As Grammy Voters Rush to Meet First-Round Voting Deadline, Here Are 14 Questions This Year’s Awards Process Will Answer

Grammy statues
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Grammy statues

First-round Grammy voting, which opened a week ago (Sept. 30), continues through Oct. 12.

Grammy voters have five more days to do their due diligence and pick what they consider to be the most award-worthy releases from the eligibility period for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards (Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020).

First-round Grammy voting, which opened a week ago (Sept. 30), continues through Oct. 12. The results of that voting will determine (or in the case of categories that have nomination review committees, help determine) the nominees.

The Recording Academy has reached out to its voters with a reminder that notes “Your participation ensures your peers' works receive the respect they deserve.”

The Academy added something new this year: For the first time in this first round of voting, voters can listen to recordings for which entrants provided links on select streaming services. Before, this service was only available in the final round of voting.

Final-round voting, to determine the winners, will run from Dec. 7 through Jan. 4, 2021. The winners will be announced on Jan. 31.

Here are 14 big questions that this year’s Grammy process will answer.

Will Taylor Swift return to the album of the year finals after her last two albums were passed over in that category? Swift’s last two albums, Reputation and Lover, were passed over for album of the year nods, but the not-to-be-denied Swift just redoubled her efforts and came up with an album they can’t overlook. Folklore spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, longer than any other album in the eligibility period. It also received a career-best rating of 88 at, the review aggregation site.

Will Harry Styles finally land his first Grammy nomination? One Direction was never nominated for a Grammy, even for the pop gem “What Makes You Beautiful.” Grammy voters are cool to boy bands and ultra-slick pop, but here’s the thing: They often reward boy band alumni who mature out of that sound. Justin Timberlake’s first two solo albums were nominated for album of the year. Reaching further back, Michael Jackson and George Michael both won in that category in the ‘80s. (Yes, Michael emerged from Wham!, which was a duo and thus technically doesn’t qualify as a boy band. But “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was as much of a bubblegum classic as “What Makes You Beautiful.”)

Will a K-pop artist be nominated in a Big Four category for the first time? BTS’ “Dynamite,” which entered the Hot 100 at No. 1, has a fairly good shot at a record of the year nod. The biggest hurdle it will face is Grammy voters’ just-mentioned aversion to boy bands, teen faves and ultra-commercial, mainstream pop. Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” and Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” were both passed over for record of the year nods. (Both of those pop pleasures, like “Dynamite,” bowed at No. 1.) But the Grammys did nominate Hanson’s “MMMBop” (1997), Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” (1999) and *NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” (2000) for record of the year, so there’s hope. The all-female K-pop group BlackPink has a very good shot at a best new artist nod. SuperM is also in the running.

Will Beyoncé become the first female artist in Grammy history to amass six record of the year nods? Beyoncé is currently tied with Barbra Streisand with five record of the year nods. (Beyoncé’s tally includes an early hit with Destiny’s Child; all of Streisand’s nods are under her name.) Beyoncé has a good chance of landing a sixth nod this year for “Savage,” her smash collab with Megan Thee Stallion.

Will two all-female collabs be nominated for record of the year in the same year for the first time in Grammy history?  The aforementioned “Savage” and “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande both have an excellent chance of being nominated. Both singles reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Could two country albums be nominated for album of the year for the first time? Luke CombsWhat You See Is What You Get and Miranda Lambert’s Wildcard, which are album of the year nominees at the upcoming CMA Awards, are both strong candidates. So are The Highwomen’s The Highwomen, which was passed over in the CMA balloting, and The ChicksGaslighter, which was released after the end of the CMA eligibility year (but is Grammy-eligible). The Grammys don’t always have a country album in the finals -- they didn’t last year -- and they’ve never had two in one year. But then, until four years ago, they had never had two country artists nominated for best new artist in the same year. And then along came Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, both of whom got the nod.

Could a deceased artist be nominated in a Big Four category? Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke both had posthumous No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 this year. Artists are rarely nominated posthumously in the Big Four categories. Voters and committee members probably think it would make more sense to give that spot to an artist whose career is still unfolding; to whom it might do some good. No artist has been nominated posthumously for best new artist, but Pop Smoke has a good chance of becoming the first this year. John Lennon and Ray Charles each won album of the year after their deaths. Charles also won record of the year posthumously, for a collab with Norah Jones; Lennon was nominated in that marquee category after his death for “(Just Like) Starting Over.” They, of course, were both legendary artists. How about artists below the all-timer level? Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was nominated for the 1973 record of the year award, a few months after his death in a plane crash.

Will Post Malone become the first artist in more than 30 years to receive a record of the year nod three years running? Post was nominated two years ago for “Rockstar” (featuring 21 Savage) and last year for “Sunflower” (a collab with Swae Lee). He deserves to three-peat with the shimmering “Circles,” perhaps his best single yet. Only three artists in Grammy history have made the record of the year finals three years in a row: Frank Sinatra (who did it four years running from 1958-61), Roberta Flack (1972-74) and Steve Winwood (1986-88).

Will Billie Eilish become the first artist in nearly 20 years to receive a record of the year nomination the year after winning in that category? Eilish won record of the year in January with “Bad Guy.” She could return to the finals with “Everything I Wanted." U2 was nominated (and won) for “Walk On” at the 2001 awards, one year after they won for the ebullient “Beautiful Day.”

Will the year’s best-reviewed album be nominated for album of the year? Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters has a sky-high 98 score at Metacritic, the highest rating that any album has attained in eight years. Since 2000, Metacritic’s best-reviewed album of the year has been nominated for album of the year five times: OutKast’s Stankonia (2000), Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft (2001), The White StripesElephant (2003), Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) and Lamar’s DAMN. (2017). (Wanna know how many of these albums actually won? Well, none. They all won in their “genre album” categories, but not for album of the year. No wonder Lamar says “Damn.”)

Will Dylan be nominated in a Big Four category? Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways has a 95 rating on Metacritic, second only to Apple’s album of all 2020 releases. If Dylan’s album ranks among the voters’ top 20 (which, according to the Academy, is the criteria for making it to the nominations review committee), that committee is likely to discuss how it would look for a 79-year old artist to be nominated for, and potentially win, album of the year. Some voices in the room will probably say: “It would show the world that talented artists can make great music at any age.” Others will likely counter: “Sure, but do we really want a 79-year-old white guy to be the face of the Grammys in 2021?” (And wouldn’t you love to be able to listen in on that discussion?) The Grammys could nominate Dylan for song of the year for “Murder Most Foul,” his 17-minute epic about the JFK assassination. Get this: It would be Dylan’s first song of the year nomination. Ever. C’mon, Academy: A song of the year nod might give Dylan a little encouragement to stick with this songwriting thing.

Will Swift get a song of the year nod for “Cardigan”? It would be her fifth nod in that category, which would enable her to surpass lyricist Marilyn Bergman for the most song of the year nominations by a female songwriter. Bergman co-wrote all four of her nominees with her husband and lyric-writing partner, Alan Bergman. (The Bergmans co-wrote Streisand's most famous hit, "The Way We Were," so it would be fitting, in a way, if Streisand and Marilyn Bergman had their records topped in the same year.)

Which song or songs that comment on racial issues will be nominated for song and/or record of the year? You can bet that one or more will. Leading candidates include H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe,” Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” and Beyoncé’s “Black Parade.” In recent years, Lamar’s “Alright” and Beyoncé’s “Formation” were nominated for song of the year. “Formation” and Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.” were nominated for record of the year.

Will a contemporary Black artist be nominated for album of the year? The answer to that one is yes, of course, with The Weeknd’s After Hours probably the likeliest album to make the finals. Run the Jewels, Lil Uzi Vert, Roddy Ricch, Lil Baby, DaBaby and Juice WRLD are also in the mix. A better question: Will a contemporary Black artist win album of the year for the first time since OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won 17 years ago? We’ll have to wait until Jan. 31 to find out the answer to that one.

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