And we’re back! As another year draws to a close, it’s time to figure out the eight albums that will score coveted nominations for Album of the Year at the upcoming Grammy Awards ceremony. Last year, Taylor Swift (folklore) made history as the first woman in history to triumph in this category three times. From the blockbuster success of Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR to critically lauded offerings from the likes of Arlo Parks and Little Simz, 2021 definitely wasn’t lacking in terms of variety. For this year’s predictions, I’ve picked 40 albums and separated them into four categories: Safe Bets, Strong Shots, Long Shots, and Longer Shots. Now, let’s get into what we’re all really here for:
SOUR (Olivia Rodrigo); Planet Her (Doja Cat); Good News (Megan Thee Stallion); star-crossed (Kacey Musgraves); Happier Than Ever (Billie Eilish); Certified Lover Boy (Drake); Back of My Mind (H.E.R.); MONTERO (Lil Nas X)
If anyone is a safe bet for an Album of the Year nomination, it’s Olivia Rodrigo. In addition to pulling some of the strongest consumption totals of the year, Olivia has dominated the cultural conversation since March with Sour and its four Top 10-peaking singles. Even album tracks like “favorite crime” and “jealousy, jealousy” have risen in the public consciousness thanks to TikTok virality and her SOUR Prom concert series. Truthfully, there isn’t much that Olivia has going against her. The album debuted at #1, two of its singles are the most successful songs of the year (“drivers license” and “good 4 u”), the record drew acclaim from critics, and Olivia has been extremely visible and present throughout the year. Olivia is already hitting all of the key Grammy campaign stops, and the album is still sitting in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200. Moreover, the Grammys love gifting Album of the Year nominations (and wins) to young female artists for their breakthrough records. Look at Adele (21, 2012), Billie Eilish (When We All Fall Asleep…, 2020), Taylor Swift (Fearless, 2010), H.E.R. (H.E.R., 2019), Lizzo (Cuz I Love You, 2020), Dua Lipa (Future Nostalgia, 2021), Norah Jones (Come Away With Me, 2003), and Inida.Arie (Acoustic Soul, 2002) — the list goes on. Olivia is well-positioned to score nominations in each of the Big Four General Field categories. The only thing that may hold her back, however, is the fact that another young female singer-songwriter swept the Big 4 just two years ago and the Grammys may not want a repeat so soon. Admittedly, that’s a weak excuse, but there are hundreds of factors at play that need to be accounted for.
Two other pop albums — Doja Cat’s Planet Her and Lil Nas X’s MONTERO — are also safe bets. Between the heavy R&B and rap influences on both albums as well as their monster singles and consistent streams, both albums should be able to garner support from a wide base of voters. Both Doja and Lil Nas have consistently been at the forefront of the cultural conversation thanks to their provocative music videos and show-stopping awards show performances. Their kind of mass appeal will be especially helpful now that this category (along with dozens of others) is decided with a straight vote instead of secret committees. Both artists have at least three prior nominations and both albums garnered critical acclaim. Lil Nas really doesn’t have much going against him, Doja, on the other hand, has the stench of Dr. Luke on her submissions. Despite the middling reception of Back of My Mind, H.E.R.’s debut studio album is likely a safe bet for an AOTY nomination. H.E.R. received AOTY nods in 2019 and 2020 for compilation albums. This year, she earned the Song of the Year Grammy for “I Can’t Breathe” and the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah. The industry loves this young woman. Her lack of definitive hits singles and, in the case of this album, impressive commercial success and acclaim likely won’t stop her. In a similar boat, we have Drake’s Certified Lover Boy. Critics greeted the album with a paltry 61 on Metacritic despite the album earning the largest opening-week consumption total of the eligibility period. Certified Lover Boy lacks the major pop crossover hits of Views and Scorpion, but the former was able to score an AOTY nomination without recognition in Record or Song of the Year. With numbers and name recognition on his side, Drake is probably safe for a nomination — especially in a straight vote.
Megan Thee Stallion’s Good News and Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever are two albums that would be no surprise if they showed up in the final 8. Last year, the Academy showered Megan with love. She won three out of her four nominations including Best New Artist. Similarly, Billie followed up her historic 2020 sweep with another win in Record of the Year with “everything i wanted,” making her just the third artist in history to win that award in back-to-back years. Good News did its due diligence to produce hits outside of “Savage” like “Body,” Cry Baby,” and “Shots Fired.” Billie weathered her first major controversies and pulled off a second acclaimed #1 album. In addition, the album’s title track is making waves at the perfect time and making up for her relative lack of singles success this year. Both should be able to garner enough support, but neither album dominated the eligibility like Planet Her or SOUR. Finally, we have Kacey Musgraves’s star-crossed. A former winner in this category (2019, Golden Hour), Kacey will likely be able to combine support from pop and country voters to lift her to a nomination in AOTY. Recently, news broke that screening committees barred star-crossed from competing in Best Country Album. Instead, the album will be placed in Best Pop Vocal Album. That category is very stacked this year, and I can definitely see a scenario in which Kacey misses a nomination in a genre album category but pops up in AOTY.
Heaux Tales (Jazmine Sullivan); Call Me If You Get Lost (Tyler, The Creator); evermore (Taylor Swift); Positions (Ariana Grande); Dangerous (Morgan Wallen); Daddy’s Home (St. Vincent); Justice (Justin Bieber); DONDA (Kanye West)
In terms of big pop albums, Justice (Justin Bieber), Positions (Ariana Grande), and evermore (Taylor Swift) all have strong shots at landing in the final 8. All previous nominees in this category, these three artists put out albums that spawned some of the biggest sales weeks and radio hits of the year. Bieber will likely have a big nomination haul thanks to “Peaches” and “Stay,” but the middling reviews for the album may hold it back. As for Ariana, she has the name recognition and singles success (“positions” and “34+35”) to garner a considerable amount of votes, but Positions did not dominate the greater culture in the way that thank u, next did. Taylor just picked up her third win in this category at the top of the year with folklore, the sister album to evermore. A lot of evermore’s Grammy success will likely depend on 1) how effectively Taylor campaigns and 2) whether or not voters will view the album as its own entity or as an extension of folklore. If nominated, Taylor could potentially pull off a fourth AOTY win thanks to votes from the pop, alternative, rock, and country blocs. Also in contention is St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home; it’s an acclaimed record from a 2x Grammy-winner. Outside of veteran artists like Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters, this is probably alternative/rock’s best shot at some recognition in Album of the Year.
There’s also Heaux Tales (Jazmine Sullivan) and Call Me If You Get Lost (Tyler, The Creator) — two of 2021’s most acclaimed albums. The former became the highest-charting project of Jazmine Sullivan’s career and spawned her first Gold-certified single, “Pick Up Your Feelings.” Jazmine has been nominated at the Grammys twelve times before, but she has yet to win. With so much love for Jazmine in her home genre and high-profile spots like singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, Jazmine could be looking at her first appearance in the General Field since her 2008 Best New Artist nod, and maybe even her first Grammy win. Call Me If You Get Lost is the follow-up to IGOR, the album that earned Tyler his first Grammy Award. Tyler has the acclaim and commercial success to warrant a nomination, but with a straight vote, rappers with greater name recognition (i.e., Kanye and Drake) have an easier path to a nomination. Speaking of Kanye, Donda could be his first album to be recognized in Album of the Year since Graduation scored a nomination in 2007. With mixed reviews, the lack of a genuine radio hit, and people’s strained relationship with Kanye as a public figure/artist, this could really go either way. Finally, there’s the Morgan Wallen question. Dangerous: The Double Album has dominated the Billboard 200 since it dropped at the top of the year. Even in the face of the N-Word controversy, the success of Morgan’s album never wavered. At this point, it’s up to what message voters want to send. After an explosive year of restructuring and grappling with allegations of racial and gender bias, does the Academy want to reward a white country singer that openly uses racial slurs despite occupying space in a historically Black genre through the usurpation of hip-hop motifs? We’ll see.
Dawn (YEBBA); BE (BTS); Starting Over (Chris Stapleton); The Off-Season (J. Cole); Remember Her Name (Mickey Guyton); King’s Disease II (Nas); Made In Lagos (Wizkid)
The albums in this category likely won’t make an appearance in the final 8, but they could very well be wildcard nominees. On the country front, if voters want to recognize an album in that genre while ignoring Morgan Wallen: Remember Her Name and Starting Over are the strongest bets. Mickey Guyton picked up her first Grammy nomination last year (Best Country Solo Performance for “Black Like Me”) which coincided with a show-stopping performance on the main telecast. Nominating Mickey’s debut album would be a chance to recognize the artists at the forefront of country’s current evolution — Black artists and women. On the other hand, Chis Stapleton is a former nominee in this category (2015, Traveller). Like all of his projects, Starting Over was released to a glowing reception and spawned multiple hits (“Starting Over,” “You Should Probably Leave,” etc.). Realistically, Chris is probably country music’s safest bet for an AOTY nomination, but there is definitely less passion behind this album as opposed to the frenzy behind Traveller six years ago. As for hip-hop, J. Cole, who has yet to win a Grammy for his own music, is vying for his first appearance in the Album of the Year lineup with The Off-Season. Historically, the Academy has been inexplicably cold towards Cole, so that alone will hurt its chances. Unfortunately, the album quickly lost steam in the general public consciousness following its Q1 release. Nas finally picked up his first Grammy (Best Rap Album) last year for the first King’s Disease album. The sequel to that album is generally regarded to be the stronger effort of the two, so I wouldn’t be too shocked if the goodwill rolled over into this Grammy season. Another former Grammy winner, Yebba, released her long-awaited debut album, Dawn, to rapturous acclaim. Yebba already pulled off a win and four nominations before her debut album, so the Academy definitely has the kind of love and respect for her that could translate into an AOTY nod. In a just world, Made In Lagos should be a lock for an Album of the Year nomination, but that’s not the world we live in. Hopefully, Wizkid can ride the “Essence” train to an AOTY nod, but I would hesitate to bet money on that. Finally, BTS should be safe for a second Best Pop Duo/Group Performance nomination (“Butter”), but can they make the leap to the General Field? It’s certainly a possibility, but not a strong one since they’ve spent the majority of the eligibility period moving on from that album and promoting standalone singles and collaborations.
Plastic Hearts (Miley Cyrus); Love For Sale (Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga); Inside (Bo Burnham); Medicine At Midnight (Foo Fighters); Solar Power (Lorde); Stand for Myself (Yola); We Are (Jon Batiste); Collapsed In Sunbeams (Arlo Parks); El Ultimo Tour Del Mundo (Bad Bunny); McCartney III (Paul McCartney); Still Woman Enough (Loretta Lynn); Exodus (DMX); If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Halsey); Faith (Pop Smoke); Hall of Fame (Polo G); Songwrights Apothecary Lab (Esperanza Spalding)
SOUR (Olivia Rodrgio)
MONTERO (Lil Nas X)
Starting Over (Chris Stapleton)
Justice (Justin Bieber)
Certified Lover Boy (Drake)
Evermore (Taylor Swift)
Back of My Mind (H.E.R.)
Planet Her (Doja Cat)
ALT: star-crossed (Kacey Musgraves); Good News (Megan Thee Stallion); Medicine At Midnight (Foo Fighters)