In the months leading up to the 59th Grammy Awards this January, Billboard will be featuring Grammy Watch, a weekly column looking at the artists, music and trends likely to be featured heavily at this year’s ceremonies. This week: Jason Lipshutz rounds up the major September albums that could find themselves as Grammy contenders when nominations are announced this fall.
We’re one month away — not from the Grammys themselves, or even the nominations, but from knowing everything that could potentially compete at the 2018 ceremonies. Oct. 1, 2016 through Sept. 30, 2017 marks the eligibility period for the 2018 Grammy Awards, which means artists now have 30 days to release a bid for contention when the nominations are announced Nov. 28 and the awards are held on Jan. 28, 2018.
And just like how the most Oscar-baiting film releases are often released in December to stay fresh in Academy minds, September typically holds a handful of Grammy-hopeful album and song releases — sometimes aiming for the Big Four categories, other times trying to snag a genre nod or two. Last year, for instance, albums by Bon Iver and Solange scooped up 2017 Grammy nominations after being released in late September.
Right now, we have 11 out of the 12 months of eligibility at our disposal; we can already size up the main storyline of the 2018 Grammys (we think) and start slotting in most of the more obvious nominations. Yet there are still a handful of big names putting out projects in September, with the opportunity to disrupt the Grammys race if certain tides turn in their favor.
The Pop A-Listers
Is Demi Lovato now a bankable Grammy contender? The mainstream vet finally scored her first career nomination last year, as Confident earned a spot in the Best Pop Vocal Album race that Adele’s 25 had zero shot at losing (Lovato also performed at the ceremony, as part of a Bee Gees tribute). That album was driven by Top 40 hits like “Cool for the Summer” and the title track; Lovato currently has another with “Sorry Not Sorry,” which climbs another seven spots to No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.
The pop categories are always pretty packed with potential contenders, but “Sorry Not Sorry” could feasibly score a Best Pop Solo Performance nod, and Confident follow-up Tell Me You Love Me — conveniently out Sept. 29 — could give Demi a repeat in the pop album category.
Ditto Miley Cyrus, whose last album Bangerz made the Best Pop Vocal Album shortlist at the 2015 ceremony despite clearly not being aimed at older Grammy voters. For Younger Now, also out Sept. 29, Cyrus has seemingly set twerking and tongue-wagging aside for a streamlined pop-rock sound — and that signaling of maturation could pay off come Grammy season.
“I think Miley Cyrus set up herself, consciously and unconsciously, to be a potential Grammy candidate,” says Tom DeSavia, a music industry veteran and author, as well as a longtime Grammy voter. “She’s definitely firmly got her feet planted in being sort of the new good establishment, and I mean that [to be] complimentary.”
DeSavia uses Cyrus’ recent performance at the MTV Video Music Awards as an example of the singer’s updated messaging: Her first live take on the Younger Now title track was built around a comedic, old-people-dressed-cool set piece, which was neither too button-pushing nor got in the way of Cyrus’ extended vocal runs on the track. “She really came back with the classic, multi-generational pop,” DeSavia notes.
The problem for Cyrus is that neither single released from Younger Now — the title track and “Malibu”– has yet to really dominate Top 40 radio; Bangerz songs like “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” may not have had Grammy voters in mind, but at least they were ubiquitous. If her new album receives raves upon its release, then Cyrus could find herself in a Lorde-like situation, as an A-lister with a critically acclaimed pop project that can overcome an underperformance at radio. If Younger Now gets a lukewarm response, however, that makes her bid for a Big Four nod — or even a pop category appearance — all the more difficult.
The Returning Country Queen
Another big project dropping in the final days of Grammy eligibility: Shania Twain’s long-awaited studio return. Now, due out Sept. 29, marks the first album in a whopping 15 years from Twain, whose four albums released between 1993 and 2002 were such commercial monsters that calling them “platinum” doesn’t really do them justice — her last two albums, Come On Over and Up!, combine for over 21 million copies sold on their own, according to Nielsen Music.
Just like Twain has been something of a sleeping giant in the country world for over a decade, the 52-year-old legend should be considered an artist capable of having a huge impact on the Grammy race when Now is released. She’s a five-time Grammy winner who’s been nominated in all four of the major categories, including album of the year for Come On Over (it lost to Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999). Twain has not returned to the type of country airplay she enjoyed during her commercial zenith, but that might not matter: Grammy voters might be swayed by the comeback story surrounding Now, especially if the album is solid (first single “Life’s About to Get Good” suggests that it will be) and if it impacts country-pop listeners the right way.
“It’s very interesting, the ‘return of the icon’ thing,” DeSavia says. “People want her back in an era where we are producing less and less iconic acts that are breaking these kinds of records. There are new ones coming up, absolutely, but we haven’t had the return of someone so iconic… We can’t discredit how big she is, and so there is a sentimentality vote there for sure.”
Will that be enough for a handful of country category nominations… or maybe even a general category slot? “Let me put it this way,” DeSavia says. “There’s nothing that tells me this won’t be a huge comeback.”
The Rock Steadies
September is also loaded with albums that will try to muscle their way into either the Best Rock Album or Best Alternative Music Album category, respectively. LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream has already arrived to strong reviews, and buzz is very positive around The National’s Sleep Well Beast, out Sept. 8. Meanwhile, The Killers have been absent from any Grammys categories since 2007, but will try to change that with their ambitious fifth full-length Wonderful Wonderful, which arrives Sept. 22. One week earlier, Foo Fighters return with Concrete and Gold, their first album in three years.
The latter is the most intriguing when it comes to Grammy potential. Dave Grohl and co. have historically been Grammy darlings as both consistent telecast performers and award winners, and have even racked up a pair of Album of the Year nominations, for Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace and Wasting Light. Even though Wasting Light lost out to Adele’s blockbuster 21 for AOTY in 2012, the Foos couldn’t feel that bad about it: the group won all five of the other categories it was nominated in, including a clean sweep of the rock categories.
In 2014, the band unveiled Sonic Highways, a concept album that was accompanied by a documentary TV series and was presented as eight songs recorded in eight cities containing eight styles. But the project did not engrain itself to Grammy voters, who gave the Foos a paltry-for-them two nominations and zero wins for the project. Three years later, Concrete and Gold is being presented as a back-to-basics Foo Fighters album, with a top 10 hit on the Rock Songs chart in lead single “Run,” and no grand theme running through its 11 tracks.
“They’ve definitely earned their stripes and certainly produced great records,” DeSavia says of the band. Will that be enough for the Foo Fighters to be rock category shoo-ins, or return to the Album of the Year category? It will depend on the reception to Concrete and Gold — and, pulling back a bit, whether or not the tactic of a September release really does help the project’s overall chances.
“The flip side of the story is the records that came out when eligibility opened,” DeSavia continues, citing Lady Gaga’s Joanne album, which was released in early October 2016 and could compete at the 2018 Grammys. “They’re sort of out of mind, because we’re always in a contemporary mindset and these bigger records are coming out as we’re heading to the fourth quarter. That sort of thing shouldn’t be a punishment. We’re discounting about 10 months of releases that came out earlier in the year, and we shouldn’t be.”