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?
Rosen Yeah, I can envision a surprise Alabama Shakes album of the year victory. On the other hand, the Shakes are relative newcomers, and when Grammy voters spurn the populist favorite they tend to reward longer-in-the-tooth types, e.g., Beck, Herbie Hancock, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The list goes on. Still, I think To Pimp a Butterfly is the most likely choice in that category. In fact, I reckon the “big four” awards will pan out as a four-way split: Butterfly/Lamar for album of the year; “Uptown Funk!”/industry darling Bruno Mars for record of the year; “Blank Space” for song of the year, a bone thrown to both Swift and Martin; and, oy vey, Meghan Trainor, claiming the prize in an especially anemic best new artist field.
Wilson My predictions are very near yours, though along with a Shakes upset I could also imagine a surprise Lamar sweep. I’m wistful that D’Angelo probably doesn’t have a chance at record of the year, though that’s a strong field — anyone but Ed Sheeran, I say. What about the lower-tier races? For example, will this be the year that Justin Bieber finally gets to hold a Grammy thanks to his Skrillex and Diplo collaboration? I imagine they’ve got the dance slots tied up. The rap categories are pretty hot — probably all Lamar’s to lose, but I like to fantasize about “Trap Queen” winning best rap performance to make up for Fetty Wap being passed over for best new artist. Drake and Nicki Minaj offer Lamar a tussle for best rap album, unless the voters go vintage with Dr. Dre‘s Compton, as if to atone for the Oscars’ sins. Meanwhile, I’m stumping in spoken word for Patti Smith, who has never won a Grammy and perversely is not up for her own work but for narrating a Jo Nesbo audiobook. We wouldn’t want Jimmy Carter, who has been nominated eight times and won once, to get complacent, would we?
Rosen Agree that Lamar has most of the rap categories on lock. But let’s not forget about Common and John Legend‘s “Glory,” Grammy bait par excellence with its biopic bona fides, tolling gospel piano and “safe” protest message delivered in civil-rights-era period dress. As for the undercard races, I’ll be watching to see who takes best traditional pop vocal album, a showdown pitting Tony Bennett against that celebrated lounge lizard Bob Dylan. Actually, I love both Dylan’s noir Sinatra tribute Shadows in the Night and Bennett’s Jerome Kern songbook set The Silver Lining. But I’m tickled by a category that puts Dylan, the most fearsome arch-hipster in pop history, in the uncool company of the other nominees: Josh Groban, Seth MacFarlane and Barry Manilow. Hashtag Grammy magic!
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of Billboard.