2020 Grammy Watch: Album of the Year

Here we are again! As the Grammy eligibility period has drawn to a close, it’s time to start predicting the lucky nominees for next year’s awards. We’ll be kicking things off with Album of the Year. I’ve split the albums into three groups: Leading Contenders, Fair Shots, and Long Shots. The names are fairly self-explanatory, but the albums are ranked in groups from most to least likely to score a nomination. Here are the main rules to remember: 1) Albums must have been released between October 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019 and 2) 8 albums will be nominated.

Leading Contenders

Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish have dominated the charts this year. Ariana’s fifth album, thank u, next (review here), is easily her most successful release yet; it currently ranks as the second biggest-selling album in the U.S. and worldwide of the first half of 2019. Billie’s debut album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (review here), was released to critical acclaim (like Grande’s) and has spent 3 weeks at #1 in the U.S. Thank u, next brought Ariana’s career to new heights and houses 2 smash #1 singles: “7 rings” and “thank u, next.” The Grammys love a breakout artist story and Ariana won her first Grammy earlier this year for her Sweetener album. These two albums are the closest things to locks for Album of the Year nominations.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born Soundtrack (review here) should also score a nomination. The album has been a steady pure sales monster and is home to the #1 Oscar-winning song, “Shallow.” At the most recent Grammys, “Shallow” won Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Song Written for Visual Media. The song was also nominated for Song and Record of the Year. The soundtrack was released October 5, just four days into this year’s eligibility period and its only hit song already won two Grammys, so the Academy may want to make room for another album.

Tyler, the Creator’s Igor (review here) is kind of a perfect storm. It’s a critically acclaimed and commercially successful rap album filled with self-written and self-produced songs by an openly gay black artist. Igor ticks all the boxes that the Grammys look for and then some. I’m quite tempted to call this a lock. It should be noted that the Grammys did embrace hip-hop last year: Invasion of Privacy and Scorpion got Album of the Year noms and “This Is America” won Record and Song of the Year.

And then there was Beyoncé. Mrs. Carter’s HOMECOMING, the live album of her legendary 2018 Coachella set is very likely to be nominated. The HOMECOMING film landed 6 Emmy nominations, but the last live album to be nominated (and win) for Album of the Year was Tony Bennett’s 1995 MTV Unplugged album. The odds are against, HOMECOMING scoring a nomination, but its universal acclaim (98 on Metacritic) coupled with Bey’s overdue status (she’s scored four nominations in this category and never won), could result in a win. This project would be an unconventional AOTY nominee, but Beyoncé brings ratings and engagement, so I wouldn’t put anything past the Academy.

I don’t expect any General Field nominations for “ME!” (review here) or “You Need to Calm Down” (review here), and reputation was given just a single nomination which it lost. With no obvious smash hit (maybe the title track or “The Man?”), Taylor will have to rely on solid critical acclaim (79 on Metacritic), her power as one of the industry’s last pure album sellers, and her name to score a nomination here. Lover (review here) is undoubtedly a good album, and by virtue of Taylor’s track record with the Grammys (she is the first woman to win Album of the Year twice), it has to be in the conversation.

Fair Shots

Lizzo has had a breakout year and her third album, Cuz I Love You, brought her mainstream success. The music is acclaimed and she’s a social media superstar with real talent, the odds are in her favor. Her massive hit single “Truth Hurts” also reached #1 right in time for voting season. Solange’s last album, A Seat at the Table, scored a Best R&B Song Grammy for “Cranes In the Sky.” Her When I Get Home record, was widely acclaimed (89 on Metacritic, review here) and is a worthy contender. In a similar vein is James Blake, in the running with Assume Form. The Academy likes him (4 nominations, 1 win) and his album was acclaimed (80 on Metacritic). He, like Solange, lacks blockbuster commercial success, but recent wins from Beck (Morning Phase, 2015) and Kacey Musgraves (Golden Hour, 2019) show that you can win without chart-busting stats.

Khalid’s Free Spirit and Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III are the most successful releases of this bunch. With big hits like “Talk” and “Better,” Khalid, who scored five nominations last year, shouldn’t run into any issues scoring big again this year. A collaborative rap album has never been nominated in this category and J. Cole, the head of the Dreamville collective, still has yet to win a Grammy. Nevertheless, with a robust #1 debut and great music, Revenge of the Dreamers III could break through.

There really hasn’t been a blockbuster country album released during the eligibility period. Regardless, it seems like Kane Brown’s Experiment is country music’s best chance for representation. “Lose It” was a sizable hit, and Kane recently released an expanded edition of the album. In terms of rock music, there’s a similar situation. Thanks to recent musical biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, Queen and Elton John have ruled the rock charts this year. Nevertheless, Gary Clark Jr.’s excellent This Land could sneak into the line up. It’s a fresh and bold take on rock music that still holds its core values at the center of it all. Also, Gary is a two-time Grammy nominee and previous winner, so he has some history with the Academy.

Lana Del Rey has scored three Grammy nominations over the course of her career, but she has never won nor has she been recognized in the General Field. Her latest album, Norman F*****g Rockwell (review here), could very well change that. The set has been lauded as her best yet with many critic scores of 100 or in the 90s. Lana has birthed a generation of talent that all have won, or seem poised to win, Grammys before her (Lorde, Billie Eilish, etc.), so this is the Academy’s time to honor a true pioneer.

Long Shots

There are two albums by pop titans that could either be showered with nominations or flat out ignored: Ed Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project and Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins. There was a lot of uproar when Ed Sheeran’s monster of an album, Divide, was only given two nominations. Ed didn’t even attend the ceremony. The Grammys may want to make up to him and give him Album, Record, and Song of the Year nominations for his Project. The album spans multiple genres and includes collaborations with basically the entire music industry, so it will definitely pique the Academy’s interest. Nevertheless, it just wasn’t that great. The Jo Bros scored a Grammy nom for Best New Artist in 2009. A couple of albums, two solo careers, three marriages, and one hiatus later, they’re in the conversation for Album of the Year. Happiness Begins (review here) boasts the second-biggest first-week sales total of the year, and it’s #1 lead single, “Sucker” is a front runner for Record and Song of the Year. The only thing holding the album back is that they don’t really have an established hit outside of “Sucker,” and pure pop albums struggle a bit in this category.

Last year, H.E.R. pulled out a shocking Album of the Year nom for a compilation of her two debut EPs. The songstress’s authentic R&B sound may open doors for similar projects to score nods this year. Ella Mai’s eponymous debut album was a success and housed the Grammy-winning “Boo’d Up” and the acclaimed follow up hit, “Trip.” Ari Lennox is sort of like this year’s SZA or Khalid, an R&B artist whose debut album takes the industry by storm. Her Shea Butter Baby album is gorgeous and well deserving of a nomination. Mariah Carey has amassed 34 nominations and just 5 wins in her legendary career. 3 of those nominations, but none of those wins, were for Album of the Year. Caution (review here) wasn’t an incredible success but it’s a damn good album that proves that older artists can still make great R&B music in today’s landscape. There’s also Anderson .Paak’s Ventura, a hip-hop/R&B fusion, album with strong reviews. Paak won a Grammy for “Bubblin” last year, so he’s definitely on the Academy’s radar. Beyoncé’s The Lion King-inspired The Gift could also score a nomination if the Academy wants to applaud her attempt to bring afrobeats to America’s mainstream. The album is really great, but with shockingly dismal sales numbers and a non-existent album campaign, it will likely be passed over.

There are slew of hip hop albums that are also part of the conversation. GoldLink’s globe-trotting Diaspora and A Boogie Wit da Hoodie’s chart-busting Hoodie SZN could make appearances. 21 Savage’s surprisingly excellent i am > i was could get some attention; the album’s lead single, “a lot (feat. J. Cole),” recently scored a Video of the Year nomination at the VMAs. Meek Mill’s Championships was a chart success, had great singles success, and is pretty solid, so it may appear as well. Rapsody’s Eve (review here) would be a welcome nominee. The critically lauded set (91 on Metacritic) could make Rapsody just the fifth female rapper to ever be nominated for this award. Megan Thee Stallion’s Fever (review here) could also pull off this feat; the rapstress’ mixtape spawned two hits and she’s been inescapable this year.

Finally, there’s Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! The album wasn’t a massive success but it’s really solid rock album that represents the modern side of the genre very well. Vampire Weekend have won one Grammy out of two nominations (2014, Best Alternative Album). Their Father of the Bride album scored rave reviews, so I can see a surprise nomination in their future.

Final Predictions:

thank u, next (Ariana Grande)

WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (Billie Eilish)

A Star is Born Soundtrack (Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper)

Igor (Tyler, The Creator)

Free Spirit (Khalid)

This Land (Gary Clark Jr.)

HOMECOMING (Beyoncé)

Father of the Bride (Vampire Weekend)

ALT: Norman F*****g Rockwell (Lana Del Rey) OR Cuz I Love You (Lizzo)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s