Two Billboard critics survey the field, from Lamar vs. Swift to Dylan vs. Manilow, with a wary eye on the "Beck factor."
Jody Rosen Is this Kendrick Lamar's year? The stars seem to be aligned for Lamar, who has a near-record 11 nominations. To Pimp a Butterfly was the year's most acclaimed album. It's contemporary, but its mix of vintage sources nods in the direction of the "real music" hallowed by the core Grammys voting bloc. A vote for Lamar will also redress the awards' historical neglect of hip-hop and make up for his snubbing at the 2014 Grammys. Lamar has spent several weeks on an old-fashioned Grammy lobbying campaign. He even released a video of his pilgrimage to the White House, where he met with President Barack Obama in connection with an inner-city youth-mentoring initiative. And in this year of Black Lives Matter protests, Lamar's anthems of black pain and transcendence caught the spirit of the times. In 2016, what self-respecting Grammy voter would cast a ballot for Keebler Elf Ed Sheeran or even Her Royal Highness Taylor Swift over K-Dot?
Carl Wilson Yes, the nominating committee has set the table for Lamar to yank the cloth out from under Grammy voters' past blunders. Despite its significance to the industry, Swift's 1989 probably has crossed the overexposure threshold, seeming too much like 2014's news. Still, in the album category we can never discount the Beck factor -- voters' tendency to snub the populist pick, as with Beyoncé last year. Alabama Shakes could benefit: They were best new artist nominees in 2013 and performed at the ceremony. Like Butterfly, their Sound & Color is a deserved critical darling. And since singer Brittany Howard is African-American, superficially the voters wouldn't seem to be choosing white over black. It could be a more comfortable landing for those who lean retro and are made nervous by the harsher content on Lamar's album. Likewise, I wonder what you think the chances are for The Weeknd, who along with Swift scored seven nominations: Can his pop-breakthrough momentum overcome voters' distaste for his songs' archly sleazy sex-and-drugs themes? And in the record of the year category, do he and Swift split the pro-Max Martin vote?