When it comes to the 2023 Grammys, it’s easy to jump ahead and look at what we expect will be the final showdown on Feb. 3 between the top two competitors — Adele and Beyoncé. Because, yes, in the top three general categories, it’s likely to be a narrow contest that runs the gamut from A to B, as it were … almost a direct sequel to the 2017 Grammy race, in which “25” was pitted against “Lemonade.” The big question may be, will this movie have the same ending, with Adele apologizing to Bey for besting her, again?
But there’s a lot of road to travel before then and considerable suspense over which other eight artists will fill out the 10 available slots in the album, record and song of the year categories. The only other certainty for nominations in all three of those categories is Harry Styles, who can’t be completely counted out as an ultimate winner, should the voting members decide they don’t even want to have to decide between all that big diva energy again. (Silk Sonic was also considered a lock to contend in all three top categories, before Bruno Mars announced, the day after this story was first published, that the duo had refrained from submitting their work to the Grammys, after prevailing for record and song last year. The article has been updated to reflect their bowing out.)
And the one major category in which absolutely nothing is a given and there are no clear front-runners is best new artist. With Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo as foregone conclusions for that honor in recent years, it’s slightly refreshing to return to a time in which it’s hard to say for sure that anybody is even a lock for that category, let alone a winner that can be called before the initial nominees have even been voted on yet. Predicting anything having to do with new artist is not as easy as A-B-C — with apologies to Gayle, who could go on to win the whole thing or not even get nominated, in as unpredictable a year as this.
First-round voting on the thousands of candidates on the initial ballot takes place Oct. 22 through Nov. 5, so expect a lot of official or covert FYC campaigning right before America’s midterms. Then we’ll find out who’ll really be having a happy Thanksgiving, and/or gearing up for further psychological battle, when the nominations are revealed Nov. 15.
Here are Variety’s picks as front-runners in the four general categories, with lists of 15 leading candidates we believe the final 10 will be culled from … though we’re hedging bets by naming 10 additional challengers in each division. (Meanwhile, if you find yourself wondering where Drake and the Weeknd are, remember that both protested the Grammys last year by refraining from submitting their work; their feelings aren’t known to have changed this year.)
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
15 leaders of the pack:
Harry Styles, “Harry’s House”
Kendrick Lamar, “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers”
Bad Bunny, “Un Verano Sin Ti”
Brandi Carlile, “In These Silent Days”
Future, “I Never Liked You”
Taylor Swift, “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
Steve Lacy, “Gemini Rights”
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, “Raise the Roof”
Zack Bryan, “American Heartbreak”
Muni Long, “Public Displays of Affection: The Album”
10 more contenders: Brent Faiyaz, “Wasteland”; Ed Sheeran, “=”; Miranda Lambert, “Palomino”; Summer Walker, “Still Over It”; Anitta, “Versions of Me”; Latto, “777”; Mitski, “Laurel Hell”; Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Unlimited Love”; Post Malone, “Twelve Carat Toothache”; Jack Harlow, “Come Home the Kids Miss You”
In the top three categories, it’s Adele’s and Beyoncé’s world and everybody else is eating popcorn in it. A photo finish between those two looks especially likely in the album division. Silk Sonic looked like the most solid possibility of becoming a spoiler taking advantage of that split vote, given Bruno Mars’ track record with the Grammys; the same voters who gave Silk Sonic record and song of the year last time would have been somewhat receptive to their coming back to clean up in the one category they previously hadn’t been eligible in. But the odds were always against Silk Sonic, which would have been contending in album for what is basically a light-hearted EP. With that duo out of the picture, the ubiquitous Styles now stands the best chance of being elevated from third wheel to second, despite his not previously been a big Grammy guy. “Harry’s House” wasn’t a major critical favorite, but he has accumulated substantial cred among serious musicians, as well as the fans who sell out 15-night stands in arenas — and of the album contenders with a real shot, he has the most commercial heat coming in, something that can hardly be ignored as an influence on voting.
It won’t be Lamar’s year to win, with a little more division over “Mr. Morale” than previous efforts that had universal acclaim and really looked like front-runners, but there’s no way he isn’t getting nominated. Likewise for Lizzo, whose very strong album was a commercial disappointment but is assured a place in this firmament as well. “Encanto” is a big question mark — the Grammys have virtually no history of having any love for musical-comedy song scores, as opposed to more randomly assembled pop soundtracks — but odds are they give Lin-Manuel Miranda at least a token of affection after grossly snubbing “Hamilton.”
The big question on the nominations front may be whether there’s room for two Spanish-language albums in a category that has traditionally recognized only none at a time. Bad Bunny is the commercial King Kong of 2022, and thus seems a shoo-in… even though it seems hard to make that guarantee in a category where there has not been a predominantly foreign-language album nominated since “The 3 Tenors in Concert 1994” (!!). If we’re going to take it as a given he will jump in, can we also imagine that the Academy could make room for two and throw Rosalía’s acclaimed but not-quite-blockbuster album into a slot as well? That’s the biggest limb we’re going out on here, although, with Harvey Mason Jr. having boasted that 47% of this year’s nearly 2,000 new voting members are people of color, it may be time to stop basing predictions on past results.
RECORD OF THE YEAR and SONG OF THE YEAR
15 leaders of the pack:
Adele, “Easy on Me”
Beyoncé, “Break My Soul”
Harry Styles, “As It Was”
Lizzo, “About Damn Time”
Taylor Swift, “All Too Well (10-Minute Version)”
Doja Cat, “Woman”
Steve Lacy, “Bad Habit”
Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Pt. 5”
Jack Harlow, “First Class”
Original cast, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”
Brandi Carlile, “You and Me on the Rock”
Muni Long, “Hrs & Hrs”
Future feat. Drake and Tems, “Wait 4 U”
Dove Cameron, “Boyfriend”
10 more contenders: Imagine Dragons and JID, “Enemy”; Becky G and Karol G, “Mamiii”; Joji, “Glimpse of Us”; Zack Bryan, “Something in the Orange”; Lady Gaga, “Hold My Hand”; Em Beihold, “Numb Little Bug”; Post Malone and Doja Cat, “I Like You”; SZA, “I Hate You”; Wet Leg, “Chaise Lounge”; Latto, “Big Energy”
While being well aware of the distinction between record and song, there’s so much overlap, usually, in the nominees that we’re not sure voters always make the distinction. In any case, we’ll consider them together here. Again, it looks like Adele vs. Beyonce as the leaders again — and there’ll be more to say on those two after the nominations arrive in late November. Styles’ “As It Was” can by no means be completely counted out here, especially considering it broke some Billboard Hot 100 records that neither of the front-running women could. Voters will just have to consider whether they think he should share the nomination and possible win with A-ha, given the retro-synth feel of the tune. But it was undeniably a lot of music fans’ jam of the spring and summer, which could be the turbo boost pushing it ahead of “Easy on Me,” which feels like the front-runner but may feel ancient in some minds, and “Break My Soul,” which feels more of-the-moment but didn’t have the commercial impact of Adele and Styles. If Harry pulls ahead, it’s more likely to be for record than album.
As for records contending for those other seven slots: Doja Cat and Brandi Carlile are among those with songs eligible this year after previously being in contention on the same cycles. Carlile’s song was no Hot 100 hit but may have heat enough, especially as a feel-good anthem for gay domesticity and marriage, to sneak in among the pop smashes. There are big question marks around “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and Swift’s “All Too Well” expansion/remake. A character-driven comedy song may just be a bridge too far for voters, even if it was the pre-Bunny musical phenomenon of the year, and even if Miranda is owed. Swift is believed to be submitting both “All Too Well” and the album it’s from, after not having done the same with her previous re-record of “Fearless.” The album itself may still be a longer shot for a nomination, but “All Too Well,” as a song that recaptures the popular imagination in a huge way many years after its release, seems like too good a story for the Academy to sleep on. Maybe.
BEST NEW ARTIST
15 leaders of the pack:
10 more contenders: Breland, Tate McRae, Cody Johnson, Muna, Conan Gray, Blxst, Bailey Zimmerman, Sierra Ferrell, Adia Victoria, Nardo Wick
It’s anyone’s guess, almost, how most of these nods will go. There’s a little bit of guesswork involved, actually, in even determining who the Recording Academy will deem eligible, since the rules have been malleable and it’s not as clear as it used to be how many years or projects artists can have under their belts and be “new.” Like, after being snubbed for a new artist nom last year, is Måneskin still fresh-faced (or, given their chaps, fresh-cheeked) enough to get in, or will they be seen as grizzled veterans who missed their debutante slot?
R&B is fielding plenty of contenders, even though recent Hot 100 leader Steve Lacy’s previous nod in an urban category bounces out what would otherwise be a sure thing. Country’s Zach Bryan had one of the runaway freshman successes of the year, but with him being a country artist who bypassed the mainstream system, it remains to be seen whether the Nashville bloc roots for him as one of their own. Is Gayle seen as too lightweight to win, given the Academy’s traditional desire to coronate acts who look like they have decades ahead of them? In a year with nothing resembling a front-runner, she can’t be counted (or alphabetized) out.