Handicapping Monday’s 2016 Grammy Awards is no easy task, as the year’s three top nominees – Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and the Weeknd — will go head-to-head in the major general-field categories, to be revealed at the night’s Staples Center ceremony.
Mega-star Swift would seem to have the upper hand. Her late-2014 release, the full-fledged pop effort “1989,” was a chart fixture last year, and had rung up sales of more than 6 million total units by the end of 2015. She followed up the album with a wildly successful national tour. And she has already tallied seven Grammy wins, including an album of the year trophy for “Fearless” at the 2010 ceremony.
In the album of the year and song of the year slots, Swift faces off against Compton rap power Lamar, who pulled down two Grammys last year with the track “i.” He is this frame’s top nominee, up for 11 kudos. While Lamar’s sophomore major-label release “To Pimp a Butterfly” has sold around 800,000 copies to date, his distinctive set was a critical favorite and a consensus winner of the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll. With hardcore rap historically shut out in the top categories, Lamar’s widely praised record bears long-shot status.
Interestingly, these two top contenders are nominated as a duo this year: The remix of Swift’s “Bad Blood” featuring Lamar received a nod as best pop duo/group performance.
Canadian pop/hip-hop talent the Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) enters the ring with seven 2016 nominations, knotted with Swift. His hit single “Can’t Feel My Face” will contend with Swift’s equally ubiquitous “Blank Space” as record of the year, while his chart-topping album “Beauty Behind the Madness” (2 million sold in 2015) goes up against Swift’s and Lamar’s work in the album of the year category.
A potential surprise spoiler in the latter race is Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller.” The country singer-songwriter made a powerful showing late in the year at the Country Music Assn. Awards, and his hard-edged solo debut was lifted to No. 1.
The most gasp-inducing winner often materializes in the best new artist category. This year’s wide-open field includes a quintet of neophyte singer-songwriters of international provenance: Australian Courtney Barnett, Georgian Sam Hunt, Brit James Bay, Californian Tori Kelly and Massachusetts’ Meghan Trainor (who, curiously, was nominated last year for her 2014 hit “All About That Bass”).
Missing in action among the nominees – but present on stage as a performer during the evening awards telecast – is Brit dynamo Adele. The vocalist’s third album “25” (which shifted a phenomenal 8 million total units in 2015) and its attendant hit single “Hello,” which were issued after the Sept. 30 nomination cut-off date, will have to wait until next year for Grammy recognition.
For the first time, CBS will telecast the evening ceremony at Staples Center live on the West Coast; actor-rapper LL Cool J is returning as the host. Country artist Hunter Hayes will again host the afternoon “Premiere Ceremony,” which will stream live at Grammy.com from the Nokia Theatre at 12:30 p.m. PT; the majority of this year’s winners in 83 categories will be announced there.
Amid the celebrations, this year’s Grammy programming will take on a darker cast with salutes to a pair of recently departed stars, David Bowie and the Eagles’ Glenn Frey. Maurice White, the late leader of Earth, Wind and Fire, will also be remembered: The R&B group is being feted with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
Visit Variety throughout the day for Grammy news and a complete list of winners.