In fact, blockbuster pop was almost entirely absent from last year’s Big Four. Though newly expanded categories (from five nominee slots in each to eight) allowed for a wider pool -- leading to unexpected nods for Americana favorite Brandi Carlile and R&B polymath H.E.R. -- many of the year’s most noteworthy pop stars, including Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello and Swift, were relegated to the genre categories.
Will that carry over to 2020, following a year in which capital-P Pop had something of a comeback -- thanks to juggernaut sets from the likes of the Jonas Brothers, Grande and Swift, as well as breakthrough stars like Billie Eilish and Khalid? And, following its first wins in record and song of the year, will hip-hop continue its long-awaited Grammy takeover -- despite a year with surprisingly few chart-busting releases from established superstars and new acts alike? Perhaps most importantly: Will the Grammys continue its streak of choosing winners many of its loudest critics find acceptable?
Pop may well rule supreme among the frontrunners this year. Only six months after her Sweetener return, Grande drew rave reviews and some of the year’s best sales numbers for Thank U, Next. Swift also saw something of a perception bounce back after the divisive reputation with strong initial reactions to her Lover, while the Jonas Brothers enjoyed the mega-comeback no one saw coming with Happiness Begins. And don’t forget about Lady Gaga, whose best-selling A Star Is Born soundtrack with Bradley Cooper just squeezed into this year’s eligibility period.
While last year’s nominees tended toward rap superstars and acclaimed singer-songwriters, there are few obvious choices from either of those pools this year, though Maren Morris’ slow-burning GIRL could sneak in from the latter group. But a couple of 2010s stars who have long merged pop/hip-hop sounds with cult-singer-songwriter tendencies could see their first best-album nods this year: Lana Del Rey and Tyler, the Creator, for the well-received Norman Fucking Rockwell and IGOR, respectively.
Newly minted, genre-blurring superstars Eilish and Khalid could factor in as well, for their respective Billboard 200-topping sets When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and Free Spirit. And though none of the Knowles sisters’ albums this year was among their most obviously accessible works, they may still make their presence felt with Solange’s deeply personal When I Get Home and Beyoncé’s expansive The Gift (the musical companion to her Lion King film role) or explosive Homecoming: The Live Album.