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TWO GRAMMY NERDS TRY TO NAIL THE NOMINATIONS

When we get together to talk Grammys, we do so steeped in knowledge about Grammy history, contemporary music trends and the demands of music on television. And then we just guess. Because who the hell knows?

Predicting the Grammy nominees is harder than picking the nominees for any of the other EGOT awards because there are far more entries. This year, 1,131 singles or tracks were entered for Record of the Year. The total number of entries was nearly as daunting in each of the other top categories: Album of the Year (897), Song of the Year (1,069) and Best New Artist (374).

As you doubtless know by now, there’s a two-step process to being nominated in the “Big Four” categories. First, enough rank-and-file voters have to get behind something for it wind up among the top 20 vote-getters. Then a select, mysterious panel of Grammy insiders picks the final five from those initial lists of 20.

Feel free to eavesdrop as two Grammy nerds try to get a jump on this year’s big races.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Paul: I’ve got Alessia Cara, Khalid, SZA, Logic and Lil Uzi Vert.

Lenny: By letting artists in that were on the borderline [artists who had arguably achieved prominence prior to this year], like Alessia and Logic and Lil Uzi Vert and one or two others, they have really made this the most difficult category to handicap. It’s always a difficult category, and the Grammy committee always seems to have some surprises for us.

Paul: There’s a lot of competition. Just the other day I realized, ‘I don’t see how Julia Michaels [an early front-runner] makes it.’

Lenny: Julia is the one who gets hurt the most by all of the borderline artists getting in. And there’s the fact that she hasn’t had a second hit yet. But I think, with her extraordinary writing talents, she’ll come up with more hits. Unfortunately, she may be squeezed out and forced to wait until next year.

Paul: If she has a good second year she may very well make it next year, in the same way that Alessia stepped up this year.

Lenny: I think Alessia, Khalid and SZA are locks. I think SZA is the best artist on the field right now.

Paul: And you were early on touting [future big Grammy winners] Norah Jones and Mumford & Sons. Do you put her in that league?

Lenny: I think she’s the best artist on the field. Is that clear enough? And this is without her having a breakthrough hit single other than being a feature on the Maroon 5 record.

Paul: And her feature isn’t terribly distinctive. It doesn’t really show what she can do, whereas Khalid’s record [‘Location’] was all him and very distinctive.

Lenny: I don’t think Lil Uzi Vert is going to make it. He’s in the still-emerging rapper category. I think he could wait till next year. It wouldn’t surprise me if he lost out to Post Malone, who has the biggest record in the world right now.

Paul: Lil Uzi Vert is huge. He had a No. 1 album, he was featured on Migos’ No. 1 hit ‘Bad and Boujee,’ he had a top 10 hit of his own, ‘XO Tour Llif3,” which he performed in a pairing with Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ on the VMAs in August. That makes a statement about his stature and recognition level right there. I think the Grammys would look silly if he is nominated for Best New Artist of 2018. Fans would say, ‘I could have sworn he was big in 2017.’ As for Post Malone, I think they might be nervous about nominating another white hip-hopper after Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar in this category four years ago. It’s a sensitive issue.

Lenny: I don’t think he’ll win.

Paul: But you do have him as a nominee, helped by having the No. 1 record for four weeks at the exact right time.

Lenny: ‘rockstar’ has been the No. 1 streaming record worldwide since the day it came out. Also, it wouldn’t shock me if Kane Brown got in there, maybe in place of Logic—especially if Logic gets one of the other nominations [Record or Song].

Paul: They do that sometimes. Gotye won Record of the Year for ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’ [featuring Kimbra] and wasn’t nominated for Best New Artist. Which turned out to be a good call, because that was a great record, but we never heard from him again. Lorde won Song of the Year for ‘Royals’ and wasn’t nominated for Best New Artist. In her case, because she has gone on to have a career, they probably should have put her up for New Artist.

Lenny: Well, there’s no absolute logic to understanding this category. Also, if you have Alessia, Khalid, SZA, Logic and Lil Uzi Vert or Post Malone, you have five artists who you can argue are all coming from the same rhythm direction. So does a country artist automatically get one of those slots? It was a big year for country music. You’ve got a lot of good contenders there—Kane Brown, Brett Young, Luke Combs.

Paul: There's Jon Pardi, who won the CMA award for New Artist of the Year and the ACM award for New Male Vocalist of the Year. Old Dominion is another possibility.

Lenny: This is a great category.

Paul: From other genres, we’ve also got James Arthur and Cardi B.

Lenny: It’s a great year for Best New Artist. Some years they are sort of fishing for [artists to fill out the category]. This year, there are a lot of great artists that should be around for a long time.

Paul and Lenny agree on four of the five contenders: Alessia Cara, Khalid, SZA and Logic. Pauls other pick is Lil Uzi Vert. Lennys other pick is Post Malone.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Paul: I have Ed Sheeran’s ÷, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings, SZA’s Ctrl. and Harry StylesHarry Styles.

Lenny: We have a lot of agreement here. I also think there’s a lot of belief in Lorde [Melodrama], even though she didn’t have any hit singles. I think there’s still a lot of love for her in the room. So it wouldn’t surprise me if she pops in. But I think that the first group is really strong.

Paul: If you were to take one out, which would you take out?

Lenny: Well, that becomes the problem. Maybe the weakest of the five [in likelihood of being nominated] is SZA, but I think SZA is the best album of the year.

Paul: I was surprised that Miranda didn't win Album of the Year at the CMAs. She lost to Chris Stapleton's From a Room: Volume 1.

Lenny: Does that kill her chances here?

Paul: No. Such recent albums as Taylor Swift's Red, Lady Antebellum's Need You Now and Vince Gill's These Days were nominated for the Grammy for Album of the Year even though they didn't win the CMA award in that category. Miranda has won Album of the Year at the CMAs twice and at the ACMs five times. It's about time she got a Grammy nom for Album of the Year. And it's a double album about a relatable theme—picking up the pieces after a divorce.

Paul: Are we being too hip for the room in not having Bruno Mars, who is a big Grammy favorite, who is obviously one of the biggest stars in the business and whose album [24K Magic] was top 10 for 33 weeks in a row? Are we being too clever?

Lenny: I guess we’ll find out. I just don’t think it’s his best work. Period.

Paul: His first album was up for Album of the Year. His second was not. It sounds like you’re saying this wasn’t strong enough creatively to put him back in the running.

Lenny: That’s what I think, yes.

Paul: What do you think of it being entered for Best R&B Album instead of Best Pop Vocal Album?

Lenny: I’ve never thought of him as an R&B artist.

Paul: It did well on the R&B charts, but he’s practically the definition of a pop artist.

Lenny: He’s a great pop artist—one of the best in the business. I don’t think this is his best work.

Paul: We agree on the five, then. Our only difference is I would say ‘Watch out for Bruno.’ You would say ‘Watch out for Lorde.’ Other albums that they’ll probably be choosing from include Jay-Z’s 4:44, Metallica’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, Foo FightersConcrete and Gold, Future’s FUTURE and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound.

Paul and Lenny agree on all five contenders: Ed Sheerans ÷, Kendrick Lamars DAMN., Miranda Lamberts The Weight of These Wings, SZAs Ctrl. and Harry Styles Harry Styles.

RECORD OF THE YEAR

Paul: I’ve got Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You,’ Kendrick Lamar’s ‘HUMBLE.,’ Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ [featuring Justin Bieber], Sam Smith’s ‘Too Good at Goodbyes’ and Harry Styles’ ‘Sign of the Times.’

Lenny: And your reasoning?

Paul: I think Sheeran and Lamar are locks for all three of the top awards, in the same way that Adele and Beyoncé were nominated for all three last year. The Grammys won’t want to appear to be taking sides in this showdown. ‘Despacito’ was both the biggest hit of the year and kicked off a trend of more Latin records crossing over into the pop mainstream. I think those records are a welcome addition to the top 40 mix. Sam stayed right in his comfort zone, and came up with another strong record. And I think ‘Sign of the Times’ is a work of art; a real sign of growth for him.

Lenny: I thought you were going with Kesha [for ‘Praying’].

Paul: I was, but I’ve got her for Song and I decided they don’t need to nominate her for both.

Lenny: I like the first three as locks. I think Sam and Harry are vulnerable to Kesha and Logic and Taylor.

Paul: Can you narrow it down to five?

Lenny: I think Logic [‘1-800-273-8255,’ featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid] over Sam. It’s No. 1 this week. It has that incredible message of suicide prevention, so it’s topical; it’s important. And I think Kesha over Harry. I’ve got Harry for Album and for Song. I think Kesha’s importance this year also has to be seriously considered. Her record was very special; much deeper than the light pop hits she was known for. I don’t think too many people thought she had it in her. I think, unfortunately, [Childish Gambino’s] ‘Redbone’ is going to lose out in a lot of these categories. It’s a strong field. I think [Lady Gaga’s] ‘Million Reasons’ is an incredible record.

Paul: I agree that Kesha dug deep on that record. I’m one of those people who didn’t think she had it in her. I’m impressed. We both have Taylor [‘Look What You Made Me Do’] not making it.

Lenny: I have her sixth or seventh.

Paul: Well, so do I, but that’s not making it.

Lenny: It wouldn’t surprise me if she got in. I think she’s close to getting in.

Paul: Yes, I do too. My sense is that it’s just not quite good enough for them to do it, as much as they might want to. I don’t think you can credibly argue that it’s one of the five best records of the year. ‘Redbone’ is better. ‘Sign of the Times’ is better. ‘Location’ is better. There are a lot of records I’d rather play right now. It has its moments, but it’s not as seamless as some of her past hits. I doubt it will be considered a classic years from now.

Lenny: You’re tough.

Paul: Well, the Grammys are representing that these are the five best singles of the year, out of 1,131 entries. They have to be great.

Lenny: We both have her missing, but close.

Paul: Other singles in the mix include Bruno Mars’ ‘24K Magic,’ Portugal. The Man’s ‘Feel It Still,’ Khalid’s ‘Location,’ Sam Hunt’s ‘Body like a Back Road,’ Camila Cabello’s ‘Havana’ [featuring Young Thug] and Imagine Dragons’ ‘Thunder.’

Paul and Lenny agree on three of the five contenders: Sheerans Shape of You, Lamars HUMBLE. and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankees Despacito” [featuring Justin Bieber]. Pauls other two picks are Sam Smiths Too Good at Goodbyes and Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times. Lennys other two picks are Logics 1-800-273-8255” [featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid] and Keshas Praying.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Paul: I have ‘Shape of You,’ ‘HUMBLE.,’ ‘Too Good at Goodbyes,’ ‘Praying’ and ‘1-800-273-8255.’

Lenny: I think Sam gets the make-up here, so he’s covered—and well-deserved. I think Logic gets a Record nomination and doesn’t get one for Song.

Paul: Is there a reason you think it has a better chance for Record than Song, or is it a case of whatever they need to round out a category or balance things out?

Lenny: To me, it’s whatever they need.

Paul: I don’t see much difference between what’s nominated for Record and Song anymore. It used to be that Song was for ballads, which were more apt to become standards. Now, the two categories are almost interchangeable. If you don’t get nominated in one, you have another shot over here.

Lenny: Right. And since the secret committee people are [making the final choices], I think they do balance things off.

Paul: I have both of the songs with a social message [‘Praying’ and ‘1-800-273-8255’] in Song but not Record. You have them both in Record but not Song. My thinking is they’ll reward the songwriters’ intentions and success at putting those messages out there.

Lenny: We shall see.

Paul: I have Sam for both Record and Song. I think they’ll go all in on supporting him on the first single from his sophomore album—the way they did last year with the first single from Adele’s album [‘Hello’]. These are both past Best New Artist winners. The Grammys have a special interest in supporting them when they can. And Sam delivered a really good song and record that they can get behind.

Lenny: Yes, but you take a song like ‘Million Reasons,’ it’s a great song and we’re talking about the possibility of it not appearing in either category.

Paul: The likelihood.

Lenny: Right. So can you say that Sam gets gypped by only getting one of the two if Lady Gaga gets zero?

Paul: I think you made a good point once before when we spoke when you said that ‘Million Reasons’ seems like a long time ago.

Lenny: It seems old, but it isn’t. But it does seem that way, because we saw her do it at the Super Bowl a week before last year’s Grammys.

Paul: That kind of time-stamped the song.

Lenny: ‘Sign of the Times’ is also a great song.

Paul: Between that and ‘Million Reasons,’ which way are you going for your fifth spot?

Lenny: I’m not going yet.

Paul: Lenny, it’s now or never.

Lenny: OK, ‘Sign of the Times.’

Paul: Other contenders include Khalid’s ‘Location,’ James Arthur’s ‘Say You Won’t Let Go,’ Bruno Mars’ ‘That’s What I Like’ and Julia Michael’s ‘Issues.’

Paul and Lenny agree on four of the five contenders: Shape of You,” “HUMBLE.,” “Too Good at Goodbyes and Praying. Pauls other pick is 1-800-273-8255. Lennys other pick is Sign of the Times.