For the first time in Grammy history, the race to accrue nominations and ultimately the final contest itself may come down to a battle of the teenaged girls. Olivia Rodrigo, a newcomer at 18, and Billie Eilish, veritably a veteran now at 19, are the leading contenders to pick up multiple nods when the nominees for the 2022 Grammy Awards are announced Nov. 23. Yes, Eilish, whose birthday is Dec. 18, will officially have graduated out of her teens by the time the ceremony takes place Jan. 23, but it’ll still be a prodigy-vs.-prodigy contest in which we can be assured that not many elder voters will be holding their preternaturally talented superstars’ youth against them.
Rodrigo and Eilish may be the only two stars who can be considered 100% locks to be nominated in the top three categories — album, record and song of the year — but the odds also favor Taylor Swift and Lil Nas X to find appreciation in all three as well. Rodrigo, of course, being a musical freshman, is the only artist with a shot at being nominated for and winning all four general categories — the aforementioned three, plus best new artist — just as Eilish herself was on the way to her winning sweep two years ago.
Variety is predicting the 10 artists who are most likely to get the eight nominations in each of those four general categories. This comes with with an especially emphatic caveat that things may be harder to forecast than ever this year, due to the overhaul of the voting system that has nominations in these categories being subject to a Recording Academy-wide popular vote instead of blue-ribbon nominating committees. Or maybe that shift means we’ll finally have a decent shot at getting them right, if, as many expected, it really does come down to more of a foreseeable popularity contest … with no unexpected “committee picks” like last year’s Jacob Collier and Haim underdog nods. We’ll see who’s most thankful for the procedural change when nominations are announced during Thanksgiving week.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”
Olivia Rodrigo, “Sour”
Taylor Swift, “Evermore”
Lil Nas X, “Montero”
Drake, “Certified Lover Boy”
Kacey Musgraves, “Star-Crossed”
Doja Cat, “Planet Her”
Justin Bieber, “Justice”
Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over”
H.E.R., “Back of My Mind”
15 more contenders: Ariana Grande, “Positions”; Kanye West, “Donda”; Halsey, “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power”; Mickey Guyton, “Remember Her Name”; Megan Thee Stallion, “Good News”; Giveon, “When It’s All Said and Done… Take Time”; Bo Burnham, “Inside (The Songs)”; Foo Fighters, “Medicine at Midnight”; Bad Bunny, “El Ultimo Tour Del Mundol”; St. Vincent, “Daddy’s Home”; Yola, “Stand for Myself”; Bruce Springsteen, “Letters to You”; Tyler, the Creator, “Call Me If You Get Lost”; Morgan Wallen, “Dangerous: The Double Album”; Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, “Love for Sale”
Worth noting off the bat: Each of the previous three winners for album of the year — Musgraves, Eilish and Swift — has an album in contention this year, so all three are just about guaranteed a return trip to the category. Of those three, it felt like Musgraves might have faced the most uncertain odds to go up at bat again, just because the divorce-themed “Star-Crossed” is not the kind of feel-good favorite that “Golden Hour” was. But her chances may have dramatically increased as a result of the controversy over the album having been ruled ineligible for best country album. That’s been so widely viewed as unfair that she’ll get a lot of sympathy votes, as Academy members contemplate how the odds are stacked against her in the pop album division to which she got consigned… plus, it’s good.
As for Swift, won for “Folklore” just last year, the fact that “Evermore” is seen as a sibling could work both for and against her: Why reward just one twin and not the equally worthy other? Or, conversely: Why not spread the love around, now that Swift has already won this top honor twice? Meanwhile, there’s a false trope going around that Eilish’s sophomore album is a commercial disappointment — but it only just now slipped out of the top 10 for the first time since its July release, so don’t underestimate its legs. And her surprise record of the year win for “Everything I Wanted” this past February, at a time when she was basically considered off-cycle, suggests the Academy can’t get enough of her.
Looking at the year’s biggest pop album smashes, Rodrigo being among the two or three frontrunners is a no-brainer. What remains to be seen is, with blue-ribbon committees now left out as middlemen in the process, whether we’ll see more nominations for the blockbusters that once would have been consigned to “not really being a Grammy type of album.” We’re thinking specifically of Drake’s project, which got the kind of mixed notices that in previous years might have kept it from making the cut. But with a popular vote newly in place for album of the year nods, just do the math: If every Academy member who simply knows one of the album’s 41 (!) producers votes for it, it’s a front-runner for a nom.
Doja Cat and Bieber will also have their odds increase if the new process favors actual hits. Bear in mind that Bieber made it into this category a few years ago for an album that got less acclaim than this year’s “Justice.” H.E.R. is a question mark; she was nominated twice already for albums that were really compilations, so she’d seem a cinch for finally arriving with an actual full-length debut, yet it didn’t make as much noise as expected commercially, so things could go either way.
As for the so-called problem children? West has to overcome some lingering feelings about the problematic personalities he pointedly included as guests on “Donda,” including Marilyn Manson and DaBaby, but that may not stand in his way. It’ll be tougher for Morgan Wallen — the success story of the year, despite his scandal. Some Nashville peeps have said they’ll vote for it, yet imagine the negative news stories if he’s walking the red carpet — it seems likelier that most in the country community will be thinking of the safe choice Stapleton that they’d like to put up as their awards-show face. In the wild card department, Halsey could be the biggest victim of the switch to a popular vote, with an album that could be forgotten after a too-quick chart descent, though it’d sure be nice to think the Grammys will still make room for some brilliant non-behemoths.
RECORD OF THE YEAR and SONG OF THE YEAR
Olivia Rodrigo, “Drivers License”
Billie Eilish, ““Happier Than Ever”
Lil Nas X, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
Silk Sonic, “Leave the Door Open”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”
Taylor Swift, “Willow”
H.E.R., “Fight For You” or “Damage”
Doja Cat feat. SZA, “Kiss Me More”
Justin Bieber, “Peaches” (w/ Daniel Caesar and Giveon) or “Lonely” (w/ Benny Blanco)
15 more contenders: Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits,” “Visiting Hours” or “Shivers”; Kacey Musgraves, “Justified”; Chris Stapleton, “Starting Over”; SZA, “Good Days”; Ariana Grande, “Positions”; Brandi Carlile, “Right on Time”; Dua Lipa feat. DaBaby, “Levitating”; Giveon, “Heartbreak Anniversary”; Meghan Thee Stallion, “Body”; Polo G, “Rapstar”; Luke Combs, “Forever After All”; Bad Bunny feat. Jhay Cortez, “Dakiti”; Coldplay and BTS, “My Universe”; Lizzo feat. Cardi B, “Rumors”; Drake feat. Future and Young Thug, “Way 2 Sexy”
It’d take too much time to properly parse the difference between the record and song categories, as we try to annually; suffice it to say that the song category lets more ballads sneak in among the bangers and defers a little more to anything you can readily imagine as sheet music. What becomes more difficult in predicting these two categories is that which songs are submitted for which category is ostensibly a secret. Will the gazillion Drake possibilities cancel each other out, or did he and his label settle on just one submission? Some performers and artists prefer to submit different tracks for the two categories to increase their odds, so artists with multiple viable possibilities — like Eilish, Bieber, BTS and Sheeran — may surprise us with which tunes ultimately turn up.
Rodrigo had multiple smashes but faced an easy choice in submitting “Drivers License” — it was the cultural-phenomenon song of the year, and no one has to wonder if Paramore or Swift would also be invited to the podium.. Maybe the most suspenseful question here: Will BTS finally get in one of the main categories? With committees gone, you’d think yes, though they, too, will have had to strategize over whether to go with “Butter” or the Coldplay-aided “My Universe” or roll the die on both.
Lipa’s “Levitating” was one of the most ubiquitous singles of the year — an earworm that, remarkably, no one seems remotely tired of it yet… at least in its original solo form. But given that the featured guest on this year’s remix was Da Baby, who did a lot in 2020 to sabotage his present or future Grammy chances, with the now highly controversial DaBaby having been a featured guest on this year’s hit remix, you have to wonder whether the much-pilloried rapper will be “a drag on the ticket,” to put it in vice presidential terms. Just for the record: We’re not forgetting the Weeknd’s single, nor its potential for a Grammy redemption narrative after last year’s shutout, but he’s boycotting the submission process this year.
BEST NEW ARTIST
The Kid Laroi
15 more contenders: 24kGoldn, Clairo, Morgan Wallen, Girl in Red, Allison Russell, Moneybagg Yo, Amythyst Kiah, Tate McRae, Joy Oladokun, Jade Bird, Conan Gray, Julien Baker, Charley Crockett, Blackpink
At least there’s one category where we can skip over wondering about nominations and skip ahead to saying the winner is foreordained: It’s Rodrigo’s world, and every other freshman is living in it. As for her potential competitors, what will be interesting to see is whether the rejiggered voting process still allows a critical favorite like the British underdog Parks to get in, or whether popularity trumps cred with an ultra-commercial pick like 24kGoldn, who once might have been more easily nixed by a committee fearing honoring a flavor of the moment.
As indisputably huge as he is, the Kid Laroi would have been a question mark for a nomination in the committee years, but would seem to have a more certain punctuation point on his odds now. Wallen stands a better chance of sneaking in for a nod here than he does for album or record, but having spent much of the year as the scourge of the industry as well as its reigning success, his path to a nomination could still be narrow. Meanwhile, if you’re wondering why no mention of the freshly minted R&B star Giveon, he’s ineligible because of a nomination for a prior EP, even though virtually anyone you could ask would agree he belongs in this field.
Editor’s note: The initial version of this story, which touted Bo Burnham as a possible nominee for best new artist, was published before Grammy ballots arrived in voters’ hands. It was subsequently revealed that Burnham was ruled ineligible by Grammy screening committees for that category, because he had “achieved prominence” in a previous year.