2021 GRAMMYs Predictions: Beyond the General Field

After a postponement due to COVID-19, the Grammy Awards are back on for March 14. From the complete absence of The Weeknd on the nominations list to the surprise of Beyoncé’s “BLACK PARADE” being the most nominated song of the year (4), it’s sure to be an interesting night. Beyoncé is the most-nominated artist of the night with 9 nods, Roddy Ricch, Taylor Swift, and Dua Lipa follow with 6 each, and Brittany Howard scored 5.

The standard predictions of the Top 4 categories don’t give a proper look at how interesting of a year this is for the Recording Academy. Below, I’ll try my hand a predicting six select smaller, but just as competitive, categories. You can find my predictions for the General Field here.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Nominees: “Rain On Me” (Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande), “Intentions” (Justin Bieber featuring Quavo), “Dynamite” (BTS), “exile” (Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver), “Un Dia” (Dua Lipa, J Balvin, Bad Bunny & Tainy)

The way I see it, this is a three-way race. The Academy definitely liked Justin Bieber’s Changes album (it scored three total nominations), but given that multiple other nominees outpace “Intentions” in terms of commercial success and critical acclaim, I won’t bet on it winning. The other song I think we can count out is “Un Dia.” A smash hit around the world, “Un Dia” topped out at #63 in the U.S. despite its all-star collaboration status. With five other nominations this year, Dua Lipa could translate some of that Future Nostalgia love into passion votes, but the song’s name just isn’t as recognizable. There’s already a poor history for Spanish-English songs in this category. If historic hits like “Hips Don’t Lie” or “Despacito” couldn’t win this category, I don’t think that a song with a fraction of its success and impact will reverse the streak.

That leaves us with “exile,” “Rain On Me,” and “Dynamite.” BTS’ track is probably the third-most likely to win here. In their favor is the song’s warm reception and record-breaking success. Working against them is the fact that this is their first nomination, and they lack name recognition (amongst older Grammy voters) like Gaga, Taylor, and Ariana. So, “Rain On Me” and “exile” remain. The former could really take this home. “Rain On Me” has consistently been cited at awards shows throughout the year, went #1, and is the love child of two artists with a combined 12 wins and 41 nominations. Although Ariana has yet to win this category, Gaga took it home in 2019 for “Shallow.” The stats look to be somewhat on their side, and given that Chromatica is probably sitting in fourth place for Best Pop Vocal Album, this is the only place the Academy can reward Gaga’s return to pop music.

And then there was Taylor. Nominated here for “exile” from her folklore album, Taylor is looking to win her first Grammy in this category after three prior nominations either here or in this category’s predecessors. “Exile” features another Grammy favorite, two-time winner and eight-time nominee Bon Iver. While the two acts continue to be recognized by the Academy year after year, Taylor hasn’t won a Grammy since 2015 and Bon Iver hasn’t won since 2012. Furthermore, the Academy has the opportunity to reward Taylor/folklore in 5 other categories. The traditional ballad sound of “exile” will make it more accessible to the older voters, but I think this category comes down to recent trends in Grammy outcomes.

Will Win: “Rain On Me” (Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande)

ALT: “exile” (Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver)

Should Win: “exile” (Taylor Swift featuring Bon Iver)

Should Have Been Nominated:Safaera (Bad Bunny featuring Jowell & Randy and Ñengo Flow)

Best Rap Album

Nominees: A Written Testimony (Jay Electronica); Black Habits (D Smoke); Alfredo (Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist); King’s Disease (Nas); The Allegory (Royce Da 5’9″)

One of the most bizarre categories at this year’s ceremony, the Academy let it be known that no matter how acclaimed or successful a record from a younger rapper was, Best Rap Album (at least this year) was reserved for the older generations of “real” rappers. The absence of Lil Baby, Roddy Ricch, and Pop Smoke still stings, but we move. This year Royce Da 5’9″, Jay Electronica, Freddie Gibbs, and The Alchemist all received their first Grammy nominations as lead artists. D Smoke, also a Best New Artist nominee this year, was recognized for his debut album Black Habits. While every album here was lauded by critics, I think it comes down to Alfredo, King’s Disease, and Black Habits. For one, it’s important to note that out of the four rappers nominated for Best New Artist this year, D Smoke is the only one to also be recognized for a full-length project. Megan Thee Stallion (Suga), Doja Cat (Hot Pink), and CHIKA (Industry Games EP) all had eligible projects, but the Academy went with Black Habits.

Every year, there’s the usual uproar about legendary artists that have never won a Grammy. Nas is one of those artists King’s Disease was not only a success, but it was also a very solid record. This provides the Academy with a chance to finally reward Nas, and it would be for a project that deserves the recognition, not a pity make-up award decades after the legend’s prime. The only thing that could potentially block Nas’ path to the Grammy stage is Alfredo. Freddie Gibbs has some nice momentum right now and the album was universally acclaimed. This category is so interesting because 1) there’s not a lot of history to work with as every nominee is either a first-timer or has never won and 2) sales are genuinely not part of the conversation because none of these were smash records. I’m going to go with my gut and predict Nas to take this home.

Will Win: King’s Disease (Nas)

ALT: Alfredo (Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist)

Should Win: Alfredo (Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist)

Should Have Been Nominated: Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon (Pop Smoke)

Best Music Film

Nominees: Black Is King; Beastie Boys Story; Freestyle Love Supreme; The Sound of My Voice; That Little Ol’ Band From Texas

I really don’t see how this isn’t a two-horse race between Black Is King and Beastie Boys Story. This category is awarded to the directors and producers of the nominated film, but it is definitely possible that the star power of the film’s subject could garner a few votes. With Lin-Manuel Miranda nominated as a producer for Freestyle Love Supreme, he could parlay the 2021 awards season love for Hamilton (Disney+) into a few votes. Regardless, that won’t be any match for Black Is King and Beastie Boys Story. The former, Beyoncé’s reimagining of The Lion King and love letter to the global Black diaspora, was universally acclaimed and a major cultural moment of the past year. Already a winner in this category for Homecoming, Beyoncé, a director and producer on Black Is King, could become the first person ever to win this category in back-to-back years. With citations from the Music Video Production Association Awards, NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, UK Music Video Awards, and ADG Excellence in Production Design Awards, Black Is King has been racking up the recognition. In comparison, Beastie Boys Story scored five Emmy nominations last year and lost every single one. This will ultimately come down to a matter of which distributor — Apple TV+ (Beastie Boys Story) and Disney+ (Black Is King) — pulls off the better campaign.

Will Win: Black Is King

ALT: Beastie Boys Story

Should Win: Black Is King

Should Have Been Nominated: Miss Americana

Best Rap Performance

Nominees: “Deep Reverence” (Big Sean featuring Nipsey Hussle); “Savage (Remix)” (Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé); “BOP” (DaBaby); “Whats Poppin” (Jack Harlow); “Dior” (Pop Smoke); “The Bigger Picture” (Lil Baby)

What a stacked category. Realistically, any of these songs could take this award home. With that being said, “Whats Poppin” and “Dior” are the least likely to win. Jack Harlow missed out on a Best New Artist nomination and “Whats Poppin,” his biggest song to date, failed to be recognized in the other Rap categories it was eligible for, let alone the General Field. On the other hand, “Dior” being Pop Smoke’s only nomination at this year’s ceremony could actually work in his favor. The Academy snubbed the Shoot for the Stars album and failed to nominate the late Brooklyn icon for Best New Artist. “Dior” could very well be Pop’s only shot at a competitive Grammy and the mind-blowing longevity of the song’s parent album could end up making this a win for Pop.

Lil Baby is in a similar situation to Pop Smoke. Despite having the most-consumed album of the eligibility period (My Turn), Baby only received nominations for his Black Lives Matter-inspired standalone single, “The Bigger Picture.” The song earned Baby a lot of respect from rap gatekeepers and it is the highest-peaking song of his career so far. With another nomination in Best Rap Song, there is support for this track, but not enough to take it home. As for DaBaby, the controversial rapper scored a Record of the Year nomination for “Rockstar,” but it’s “BOP” that was recognized in this category. The song gained a lot of traction in late 2020/early 2021, but it’s moment may have happened and passed too early to still feel impactful by the time Grammy voting rolled around. That leaves us with “Deep Reverence” and “Savage (Remix),” the two songs that I think are most likely to win.

Ever since his untimely death, Nipsey Hussle has become a Grammys darling. The late rapper won two of the three awards he was posthumously nominated for, and that love could continue to lift him to greater Grammy heights this year. Nominated as a featured artist on Big Sean’s “Deep Reverence,” a single from Detroit 2, Nipsey could become the first artist to win this award in back-to-back years since Kendrick Lamar in 2018 and 2019. As for “Savage (Remix),” this song clearly has the most support out of all of the nominees. Nominated in three other categories, including Record of the Year, “Savage (Remix)” could make Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé the first female artists to win this award in the history of the category. They don’t really have anything going against them; they’ve got the support, acclaim, success, and narrative to bring home the gold.

Will Win: “Savage (Remix)” (Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé)

ALT: “Deep Reverence” (Big Sean featuring Nipsey Hussle)

Should Win: “Dior” (Pop Smoke)

Should Have Been Nominated: Rules (Doja Cat)

Best Alternative Music Album

Nominees: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple); Hyperspace (Beck); Jaime (Brittany Howard); Punisher (Phoebe Bridgers); The Slow Rush (Tame Impala)

One of the less glitzy categories, this year Best Alternative Music Album is also one of the most competitive. Any album could take this home. The least likely to win, in my view, seems to be Tame Impala. The beloved act has been nominated here for Lonerism and Currents, but with no nominations in any other category this year, Tame Impala may have to settle for being the bridesmaid yet again. Beck, a three-time winner and eight-time nominee in this category, also scored a citation in Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical in addition to this category for Hyperspace. Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical is often used as a precursor for the Album of the Year winner. None of the songs from Hyperspace were nominated, unlike the remaining three albums. A Best New Artist nominee this year, Phoebe Bridgers scored four total nominations at this year’s ceremony including recognition for her debut album Punisher and its individual tracks. Phoebe could very well take this home, but the lack of history makes it hard to say for certain.

In contrast, Fiona Apple has ample history with the Academy. Already a Grammy winner and eleven-time nominee (including two previous nominations in this category), Fiona seems like she has this locked up. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is one of the most acclaimed albums of all time and with nominations for “Shameika” in Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance, the support is there. Fiona was widely expected to receive an Album of the Year nomination this year, but she was passed over in every General Field category. The Academy may make it up to her by having her sweep all of her nominations, but not if Brittany Howard has anything to say about it. With five nominations for her debut solo studio album, I think Brittany Howard will take this home. Why? With nominations across four different genre fields (Rock, Alternative, R&B, and American Roots) as well as a nomination for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Jaime was likely closer to an Album of the Year nomination than Fetch the Bolt Cutters. This wide-ranging support coupled with the acclaim the record received should translate into a win for Howard in this category.

Will Win: Jaime (Brittany Howard)

ALT: Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple)

Should Win: Anyone

Should Have Been Nominated: Women In Music Pt. III (HAIM)

Best Progressive R&B Album

Nominees: Chilombo (Jhené Aiko); Ungodly Hour (Chloe x Halle); Fuck Yo Feelings (Robert Glasper); Free Nationals (Free Nationals); It Is What It Is (Thundercat)

This year marks the first year of the new Progressive R&B Album category; it’s meant to replace Best Urban Contemporary Album. I’m not even going to get into what the Academy was attempting to do here, so let’s move on. This is a two-person race. As much as I loved Free Nationals and It Is What It Is, they are definitely the least likely to win this category. Both albums are the first nominations for their respective acts (as lead artists for their own music). Furthermore, they were only recognized in this category and received no nods elsewhere. In comparison, Robert Glasper is already a three-time winner and he was able to score a Best R&B Song nomination for the H.E.R.-featuring “Better Than I Imagined” in addition to the Progressive R&B Album nomination for the parent album. In spite of all of this, this race comes down to Chloe x Halle and Jhené Aiko.

Both acts scored three nominations this year. Jhené was cited in Album of the Year, Best R&B Performance (“Lightning & Thunder (feat. John Legend)”), and this category. She also has three prior career nominations including a 2015 Best Urban Contemporary Album nomination for Sail Out. On the other hand, this year, Chloe x Halle scored nominations in this category, Best R&B Song (“Do It”), and Best Traditional R&B Performance (“Wonder What She Thinks of Me”). The sister duo had two previous career nominations including a 2019 Urban Contemporary Album nomination for The Kids Are Alright.

Chilombo’s Album of the Year nomination is important. The recognition of that album in the night’s biggest category should indicate enough support to pull off a win in Progressive R&B Album. Generally, the rule of thumb is that whatever album is nominated in Album of the Year is likely to win its corresponding genre category. However, rules can be broken. In 2013, Mumford & Sons’ Babel won Album of the Year but lost Best Americana Album to Bonnie Raitt’s Slipstream which was not nominated for Album of the Year. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict something similar to happen here. Chloe x Halle have been extremely visible for the entirety of their Ungodly Hour campaign and they have generated near-universal acclaim and goodwill while flawlessly transitioning into a more mature image. Chilombo may have Ungodly Hour beat in terms of commercial success, but when it comes to acclaim, quality, and overall campaigning, this race is a lot closer than it may appear.

Will Win: Ungodly Hour (Chloe x Halle)

ALT: Chilombo (Jhené Aiko)

Should Win: Ungodly Hour (Chloe x Halle)

Should Have Been Nominated: B7 (Brandy)

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