I knew The Grammys®were shit years before I ever listened to contemporary music, when Homer Simpson won for “Best Comedy, Spoken Word or Barbershop Album”. Simpson gave his award to the bellhop as a tip, when the bellhop tossed it over the balcony in disappointment after realizing what it was. “Hey, don’t throw your garbage down here!” bellowed a voice from the hotel room below.
But growing up and listening to music has only confirmed what The Simpsons taught me. For all the ethnic, economic and sociopolitical divisions threatening to rip our democracy to shreds right now, The Grammys® has always been only a bellwether of whatever shitty music the monied media interests fostering that disconnect think will sell. Separate categories for artists of color who seldom earn recognition in mainstream, cross-genre categories. Embarrassingly tasteless performances and tributes. Metallica.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to see big artists boycotting the awards entirely this year, consciously removing themselves from the whole dog and pony show. Frank Ocean chose not to submit his music for consideration, citing “the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated” in a NYT interview. “I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammy™ than sit there in the audience,” he said.
Ocean’s clever exit from Def Jam for his release Blonde was a major fuck you to the infrastructural systems of media control and consolidation that make all this music sound innocuous in the first place; his Grammys® boycott showed a consistency of character and clarity of vision that other artists ought to follow.
Even Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who apologized to Kendrick Lamar when they took home an award for Best Rap Album last year, didn’t submit their music this year. When Macklemore is acknowledging racial inequities, maybe that’s a sign judges should start to listen.
All that being said, this isn’t your typical awards prediction post. I tried to balance what I thought actually deserved a win with how the minds actually voting will think. So there may be some cognitive disconnect, but you ought to know that my predictions do not necessarily coincide with what I actually think deserves to win.
We here at Observer Music write about the sounds that we love, not about what moves downloads and earns shekels on Spotify. And from that lens, our industry analyses and our hearts seldom beat at the same rate. Nonetheless, we’ll be watching, curious to see if The Grammys® have listened to any of the folks who’ve been telling them that they were out of touch for years.
Best Rap Album
Coloring Book — Chance The Rapper
…and the Anonymous Nobody — De La Soul
Major Key — DJ Khaled
Views — Drake
Blank Face LP — ScHoolboy Q
The Life of Pablo — Kanye West
De La Soul‘s first new album with all hands on deck in 12 years probably should have won a Grammy® years ago, but hey, Hollywood, baby! That they entirely self-funded and self-released …and the Anonymous Nobody doesn’t bode well for a win inside this system, although it would be much deserved.
As if that wasn’t depressing enough—how the hell is DJ Khaled nominated over A Tribe Called Quest? DJ Kahled is pure branding at this point, which those voting will likely love, while ScHoolboy Q released a strong sophomore effort and wouldn’t be a wasted win.
But if Drake and Kanye win for putting out overstuffed and bloated records laden with self-congratulatory auto-tuned ejaculate, it might just further communicate just how out of touch The Grammys® actually are.
My bet’s on Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book, a pristinely produced mixtape from one of Chicago’s most lucidly unique and inclusive voices. He’s a safe bet who still has some cred, and Kanye totally tried to syphon his genius on Pablo. Why not reward the young MC’s most definitive statement yet?
Best Rap Song
“All The Way Up” — Joseph Cartagena, Edward Davadi, Shandel Green, Karim Kharbouch, Andre Christopher Lyon, Reminisce Mackie & Marcello Valenzano, songwriters (Fat Joe & Remy Ma Featuring French Montana & Infared)
“Famous” — Chancelor Bennett, Ross Birchard, Ernest Brown, Andrew Dawson, Kasseem Dean, Mike Dean, Noah Goldstein, Kejuan Muchita, Patrick Reynolds, Kanye West & Cydel Young, songwriters (Kanye West Featuring Rihanna)
“Hotline Bling” — Aubrey Graham & Paul Jefferies, songwriters (Drake)
“No Problem” — Chancelor Bennett, Dwayne Carter & Tauheed Epps, songwriters (Chance The Rapper Featuring Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)
“Ultralight Beam” — Chancelor Bennett, Kasseem Dean, Mike Dean, Kirk Franklin, Noah Goldstein, Samuel Griesemer, Terius Nash, Jerome Potter, Kelly Price, Nico “Donnie Trumpet” Segal, Derek Watkins, Kanye West & Cydel Young, songwriters (Kanye West Featuring Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream)
Why wouldn’t The Grammys® give this one to Drake? The insta-meme powers of “Hotline Bling” have everything this awards show loves—cultural and artistic appropriation, neon, and ubiquitous brandable saturation across ages and demographics.
It’s also possible they give this one to Kanye because trolling is good for ratings, or Donald Trump paid for it.
“No Problem” is a banger though, too, while Chance’s other contribution, the auto-tuned pean for salvation “Ultralight Beam”, one of the few highlights from Kanye’s overstuffed Life of Pablo. So either way Chance has a good shot at winning on Sunday.
Best Rap/Sung Performance
“Freedom” — Beyoncé Featuring Kendrick Lamar
“Hotline Bling” — Drake
“Broccoli” — D.R.A.M. Featuring Lil Yachty
“Ultralight Beam” — Kanye West Featuring Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream
“Famous” — Kanye West Featuring Rihanna
When we talk about performance as a human action that functions based on virtuosity, dexterity and, you know, talent, Beyoncé’s “Freedom” emerges as the only clear option here.
Kendrick’s verse aside, you’ve got one of the most topical and relevant odes to female unrest on one of the best and most disruptive albums of the year, while literally every other track nominated is wholly a studio creation. Queen Bey branches out further into her flow on this track, too, and her creative risks make it well deserved.
But Lemonade‘s Tidal exclusivity makes it a disruption to old models, and TheG rammys® don’t like change. Drake or D.R.A.M./Yachty might be safer bet, coming from two performers who will more comfortably submit to their pale capitalist overlords.
Best Rap Performance
“No Problem” — Chance The Rapper Featuring Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz
“Pop Style” — Drake Featuring The Throne
“All The Way Up” — Fat Joe & Remy Ma Featuring French Montana & Infared
“That Part” — ScHoolboy Q Featuring Kanye West
Schoolboy Q hustled hard this year, and the Kanye-featuring single off of Blank Face deserves a win. “No Problem” might have a better shot, though, if Best Rap Song goes to “Hotline Bling” despite the fact that it that contained next to no clever flow, wordplay or semblance of organic matter.
Best R&B Album
In My Mind — BJ The Chicago Kid
Lalah Hathaway Live — Lalah Hathaway
Velvet Portraits — Terrace Martin
Healing Season — Mint Condition
Smoove Jones — Mya
Let’s put positive vibes in the air and say that Terrace Martin, who wrote the arrangements for To Pimp a Butterfly and has collaborated with several G-Funk legends as both a producer and a member of live bands, has this one in the bag. He’d released several hip-hop records before, but Velvet Portraits’ blend of jazz, R&B and funky grooves served as a widescreen introduction to the breadth talented composer and performer’s genre-bending tastes. BJ The Chicago Kid’s In My Mind might have it this year though, if only because of how familiar his update on classic soul sounds to the people likely voting.
Best Urban Contemporary Album
Lemonade — Beyoncé
Ology — Gallant
We Are King — KING
Malibu — Anderson .Paak
Anti — Rihanna
If we follow the pattern of past Grammys®, when black artists with crossover appeal are traditionally only handed out wins within “Rap” and “Urban” categories, then Queen Bey will sweep this one too with Lemonade. But it would be marvelous to see the ladies of KING take a win for their blend of dream pop and R&B. Anderson .Paak’s Malibu is also a great fucking party record. A win by any of those three would be well-deserved, but Rihanna is likely the safest bet as Anti’s not nominated as a whole in any other categories.
Best R&B Song
“Come and See Me” — J. Brathwaite, Aubrey Graham & Noah Shebib, songwriters (PartyNextDoor Featuring Drake)
“Exchange” — Michael Hernandez & Bryson Tiller, songwriters (Bryson Tiller)
“Kiss It Better” — Jeff Bhasker, Robyn Fenty, John-Nathan Glass & Natalia Noemi, songwriters (Rihanna)
“Lake By the Ocean” — Hod David & Musze, songwriters (Maxwell)
“Luv” — Magnus August Høiberg, Benjamin Levin & Daystar Peterson, songwriters (Tory Lanez)
Maxwell deserves the win for this arresting track off his first record in seven years, blackSUMMERS’night, a new R&B classic. But you’ve got a bunch of safer bets here, too, including the Rihanna and Bryson Tiller tracks. Even though that Bryson Tiller record came out like two fucking years ago. How do these nomination time windows work again?
Best Traditional R&B Performance
“The Three Of Me” — William Bell
“Woman’s World” — BJ The Chicago Kid
“Sleeping With The One I Love” — Fantasia
“Angel” — Lalah Hathaway
“Can’t Wait” — Jill Scott
Jill, Lalah and BJ are all solid bets, but Jill has won before and”Can’t Wait” is a groover amongst groovers. Hers is a bit more of a soul revival track though, while Lalah Hathaway’s “Angel” is pure R&B. If votes are being cast by any traditional expectations of the genre, Hathaway’s got it.
Best R&B Performance
“Turnin’ Me Up” — BJ The Chicago Kid
“Permission” — Ro James
“I Do” — Musiq Soulchild
“Needed Me” — Rihanna
“Cranes in the Sky” — Solange
Solange’s A Seat at the Table was inarguably one of the year’s best albums, irrespective of genre, and this first single is one of its sublime, groovy high points. I can’t imagine her not having this one in the bag if anyone’s listening.
Best Alternative Music Album
22, A Million — Bon Iver
Blackstar — David Bowie
The Hope Six Demolition Project — PJ Harvey
Post Pop Depression — Iggy Pop
A Moon Shaped Pool — Radiohead
This one’s tough. Conventional logic says that Bowie would get it because Blackstar came out too late into the process to be included last year, while Iggy Pop might have a shot simply because he said this might be his last record and managed to channel those golden post-Stooges solo years of The Idiot and Lust for Life when he got together with Josh Homme for this one.
Radiohead and PJ Harvey both put out great records and could also likely both give half a shit about The Grammys™, so there’s that. PJ Harvey’s screed against HUD likely didn’t move anyone casting a vote, though, and Radiohead taught us long ago that androids do not feel. So Bon Iver seems the other only safe bet if Bowie doesn’t sweep. Hopefully some dumb Twitter trolls call him “Bonny Bear” again this year, either way—that was fun.
Best Rock Album
California — Blink-182
Tell Me I’m Pretty — Cage The Elephant
Magma — Gojira
Death Of A Bachelor — Panic! At The Disco
Weezer — Weezer
All these acts are pretty fucking terrible save for Gojira, but Blink-182 might get the prized gramophone for their career comeback after ousting UFO enthusiast Tom DeLonge. Cage The Elephant have the most crossover appeal to festival crowds now, and people seem to really like them, so they’ve also got some skin in the game. And nobody wants to hear Rivers Cuomo make a speech. Go away, Rivers Cuomo.
Best Rock Song
“Blackstar” — David Bowie, songwriter (David Bowie)
“Burn the Witch” —Radiohead, songwriters (Radiohead)
“Hardwired” — James Hetfield & Lars Ulrich, songwriters (Metallica)
“Heathens” — Tyler Joseph, songwriter (Twenty One Pilots)
“My Name Is Human” — Rich Meyer, Ryan Meyer & Johnny Stevens, songwriters (Highly Suspect)
Oh man, how great would it be if Bowie or Radiohead won this one, despite neither existing within the traditional parameters of “rock”. Wait, isn’t Metallica performing? There’s a good chance they’ll give this one to Metallica. Collusion has never been something The Grammys® have tried to hide. Prove me wrong, though!
Best Metal Performance
“Shock Me” — Baroness
“Slivera” — Gojira
“Rotting in Vain” — Korn
“Dystopia” — Megadeth
“The Price Is Wrong” — Periphery
When the sludgy Baroness released “Purple” in 2015, metalheads lauded the collection as some of their strongest work to date. Assuming those voting actually know anything about metal, Baroness’s “Shock Me” has got it. But Gojira would be worthy of the tarnished artifact as well.
Best Rock Performance
“Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)” — Alabama Shakes
“Don’t Hurt Yourself” — Beyoncé Featuring Jack White
“Blackstar” — David Bowie
“The Sound Of Silence” — Disturbed
“Heathens” — Twenty One Pilots
Are you starting to feel bad for those nominated in the same category as David Bowie? A posthumous Bowie sweep would be something no one could argue with, but in an attempt to assuage everyone’s boycotting of this year, the Queen Bey/Jack White duet might get it, too. Really, as long as Disturbed or Twenty One Pilots don’t get it I’ll be happy.
Best Dance/Electronic Album
Skin — Flume
Electronica 1: The Time Machine — Jean-Michel Jarre
Epoch — Tycho
Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future — Underworld
Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII — Louie Vega
Tycho continues to push the boundaries of what an electronic performance looks like with Epoch, pushing his full live band to further blur the lines. Between soundtracking sunrise parties at Burning Man and playing all the coolest festivals, he’s got cred, too. Flume’s Australian brand of EDM is insanely popular right now, though, despite the fact that this album falls into sophomore slump mode when compared to his self-titled debut. Underworld did just come back from a long absence, too.
Best Dance Recording
“Tearing Me Up” — Bob Moses
“Don’t Let Me Down” — The Chainsmokers Featuring Daya
“Never Be Like You” — Flume Featuring Kai
“Rinse & Repeat” — Riton Featuring Kah-Lo
“Drinkee” — Sofi Tukker
The Chainsmokers and The Grammys® are the exact same kind of shitty—clueless, culture-appropriating dreck for complete fucking morons. I think they got they’re a shoe-in.
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
Cinema — Andrea Bocelli
Fallen Angels — Bob Dylan
Stages Live — Josh Groban
Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin — Willie Nelson
Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway — Barbra Streisand
Giving it to Bob Dylan for another standards covers album would be a bad-ass move, but this one’s kind of a total draw in terms of star power and the ubiquity of the material. Josh Groban’s been on t.v. a lot lately for his new theater role, so I imagine his people have some strong relationships with the networks. Willy and Barbara already have a shit-ton of Grammys® But Andrea Bocelli has never won, despite being nominated several times. Is this his year?
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
“Closer” — The Chainsmokers Featuring Halsey
“7 Years” — Lukas Graham
“Work” — Rihanna Featuring Drake
“Cheap Thrills” — Sia Featuring Sean Paul
“Stressed Out” — Twenty One Pilots
Oh man, I seriously don’t care about any of this shit. “Work” was insanely popular though, so it likely has the best shot. And Danish pop band Lukas Graham were inexplicably everywhere with the schmaltzy ode to growing up, “7 Years”, a song that my niece and nephew love to sing because they are 4 and 6 years old.
Best Pop Solo Performance
“Hello” — Adele
“Hold Up” — Beyonce
“Love Yourself” — Justin Bieber
“Piece By Piece (Idol Version)” — Kelly Clarkson
“Dangerous Woman” — Ariana Grande
The salacious calypso of “Hold Up” really deserves the win, but time will tell if The Grammys® pay respect to Beyoncé outside of “urban” categories. Adele’s the safe bet here, especially since that song was everywhere and the record as a whole reportedly sucks.
Best Pop Vocal Album
25 — Adele
Purpose — Justin Bieber
Dangerous Woman — Ariana Grande
Confident — Demi Lovato
This Is Acting — Sia
Jeez, I have no idea on this one. Art students like Sia, right? She seems to operate wholly in the same sphere as the other nominees, but by refusing to show her face or, you know, play live with any real musicians, she’s suddenly making some vague conceptual statement about the power of identity? That sounds like something The Grammys®would be into.
Best New Artist
Chance The Rapper
Andreson .Paak and Chance both deserve to win for this category, but the obnoxious Chainsmokers seem to fit into that brand of corporately materialized party dreck that The Grammys®absolutely adore. I’d love to be wrong about this one, too.
Song Of The Year
“Formation” — Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles & Michael L. Williams II, songwriters (Beyoncé)
“Hello” — Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele)
“I Took A Pill In Ibiza” — Mike Posner, songwriter (Mike Posner)
“Love Yourself” — Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran, songwriters (Justin Bieber)
“7 Years” — Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard & Morten Ristorp, songwriters (Lukas Graham)
To people with a pulse on the tremendous intersection of social and cultural mileaus that shaped a horrible 2016, “Formation” is the song of the year. To people who sing into their hairbrushes on their childhood beds or cry themselves to sleep over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, it’s Adele’s “Hello.” If past Grammys® patterns hold, Adele’s gonna win this one. If the voting pool is actually diversified and thoughtful like we’re all hoping, Beyoncé ‘s got it. And you know how I feel about Lukas Graham.
Record Of The Year
“Hello” — Adele
“Formation” — Beyoncé
“7 Years” — Lukas Graham
“Work” — Rihanna Featuring Drake
“Stressed Out” — Twenty One Pilots
The Grammys® draw a distinction between Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year by considering the contributions of producers and engineers in their pick for best record. By that metric, this one belongs to Beyoncé without question.
Album Of The Year
25 — Adele
Lemonade — Beyoncé
Purpose — Justin Bieber
Views — Drake
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth — Sturgill Simpson
When To Pimp a Butterfly was denied Album of the Year to Taylor Swift, the colorblindness of The Grammys® became painfully ugly and plain to see. Will they rectify it this year and consider the impact of albums from a more inclusive frame of mind, taking into consideration the subtext and cultural impact that makes them so beloved across reductive genre constraints? Not fucking likely.
Countrified DMT enthusiast Sturgill Simpson is a wildcard here, and even though his old fans hated the horns and arrangements on his new one, it won him a ton of crossover fans. Plus it totally fucking rips.
If justice prevails, though, this is Beyoncé’s year in the spotlight outside of a segregated category. I’ll reiterate that Lemonade‘s Tidal exclusivity makes it a disruption to old models of distribution, and The Grammys® don’t like change.