It’s becoming a familiar setup: the biggest Grammy Award battle coming down to a face-off between a revered British pop star and R&B/hip-hop royalty. In 2016, those spots were filled by Adele and Beyoncé, ending with the former taking album of the year for 25 and giving a tearfully apologetic acceptance speech in which she said what plenty of Grammy watchers were thinking: that Queen Bey’s politically charged Lemonade, a “monumental,” “soul-baring” and “empowering” statement, deserved the win.
This year, a similar showdown looks likely for album, record and song of the year. In one corner there’s Ed Sheeran, an established Grammy favorite who in 2017 became the first artist ever to have two singles simultaneously debut in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. In the other: Kendrick Lamar, whose DAMN. is the most acclaimed album of 2017, and who is widely considered music’s leading voice in our current, contentious sociopolitical climate.
The Sheeran-Lamar subplot may dominate the 60th edition of the Grammys, but it’s not the only one. This year saw Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus and Kesha all breaking away from their teen-pop images with grown-up, well-received albums; JAY-Z and Lady Gaga tackling personal themes; and a new generation of rappers -- Migos, Rae Sremmurd and Lil Uzi Vert among them -- signaling the next stage of hip-hop’s evolution. Looking across the Big Four categories for the 2017 awards reveals a year full of surprises, disappointments and new beginnings.