-calorie blockbuster — the aural equivalent of a Rock movie but with Bud Light and feelings.
Since Super Bowl slayer The Weeknd inexplicably wasn’t nominated (for anything!), odds are this one’s going to Tay Tay, disrupting a potentially big night for pop’s new disco queen Dua Lipa. Swift’s stripped-down (if still overproduced, some critics argued) pandemic album eschews the megastar’s usual big-budget maximalism for straight-ahead singer-songwriter fare. It’s total Grammy bait, all right, and folk-pop proof that Taylor, the songwriter, is still one of the best in the game.
Should win: Taylor Swift, “Folklore”
Will win: Taylor Swift, “Folklore”
Record of the Year
Beyoncé, “Black Parade”; Black Pumas, “Colors”; DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar”; Doja Cat, “Say So”; Billie Eilish, “Everything I Wanted”; Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now”; Post Malone, “Circles”; Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé, “Savage”
With Beyoncé’s leading nine nominations, there’s no chance Queen Bey goes home without a win. But the pop visionary’s dual record of the year nods — which recognize a song’s performance and recording — could make for a hive divided here, no matter how hard her celebratory Black culture anthem hit amid a year of historic social justice uprisings (raising $2.5 million for Black-owned businesses in the process). A split could also hurt Megan Thee Stallion, a fellow Houstonian whose twerktastic smash sparked 26 million TikTok videos. Unless the academy’s Billie Eilish obsession holds over from 2020 (see, they do get the youngs!), this one could tilt toward Dua Lipa, the British singer up against noted Nirvana fan Post Malone in the three most prestigious categories. When COVID-19 made us all stay at home, Lipa’s glittery dance pop hung a disco ball in the living room, helping lead a disco revival in the unlikeliest of times.
Should win: Beyoncé, “Black Parade”
Will win: Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now”
Song of the Year
Beyoncé, “Black Parade”; Roddy Ricch, “The Box”; Taylor Swift, “Cardigan”; Post Malone, “Circles”; Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now”; Billie Eilish, “Everything I Wanted”; H.E.R., “I Can’t Breathe”; JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels, “If the World Was Ending”
Roddy’s hypnotically creaky hit was 2020’s enduring car stereo anthem, but unfortunately for L.A.’s newly minted rap star, only once has this coveted songwriter’s award gone to a rap song (because that’s how racism works). While R&B Grammy darling H.E.R.’s visceral response to Minneapolis police killing George Floyd was incredibly on the nose, it didn’t have nearly the same impact as Lil Baby’s nuanced, emotional outpouring on “The Bigger Picture,” the breakout rapper’s soul-baring protest song up for best rap song and performance.
Oddsmakers have Swift’s unimpeachable “Cardigan” — a piano pop co-write with Aaron Dessner of indie rock greats The National — ahead of Lipa’s future drag brunch classic. But from a cultural standpoint, Beyoncé’s thunderous salute to her African heritage and Black culture feels like the real song of 2020, the pop superstar’s hit even cracking the indie-centric rotation at a new-look KEXP.
Should win: Beyoncé, “Black Parade”
Will win: Taylor Swift, “Cardigan”
Best New Artist
Ingrid Andress; Phoebe Bridgers; Chika; Noah Cyrus; D Smoke; Doja Cat; Kaytranada; Megan Thee Stallion
Let’s start with the weird. There was legit speculation voters mistook D Smoke — a very talented Netflix reality show winner barely on rap fans’ radar — for Pop Smoke, the late Brooklyn drill king who put hip-hop’s birth city back in the global spotlight. Meanwhile, a rule change let electronic maestro Kaytranada slide in as a “new” artist five years after the veteran producer dropped his acclaimed debut album. On the flip side, country music’s rookie of the year Ingrid Andress lit up Nashville like a lightning bug and singer/rapper Doja Cat parlayed internet fame into IRL stardom with sticky smash “Say So.”
Still, this feels like a two-horse race between Megan Thee Stallion and Phoebe Bridgers, the hushed indie-rock phenom who builds gently swelling rock tunes around folk-song vertebrae. And even then, it’d take an indie upset to keep Meg from the win. The fiery rapper’s “Hot Girl Summer” of 2019 never really ended, turning a seasonal mood into a movement that helped lead a renaissance of showstopping women — including her “WAP” collaborator Cardi B — taking hip-hop’s center stage. As a general rule, history tends to look favorably upon artists whose explicit lyrics rankle politicians and Megan Thee Stallion has the talent and charisma to be part of the conversation for years to come.
Should win: Megan Thee Stallion
Will win: Megan Thee Stallion
Best Rap Album
D Smoke, “Black Habits”; Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, “Alfredo”; Jay Electronica, “A Written Testimony”; Nas, “King’s Disease”; Royce 5’9”, “The Allegory”
The Grammys have long been accused of being out of touch with hip-hop, and while the other rap categories mostly check out, the album field warrants an eyebrow raise. Absent are the young stars whose hands grip the wheel of America’s most-consumed genre, in favor of all-male artists over 35 whose technicality appeals to purists. Despite the snubs, there’s plenty to like, too. Boom bap heavyweight Nas feels like the favorite, having proved he’s not just a legacy act with his rejuvenating “King’s Disease.” But don’t discount the reclusive Jay Electronica, whose decade-in-the-making debut — essentially a collaborative album with Jay-Z — did not disappoint. If there’s any justice, however, grizzled Indiana vet Freddie Gibbs gets his first golden gramophone after steadily climbing from rap-nerd favorite to one of the genre’s most critically acclaimed artists over the past decade.
Should win: Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, “Alfredo”
Will win: Nas, “King’s Disease”
Best Melodic Rap Performance
DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar”; Drake featuring Lil Durk, “Laugh Now Cry Later”; Anderson .Paak, “Lockdown”; Roddy Ricch, “The Box”; Travis Scott, “Highest in the Room”
A Drake win would be fantastically awkward after the Canadian star again slammed the Grammys for snubbing his Toronto pal The Weeknd, likening the institution to “a relative you keep expecting to fix up” but who never changes. Meanwhile, hip-hop’s most sought-after pitch man, Travis Scott, scored a No. 1 with this largely forgettable track. Never underestimate a guy who can sell a $90 Chicken McNugget pillow, but Scott’s drowsy single doesn’t hold a La Flame to rap’s funkiest singing drummer, Anderson .Paak, whose musicality is a trait the academy prizes. Nevertheless, this is Roddy’s award to lose. Despite a star-making year powered by two of 2020’s most ubiquitous songs, Roddy Ricch will likely be shut out of the top categories, but should earn some deserved hardware here.
Should win: Roddy Ricch, “The Box”
Will win: DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar”
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
Brothers Osborne, “All Night”; Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours”; Lady A, “Ocean”; Little Big Town, “Sugar Coat”; Old Dominion, “Some People Do”
It’s a bit of a crapshoot which country award gets the televised call-up, but there’s a decent concentration of star power here (all about the ratings, right?). Smart money’s on famed tequila tasters Dan + Shay. The vanilla duo’s high-fructose crossover with pop’s greasiest man rascal Justin Bieber, a go-to stream-booster, is sweeter than a dive bar margarita. We kid, but the pop-country dudes’ pristine vocals are undeniably top-shelf and voters will likely reach for ’em over Lady A — the Nashville stars formerly known as Lady Antebellum, who formally adopted the Lady A name long used by a Seattle gospel-blues singer (litigation is still pending). But who knows, maybe the Brothers Osborne pull off a feel-good upset a month after brother T.J. came out as gay, a declaration that still counts as a surprise in the conservative country world. Country radio still barely plays women — including some of the artists dominating the best country song and album fields — but Osborne’s disclosure and award show accolades signal the genre’s less hegemonic future. We’ll drink to that.
Should win: Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours”
Will win: Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours”