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THE GRAMMYS: MOVING ON FROM A TOUGH YEAR

The Grammys took some hits after this year's telecast and awards. (And that may be the understatement of the year.) But, as they say, there's always next year. What will the flak that the Grammys took this year mean in terms of the recordings and artists likely to be nominated in the marquee categories next year?

Yes, it's a little early to start thinking about this. The eligibility year runs through 9/30. But several prime contenders have already been released. Some (Sam Smith, Chris Stapleton, Camila Cabello) have a good chance of being nominated in one or more marquee categories. Others (Eminem, U2) do not.

Obviously, the Nominations Review Committee will need to nominate more women. This past year, not a single woman was nominated for Record of the Year and just one (Lorde) was nominated for Album of the Year. (And then, in a clueless move the Grammys doubtless regret, she wasn't allowed to perform her own music on the telecast.)

The committee may be more strategic going forward in nominating hip-hop records. The glut of hip-hop nominees this year is a key reason none of them won. I think Kendrick Lamar may well have defeated Bruno Mars for Album of the Year if they had gone head-to-head. By now, even conservative Grammy voters have gotten the memo that Lamar is the most important rapper of his time. But when the committee put a second rapper (Jay-Z) in the finals—and gave him one more nom than Lamar to boot—they unwittingly made it vastly harder for Lamar to win.

Let's look and see how next year's marquee categories are starting to shape up.     

Album of the Year

Early front-runners include Smith's sophomore album, The Thrill of It All; Stapleton's third solo album, From A Room: Volume 2; and Cabello's solo debut album, Camila. Smith was nominated in this category for his debut album, In the Lonely Hour. Stapleton was nominated in this category for his solo debut album, Traveller (though he was passed over last year for From A Room: Volume 1).

Two artists are in the mix with follow-ups to Album of the Year winners. Taylor Swift is back with Reputation, her follow-up to 1989. Beck is competing with Colors, his follow-up to Morning Phase. Beck has had three Album of the Year noms, but never with back-to-back studio albums.

It's hard to know what the committee will do with Swift. Three of her last four albums were nominated in this category. (Only Speak Now, the follow-up to Fearless, was passed over.) Swift is obviously one of the biggest stars in music—and, as noted above, the Grammys need more women in the finals. But the committee has to know by now that if they give voters the opportunity to vote for a huge pop name, they'll probably take it. (The last three Album of the Year winners are Swift, Adele and Mars.) If Swift is nominated and wins, she would become just the fourth artist in Grammy history to win Album of the Year three times. (The first three were Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon.) Does Swift belong in that company? Would another win for her reflect well or badly on the Grammys? I think the committee's answer to that question will largely determine if she is nominated or not.

Justin Timberlake's Man of the Woods underperformed in its first week, but it may recover from that. Timberlake's first two solo albums were nominated in this category. His 2013 album The 20/20 Experience was passed over despite being that year's best-selling album. The Grammys probably would like to make it up to him if they can. But the album is going to have to earn the spot. A single from the album, "Say Something" (featuring Stapleton), has a good chance at a Record of the Year nom.

Only two soundtracks have been nominated for Album of the Year in the last 25 years, so why am I flagging Black Panther: The Album as an album to watch? It was compiled and produced by Lamar, a three-time nominee in this category. Both of the soundtracks that have been nominated in the last 25 years were, likewise, shaped by respected members of the music community. Babyface wrote and produced the songs on Waiting to Exhale, a 1996 nominee. T Bone Burnett produced O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the 2001 winner. (Soundtracks without this music-maven connection, even such blockbusters as Titanic and Frozen, were passed over in this category.)

The committee's expected focus on nominating more women could boost St. Vincent's fifth studio album, Masseduction; Pink's seventh, Beautiful Trauma; and Kelly Clarkson's eighth, Meaning of Life. None of these women has ever been nominated in this category. St. Vincent's previous album, St. Vincent, won Best Alternative Music Album. Her new album received an impressive 88 score at Metacritic.com.

A few more possibilities include Miguel's fourth studio album, War & Leisure; Migos' third studio album, Culture II; Jack White's third solo album, Boarding House Reach (due March 23) and Brothers Osborne's sophomore album, Port Saint Joe (due April 20). White was nominated in this category with his solo debut, Blunderbuss (and before that with The White Stripes' Elephant). Three tracks from Brothers Osborne's debut album, Pawn Shop, were nominated, in successive years, for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. (Neat trick.)

U2 and Eminem have each been nominated multiple times in this category, but their latest albums, Songs of Experience and Revival, were generally seen as disappointments.

The Greatest Showman soundtrack is a smash hit, but if La La Land didn't rate an Album of the Year nom, why would this? Niall Horan's solo debut album, Flicker debuted at #1, but if the committee passed over Harry Styles' solo debut album this past year, why would Horan fare any better?

Record of the Year

Timberlake's "Say Something" (featuring Stapleton) is an early front-runner. The committee (and rank-and-file voters) will like how it brings artists from different genres together and shows them both off to their best advantage. This would be Timberlake's fourth nom in this category; Stapleton's first.

Mars and Cardi B's "Finesse" is a contender, though there may well be a sense that they gave Mars (more than) enough this past year. If Mars is nominated, this would be only the second time that an artist has made it back to the Record of the Year finals the year after sweeping the Big Three awards. Christopher Cross achieved the feat in 1981 with "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)." Can you take another factoid? Cardi B would be the second solo female rapper to be nominated in this category. Iggy Azalea was nominated four years ago for "Fancy" (featuring Charli XCX).

Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé's "Perfect" is also a contender. The committee gave Sheeran the cold shoulder last year—no noms in any of the Big Three categories—but this ballad could give them a chance to make up for it. It would be his second nom in this category; Beyoncé's sixth. (That would enable her to surpass Barbra Streisand as the female artist with the most noms in this category.) Sheeran's original solo version is not eligible, but this duet version may be (see next graph). That would be a lucky break for Beyoncé. Pop radio stations favored the duet version only briefly before they went back to playing Sheeran's solo version. Would it be right for Beyoncé to get a record-setting nomination for a recording where her role had such a short shelf life? Committee members, discuss amongst yourselves.

A lot of hip-hop stars are in the running for Best New Artist.

(Both "Perfect" and "Finesse" will be eligible only if the duet versions are considered new recordings. Otherwise they would be eligible only for Best Remixed Recording. Here's how it was explained to me last week by a top Grammy official: "If Bruno Mars went back and re-recorded his vocals with Cardi B, then we won’t consider that a remix, and it would be eligible (for Record of the Year) this year.  If they took the track from the album and just added Cardi B’s vocals, then it’s considered a remix and would only be eligible in the Remixed Recording category.")

After nine years of stardom, Drake has yet to be nominated in this category as a lead artist. (He was nominated two years ago as a featured artist on Rihanna's "Work.") He will certainly get a look for his #1 smash "God's Plan."

So will The Weeknd and Lamar for "Pray for Me" from Black Panther: The Album. The Weeknd was nominated in this category three years ago with "Can't Feel My Face." Lamar was nominated this past year with "HUMBLE."

Post Malone's "Rockstar" (featuring 21 Savage) was a monster #1 hit, though the committee may be apprehensive about nominating a white hip-hop artist. Let's say "Rockstar" was nominated and won. How would it be seen if the first hip-hop record to ever win for Record of the Year was by a white artist? (Whether this should or shouldn't be a consideration is another matter. I imagine this would be a point of discussion around the table.)

Other singles in play include Maroon 5's "What Lovers Do" (featuring SZA), Swift's "Ready for It...," N*E*R*D & Rihanna's "Lemon," Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line's "Meant to Be" and Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey's "The Middle."

Several prime contenders were entered in last year's awards process and thus are ineligible. These include Cabello's "Havana" (featuring Young Thug), Dua Lipa's "New Rules" and Smith's "Too Good at Goodbyes."

Best New Artist

Dua Lipa is probably the surest bet at this early stage. Fifteen of the last 25 winners in this category are female solo artists. Voters just seem to prefer giving this vote of encouragement to women.

Several hip-hop stars are in the running, including Lil Pump, 21 Savage, Metro Boomin, Lil Skies and 6ix9ine.

If the Grammys nominated Alessia Cara a year after her top 10 breakthrough hit, "Here," could they nominate Post Malone a year after his top 10 breakthrough hit, "Congratulations" (featuring Quavo)? You certainly can't rule him out, but it would be audacious: Post's debut album, Stoney, had been a hit for 42 weeks by the beginning of the current eligibility year. (Maybe the Grammys should change the name of the award to Best New or Developing Artist. They won't, of course, but that would better describe it.)

There will probably be debate about whether rapper NF is eligible. He achieved his greatest success to date with his third album, Perception, and its hit "Let You Down."

Other possibilities include Marshmello, Grey and MAX.

Horan and Cabello released their solo debut albums in this eligibility year, but will probably be disqualified on the grounds that they had established their identities in One Direction and Fifth Harmony, respectively.

Cardi B is on fire, but she was nominated for two Grammys this past year and thus is ineligible. Likewise, Quavo and Offset each received two noms this past year as members of Migos, and thus are ineligible.

THE WEIGHT IS LIFTED:
MIRANDA LAMBERT
LETS LOOSE
Holly Gleason takes a deep dive into Miranda's career. (6/20a)
THE CARTERS: A TRILOGY OF TRUTH
A Love story. (6/20a)
TROY RUMORS
SWIRL ON
Will Spotify lose another leader? (6/19a)
TOP MONEYMAKERS: WESTWORLD
Yeezy money (6/15a)
BUNDLE MAGIC
It's all about leverage. (6/18a)
WHO ARE THE RAINMAKERS?
We promise this special issue won't be dry.
HOW ROCK IS STREAMING FORWARD
Amps sold separately.
PIZZA PLACEMENT
Songs by the slice.
A.I. AND OUR FUTURE
Planning for Skynet.
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