Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Maren Morris & More Front-Runners for 2020 Album of the Year Grammy Noms

Ariana Grande, Maren Morris, Taylor Swift, Lizzo and Billie Eilish
Getty; Design by Jessica Xie

Ariana Grande, Maren Morris, Taylor Swift, Lizzo and Billie Eilish

Eilish, 17, would become the youngest nominee in the history of the category. Bruce Springsteen, 70, would be the oldest.

When the Grammy nominations are announced on Nov. 20, female solo artists may take six of the eight slots for album of the year. That would be even better than last year, when they took five of the eight slots.

I've been writing about potential album of the year nominees for months now. It's time to zero in on the eight likely nominees -- no hedging, no waffling.

Five albums seem like locks: Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Taylor Swift's Lover, Ariana Grande's Thank U, Next, Lizzo's Cuz I Love You (Deluxe) and Maren Morris' GIRL.

The strongest bets for the three remaining slots are Khalid's Free Spirit, Tyler, the Creator's IGOR and Beyoncé's Homecoming: The Live Album.

This would be the first nomination in this category for all of these artists except Swift and Beyoncé.

Eilish, 17, would become the youngest nominee in the history of the category. The old record was held by Swift, who was 19 when the nominations for the 2009 awards were announced. Swift had turned 20 by the time of the awards in January 2010, just as Eilish will turn 18 by the time of this year's awards in January 2020.

If Morris makes the finals, this would be the second year in a row that an album by a female country artist has been nominated. Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour won the award in February.

These would be the fourth nominations (as lead artists) for Swift and Beyoncé. The megastars competed for album of the year once before, 10 years ago, when Swift's Fearless beat Beyoncé's I Am…Sasha Fierce. Only one woman in Grammy history has amassed four or more album of the year noms. Barbra Streisand leads the pack with five.

A nom would put Swift back in the finals after her previous album, reputation, was passed over in this category.

Beyoncé's album is this year's big question mark. It was recorded last year at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where Beyoncé became the first African-American woman to headline the festival. It wasn't a big seller and has fallen off the Billboard 200. On the other hand, it has a remarkable 98 rating at Metacritic.com. That's the highest rating of any album released in the eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2018 to Aug. 31, 2019), excluding deluxe catalog reissues. Also, some may feel the Grammys owe Beyoncé one after her last studio album, Lemonade, was edged out for album of the year by Adele's 25. A nom here -- even if she loses again -- would be intended, in part, as a make-up.

Beyoncé's camp didn't enter her other 2019 album, The Lion King: The Gift, in this category (though it is competing for best pop vocal album). That means they are pinning all their homes on the live album. The album is vying to become the first live album to be nominated in this category since 1994, when both Tony Bennett's MTV Unplugged and The 3 Tenors in Concert 1994 were nominated. It's vying to become the first live album by a female artist to be nominated since Judy Garland's 1961 classic Judy at Carnegie Hall. It's vying to become the first R&B live album ever to be nominated in the top category.

There are many albums waiting in the wings if any of these front-runners falter. The next group includes Lana Del Rey's Norman F***ing Rockwell!, Gary Clark Jr.'s This Land, Ed Sheeran's No. 6 Collaborations Project and Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars.

Norman F***ing Rockwell! (which is how the Grammys show the title) has received rave reviews. Del Rey has never been nominated in a Big Four category, but she is a two-time nominee for best pop vocal album. If this is nominated, it would mark the second time what we used to quaintly call "the F word" has appeared in the title of a recording nominated in a marquee category. Cee Lo Green's "F*** You" was up for record and song of the year for 2010.

Clark won a 2013 Grammy for best traditional R&B performance, but he has yet to be nominated in a genre album category, much less album of the year. A nom here would be a huge step up.

Sheeran has been nominated for album of the year once as a lead artist (for x, 2014). He was passed over for a nom in this category with his previous album, ÷. Sheeran's album is a set of collaborations with a wide range of artists. Its fate here may depend on whether the Nominations Review Committee sees this as an especially meaningful project or a gap-filler between regular studio albums. No. 6 Collaborations Project is a willfully dull and generic title, which won't help matters. (These contests are extremely close. Every detail matters.)

Springsteen has been nominated in the top category twice, for Born in the U.S.A. (1984) and The Rising (2002). Springsteen, 70, is vying to become the oldest (living) lead artist ever nominated for album of the year. The current record is held by Bennett, who was 68 when he won for MTV Unplugged. Springsteen received a special Tony Award and an Emmy nomination for Springsteen on Broadway. And Blinded by the Light, which was a virtual love letter to him, was a summer hit at the box-office. The committee will likely be torn between a desire to honor a music legend and concern that the last thing the Grammys need for image reasons is to have a 70-year old white guy -- 35 years past his commercial peak -- walk off with album of the year.

Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Birthday Celebration (Live) will also garner support. Joni Mitchell is beloved, but she has already been honored in this category -- and not that long ago. Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters won album of the year and best contemporary jazz album 12 years ago.

Jonas Brothers' Happiness Begins is a strong contender, but the committee may give the brothers' "Sucker" a record or song nom instead.

Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born soundtrack was a blockbuster -- the only album to top the Billboard 200 for four weeks during the eligibility period -- but there may be a sense that it's old news. The film will be more than 15 months old by the time the Grammys are presented on Jan. 26. Besides, the film and especially the music were recognized on every awards show known to man last year. This would be Gaga's fourth album of the year nom, equaling Swift and Beyoncé (assuming they make it).

Ella Mai's first studio album, Ella Mai, has a chance. Her "Boo'd Up" was up for song of the year last year.

Solange's When I Get Home has a shot. If both this and Beyoncé's album are nominated, it would mark the first time in Grammy history that siblings have been nominated with their own albums in the same year. Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson were nominated with their own albums one apart, she for Control in 1986; he for Bad the following year. (He was nominated two other times as well.)

Eric Church's Desperate Man, Thomas Rhett's Center Point Road and Kane Brown's Experiment are all contenders, but if the committee is going to go with a country album this year, it will probably be Morris' album. Two country albums have never been nominated in this category in the same year.

Anderson .Paak has two albums, Oxnard and Ventura, on the eligibility list. They may split the vote so that neither winds up in the top 20. (According to the Academy, the 20 albums that receive the most votes from rank-and-file voting members are forwarded to the Nominations Review Committee, which selects the eight it thinks are most deserving of Grammy glory.) As noted, Beyoncé's camp was more strategic, picking what it saw as the stronger of her two eligible albums. Of course, she has a little more experience with awards than Anderson .Paak.

Other strong albums that are eligible include Megan Thee Stallion's Fever, Maggie Rogers' Heard It in a Past Life, Jenny Lewis' On the Line, Juice WRLD's Death Race for Love, Chris Brown's Indigo, Lewis Capaldi's Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, Chance the Rapper's The Big Day, 21 Savage's I Am > I Was, twenty one pilots' Trench, The 1975's A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, Slipknot's We Are Not Your Kind and DaBaby's Baby on Baby.

Drake's camp didn't submit his compilation album Care Package for consideration in this category (or best rap album). Drake was nominated in this category in two of the last three years, with Views (2016) and Scorpion (2018).

A total of 789 albums are on this year's entry list in this category, up from 752 last year.

2020 Grammy Awards

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