Every year, you can count on there being one artist in particular who emerges from the Grammys as the night’s most victorious — not necessarily in terms of total number of statues, but in terms of towering over the night. That can mean big wins in big categories; it can mean an eventful, conversation-starting performance; or it can mean a presence that just sort of permeates the evening’s entire proceedings. More often than not, it means some combination of all of the above.
Who will be the artist this year who has the biggest night on Music’s Biggest Night? We’ll find out for sure this upcoming Sunday (Apr. 3) — but here’s who Billboard thinks might have the best shot, in roughly descending order.
No surprise here: We wrote yesterday about Olivia Rodrigo‘s chances of sweeping the Big Four categories (album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist) thanks to her debut album Sour and breakthrough smash “Drivers License” — and suffice to say, they’re not low. In addition, she’s scheduled to perform, in what of course will be her first appearance on the Grammys stage; given how she’s talked about loving the Grammys from an early age, you can be sure she’ll want to use the opportunity to deliver something special.
Lil Nas X
Another multiple nominee performing at the ceremony, but not a first-timer in either regard: Lil Nas X already brought his “Old Town Road” to life at the 2020 Grammys, where he was nominated for best new artist, record of the year and album of the year (for “Road” and his 7 EP, respectively). He lost to Billie Eilish in all three of those categories, but he’ll have another shot at the last two this year, thanks to his smash “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and Montero album (the former also nominated for song of the year).
Over the two years separating his two Grammy performances, he’s grown from an awkward rising talent still finding himself on stage to a bonafide superstar who turns every major performance into an event — this Sunday should be no exception. (It could also be a big night for his “Industry Baby” co-star Jack Harlow, a two-time nominee and co-billed performer with LNX, who will be making his on-stage Grammys debut.)
Tony Bennett (and Lady Gaga)
It wasn’t the commercial blockbuster or critics’ favorite that Sour or Montero was, but you can bet plenty will be pulling for Love For Sale, the second collaborative LP between generations-separated superstars Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, when the album of the year category is announced this Sunday. The set is assumed to be the final for Bennett, one of the most beloved singers of the past century — and sentimental voters who see the AOTY competition from today’s biggest stars as being largely interchangeable may instead opt to reward his lifetime of work with a win here, which would likely turn the entire night into a well-earned Bennett lovefest. (Unclear if either Gaga or Bennett will be performing yet, but if they do, it will surely prove one of the night’s most emotional performances.)
When this year’s Grammy nominations were announced last November, it was not a contemporary superstar like Olivia Rodrigo or Lil Nas X or even a longtime legend like Bennett who was the most-nominated artist — but rather the veteran jazz/R&B singer, pianist and composer Jon Batiste, most familiar to audiences as the music director for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Batiste’s high industry standing and approval rating among fellow musicians likely gave him the inside track to his 11 nominations, and may also lead to him being one of the night’s big winners. He’ll also have a chance to show his stuff onstage as one of the evening’s performers — and given his Late Night pedigree, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him getting even more involved in the night’s proceedings via the master of ceremonies, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
She was certainly one of the biggest winners for all of 2021, with her Planet Her proving such a blockbuster that it just scored its third top 10 hit on the Hot 100 this week, a full nine months after the album’s release. Doja Cat could be one of the big winners on Grammy night as well, with Planet Her nominated for album of the year and best pop vocal album, and its SZA-assisted lead single “Kiss Me More” also up for record and song of the year, as well as best pop duo/group performance.
An extremely creative and prolific live performer, Doja would undoubtedly be even higher up in these rankings were she also scheduled to take the stage on Sunday night, but she has not yet been announced as a performer — and if you take her recent tweets about quitting music at face value, we should probably keep expectations low for her having much presence of any kind on Sunday night.
He’s nominated in three of the Big Four categories: album of the year for Justice (Triple Chucks Deluxe), and record and song of the year for that set’s Billboard Hot 100-topping smash, “Peaches.” But Justin Bieber might be an even bigger winner on the night — by his own standards, anyway — if he can emerge victorious in the best R&B performance category, where he’s also nominated. Bieber expressed his frustration at being recognized only in the “pop” categories for his R&B-leaning Changes album (and accompanying lead single “Yummy”) in 2021, and an R&B category win this Sunday would be hugely validating for Bieber in that respect — and would likely start a good deal of conversation about genre and its meaning in 2022 among viewers, as well.
Having already won seemingly every Grammy under the sun at the last two ceremonies, between her When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? album and “Bad Guy” and “Everything I Wanted” singles — as well as her first Oscar just last Sunday with the Bond title theme “No Time to Die” — Billie Eilish probably doesn’t stand to receive much further validation, even if her Happier Than Ever sophomore LP (or its title track) emerges victorious in the many categories it’s been recognized in this year. But her brother and longtime creative partner Finneas (who shares three of Eilish’s nominations this year) does stand to reach a new level of recognition as a solo artist this year if he can take home best new artist — and he’s also technically competing against his sister and himself in album of the year, where he’s also nominated as one of the many producers behind Bieber’s Justice (Triple Chucks Deluxe). Could we finally see Finneas take the podium this year without another O’Connell alongside him?
He’s a long shot to triumph over Rodrigo in the best new artist category — but even if he can’t pull off the upset there, Baby Keem might be able to cap his triumphant rookie season with wins in either best rap performance or best rap song (both for his Hot 100 breakout hit “Family Ties,” alongside cousin Kendrick Lamar). The acclaimed MC may very well be a Grammy fixture before long regardless, but a win on Saturday — in categories that have mostly gone to established superstars in recent years — would go a long way towards fast-tracking him there.
Even if you wouldn’t necessarily know his name going into Sunday’s proceedings, you might hear it enough over the course of the evening to remember it by the end. Dernst “D’Mile” Emile II is nominated for six Grammys on the evening, as both a writer and producer on Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open” (up for record and song of the year, as well as best R&B song), and as a writer both on H.E.R.’s “Fight For You” (song of the year, best song written for visual media) and her Taurean Wells collab “Hold Us Together” (best contemporary Christian music performance/song). A big Grammy night could result in the R&B stalwart D’Mile getting much closer to household name status by the time next year’s ceremonies roll around.
Hot off a duo of the year win at this year’s ACM Awards, Brothers Osborne are up for a pair of awards on Sunday: best country duo/group performance (for “Younger Me”) and best country album for Skeletons. A win in either category would be highly validating for the duo — who have gone 0-7 in their prior nominations, and are no longer fixtures on country radio — and they’ll also have the added exposure of being one of the evening’s few announced country performers. It will be their first time performing on the Grammys since 2018, when they participated in an all-star “Tears in Heaven” rendition which served as a tribute to victims of the Route 91 festival attack.