From Beyoncé singing Martin Luther King’s favorite gospel song to Kanye, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney teaming up for what is sure to be a performance dripping in denim, this Sunday’s Grammys have a number of reasons to watch that have little to do with the awards themselves. But most importantly, between collaborations that no one asked for (Annie Lennox and Hozier, Tom Jones and Jessie J), the Recording Academy will give out statues, many of them to the same group of superstars they do every year. On the following pages, we weigh artistic merit versus the past voting habits of Grammy voters in the big four categories (Album/Song/Record of the Year, Best New Artist), plus album categories for a number of genres.
A quick word before we get to the picks and predictions: There’s no shortage of passionate music fans who have zero interest in the Grammys. With the voters’ simultaneously baffling and conservative picks, I understand that. But keep in mind that institutional recognition is a big part of how history is made and legacies are cemented. Caring about who wins Grammys does not require approving of the Academy’s track record. It requires seeing the value of a mainstream platform that actually does encourage listenership, preferably for the music that deserves it. That’s not always or even often the case with the Grammys, but we can hope. With that, I leave you with my thoughts on this year’s awards, which are sure to be dominated by Sam Smith, Beyoncé, and a handful of others if we’re lucky.
The Grammys air live this Sunday (February 8) at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Beck – Morning Phase, Beyoncé – Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran – x, Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour, Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Should win: Beyoncé offers up the most innovative music of the bunch, highlights both universal messages and personal insights, continues to influence the industry with its release, and has big hits. So.
Will win: Bey has a Grammy-approved trifecta down: she captured the zeitgeist, sold a ton of albums, and made a great album that takes some risks but not too many. She’s been nominated for AOTY before, for Sasha Fierce, and isn’t nominated in any other non-genre categories. Sometimes the Grammys will use AOTY, arguably the most important award of the night, to recognize an artist’s career and body of work. Beyoncé is a moment for that, though curiously, the person few would expect — Beck — may be in this position as well. He’s been nominated for AOTY twice before, for Odelay and Midnite Vultures. Perhaps now, with the release of his safest album to date, the Grammys will recognize their favorite modern weirdo. But probably not — ‘Yonce all on NARAS’s mouth like-like liquor.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX – “Fancy,” Sia – “Chandelier,” Sam Smith – “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version),” Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off,” Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass”
Should win: Keep in mind that Record of the Year is a category that focuses more on production and performance than songwriting. Sia offers up the most expressive vocal performance of the category, not to mention the freshest-sounding production. Plus that huge chorus? Team “Chandelier” all the way.
Will win: The fact that the Grammys made a particular point of nominating the Darkchild (Rodney Jerkins) version of “Stay With Me” — which switches in organ parts for the original’s strings, adds more gospel singers, and changes up some subtle percussion choices — leads me to think they’re paying close attention to Smith and his signature hit.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Nominees: “All About That Bass,” “Chandelier,” “Shake It Off,” “Stay With Me (Darkchild Version),” “Take Me To Church”
Should win: On a songwriting level, “Chandelier” wipes the floor with “All About That Bass” and “Shake It Off.” I’m partial to pop with a message, so Sia’s peek into addiction disguised as partying >“Stay With Me” and “Take Me To Church.”
Will win: Smith easily could take it again, but I envision Grammy voters recognizing Sia somewhere big given her amazing industry story (indie performer becomes a hitmaker to the stars, translates the success into her own hits). They’re be more likely to recognize her as a songwriting talent rather than a performance knockout, I think.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Nominees: Iggy Azalea, Bastille, Brandy Clark, Haim, Sam Smith
Should win: Haim or Kacey Musgraves associate Brandy Clark, who’s injecting some much-needed real talk into mainstream country.
Will win: I would be genuinely surprised if Sam Smith didn’t win. He’s the Grammy golden boy this year, and Best New Artist is the voters’ moment to pass him the crown.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Nominees: Alt-J – This Is All Yours, Arcade Fire – Reflektor, Cage The Elephant – Melophobia, St. Vincent – St. Vincent, Jack White – Lazaretto
Should win: Reflektor is a slightly stronger album than St. Vincent, in my opinion, but either would make a great win. On second thought, they should give it to St. Vincent — she’s a first-timer and is overdue for the mainstream recognition.
Will win: The White Stripes and Radiohead hold the record in this category, having won three times each. The Grammys love recognizing the idols they see themselves having had a hand in making, so White could easily take it. But I see it going to Arcade Fire for the same reason. Back in 2011, even the members of Arcade Fire were shocked they won Album of the Year for The Suburbs. It makes sense NARAS would recognize that album’s follow-up in some way.
BEST ROCK ALBUM
Nominees: Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams, Beck – Morning Phase, The Black Keys – Turn Blue, Tom Petty & The Heartbeakers – Hypnotic Eye, U2 – Songs Of Innocence
Should win: None of these albums! (Fine, Beck.)
Will win: Even though the rock category is tied up typically by bro-ier fare (Foo Fighters) than the guy who asked the world to call him a loser, I think Beck has this mostly in the bag. I mean, they liked Morning Phase so much, it’s up for Album of the Year. U2 has also won this award multiple times, and if anyone saw the so-called genius in the release of Songs of Innocence, it’d be the industry insiders who get to cast Grammy ballots.
BEST RAP ALBUM
Nominees: Iggy Azalea – The New Classic, Childish Gambino – Because The Internet, Common – Nobody’s Smiling, Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron, Wiz Khalifa – Blacc Hollywood
Should win: This category is infamously The Worst, and even the nominees reflect how far Grammy voters have to go in their rap knowledge. So Schoolboy Q, I guess.
Will win: Eminem has won this category more than anyone (five times), but Iggy Azalea is also very on-brand for the organization that recognized Macklemore over Kendrick Lamar last year. Unless the voters took to heart those press accusations of racism over the Macklemore win last year, Iggy will win.
BEST DANCE/ELECTRONIC ALBUM
Nominees: Aphex Twin – Syro, Deadmau5 – While (1<2), Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband, Röyksopp & Robyn – Do It Again, Mat Zo – Damage Control
Should win: Aphex Twin. I don’t even get what Little Dragon is doing in this category, and while the Röyksopp and Robyn mini-album is great, it’s a mere five songs long.
Will win: Daft Punk and Skrillex have both won this award twice, to give you an idea of how adventurous the voters usually go. Then again, Madonna, Lady Gaga, and La Roux have won this award, so it clearly borders on pop — so maybe a slim chance for Robyn? Aphex Twin hasn’t released an album since this category debuted in 2005, and Grammy voters do love a good comeback story. I’m going with Deadmau5, though.
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Nominees: Coldplay – Ghost Stories, Miley Cyrus – Bangerz, Ariana Grande – My Everything, Katy Perry – Prism, Ed Sheeran – x, Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour
Should win: Ariana Grande’s second album, My Everything, blows all of these albums out of the water. Plus the Grammys have yet to recognize Grande, surprisingly.
Will win: The voters tend to recognize big voices with huge commercial success — think safe bets like Kelly Clarkson, Adele, Bruno Mars. By that logic, I’d give it to Sam Smith or Ariana Grande.
BEST URBAN CONTEMPORARY ALBUM
Nominees: Jhené Aiko – Sail Out, Beyoncé – Beyoncé, Chris Brown – X, Mali Music – Mali Is…, Pharrell Williams – G I R L
Should win: Beyoncé, 100 percent.
Will win: As I mentioned when the nominations arrived, the Grammys have often relegated Beyoncé — their most nominated female ever — to the R&B and Urban music categories, despite her massive pop appeal. I see them recognizing her again here, even if she wins AOTY. Pharrell has an off-chance at best of getting the AOTY consolation prize win in this category, but he’s nominated elsewhere for “Happy” so I wouldn’t worry about him.