If there was one bright spot in this disaster of a year, it was the music. 2020 gifted us paradigm-shifting albums across genres, a full-fledged 80s pop revival, and what seemed like a new superstar collaboration every other week. On November 24th the nominations for the 63rd GRAMMY Awards will be announced, and a lot is riding on these nominations — particularly in the marquee categories: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist.
Earlier this year, ex-CEO of the Recording Academy, Deborah Dugan, filed a lawsuit against the Academy alleging sexual misconduct, gender discrimination, and corruption in the Grammy voting and nomination process. In her suit, she alleged that the Academy “manipulates the nominations process to ensure that certain songs or albums are nominated when the producer of the Grammys [Ken Ehrlich] wants a particular song performed during the show.” Among artists impacted by these claims, Dugan named Beyoncé, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, and Frank Ocean, among others. The Grammys have an opportunity to begin reversing this narrative, nominate the most deserving artists, and finally start to give artists of color their proper due. Although the Grammys are allegedly supposed to reward artistic excellence over commercial success, the overlap between winners and nominees and the Billboard charts is too flagrant to ignore. This year, of the 26 acts to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of this writing, 17 were Black and an additional 4 were non-white. Most of the year’s biggest and most acclaimed albums were headlined by Black artists, so whether they’re looking for artistic excellence or commercial success, there is no excuse for the continued snubbing of Black artists this year.
The nominations for the 63rd Grammy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, November 24th by Imogen Heap, Dua Lipa, Sharon Osbourne and more.
Album of the Year
The most coveted award of the night, Album of the Year looks to be a fairly tight race. Out in front are After Hours (The Weeknd), folklore (Taylor Swift), Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple), Hollywood’s Bleeding (Post Malone), and Fine Line (Harry Styles). After Hours was a hit with critics and consumers alike with an 80 on Metacritic and one of the biggest songs of all time, “Blinding Lights.” The Weeknd, like Post Malone and Taylor Swift, is a previous nominee in this category, so his chances for a nomination are very high. Post Malone was nominated here for his last album, Beerbongs & Bentleys, and with a historic single in “Circles” and his most praise from critics yet, Hollywood’s Bleeding could help him return to the Final 8. Taylor Swift has won Album of the Year for Fearless (2010) and 1989 (2016), and she was nominated for Red (2014). After her last two albums scored relatively tepid reception from critics and the Academy, folklore looks like her chance at a Grammy comeback. The incredibly successful album is the most acclaimed of Taylor’s career so far and the album’s sound is a return to her songwriting-driven country music roots. Finally, the sophomore album from One Direction alum Harry Styles has had incredible staying power since its December 2019 release and the album was recently included on Rolling Stone’s revised 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
Other pop albums that could make an appearance in the final lineup are Chromatica (Lady Gaga) and Future Nostalgia (Dua Lipa). Country music can look to What You See Is What You Get (Luke Combs), Gaslighter (The Chicks), and The Highwomen (The Highwomen) for representation in the night’s biggest category this year. The dominant genre of the year, rap, has frontrunners in Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial (Roddy Ricch), My Turn (Lil Baby), RTJ4 (Run the Jewels), Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon (Pop Smoke), and Hot Pink (Doja Cat). R&B lovers can place their bets on Ungodly Hour (Chloe x Halle) and Over It (Summer Walker) while rock appreciators can count on Jaime (Brittany Howard) and Women In Music, Pt. III (HAIM). I would also keep an eye out for a potentially historic nomination for Bad Bunny’s entirely Spanish-language YHLQMDLG.
Clearly, there are myriad albums that make strong arguments for being nominated for Album of the Year. Historical trends show that, in this category, the Grammys try to nominate albums in each of the major genres and strike some sort of balance between commercially successful albums and critically acclaimed records. Often, not always, the album that reigns in both spheres takes the award home. With this in mind here are my grain-of-salt predictions for Album of the Year:
- After Hours (The Weeknd)
- folklore (Taylor Swift)
- Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple)
- Jaime (Brittany Howard)
- Ungodly Hour (Chloe x Halle)
- Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial (Roddy Ricch)
- RTJ4 (Run The Jewels)
- The Highwomen (The Highwomen)
ALT: Fine Line (Harry Styles) OR What You See Is What You Get (Luke Combs)
Record of the Year
Awarded to the performers and producers, Record of the Year often goes to the most commercially successful song of the year. In the past five years, 25 out of the 31 total nominees for Record of the Year were Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. This year’s frontrunners are: “The Box” (Roddy Ricch), “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd), “Savage (Remix)” (Megan Thee Stallion & Beyoncé), “Say So” (Doja Cat), “Adore You” (Harry Styles), “Rain On Me” (Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande), “Circles” (Post Malone), and Don’t Start Now (Dua Lipa). All #1 hits, with the exception of “Adore You” and “Don’t Start Now” which peaked at #6 and #2, respectively, these songs being announced on Nominations Morning should come as no surprise. There aren’t really arguments against any of these songs; for all of the artists mentioned, this could be their first win in this category.
Other songs with strong chances include “10,000 Hours” (Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber), “I Hope” (Gabby Barrett), The Bones (Maren Morris), “Shameika” (Fiona Apple), Rockstar (DaBaby & Roddy Ricch), “Life Is Good” (Future & Drake), “cardigan” (Taylor Swift), and “everything i wanted” (Billie Eilish). “Do It” (Chloe x Halle) and Dynamite (BTS) are also in the running albeit with much longer shots. I suspect that this category will heavily skew commercial with 2020 boasting 20 different #1 singles and counting. If the Academy is looking to throw a curveball, it could come in the form of “I Can’t Breathe” (H.E.R.), “Lockdown” (Anderson .Paak), or “Favorite Mistake” (Giveon). The first two songs directly address the dark reality of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the country’s reckoning with state-sanction police violence and racism. H.E.R. was nominated in this category last year for “Hard Place”; with 10 nominations in 2 years, she should have no trouble pulling off a nomination this year. Anderson .Paak has quickly become a Grammy favorite, so expect to see “Lockdown” up and down the nominations list tomorrow. Giveon, on the other hand, is a very new artist, so this would be the definition of a surprise nomination. Also keep an eye out for Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture.”
- “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd)
- “The Box” (Roddy Ricch)
- “The Bones” (Maren Morris)
- “Savage Remix” (Megan Thee Stallion & Beyoncé)
- “Circles” (Post Malone)
- “Don’t Start Now” (Dua Lipa)
- “Rain On Me” (Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande)
- “I Can’t Breathe” (H.E.R.)
ALT: “The Bigger Picture” (Lil Baby) OR “Lockdown” (Anderson .Paak)
Song of the Year
Often, Song of the Year overlaps with Record of the Year, but this category is specifically awarded to songwriters. Last year, three songs received nominations in both categories. I suspect that there will be a fair amount of overlap this year with more of a focus on political songs that address the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, etc. Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” Jay-Z’s “4:44,” and Beyoncé’s “Formation” were all nominated in this category in recent years for this reason. Sometimes, songs with weaker chances at Record of the Year have stronger chances in this category. This year some of those songs could be 10,000 Hours, Shameika, I Can’t Breathe, Lockdown, Cardigan, The Bigger Picture, I Hope, and The Bones. Blinding Lights, Circles, The Box and Rain On Me probably have around the same chances in this category as they did for Record of the Year, but Savage Remix, Say So, Adore You, and Don’t Start Now may find more difficulty here.
In terms of those left-field picks that the Grammys love? Look out for “Underdog” (Alicia Keys), “Crowded Table” (The Highwomen), “Lose You To Love Me” (Selena Gomez), “If The World Was Ending” (JP Saxe & Julia Michaels), and “Stay High” (Brittany Howard). Ballads normally do well in this category, especially if they’re timely, lyrically-driven, and show a new side of the artist.
- “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) (songwriters: Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Quenneville, Max Martin, Oscar Holter)
- “The Box” (Roddy Ricch) (songwriters: Roderick Moore, Jr., Samuel Gloade, Adarius Moragne, Aqeel Tate)
- “I Can’t Breathe” (H.E.R.) (songwriter: Gabriella Wilson)
- “The Bones” (Maren Morris) (songwriters: Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins, Laura Veltz)
- “Shameika” (Fiona Apple) (songwriter: Fiona Apple Maggart)
- “Underdog” (Alicia Keys) (songwriters: Jonny Coffer, Johnny McDaid, Foy Vance, Edward Sheeran, Amy Victoria Wadge, Alicia Augello Cook)
- “Lockdown” (Anderson .Paak) (songwriters: Brandon Paak Anderson, Jason Kevin Pounds, Jeffrey Gitelman, Kenya Rae Johnson, Vicky Farewell Nguyen)
- “The Bigger Picture” (Lil Baby) (songwriters: Dominique Armani Jones, Noah Thomas Pettigrew, Rai Shaun Devante Williams)
*If not “The Bones,” then “Crowded Table” (The Highwomen – songwriters: Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna). Interestingly enough, Maren Morris is one of the four Grammy-winning women that make up The Highwomen.
ALT: “cardigan” (Taylor Swift – songwriter: Taylor Swift) OR “10,000 Hours” (Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber)
Best New Artist
Because the Grammys seem to change the definition of “new artist” and the rules for this category every year, this is routinely the most annoying category to try to predict. Regardless, there are a few obvious frontrunners: Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Summer Walker, Morgan Wallen, Phoebe Bridgers, and Gabby Barrett. With these six frontrunners already being so mainstream, the Academy may go out of their way to nominate more obscure new artists like Orville Peck, Yves Tumor, or Ingrid Andress.
Other mainstream acts that are still growing and also have strong chances are Jack Harlow, BLACKPINK, Polo G, Conan Gray, CHIKA, and Rina Sawayama. I would also keep an eye out for Mickey Guyton who recently became the first Black woman country artist to perform at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Finally, the big wild card is the late Pop Smoke. The Brooklyn rapper dominated this year with multiple hit records and a wildly successful album. It is still unclear if he was submitted for consideration in this category, and if he was, he faces one incredible hurdle: no artist has never been posthumously nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys.
- Megan Thee Stallion
- Doja Cat
- Summer Walker
- Morgan Wallen
- Gabby Barrett
- Phoebe Bridgers
- Mickey Guyton
- Pop Smoke
ALT: CHIKA OR Rina Sawayama
Now, here’s a brief list of five key names to look out for on Nominations Morning:
The Korean pop group is looking to make history as the first K-Pop act to be nominated for a Grammy Award. This summer, their first entirely English-language single, “Dynamite,” debuted at #1 and broke multiple Billboard records. That song is eligible in four categories and their album, Map of the Soul: 7 is eligible for nominations in Best Pop Vocal Album and Album of the Year. I think “Dynamite” will be nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, but that will be BTS’ only nomination this year.
Latin music’s brightest star has continued to push out record-breaking albums and singles without having to sing a single word in English. Earlier this year YHLQMDLG earned the biggest streaming week ever for a Latin album (201.4 million on-demand streams) in the U.S. and became the highest-charting all-Spanish album in Billboard 200 history. More recently, “Dakiti,” his joint single with Jhay Cortez, became the second all-Spanish-language song to debut in the Hot 100’s Top 10. The only other song to do so was Bad Bunny’s own “MIA” in 2018. Already a three-time Grammy nominee, Bad Bunny will likely be nominated for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative Album for YHLQMDLG. An Album of the Year nomination is also possible, as are Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Music Video nominations for “Yo Perreo Sola.”
The Alabama Shakes frontwoman is a four-time Grammy winner and nine-time nominee thanks to her work with the band. With her debut solo studio album, Jaime, up for consideration this year, she should look to see that nominations total drastically increase. The album’s lead single already scored nominations for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance at the 2020 Grammys and this is a prime opportunity for the Academy to recognize a Black woman in rock — a genre that was birthed by Black women yet has routinely sidelined them. Nominations across the Rock and Alternative fields are almost guaranteed for Howard, and recognition in Album, Record, and Song of the Year are also possible.
Earlier this year, Mickey Guyton became the first Black woman country artist to perform at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Similar to rock, country is another genre birthed by Black people that has gone out of its way to neglect Black artists ever since. Don’t be surprised if her Bridges EP makes an appearance in Best Country Album or if “What Are You Gonna Tell Her” or “Black Like Me” scores a nomination in Best Country Song, Best Country Solo Performance, and, possibly, Song of the Year. Guyton’s strongest shot at a nomination is definitely Best New Artist, but anything is possible!
The late Brooklyn rap star has ruled 2020 despite unfortunately not being here to witness his career rise to unbelievable heights. Outside of Best New Artist and possibly Album of the Year look to see Pop’s name in Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song (“Dior”), and Best Rap Performance (“Dior”). Pop was instrumental to the rise of drill in hip-hop and his impact can be felt across the industry. His Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon album has birthed hits across the world like “Mood Swings,” “West Coast Shit,” “The Woo,” “For The Night,” “Something Special,” and “What You Know Bout Love.” With commercial success to die for, undeniable impact, and praise from critics, Pop could get a lot of love this year from the Academy.