This is one of the stronger groups of Album of the Year nominees in recent years, but it is also one of the hardest to predict. Every album nominated is worthy of the title, and I will be breaking down the pros and cons of each nominee and hopefully come to the right conclusion.
Childish Gambino, “Awaken, My Love!”
Childish Gambino’s third studio album deviated away from his indie rapper brand and toward a Funkadelic R&B album. The album scored a 77 on Metacritic and was well received across the music scene. “Awaken, My Love!” debuted at #5 and was eventually certified Gold. The album also housed the critically lauded single, “Redbone,” which was certified 3x platinum at hit the top 15, showcasing incredible longevity and relevance across 2016 and 2017.
Childish has notched two prior Grammy nominations and further five nominations this year. Working for him, is the traditional sound of his album and his Record of the Year nomination for “Redbone.” Also, Gambino would be the “indie” choice this year à la Sturgill Simpson (2017) or Arcade Fire (2011), since the other nominees are all previous Grammy winners.
Childish’s album is second oldest and least successful album of the nominees and he has the least (musical) name recognition and Grammy history. Additionally, the album is skewed to a very small and specific bloc of voters, the likelihood of country voters giving him their votes is slim. Given that Gambino has a total of five nominations this year, it may be that voters would rather reward him in the genre categories as opposed to the General Field.
If I were to bet $100 on Gambino taking home the win, I would give him 1/9 odds.
Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
Bruno has the oldest album of the bunch, but it feels the most recent. He kicked things off with the #4-peaking 4x platinum single, “24K Magic,” which is currently nominated for Record of the Year. He followed things up with his eighth #1 single, “That’s What I Like,” which went 6x platinum. Another platinum single followed and then he released the universally acclaimed “Finesse” remix featuring fellow Grammy nominee, Cardi B. His album peaked at #2, went 2x platinum, and stayed in the top ten for months. Bruno is the American Music Award’s reigning Artist of the Year and he earned six Grammy nominations this year.
24K Magic was generally acclaimed and managed to stay relevant for over a year, rare for many pop albums today. Bruno has been nominated here before and he is currently a five-time Grammy winner. Given his nominations across the general field and every category of his home genre, it is safe to say that there is significant support for Bruno. For the Recording Academy, Bruno winning would kill two birds with one stone: he is a person of color and 24K Magic is an “urban” album that leans heavily into R&B, a genre often snubbed in the marquee categories.
The album came out in 2016, the Academy might not want to award the 2018 award for Album of the Year to a 2016 album. Bruno also doesn’t have a stellar track record concerning wins; he has won 5 awards out of 21 nominations, that is a 24% success rate. Lastly, the genre change. To date, every nomination Mars has received (bar this year’s) as a lead artist has been in the pop categories and general field. This year Bruno has no pop nominations, but he was nominated in every R&B category. If the pop bloc does not rally behind him substantially, that combined with potential vote splitting with Gambino…. he could lose.
If I were to bet $100 on Bruno winning, I would give it 13/37 odds.
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
Kendrick’s album was the biggest of the year. It was introduced by Kendrick’s first #1 single, “HUMBLE..” which is eligible for 6x platinum and won the VMA for Video of the Year. Kendrick also notched the #4 peaking “DNA.,” which is eligible for 3x platinum and the top 20 hits “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.” By nearly every measure Kendrick dominated the year: sales, streams, singles, touring, everything. Everything Kendrick touched turned to gold, he also notched seven nominations this year.
Kendrick has won 7 Grammys out of 22 nominations (barring this year) in just three years. DAMN. is his third consecutive #1 album; it is also his third title to be nominated for Album of the Year. Kendrick is respected by old heads and adored by the newer generation. He has gifted the Grammys some of their best and most memorable performances and he always attends.
Despite four prior nominations, Kendrick has yet to win a General Field Award. He lost Best New Artist in 2014 (to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis), Album of the Year in 2014 (to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories), Song of the Year in 2016 (to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”), and Album of the Year in 2016 (to Taylor Swift’s 1989).
This year Kendrick has two General Field nominations, but no Song of the Year nomination which is intriguing given his reputation as one of the most lyrically profound rappers of his generation. Kendrick will also, like in 2014, have to split the rap voting bloc with another artist. Jay-Z is also nominated in this category for his 4:44 album. Jay-Z is one of the most Grammy awarded artists of all tie with 21 wins and 74 nominations. Jay represents an older and more traditional choice for the voters to side with if they want to commend a rap album this year. Given Jay’s immense legacy, the vote splitting between his album and Kendrick’s could be considerably large. Kendrick may get some other votes here and there and maybe a sliver of the pop bloc, but it might not be enough.
If I were to bet $100 that DAMN. takes this home, I’d give it 19/32 odds.1
Out of all the nominees, Jay-Z arguably has the strongest case. He has a nomination in every General Field category this year, he has won 21 Grammys, the album was #1 for multiple weeks, and he and his music have been the topic of conversation ever since the first teasers were released. Jay has never won a Grammy in the General Field or been nominated for Album of the Year for his own release. These facts combined with his recent induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (the first rapper to do so ), the Academy may decide to reward him as this may be their last chance to in the competitive categories.
The album’s singles caused conversation but not chart domination. Only one of the album’s singles, “4:44,” hit Top 40, peaking at #35; additionally, “The Story of O.J.,” a promotional single which is nominated for Record of the Year, peaked at #23.
Other than the lack of single success, there really isn’t anything hurting Jay’s chances. He is nominated throughout the rap field and general field and has an enviable success rate. But, there is TIDAL. Jay-Z owns TIDAL, a high fidelity music/video streaming service, and it has been subject to unwarranted smear campaigns and media backlash since it’s launch. TIDAL’s stench could draw the Academy away from awarding 4:44 the big win.
If I were to bet $100 on Jay-Z finally winning Album of the Year, I’d give it 17/83 odds.
Yet another #1 album, Melodrama was universally acclaimed a scored a platinum top 20 single with “Green Light.” Lorde has received endless acclaim for her sophomore album, but not nearly as much success as her debut album Pure Heroine. Also working for her, is the fact that she is the only woman nominated. In the #MeToo era, seeing a bright young woman win over four men is a good image. Also, shockingly, this is Lorde’s only nomination. She failed to get nominated in her core categories Pop Solo Performance and Best Pop Vocal which she has been nominated in before. She even won the former category, as well as Song of the Year (which she is not nominated in this year), for “Royals.” This is the Academy’s only chance to reward Melodrama so they will probably take it. Also other than Bruno, she has the widest appeal, she has the pop star edge with the singer/songwriter and alternative/indie undertones,; she can pull votes from virtually any bloc.
The one nomination… maybe it actually signifies a lack of support and she was Blue Ribbon Pannel’d to the top five? Also, Lorde failed to have a big hit this era that even saw a fraction of the success that “Royals” did.
If I had to bet on Melodrama taking the victory, I’d give it 21/79 odds.
As of right now, this is how I rank the nominees in terms of likelihood of winning
24K Magic / DAMN.
“Awaken, My Love!