Let’s break down the big four categories.
Album of the Year
Nominees: Jhené Aiko’s Chilombo, Black Pumas’ Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition), Coldplay’s Everyday Life, Jacob Collier’s Djesse, Vol. 3, Haim’s Women in Music Pt. III, Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding, Taylor Swift’s Folklore
Only three of these albums are nominated for best album in their genre categories: Future Nostalgia and Folklore are finalists for best pop vocal album, and Chilombo is vying for best progressive R&B album. This doesn’t mean the other five albums don’t have a shot of winning here, but not being nominated for best album in your home genre certainly isn’t a good sign.
This is the third year that the Grammys have had eight nominees in each of the Big Four categories. With so many nominees, it helps to cut the list down to a more manageable size. I’d say the four artists with the best chance of winning here are Haim, Lipa, Post Malone and Swift.
Haim is vying to become the second all-female group to win, following The Chicks, who won 14 years ago.
This would be Swift’s third album of the year award, making her only the fourth artist in Grammy history to win three times in this category. The first three were Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon (counting a Simon & Garfunkel album). Swift would be the first woman to become a three-time winner -- just as she was the first woman to win twice in the category as a lead artist.
Some may question whether Swift is of the same stature as the three previous three-time winners. Others may counter that that’s an ageist and sexist thing to say. Younger fans may look at that same list and say, “Did Paul Simon really need to win three times”?
Swift is fortunate that none of her competitors this year is seriously overdue for a win in this category. This is the second album of the year nod for both Coldplay and Post Malone, but they are not generally seen as being seriously overdue in this category. If Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar -- both of whom have been nominated (and lost) three times in this category (as lead artists) -- were among the nominees, Swift would have a much tougher path to victory.
A few more factors weighing in Swift’s favor: Her album was a blockbuster and brought her the best reviews of her career. The album’s intimate quality makes it especially appropriate for a year in which everyone was locked down. Four-time Grammy winner Jack Antonoff co-produced the album.
The likely winner: Swift
Record of the Year
Nominees: Beyoncé’s “Black Parade,” Black Pumas’ “Colors,” DaBaby’s “Rockstar” (featuring Roddy Ricch), Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted,” Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” Post Malone’s “Circles,” Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” (featuring Beyoncé)
Wait a second, where’s The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights”? Oh that’s right. The Grammys didn’t nominate what I (and many others) figured was the front-runner to win in this category.
Seven of these eight records are nominated in performance categories. The only one that isn’t is Posty’s “Circles.” Again, that doesn’t doom its chances of winning here, but it’s not a good sign.
Six of these eight records were top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The only ones that weren’t were “Black Parade” (which peaked at No. 37) and “Colors” (which has yet to crack the Hot 100).
Again, let’s cut the list down to size by zeroing in on the four that seem to have the best chance of winning: “Black Parade,” “Everything I Wanted,” “Don’t Start Now” and “Savage.”
Eilish, who won last year for “Bad Guy,” is vying to become just the third artist in Grammy history to win two years running in this category. The first two were Roberta Flack and U2.
“Savage” would be the first all-female collab in Grammy history to win in this category. Moreover, it would be just the second hip-hop smash to win in this category, following Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” two years ago. (The same is true of “Rockstar.”)
The draw of seeing two strong women win a collab for the first time may prove hard to resist.
The likely winner: Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé
Song of the year
Nominees: “Black Parade” (Denisia Andrews, Beyoncé, Stephen Bray, Jay-Z, Brittany Coney, Derek James Dixie, Akil King, Kim "Kaydence" Krysiuk & Rickie "Caso" Tice); “The Box” (Samuel Gloade & Roddy Ricch); “Cardigan” (Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift); “Circles” (Louis Bell, Adam Feeney, Kaan Gunesberk, Post Malone & Billy Walsh); “Don’t Start Now” (Caroline Ailin, Ian Kirkpatrick, Dua Lipa & Emily Warren); “Everything I Wanted” (Billie Eilish & Finneas O'Connell); “I Can’t Breathe” (Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. & Tiara Thomas); “If the World Was Ending” (Julia Michaels & JP Saxe).
“Black Parade” is nominated for best R&B song, but “I Can’t Breathe” isn’t, surprisingly. “The Box” is nominated for best rap song. The other five nominees are all pop. The Grammys don’t have a pop song category.
Let’s cut the list down to the four contenders that seem to have the best chance of winning: “Black Parade,” “Cardigan,” “Everything I Wanted” and “I Can’t Breathe.”
Eilish and O’Connell, who won in this category last year for “Bad Guy,” are vying to become the first songwriters in Grammy history to win here two years running. At first I thought they just might do it. But every single voter knows that Eilish swept the Big Four last year. Many will think that’s enough recognition for her at this stage of her career, before she has even released her second album. For what it’s worth, Christopher Cross, the only other artist in Grammy history to sweep the Big Four in one year, was nominated in three categories the following year with “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” but didn’t win.
This is Swift’s fifth song of the year nomination, more than any other female songwriter in Grammy history. She has yet to win in the category, so she’s overdue. And there’s a growing sense that her enormous success all stems from her songwriting. But she’s a clear front-runner for album of the year. Some may figure that that award takes care of her for this year, allowing them to look elsewhere here.
“Black Parade” and “I Can’t Breathe” both comment on race matters, which was obviously one of the biggest stories of 2020. This would be the second time in three years that a song devoted to that theme won in this category. As noted above, “This Is America” won two years ago.
The fact that “Black Parade” is nominated for best R&B song and “I Can’t Breathe” isn’t suggests that “Black Parade” is the stronger entry. This would be Beyoncé’s second win in this category. She won 11 years ago for co-writing “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” She would become just the second female songwriter, following Adele, to win twice in the category.
An additional reason that Beyoncé looks good in this category: There’s a sense that she didn’t get her full due four years ago when Lemonade was in contention. She lost album, record and song of the year to Adele. In a moment of extraordinary generosity and grace, Adele paid tribute to Beyoncé in her acceptance speech, saying, “My artist of my life is Beyoncé … All us artists, we f--ing adore you. You are our light.”
“Black Parade” credits nine writers. If it wins, it will top “That’s What I Like” as the Grammy-winning song of the year with the most credited co-writers. It took eight writers to whip up “That’s What I Like.” (How on earth did Irving Berlin and Bob Dylan ever write songs all by themselves?)
The likely winner: Beyoncé
Best new artist
Nominees: Ingrid Andress, Phoebe Bridgers, Chika, Noah Cyrus, D Smoke, Doja Cat, Kaytranada, Megan Thee Stallion
Four of these artists are nominated for best album in their respective fields: Andress in country, Bridgers in alternative music, D Smoke in rap and Kaytranada in dance/electronic. That doesn’t mean the others have no chance -- Megan Thee Stallion didn’t release an album in the eligibility period, just an EP (Suga), so her lack of a rap album nod can be explained away.
Again, let’s cut the list in half. The four artists that seem to have the best chance of winning are Andress, Bridgers, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion.
Megan Thee Stallion would become the first female hip-hop artist to win here since Lauryn Hill 22 years ago. Andress would become the first female country artist to win here since Carrie Underwood 14 years ago.
To state the obvious, Megan became a major star last year, landing two No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. She would become the seventh artist who notched two or more No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 prior to winning best new artist. The Beatles amassed seven No. 1 hits before being named best new artist of 1964. Milli Vanilli had three before being named best new artist of 1989 (the award was later revoked). Men at Work (1983), Mariah Carey (1990), Christina Aguilera (1999) and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2013) each had two.
The likely winner: Megan Thee Stallion
If Swift wins for album of the year and Beyoncé wins for song of the year, this will be a replay of the awards from 11 years ago when Fearless won for album and “Single Ladies” won for song.
If Beyoncé wins record and song of the year for different works, as I suspect she may, this will be only the third time in Grammy history that this has happened. At the awards for 1971, Carole King won record of the year for “It’s Too Late” and song of the year for “You’ve Got a Friend.” Three years ago, Bruno Mars won record of the year for “24K Magic” and song of the year for “That’s What I Like.”
Finally, if women win in all four categories, on the heels of Eilish’s sweep last year, this will be first time in Grammy history that women have swept the Big Four categories (as lead or co-lead artists) two years running.
Billboard Explains: How Grammy Nominees and Winners Are Chosen