The eligibility period for the 65th annual Grammy Awards – Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022 – ends on Friday. So let’s scope out the field of top contenders in what is widely viewed as the most prestigious Grammy category: album of the year.
This is the second year that the Recording Academy will have 10 slots in each of the Big Four categories – album, record and song of the year, plus best new artist. From 1958, the Grammys’ first year, through 2017, there were usually just five nominees for album of the year. (The number of nominees bumped up to six four times.) From 2018-20, there were eight nominees.
First-round voting for the 65th annual Grammy Awards runs from Oct. 13-23. Nominations will be announced Nov. 15. The awards will be presented Feb. 5, 2023, at Crypto.com Arena (formerly, and more elegantly, known as Staples Center) in Los Angeles.
The Grammys have a way of surprising us. Last year, ABBA received a record of the year nomination for “I Still Have Faith in You.” The vocal group had never previously received a nomination in any category. So, their very first nomination was in one of the marquee categories. Go figure. ABBA’s album Voyage was released in this eligibility year. Could it possibly receive an album of the year nod, or was last year’s recognition a fluke? We’ll find out on Nov. 15.
These five albums seem certain to be nominated.
Adele, 30: This would be Adele’s third consecutive album to be nominated in this category. 25 won the 2011 award. 30 won the 2016 award. Adele: One Night Only won five Primetime Emmys earlier this month, including outstanding variety special (pre-recorded). As an executive producer of the special, Adele shared in the latter award, which means she just needs a Tony to secure an EGOT. Ben Winston and Raj Kapoor, who won Emmys as executive producers of the special, are also executive producers of the Grammy telecast. Does that give Adele some kind of home-court advantage here? It does not. But it may boost the chances of seeing an Adele performance on the Grammys, and who wouldn’t be up for that?
Beyoncé, Renaissance: This would be Beyoncé’s fourth album – and her third solo studio album in a row – to be nominated. Bey was nominated for I Am…Sasha Fierce (2009), Beyoncé (2014) and Lemonade (2016). She is vying to become the first woman of color to receive four album of the year nominations (as a lead artist). She’s currently tied with Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and H.E.R. with three nods each in the category.
Harry Styles, Harry’s House: This would be Styles’ first nomination in a Big Four category. Harry’s House won album of the year at the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 28. That’s probably not the album of the year award Styles was most hoping for, but it’s something.
Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers: This would be Lamar’s fourth studio album to be nominated, which would enable him to tie Kanye West as the rapper with the most nods in this category (as a lead artist). Unlike West, Lamar’s nominations are for four consecutive studio albums. He was nominated for good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2013), To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) and DAMN. (2017). Lamar is vying to become the first artist from any genre to be nominated with four consecutive studio albums since Billy Joel (1979-83).
Bad Bunny, Un Verano Sin Ti: This would be Bad Bunny’s first nomination in a Big Four category. Moreover, this would be the first Spanish-language album to be nominated in this category. Latin crossover pioneer José Feliciano was nominated in 1968 for Feliciano!, but that album consisted of English-language tracks.
These five albums seem a tad less certain to be nominated, but are likely to round out the category.
Silk Sonic, An Evening With Silk Sonic: This would be Bruno Mars’ third nomination in this category; Anderson .Paak’s first. Mars was nominated in this category for his debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2011), and won for his third album, 24K Magic (2017). An Evening with Silk Sonic won a BET Award for album of the year on June 26. “Leave the Door Open,” the lead single from the album, won four awards at the 64th annual Grammy Awards in April, including record and song of the year.
Lizzo, Special: This would be Lizzo’s second nomination in this category. She was nominated for the deluxe edition of Cuz I Love You three years ago. Lizzo won her first Primetime Emmy Award for Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls on Sept. 12, which boosted her profile at an opportune moment.
Taylor Swift, Red (Taylor’s Version): This would be Swift’s sixth nomination in this category, which would tie Barbra Streisand for the most nominations by a female artist. Swift has piled up these nominations since 2009. Streisand received her nods over a 24-year period (1963-86). Swift was nominated in this category for the original studio edition of Red. This would be the first time an artist has been nominated both for the original recording and for a re-recording of an album. Red (Taylor’s Version) also contains 14 tracks that weren’t on the standard edition of Red when it was nominated in 2013.
Various, Encanto soundtrack: This would be the first soundtrack from an animated film to be nominated in this category since Beauty and the Beast 30 years ago. In the years since then, only four soundtracks have been nominated in this category. All four were credited to a major player in the recording world – Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard, 1993), Babyface (Waiting to Exhale, 1995), T Bone Burnett (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2001) and Kendrick Lamar (Black Panther, 2018). Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and co-produced all of the songs on Encanto, is of similar stature. Two songs from the album were performed on the Oscar telecast on March 27 – including “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which wasn’t even nominated.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love: This would be the band’s second nomination in this category. They were in the running 16 years ago for Stadium Arcadium. The Peppers would become the fifth rock group to receive two album of the year nods since 2000, following U2, Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Coldplay. The Peppers received the Global Icon Award at the VMAs on Aug. 28. Is that going to make a difference here? Hell, it can’t hurt.
These next 13 albums may just miss being nominated. They are prime candidates to move up if any of the presumed front-runners falters:
Brandi Carlile, In These Silent Days: This would be Carlile’s second nod in this category. She was nominated four years ago for By the Way, I Forgive You. “Right on Time,” the album’s lead single, was nominated last year for record and song of the year.
Miranda Lambert, Palomino: This would be Lambert’s first nomination in a Big Four category. Palomino would be the first country album to receive an album of the year nod since Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour four years ago (which went on to win the award). Palomino is nominated for album of the year at the upcoming CMA Awards on Nov. 9.
Zach Bryan, American Heartbreak: This 34-track set entered Top Country Albums at No. 1 in June, but its appeal transcends country. Bryan has been quietly building for a few years. By the end of 2021, the Oklahoma resident had charted three top 20 albums on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart.
Future, I Never Liked You: This would be Future’s first nomination in a Big Four category as a lead artist. He was nominated for album of the year as a featured artist on Drake’s Views (2016).
Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Raise the Roof: These artists won the 2008 award in this category for their first collaboration, Raising Sand. Their long-awaited second collab didn’t sell nearly as well. That said, Krauss is a 27-time Grammy winner. (Among female artists, only Beyoncé has won more.) Her trophies include a second album of the year winner, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
Ed Sheeran, =: This would be Sheeran’s second nomination in this category. He was nominated eight years ago for x. “Bad Habits,” the lead single from =, was nominated last year for song of the year.
The Weeknd, Dawn FM: This would be The Weeknd’s second nomination in this category. He was nominated seven years ago for Beauty Behind the Madness.
Post Malone, Twelve Carat Toothache: This would be Posty’s third album of the year nomination. He was nominated for Beerbongs & Bentleys (2018) and Hollywood’s Bleeding (2020).
Drake, Honestly, Nevermind: This would be Drake’s third album of the year nomination (as a lead artist). He was nominated for Views (2016) and Scorpion (2018).
Summer Walker, Still Over It: This would be Walker’s first nomination in any category.
Steve Lacy, Gemini Rights: This would be Lacy’s first nomination in a Big Four category. He has received two nods for best urban contemporary album.
Elton John, The Lockdown Sessions: This would be Elton’s fourth nomination in this category. He was nominated for Elton John (1970), Caribou (1974) and Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975). Elton, 75, would be one of the oldest nominees in this category (as a lead artist). Tony Bennett, who was 95 when he was nominated last year for a collab with Lady Gaga, holds the hard-to-beat record.
BlackPink, Born Pink: The female quartet is vying to become the first K-pop act to receive a nomination in a Big Four category. BTS has been nominated for best pop duo/group performance in each of the last two years (for “Dynamite” and “Butter”), but they’ve had a hard time cracking the Big Four categories. Step aside, boys, let the girls have a shot at it.