Guessing the Grammys 2016: Expect Weirdness

Speculating on the nominees' odds in a dozen big categories.

When the list of the 58th Annual Grammy nominations was announced two months ago, the biggest surprise was that there were no big surprises. There was some talk about why Adele wasn’t among the honorees (because 25 was released after the Academy’s 2015 cut-off date) and the entertainment press liked pointing out how Paul McCartney came to be nominated for Best Rap Performance, but industry insiders are rather bored by this year’s roster. Still, it’s not easy to predict who will win or lose in the major categories, which are the awards most likely to be shown on the big broadcast. Until tonight, let’s speculate.


Album of the Year

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly vs. the Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness, Taylor Swift’s 1989, Chris Stapleton’s Traveler, and Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color

Everybody from David Bowie to Entertainment Weekly‘s panel of anonymous Grammy voters heaped praise on To Pimp a Butterfly, which was named “The Best Album of 2015” in various high-profile music publications, including this one. Lamar also garnered more nominations than any other artist this year, making it highly likely that he’ll take home this award.


Song of the Year

Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” vs. Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush”, Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth’s “See You Again”, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”.

Of the two “any genre goes” song-based awards, this is the songwriting-based award, so expect the emphasis to be placed on timeless lyrics that appeal to a general, non-specific audience. So this is really a fight between the decade’s biggest wedding song and the country hit with quirky lyrics. The awards air the day after Valentine’s Day, so Sheeran has a slight edge over the competition.


Record of the Year

The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” vs. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”, Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”, and D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s “Really Love”

This award is usually all about sound and style, so expect the Weeknd to take it because of the blend of R&B, pop, and EDM in his breakout smash. Don’t count out “Uptown Funk” though because there’s still a lot of love around for its retro sound.


Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett vs. James Bay, Tori Kelly, Meghan Trainor, and Sam Hunt.

Despite insider talk about all of the other nominees in this category winning instead, Courtney Barnett is most likely to take this gramophone home. Voters are always more likely to hand this title over to the most unknown nominee, in the hopes that it will launch his or her career. If she doesn’t win, then James Bay will.


Best Rap Album

Dr. Dre’s Compton vs. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint

It’s kind of ironic, but it’s likely that 2015’s “Album of the Year” recipient won’t be considered as the “Best Rap Album” of the year. It’s possible that voters still reeling from Straight Outta Compton‘s Oscar snub will retaliate by heaping praise onto its soundtrack, which has also been described by Grammy favorite Dr. Dre as his “grand finale”.


Best Rock Song

Alabama Shakes’ “Don’t Wanna Fight” vs. James Bay’s “Hold Back the River”, Florence + the Machine’s “What Kind of Man”, Highly Suspect’s “Lydia”, and Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s”

The Grammys love sweeps, in which a single artist or group take the win in multiple categories. Considering Alabama Shakes’ four nominations, one of which being Album of the Year, it’s most likely that they’ll take home this award.


Best Pop Vocal Album

Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special vs. Taylor Swift’s 1989, Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Kelly Clarkson’s Piece By Piece, and James Taylor’s Before This World

Many people feel that this will undoubtedly be Swift’s big win, but I suspect that backlash from Country voters (due to her 2012 announcement that she was releasing a pop album instead of her then-usual country fare) will keep her from taking it. She will win Best Music Video and something for her cover-baiting “Blank Space”, but this is Ronson’s time to shine. His nostalgic homage to retro soul and funk will strike a chord with voters, especially if “Uptown Funk” takes any wins. (As I’ve said before, the academy loves sweeps.)


Best Rap Performance

Kayne West feat. Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney’s “All Day” vs. J. Cole’s “Apparently”, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”, Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen”, Drake’s “Back to Back”, and Nicki Minaj feat. Drake & Lil Wayne’s “Truffle Butter”

While its also a good bet that the critically-lauded J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar may win this, I can’t help thinking that McCartney’s presence will bring in voters otherwise unfamiliar with this genre. “All Day” is also the most recent release on this list and it’s nominated for Best Rap Song as well.


Best Country Song

Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” vs. Chris Stapleton’s “Traveler”, Brandy Clark’s “Hold My Hand”, Tim McGraw’s “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools”, and Lee Ann Womack’s “Chances Are”

Expect Little Big Town to sweep the country music categories. Many industry experts have praised Chris Stapleton, and he does have many nominations in both general and country categories this year, but there has also been some talk that he’s mostly here because of his performance with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 CMA awards. As crazy as that sounds, it might just give the most mainstream country hit on this list, “Girl Crush”, the sweeps advantage.


Best Dance Recording

Skrillex & Diplo feat. Justin Bieber’s “Where Are U Now” vs. Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me”, the Chemical Brothers feat. Q-Tip’s “Go”, Galantis’ “Runaway (U & I)”, and Above & Beyond feat. Zoe Johnston’s “We’re All We Need”

Out of all of these nominees, only Skrillex, Diplo, and Bieber will be performing (presumably this song) together on the show. Take that as a hint.


Best Alternative Music Album

Tame Impala’s Currents vs. Alabama Shakes’ Sound & Color, Wilco’s Star Wars, My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, and Björk’s Vulnicura

Despite the academy’s love of Alabama Shakes, voters usually avoid handing out the sole Alternative award to an artist that will sweep the Rock category. Industry experts say that Tame Impala has it for this year.


Best R&B Performance

The Weeknd’s “Earned It” vs. Tamar Braxton’s “If I Don’t Have You”, Jeremih feat. J. Cole “Planes”, Hiatus Kaiyote’s “Breathing Underwater”, and Andra Day’s “Rise Up”

The Weeknd is the only one of these nominees that is also up for the songwriting-based Best R&B Song award, so naturally “Earned It” has the advantage.