2016 Grammys: 5 Contested Categories to Watch

Elliot Ross
Alabama Shakes

With just days to go before the 2016 Grammys go down, there's numerous high-profile categories without a clear front-runner.

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From best new artist to best rock song, here are five categories that are up for grabs:

Best New Artist

As a British dude with a guitar and a singer-songwriter-y hit, James Bay has a strong chance for winning this category. Meghan Trainor's runaway success, songwriting credentials and likability will help her chances, while country Grammy voters will likely support Sam Hunt en masse, giving him an edge too. Tori Kelly has Scooter Braun behind her and Courtney Barnett is backed by the love of the indie music realm, but neither of those are likely to translate into victory for them. Expect a showdown between Bay, Trainor and Hunt.

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Album of the Year

Taylor Swift's 1989 is the rare blockbuster album in the digital era, and her activism for artists and the traditional album endears her to the industry. Furthermore, her participation in Grammy-related video interviews and acoustic performances certainly doesn't hurt. On the other hand, left-field rock albums (Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, Beck's Morning Phase) have been known to steal the award, so Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color can't be counted out. And as the most critically acclaimed major release of 2015, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly is a definite contender. While Swift might have the edge, it's still too close to call. The Weeknd's Beauty Behind the Madness is a long shot, and Chris Stapleton's Traveller would be a surprise win.

Song of the Year

It's a tight race between front-running friends in this category: Both Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" and Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" have a good shot at Grammy gold. SOTY awards the songwriters, while record of the year focuses more on the performer and production team, so it's less likely that the lyrically straightforward "See You Again" from Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth will come out on top. But it's entirely possible that those who favor singer-songwriter pop will split their votes between Sheeran and Swift, leaving Kendrick Lamar victorious for "Alright" -- his lyrically complex track that's been taken up by Black Lives Matter -- or even Little Big Town for the mildly controversial "Girl Crush."

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Best Rock Song

As artists who regularly astound on stage and are strongly grounded in musical history, both James Bay ("Hold Back the River") and Alabama Shakes ("Don't Wanna Fight") are extremely appealing to Grammy voters. Newcomer Elle King ("Ex's and Oh's") is unlikely come out on top against those two, but Florence + the Machine ("What Kind of Man") could manage a win. Surprise nominee Mister Asylum ("Lydia") isn't as well-known as the other artists, so it's ultimately a three-way toss up.

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Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Maroon 5's lightweight ("Sugar") is unlikely to win this category, but the other four have a shot. Khalifa & Puth's "See You Again" was an inescapable hit and might get votes from those who felt bad not picking it for song of the year. And Florence + the Machine's "Ship to Wreck" certainly boasts the most impassioned vocals of all five nominated songs. 

But ultimately, it's a tight showdown between Swift's "Bad Blood" ft. Lamar and Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk!" ft. Bruno Mars for gold in this category. Grammy voters might see the Taylor/Kendrick pairing as a great chance to reward both 2015 MVPs at the same time, but Ronson and Mars did deliver one of the most ubiquitous hits in recent years. Furthermore, "Uptown Funk!" is a track that manages the rare feat of sounding fresh yet throwback at the same time, which appeals to a wide swath of Grammy voters.

2016 Grammys