It’s that time of year again! Fiona Apple took critics by storm, BTS broke countless records, Ariana racked up more #1 hits, Beyoncé put out another visual album, and female rappers dominated the charts. Now, it is time to break down the upcoming Grammy Awards. Yes, the Grammy Awards are a historically racist institution that continues to feel antiquated and out of touch, but they are still, for better or for worse, the industry standard of artistic excellence in music. Before we get into it, here are a few reminders:
- To be nominated for the 2021 Grammy Awards albums and singles must have been released within the eligibility period of Sept. 1, 2019—Aug. 31, 2020.
- Record of the Year is for the artists, producers, and engineers. Song of the Year is for the songwriters.
- There are now eight slots in each of the four General Field categories.
The clear frontrunner for Album of the Year is After Hours (The Weeknd). The #1-debuting set drew critical acclaim (80 on Metacritic) and massive commercial success. After Hours is The Weeknd’s third consecutive #1 album and it houses two #1 hits in “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights,” which is already one of the 20 most streamed songs on Spotify of all time. “Blinding Lights” also recently broke the record for longest run in the Hot 100 Top 5 in history. In the six months since its release, the album has never left the Top 20 and The Weeknd has found a way to keep up his profile in quarantine through TikTok concerts, magazine spreads, and a VMAs win for Video of the Year. Already a 5x Grammy winner and a previous nominee in this category (Beauty Behind the Madness, 2015), The Weeknd really has this one within reach. It should be noted that the recent Grammy controversy concerning the committee’s bias against Black artists coupled with this year’s national reckoning with racism could very well impact the nominees and help The Weeknd’s chances. Regardless, The Weeknd would deserve this nomination and/or win if they should happen because the material deserves it.
Another early frontrunner is Fetch The Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple). The rich and poignant album became the second-highest charting album of the Grammy-winning singer’s career with its #4 debut. With a 98 on Metacritic, Apple can lay claim to the highest-rated album of 2020 so far. The only thing standing in her way is her track record at the Grammys. She has won just one award (1998; Best Rock Song, “Criminal”) out of eight career nominations and she has never been nominated in the General Field for her music. Two albums from country supergroups are looking to score nominations in this category: Gaslighter (The Chicks) and The Highwomen (The Highwomen). The former is the stellar comeback record from the most controversial act in country music history. The trio’s rocky relationship with their home format cost them the ability to reach their true potential for commercial success with this album, but they were able to pull off a #3 debut. Gaslighter follows their last album, 2007’s Taking the Long Way, which won Album of the Year. With 13 Grammys to their name, The Chicks are definitely a threat in this category. Unfortunately, with the country music establishment shunning them and the lack of a steady single driving the album, they could very well be passed over. There’s also The Highwomen, a new country group composed of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires — all Grammy-winning singer-songwriters. The quartet’s debut album scored an 80 on Metacritic, and a nomination for them would be long overdue recognition for the women in country music that have have faced so much adversity from a notoriously sexist format.
Three giants in pop music are also gunning for nominations here. Future Nostalgia (Dua Lipa), folklore (Taylor Swift), and Chromatica (Lady Gaga) are all well-poised for nominations. Already a two-time Grammy winner, Future Nostalgia has made Dua Lipa a bonafide pop star and consistent hitmaker with its sleek 80s synthpop sound. Taylor is gunning for her fourth nomination in this category and third win (she won in 2010 for Fearless and 2016 for 1989) with folklore. The gorgeous pseduo-surprise drop has been hailed as her best album to date and it is the longest-running #1 album of 2020. Her first proper pop album since 2016’s Joanne, Chromatica, the sixth consecutive #1 album from the eleven-time Grammy winner, could become Gaga’s fourth nomination in this category. The dance-pop record scored a 79 on Metacritic and two Top 5 singles: “Stupid Love” and the #1-debuting “Rain on Me.” Gaga’s chances are a bit harder to gauge since she was passed over for an Album of the Year nomination for a A Star is Born which was a far more dominant record than Chromatica. She will also be splitting votes with Future Nostalgia as both albums occupy the same dance-pop lane. It isn’t likely that both of these album make the Final 8.
Finally, three male soloists are aiming for recognition in the biggest category of the night. Former One Direction star Harry Styles, truly came into his own as a pop star this year with his sophomore album, Fine Line. The pop-rock record sold like hotcakes, scored a 76 on Metacritic, and housed smash hits like “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar.” The main thing Harry has working against him is boyband bias, but key industry players, like Stevie Nicks, for example, are in his court. After picking up a Grammy last year for Best Rap Performance (“Racks In The Middle”), Roddy is poised to score a slew of nominations this year for Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial. The album, his debut studio set, scored four weeks at #1 at the beginning of 2020 and averaged at 72 on Metacritic. Oh, and it just happens to be home to the biggest song of the year: “The Box.” This would be Roddy and Harry’s first nominations in this category or any General Field category. Finally, Post Malone is gunning for his second nomination in this category with Hollywood’s Bleeding. He previously was nominated here in 2019 for Beerbongs & Bentleys. Hollywood’s Bleeding is easily one of the most successful albums of both 2019 and 2020 and with a history-making single like “Circles” and a 79 on Metacritic, he may just ride all the way to a win. On the other hand, there isn’t a compelling narrative for a Post Malone nomination here, nor does their seem to be much passion for his recognition in this category or campaigning on his part. Run the Jewels have only ever been nominated Grammy once before, but their critically lauded RTJ4 could see them in the running for music’s biggest prize. They’ve reportedly submitted their album and its songs to over 10 different categories and their highly political album coupled with their smart campaign could land them in the Final 8.
If not for her… chat room controversy… Doja Cat would most likely be a lock for an Album of the Year nomination. Alas, as much as the Grammys “try” to be integritous, they are still running a show at the end of the day and the Doja’s optics aren’t as good as they could be right now. Regardless, her star power and talent are undeniable. From “Juicy” and “Cyber Sex” to the #1 single “Say So,” Doja Cat’s Hot Pink has dominated the eligibility period. Her sleek blend of pop and rap helped launched her from a blogosphere favorite to a worldwide pop star. If nominated, she would join Lauryn Hill, Cardi B, and Lizzo as the fourth female rap soloist to be recognized in this category. Another rapper, Brooklyn’s very own Pop Smoke, could score a bunch of posthumous nominations for his Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon album. Since its release the album has been planted in the Top 5 and it has launched countless hits like “Dior,” “The Woo,” “Mood Swings,” “For the Night,” and “Make It Rain.” On top of Pop’s debut album being a legitimate critical and commercial success, the Grammys have had a recent trend of rewarding artists after their deaths — since 2017, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Chris Cornell, and Nipsey Hussle all won posthumous Grammys. Rounding out the hip-hop entries there’s My Turn (Lil Baby). This one is peculiar because My Turn is a truly great album and, numerically, it’s the biggest album of the year. Nonetheless, Lil Baby’s sound is far from the type of rap the Grammys normally nominate in the Rap Field, let alone the General Field.
On the R&B side of things Over It (Summer Walker) and Ungodly Hour (Chloe x Halle) land on two opposite ends of the spectrum. Summer Walker is looking for her first Grammy nomination this cycle, and her highly successful debut album should do the job. At the time of its release, Over It broke streaming records for female R&B artists and the set houses such hits as “Girls Need Love,” “Playing Games,” and “Come Thru.” On the other hand, Chloe x Halle have dominated much of the music conversation in the COVID-19 era with their masterful quarantine performances and their dazzling sophomore album. What’s holding them back? Ungodly Hour, for all of its acclaim and good will, debuted outside of the Top 10 and the only song on the album to hit the Hot 100, “Do It,” peaked a measly #63. Nevertheless, the sister duo are already two-time Grammy nominees (Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album for The Kids Are Alright), so this could be more within reach than it looks. My gut tells me that their consistently viral performances and the genuine love for this album could carry them to the finish line.
Finally, Luke Combs, country music’s brightest new star, could add to his two previous Grammy nominations with What You See Is What You Get. His platinum-selling sophomore album opened with the biggest weekly sales total for a country album since 2018. Admittedly, the Academy’s reception of Combs has been timid; his monster hits from his first album (“One Number Away” and “Beautiful Crazy”) were inexplicably ignored by the Grammys. Maybe, this is his year! Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard’s debut solo studio album, Jaime, could also enter the race. The rock album, which scored an 88 on Metacritic, already garnered two Grammy nominations (Best Rock Song & Performance) for its lead single “History Repeats,” so it looks like she’s already on the Academy’s radar. Brandy Clark, already a six-time Grammy nominee, could enter the Final 8 with her Your Life Is a Record album. The record, her third, was received favorably by critics, but it is also her least successful album to date.
K-pop superstars BTS are looking to finally breakthrough at the Grammys this year. Map of the Soul: 7 has a slim chance at making the Final 8 as it is the group’s fourth #1 album and the parent album of their second-highest-charting song, “ON” (#4). The album drew their strongest reviews yet (82 on Metacritic), but the last Album of the Year winner to prominently feature a non-English language was 1965’s Getz/Gilberto (Stan Getz & João Gilberto). Similarly, Bad Bunny‘s YHLQMDLG also has a chance at an AOTY nomination this year. The Latin superstar is already a three-time Grammy nominee and a Latin Grammy winner, but the language barrier could stop him as well. If “Despacito,” one of the biggest songs of all time, could go home empty-handed at the Grammys, I have little faith that Benito could even pull off a nomination. It’s unfortunate and despicable that language is still such a barrier at the Grammys.
Four rap albums also have fighting chances: A Written Testimony (Jay Electronica), JESUS IS KING (Kanye West), Circles (Mac Miller), and Legends Never Die (Juice WRLD). Ten years in the making, Jay Electronica’s proper debut album was met with critical acclaim (83 on Metacritic) and a #12 debut. Although the elusive rapper has never been nominated for a Grammy, the fact that the album is essentially a collaborative project with Jay-Z, a 22-time winner, may work in his favor. Like Pop Smoke, Juice WRLD and Mac Miller are looking to score posthumus AOTY nominations. Circles received an 83 on Metacritic and gifted Mac with his biggest sales week for an album of his career; Legends Never Die became Juice WRLD’s second #1 album and became the most successful posthumous album in two decades. Mac posthumously scored his first Grammy nomination last year for his stunning Swimming album, so a nomination here for Circles isn’t completely out of the question. Juice WRLD has never been recognized by this Academy, but it is more likely that they throw him a nomination or two in the rap field instead an Album of the Year nod regardless of the album’s historic success. Kanye West has not been in the running for the night’s biggest prize (for his own release) since 2008’s Graduation. Sure, JESUS IS KING drew the worst reviews of Kanye’s career, but it was a #1 album, “Follow God” was a Top 10 hit, and Kanye will undoubtedly bring engagement to the show. But then again, he did throw a Grammy in toilet and filmed himself peeing on it.
If the Grammys stay true to what they’re supposed to stand far, Rina Sawayama’s SAWAYAMA would be an absolute lock for a nomination. Unfortunately, the Academy puts an unnecessary amount of emphasis on commercial success. Its 89 on Metacritic and passionate love from fans likely will not be enough to overcome the fact that the album failed to debut on the Billboard 200 and none of its singles made any notable impact Stateside. FKA Twigs finally broke through with the Academy last year; she scored her first nomination last year for Best Music Video (“Cellophane”). Her Magdalene album could sneak into the final lineup with its 88 on Metacritic, but, admittedly, it’s a longshot. Similarly, two alternative albums, The Slow Rush (Tame Impala) and Women In Music Pt. III (HAIM), have slight chances of making the Final 8. The former was Tame Impala’s second consecutive #1 album and lowest-rated record (still a strong 79). The latter became the sister trio’s lowest-charting album (#13), but their highest-rated effort (89 on Metacritic). Finally, two-time nominee Kehlani could add to her total with It Was Good Until It Wasn’t. The acclaimed record became her highest-charting album in the U.S. (#2) and it would be a surprising, but worthy, choice.
So… here we go!
- folklore (Taylor Swift)
- After Hours (The Weeknd)
- Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple)
- The Highwomen (The Highwomen)
- Future Nostalgia (Dua Lipa)
- RTJ4 (Run The Jewels)
- Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial (Roddy Ricch)
- Jaime (Brittany Howard)
ALT: Ungodly Hour (Chloe x Halle) OR What You See Is What You Get (Luke Combs)