If the Grammys had a dress code this year, it might be: Wear your cardigan to the disco. It’s sweater weather, but also the season of the Studio 54 minidress, as Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa look likeliest to make headlines for picking up top honors Sunday night after the close of the Grammys.
The album, record and song of the year categories seem safely in the hands of one or the other. With that being said, though, the Grammys rarely play out as schematically as the Oscars, with so many thousands of voters representing so many unpredictable regional, demographic and genre factions.
If Swift and Lipa are likely to share the love is, the artist with the greatest potential to upset that narrative is Beyoncé. It may seem counterintuitive to call an artist who got the most nominations this year (nine) a potential spoiler, over stars who only got six apiece (Swift and Lipa). But 2020 was relatively off-cycle for Beyoncé, with her nominations mostly coming for Juneteenth “Black Parade” single or her featured spot on a Megan Thee Stallion smash.
Mind you, that’s not to say that there isn’t a significant faction of voters — many of them fresh inductees into the Recording Academy, after a diversity drive — ready and willing to give Beyoncé her due in the top categories, regardless of whether she released a new album or had a sizable hit of her own in the eligibility period. If Beyonce did manage to pull off a major triumph in an “off” year after seeming to get the shaft in years where she was most primed for it, that would make for a hell of a headline.
Also worth pointing out: Even if she only wins in the R&B, rap and visual media categories where she’s favored to prevail, and not for record or song of the year, Beyoncé will be officially certified as the most Grammy-awarded female artist of all time. So if she crosses that historic milestone while being denied again in top categories, will headline writers see her glass as half-triumphant or half-robbed?
One thing you can bank on this year: wherever men and women are facing off, it’ll almost always be a woman winning, because they did as a group win 2020 overall, and there’s no reverse sexism in the Grammys saying so. Overall, we’re looking for Beyoncé to walk away with five trophies, followed by Swift, Lipa and Phoebe Bridgers with three or four apiece.
Our fearless (all right, slightly nervous) predictions follow:
RECORD OF THE YEAR
And the Grammy goes to… Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.”
(Unless it goes to… Beyonce’s “Black Parade.”)
Swift was not nominated in this marquee category, so for any votes who loved her work and Lipa’s this year — which is surely a lot of them — that makes it pretty easy to compartmentalize and deem Lipa the year’s top singles artist while anointing Swift the premiere album-maker of 2020. And, of course, the nominating committees made the choices simpler still by leaving the Weeknd out of this (and every other) category.
The potential for spoiling comes with the two songs Beyonce has in contention in this division: her own “Black Parade” and Megan’s “Savage,” which blew up largely because of Beyonce’s feature. Votes could be split right there, but “Black Parade” will be the go-to for those who think that commemorating 2020 should mandate enshrining a song that spoke to the racial-empowerment times. It will also draw those who think Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” should have been put up in this category.
But Lipa’s dance-pop instant classic spoke to the times, too — in a “WandaVision” kind of way — by conjuring its own sort of Hexagon, in which everyone could levitate, far from any madding crowd, purposely or otherwise.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
And the Grammy goes to… Taylor Swift’s “Folklore.”
(Unless it goes to… Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia.”)
Lipa made a great album of its kind, but considered in toto, it was a reminder of the Before Times, when people would still perspire upon one another and liked it. Swift’s two 2020 albums didn’t actually address quarantine conditions, either, but the fact that “Folklore” and its sequel “Evermore” were both made start-to-finish during quarantine makes for a great story. Some of us got through everything on Netflix and had to find additional services to move onto next; some of us reached out to new collaborators and reinvented our entire musical direction and wrote a couple dozen of the best songs of our lives. Unless you resent overachievement, it’s pretty hard not to see that as the kind of story that makes us feel 2020 wasn’t just a waste.
(Could Swift’s chances be impacted, pro or con, by late factors like her tweeting about a Netflix series? In a word, no. This is not the Golden Globes, where voters can overcorrect for something a few hours before the telecast — and anyway, voting actually closed more than two months ago, when the Grammys were still supposed to happen in March.)
One other factor: If Swift wins album, it’ll be her third time, making her the first female artist to attain that many in this category. The appeal of that among some voters should outweigh a countering “Girl already had her shot” sentiment in other camps.
Again, here’s to the nominating committees’ snubs — and to their picking so many happy-just-to-be-nominated non-starters like Black Pumas, Jacob Collier and Coldplay — for reducing this eight-nomination category to a much more digestible two-woman race.
SONG OF THE YEAR
And the Grammy goes to… Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.”
(Unless it goes to… Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan.”)
Things get trickier here. Most prediction pages you’ll visit have “Cardigan” in the lead, even though they’re predicting “Don’t Start Now” for record of the year. There is conventional wisdom in thinking a split might go that way, to be sure. It goes like this: Record of the year can go to the bop of the year, taking into account the supremacy of rhythm and brilliant production, but song of the year is reserved for tunes that adhere closer to the old-fashioned virtues of a piece of melodic and lyrical craftsmanship you could pick out on the piano. Just one problem with this supposed insider theory: It’s already been proven completely out of date.
Look at the results from recent years and you’ll see that record of the year and song of the year match up far more often than they don’t, in modern times… without regard for whether said record/song is a ballad or a bop. That includes Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” last year, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” the year before. The year prior to that, Bruno Mars had “24K Magic” win record and “That’s What I Like” win song, but that didn’t have anything to do with voters thinking the two categories should represent two different types of tunes.
That said, the interesting, subtle melodic twists and storytelling turns of “Cardigan” may well have greater allure for traditional singer/songwriter-type voters than a boogie-down stomper. And anyone who wanted to vote for Swift for record of the year and can’t gets a nearly equal shot at that here. But don’t discount that “Don’t Start Now” tells a story, too. This one’s really a toss-up… with the presence of “Black Parade” turning it into a triangle of possibilities.
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR
And the Grammy goes to… Phoebe Bridgers.
(Unless it goes to… Megan Thee Stallion.)
Variety may be biased on account of having put Bridgers on the cover of its Grammy issue this week, you’d say, and fair enough. But we already had Ms. Stallion on the cover last fall, so we don’t really have a horse in this race. Truth be told, neither of these thoroughbreds is really that new an artist… they already feel established in their respected firmaments after five or six years of releasing music.
This is definitely not the category to bet the mortgage on. Either artist would, or will, do the Recording Academy proud. Both will have factions voting for them as much as for what they represent as for what they’ve recorded. For voters who look at the tea leaves and see that Beyonce is probably not destined to prevail for record or song of the year, this may be the best shot at ensuring that a strong Black woman triumphs in one of the Big 4 at a peak time of elevating what they mean to our culture.
But in looking at what else is likely to get ignored in the big categories, something else arises: rock. And Bridgers could unite two disparate camps who think there’s not a lot else for them to vote for in marquee categories. She is a heroine of indie-rock, which rarely gets recognized for album, record or song. And as someone who’s lifted up by the likes of Jackson Browne (if not David Crosby!), Bridgers is also being championed by the elder singer/songwriter camp that is an under-heralded cornerstone of the Academy.
Then again, much of the high profile that Bridgers enjoys right now has come since voting closed an eternity ago, in the first week of January, which would favor Megan… until you remember what a tough road it is for hip-hop generally in the top four. We can realistically leave this one as a toss-up, where music culture wins either way.
And, with much less ado, some picks for a few dozen of the remaining categories:
BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE
Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now”
Let’s not stop predicting wins for Lipa now.
BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE
Taylor Swift feat. Bon Iver, “Exile”
The Grammys have a long, abiding and unbreakable love affair with one of the artists on this track… and they also have affection for Swift, too.
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Taylor Swift, “Folklore”
See album of the year, above — no reason to think one doesn’t follow the other (and, accordingly, that Lipa isn’t strongly in the running too).
BEST TRADITIONAL POP ALBUM
Renee Zellweger, “Judy”
She had them at “Get Happy.”
BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE
Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto”
It’s too bad Bridgers and Fiona Apple can’t both win in the three categories where they’re pitted against one another (rock performance, rock song and alternative album). Either could prevail, and Apple has the long legacy, the comeback story and a real masterpiece of an album. But there was just no rock earworm this year like “Kyoto.”
BEST ROCK SONG
Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Kyoto”
See rock performance, above.
BEST ROCK ALBUM
The Strokes, “The New Abnormal”
They’re the only act in the category that really qualifies as a rock institution, which will be good enough in a an era where few rockers under 60 are appearing on most Grammy voters’ radar. A win for Fontaines D.C. would sure be a breath of fresh air, though.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Phoebe Bridgers, “Punisher”
See rock performance and rock song, above — it’s another Bridgers/Apple face-off that could go either way.
BEST R&B PERFORMANCE
Beyoncé, “Black Parade”
Uncertain odds for record of the year couldn’t get much more certain when this song is up in R&B categories.
BEST R&B SONG
Beyoncé, “Black Parade”
The only real competition here is Chloe x Halle, and even they probably don’t want to beat Beyoncé in this category this year.
BEST R&B ALBUM
John Legend, “Bigger Love”
Legend’s album wasn’t a smash like some of its predecessors, but he is 150 times better known than anyone else in a category that feels unusually star-undernourished this year; the companion progressive R&B category (see below) is where more of the action is.
BEST PROGRESSIVE R&B ALBUM
Jhene Aiko, “Chilombo”
It certainly looks like Aiko’s to lose, though Chloe x Halle could provide an upset amid the strong crop here.
BEST TRADITIONAL R&B PERFORMANCE
Chloe x Halle, “Wonder What She Thinks of Me”
It’s interesting — and probably confusing to at least a few voters — to see Chloe x Halle classified as both “progressive” and “traditional.” The rightly celebrated duo faces less stiff competition and a likelier win in this division.
BEST RAP PERFORMANCE
Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé, “Savage”
Voters face a tough choice between the zeitgest-conquering fun of “Savage” and the topical angst of Lil Baby’s “The Big Picture,” which could score an upset, especially after Lil Baby didn’t get predicted nominations for record and song of the year.
BEST MELODIC RAP PERFORMANCE
DaBaby feat. Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar”
It’s become the rockstar of songs that are called “Rockstar.”
BEST RAP SONG
Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé, “Savage”
See rap performance, above; the Megan/Beyoncé vs. Lil Baby conundrum repeats here.
BEST RAP ALBUM
Nas, “King’s Disease”
It’d be lovely to think that Jay Electronica’s hugely ambitious project could win here, but those are some remote odds. Nas will likely win by default in a category that is controversially missing the biggest hip-hop albums of the year, and some of the most acclaimed too.
BEST COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE
Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me”
Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird” was the biggest hit in this crop and should be the most intuitively sensible choice to win. But Recording Academy voters, unlike average radio listeners, do know who Guyton is and what she’s about, and they’re likely to reward her for it.
BEST COUNTRY DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE
Dan + Shay with Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours”
No offense to the other nominees, but based on its relative impact, this may win by a margin of about 10,000 votes.
BEST COUNTRY SONG
Maren Morris, “The Bones”
Well, at least there’s one category where voters can try to make up for Morris getting completely screwed in the general record and song of the year categories where “The Bones” was almost universally expected to contend.
BEST COUNTRY ALBUM
Ashley McBryde, “Never Will”
Okay, so the smarter money might be on Miranda Lambert’s much more widely heard “Wildcard,” which would hardly be a bad or controversial choice. Brandy Clark would be a brilliant pick, if a pretty outside one. But McBryde is the artist that’s had everyone in country radio or the Nashville establishment saying, “We’d push her to the top, if only [fill in excuse here].” Here’s their chance.
BEST AMERICAN ROOTS PERFORMANCE
John Prine, “I Remember Everything”
You’d think Black Pumas, certain to come up empty-handed for record and album of the year, woud have an easy shot at having “Colors” prevail in this category. You’d think that unless you looked a few spots down the ballot and saw the Grammys’ last chance at rewarding Prine there, in the year after he won a lifetime achievement award that was shortly followed by his death from COVID.
BEST FOLK ALBUM
Leonard Cohen, “Thanks for the Dance”
Cohen has been gone longer than Prine and so may not be as sentimental a shoo-in in his category as Prine is in his. But they’re both likely to score posthumously … and they’d both be deserving winners even if they were still around to celebrate.
BEST AMERICANA ALBUM
Lucinda Williams, “Good Souls Better Angels”
Williams and Sarah Jarosz both have three wins under their belts (mostly in other categories) — it’s a tough call to make in a year when both had roughly equal levels of acclaim.
BEST LATIN POP/URBAN ALBUM
Bad Bunny, “YHLQMDLG” — 31/10
YMMNV: your mileage may not vary, because there’s no one else who could possibly win in this category.
BEST COMEDY ALBUM
Tiffany Haddish, “Black Mitzvah”
Hard to tell if scrapping with Grammy producers over an offer to host the pre-telecast webcast gratis hurt her chances; she might even have gotten a boost out of it with rank-and-file voters.
BEST SPOKEN WORD ALBUM
Meryl Streep, “Charlotte’s Web”
You don’t have to listen to it — just thinking about it makes you cry. (And most voters ticking off a box in this category will have only thought about the choices, as opposed to actually listening to Ken Jennings, Ronan Farrow and the rest for 4-10 hours apiece.)
BEST MUSIC VIDEO
Beyoncé, “Brown Skin Girl”
Will this be the win that tips Beyoncé into being the most-rewarded female artist of all time… something that’s likely to happen at some point on Sunday?
BEST MUSICAL THEATER ALBUM
Or it could be “Jagged Little Pill.” But thanks to Spike Lee’s stunning HBO rendering of David Byrne’s show, and no thanks to the pandemic making several of the other choices unviewable, there’s sense to be had in a win for a production that people actually got to see and love, on TV or not.
BEST VISUAL MEDIA COMPILATION
“Eurovision Song Contest”
The smart money might be on “Frozen II,” but this is a case where the Grammys’ odd eligibility period makes a late 2019 release like the Disney sequel feel like rewarding something from five years ago. And the mostly earnest but at least semi-comic “Husavik,” from “Eurovison,” currently has Oscar shortlist heat.
BEST VISUAL MEDIA SCORE
Hildur Guðnadóttir, “Joker”
The 2019 sell-by date may not be a factor, though, in the Recording Academy deciding to give Guðnadóttir the last of her many victory laps for he “Joker” music, so she can move on with her life.
BEST VISUAL MEDIA SONG
Billie Eilish, “No Time to Die”
After walking away with literally armloads of awards last year, the 2020 Grammy queen has one sure shot at not going home empty-handed this year before possibly coming back strong with a sophomore album in time for next year’s awards.