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Grammy Predictions: Where Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Bruno Mars, and ‘Despacito’ Stack Up in the Smackdown

Can hip-hop claim an Album of the Year Grammy for the first time in 14 years, or will Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z split the vote? Will Bruno Mars instead be the default choice in the top categories for older voters who, you know, “like singing”? Will “Despacito” turn the Grammys into the Latin Grammys redux? There’s real suspense in most of the marquee categories for the 60th annual awards. Check out our precarious predictions and then find out how well (or badly) we called it Sunday at 7:30 ET/4:30 PT on CBS.

RECORD OF THE YEAR

“Redbone” — Childish Gambino
“Despacito” — Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
“The Story of O.J.” — Jay-Z
“HUMBLE.” — Kendrick Lamar
“24K Magic” — Bruno Mars

The showdown: Fonsi/Daddy Yankee/Bieber vs. Mars.
Likeliest winner: “Despacito.”

No hip-hop record has ever won in this category, and as eager as some voters might be to set precedent there, they might not agree on whether it should be the prince, Lamar, or the king, Jay-Z, who may be viewed more as “album artists” anyway. That leaves it as a likely battle between the choice that counts as the most conservative in this progressive bunch, Mars, and the populist leader, “Despacito.” Mars would prevail easily if this were an entertainer of the year award, but the fact that he had two different singles nominated for Record and Song is an indicator that neither was a singular, career-defining monster. “Despacito” unites the Recording Academy’s substantial Latin wing with the smaller give-Bieber-his-due-dammit! bloc. Even some of the voters who are immune to its cross-cultural bubblegum may be okay with the Grammys recognizing one of the biggest hits of our lifetimes.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

“Awaken, My Love!” — Childish Gambino
“4:44” — Jay-Z
“DAMN.” — Kendrick Lamar
“Melodrama” — Lorde
“24K Magic” — Bruno Mars

The showdown: Lamar vs. Mars.
Likeliest winner: Mars.

The category is an embarrassment of urban riches (plus Lorde, bless her also-deserving heart). But as far as actual hip-hop goes, the problem of too many worthy candidates may again force the genre to the sidelines, where it’s stood since 2004, when the album prize was claimed by OutKast. Jay-Z got the most nominations for this year’s Grammys — one more than Lamar — but it feels more like Lamar’s year, with “DAMN.” being far and away the most critically hailed album of 2017. Lamar has been nominated twice before and lost, so voters may especially feel he’s owed… even though Jay-Z’s fans could argue that a legend who never even showed up in the category before is really, really owed. These two will certainly siphon some votes away from one another, though — and how often have we lost money betting that this was finally Kendrick’s (or Kanye’s, or Eminem’s) year to represent? A split would send the vote over to Mars. There are arguments against “24K Magic,” too; some will feel Mars already got his Grammy love (for “Uptown Funk”) or that he’s not as much of an album artist. But if Lamar can’t get out of Jay-Z’s shadow, Bruno is there to give older voters who prefer the classic show-biz virtues over hip-hop a non-fuddy-duddy choice to coalesce around.

SONG OF THE YEAR

“Despacito” — Ramón Ayala, Justin Bieber, Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton, songwriters (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber)
“4:44” — Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (Jay-Z)
“Issues” — Benny Blanco, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters (Julia Michaels)
“1-800-273-8255” — Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury & Khalid Robinson, songwriters (Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)
“That’s What I Like” — Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

The showdown: “1-800-273-8255” vs. “Despacito.”
Likeliest winner: “1-800.”

Again, Mars having two different songs in two different top category argues against the indomitability of either one of them, and this tune is more likely to get recognized as a great example of record-making than as a copyright for the ages. “1-800-273-8255” may not be for the ages, either, but as a suicide prevention anthem, it’s definitely for right now. It also benefits from rewarding three artists for the price of one. So does “Despacito,” for that matter, and it’s hard to bet against when it had as much ubiquitous presence as all the other songs combined. But Grammy voters who like to see some serious social impact pop up among their winners may go for the live-saver over the mere mood-lifter.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Alessia Cara
Khalid
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels
SZA

The showdown: Cara vs. SZA.
Likeliest winner: SZA.

A toss-up. Cara might seem like the obvious choice, as a precocious talent with such big pipes and solid taste in material that she’s guaranteed to stick around for years and never make the Grammys ashamed about their powers of prophecy. Working against her, maybe, is the fact that she’s already had so many hits that some feel the youngster was already a little long in the tooth to truly feel like a new discovery anymore (although tell that to 2001 Best New Artist Shelby Lynne, who was a dozen years into her major-label career when she won). SZA is certainly the most critically acclaimed artist on this list, and she could parlay that and her obvious street popularity into a win. The hip-hop vote-splitting with Lil Uzi Vert won’t be as severe here as it will be between Jay-Z and Lamar in other categories, and if you’re thinking that conservatism will still keep a hip-hop freshman from prevailing, remember that Chance the Rapper won it last  year.

BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE

“Love So Soft” — Kelly Clarkson
“Praying” — Kesha
“Million Reasons” — Lady Gaga
“What About Us” — P!nk
“Shape of You” — Ed Sheeran

The showdown: Kesha vs. Sheeran.
Likeliest winner: Sheeran.

Kesha may be the sentimental favorite for voters leading with their #MeToo hearts. But given the well-publicized outrage in some quarters over Sheeran’s inescapable song having been shut out of the top categories, is there much chance he wouldn’t get this as his consolation prize?

BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE

“Something Just Like This” — The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
“Despacito” — Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
“Thunder” — Imagine Dragons
“Feel It Still” — Portugal. The Man
“Stay” — Zedd & Alessia Cara

The showdown: Fonsi/Daddy Yankee/Bieber vs. Portugal.
Likeliest winner: “Despacito.”

“Feel It Still” brings together a lot of coalitions: it’s charmed public radio listeners and little kids in equal measure, and it’s made Portugal. The Man into a successful new rock band, which is kind of like the dodo bird reemerging from extinction. On the other hand, when it comes to “Despacito,” even with a votership sworn to disregard commercial impact, it’s hard to bet against the record that went 8-times-platinum.

BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE

“You Want It Darker” — Leonard Cohen
“The Promise” — Chris Cornell
“Run” — Foo Fighters
“No Good” — Kaleo
“Go To War” — Nothing More

The showdown: Cohen vs. Cornell.
Likeliest winner: Cohen.

It’s a battle of the decedents. You could say that the sympathy vote for the two posthumous entries could cancel each other out and leave the Foo Fighters reclaiming the prize they last won in 2012. But unless there’s just too much head-scratching over whether or not Cohen counts as a rocker, his enormous cult is going to want to give him a proper Grammy sendoff.

BEST URBAN CONTEMPORARY ALBUM

“Free 6LACK” — 6LACK
“Awaken, My Love!” — Childish Gambino
“American Teen” — Khalid
“Ctrl” — SZA
“Starboy” — The Weeknd

The showdown: SZA vs. the Weeknd.
Likeliest winner: SZA.

SZA has all the sizzle here. But don’t count out some voters just checking off a past winner with the most name value, which could propel The Weeknd ahead of Khalid’s youth power and Gambino’s edge cred.

BEST COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE

“Body Like a Back Road” — Sam Hunt
“Losing You” –Alison Krauss
“Tin Man” — Miranda Lambert
“I Could Use a Love Song” — Maren Morris
“Either Way” — Chris Stapleton

The showdown: Lambert vs. Stapleton.
Likeliest winner: Stapleton.

Hunt had one of the biggest singles of the year in any format, and Krauss is one of the Grammys’ all-time top rewardees. So how weird is it to immediately count both of them out in this category? Lambert is going to get a lot of love here partly because she was locked out of the best country album category, still one of this year’s most shocking “snubs.” But you’d go broke betting on anyone but Stapleton to win any country award he can for years to come — and it doesn’t hurt that “Either Way” actually is the most shattering song here.

BEST RAP PERFORMANCE

“Bounce Back” — Big Sean
“Bodak Yellow” — Cardi B
“4:44” — Jay-Z
“HUMBLE.” — Kendrick Lamar
“Bad and Boujee” — Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert

The showdown: Jay-Z vs. Lamar.
Likeliest winner: Lamar.

An institution as fundamentally conservative as the Grammys is still likely to be suspicious of Cardi B as a possible one-hit wonder (even if, at this point, without an album out, she’s already up to five-hit wonder). It’s more probable that it’ll come down to a battle of the behemoths. It’s Lamar’s year, but it’s Jay-Z’s world, so that could go either way.

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM

“Everything Now” — Arcade Fire
“Humanz” — Gorillaz
“American Dream” — LCD Soundsystem
“Pure Comedy” — Father John Misty
“Sleep Well Beast” — The National

The showdown: LCD Soundsystem vs. the National.
Likeliest winner: LCD
.

Anything could happen in this category, but several of the acts nominated seem to be at least slightly into the hepster backlash phase of their careers. LCD Soundsystem weathered their own backlash (for daring to come out of retirement!) better than most, and theirs is the one album from this crop that made it into the top 10 of the Village Voice critics’ poll. Their ability to pull favor from both the rock and EDM camps doesn’t hurt.

BEST SPOKEN WORD ALBUM (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Storytelling)

“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” — Neil Degrasse Tyson
“Born to Run” — Bruce Springsteen
“Confessions of a Serial Songwriter” — Shelly Peiken
“Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In” — Bernie Sanders and Mark Ruffalo
“The Princess Diarist” — Carrie Fisher

The showdown: Springsteen vs. Fisher.
Likeliest winner: Springsteen.

For voters of a certain age, the choice between the Boss and the Princess couldn’t be tougher. They won’t get to vote for Fisher again, but then, it’s not like Springsteen will be doing a second audiobook of his life story any time soon. This is a music-based membership, after all, so it’s tough to imagine Springsteen being born to lose… unless it’s to the combined force of recent tragedy and juicy Harrison Ford affair stories.

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