The Week In Pop

Your Guide To The 2018 Grammys: Will They Leave Kendrick Out In The Cold Again?

The Grammys are this weekend — Sunday at 7:30PM EST on your local CBS affiliate, to be exact — and as always, we’re (almost certainly naïvely) hoping they won’t suck this time. They probably will; they always do. Yet thanks to a somewhat promising slate of nominees in the major categories, a similarly half-decent list of performers, and professional obligation — hi @scottgum! — we at Stereogum will all be tuning in anyway, hoping for some chaos in the spirit of ’98 but content to settle for limited James Corden hijinks and at least one moment we’ll still remember this time next year.

If you dare join us in our Schumer-level gullibility, here are some things to know up front.

The Basics

The Grammys are broadcasting from New York’s Madison Square Garden this year for the first time since 2003, ending a 14-year stint at the Staples Center in LA. Because Grammy producers love to incorporate old music that has zero relevance to our current musical moment, a pair of Tony-winners will be on hand to acknowledge the NYC return by honoring Broadway legends Andrew Lloyd Webber and Leonard Bernstein: Patti LuPone will reprise her famed role in Webber’s Evita to perform “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” and Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt will sing a tune from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Don’t be surprised if returning host Corden, who has also hosted the Tonys, works some sort of Broadway shtick into a comedy sketch or opening monologue, too, much to the delight of people who are far too easily amused. We’ll also probably hear a lot about how this is the 60th annual Grammys because as we at Stereogum can attest, round numbers are important.

The First-Time Nominees

Here are some of the more exciting and/or noteworthy names up for a Grammy for the first time: The War On Drugs! Migos! Sylvan Esso! Cardi B! Code Orange! Perfume Genius! Four Tet! Run The Jewels! Kesha! Laura Marling! Body Count! Kevin Hart! Daniel Caesar! Goldlink & Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy! Mura Masa! Meshuggah! Tyler, The Creator (if you don’t count his producer credit on Channel Orange)! Rapsody (if you don’t count her guest feature on To Pimp A Butterfly)! Best New Artist nominees SZA, Khalid, Julia Michaels, Lil Uzi Vert, and Alessia Cara! Decemberists side project Offa Rex! Spoken Word nominees Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bernie Sanders! Somewhat surprisingly, Iron & Wine! Quite suspiciously, Nothing More! Downright shockingly, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds!

Don’t Miss The Pre-Show

Most of the awards will be handed out at the Premiere Ceremony, the event formerly known as the Pre-Telecast, which runs from 3-6PM EST in The Theater at Madison Square Garden and will stream live at Grammy.com and CBS.com. Performers include Body Count, India.Arie, Jazzmeia Horn, Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’, and Stile Antico, but more importantly, a whopping 70 categories will be settled then and there. So if you’re wondering which grizzled white man will take home Best Alternative Music Album or whether No I.D. has a chance to win Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical almost entirely on the strength of his work on 4:44 and the Vic Mensa album, you likely won’t have to wait until sundown to find out.

Who’s Performing?

Part of the reason the Grammys hand out so many awards ahead of time is so they can fill up the broadcast with so many performances, some of them not even tangentially relevant to The Year That Was. (Note the aforementioned Broadway bullshit — not that I object to showtunes on principle, it’s just that there’s already an entire awards show explicitly dedicated to that kind of thing, you know?) I was surprised to see how much of the entertainment lineup this year actually does comprise nominees, but as ever, there are more than a few interlopers.

Among those performances with no connection to any 2018 Grammy race: (1) Broadway performance #1, (2) Broadway performance #2, (3) aspiring retiree Elton John duetting with Miley Cyrus on one of his classic songs to promote the event Grammy overlords NARAS are throwing in John’s honor two days later, (4) ascendant Grammy mascot Sam Smith performing music that will undoubtedly be nominated when it becomes eligible next year, (5) ditto U2, (6) ditto Sting, (7) Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr. paying tribute to the late, great Fats Domino because what are the Grammys without at least one tribute to the dead, and (8) and Rihanna and Bryson Tiller performing their excellent DJ Khaled-sponsored convergence “Wild Thoughts” because the Grammys are never above booking popular acts with no obvious connection to the ceremony in a craven bid for viewers. At least this time it doubles as a corrective for neglecting to nominate one of the best pop songs of 2017.

It’d be nice if each Album Of The Year nominee got a chance to highlight their work on the Grammys stage, but alas, neither Lorde nor Jay-Z have been tapped to perform. From that illustrious category we do get a show-opening performance from Kendrick Lamar (arguably the reigning king of televised music performances), Childish Gambino presumably doing his Record Of The Year candidate “Redbone,” and Bruno Mars teaming up with Cardi B for their new jack swing throwback “Finesse,” all of which have the potential to be very fun. Kendrick and Bruno are also up for Record Of The Year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see their respective nominated tracks (“HUMBLE.” and “24K Magic”) relegated to medley status or not performed at all; Grammy nominations may live between October 2016 and September 2017, but Grammy performances tend to be dictated by what’s popping in the present. As for the other Record Of The Year contenders, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee will be there to do “Despacito” with an assist from Zuleyka Rivera, as is only right for a song that tied the record for most weeks at #1, and “The Story Of O.J.” will not be performed because, as we already established, no Jay-Z.

That leaves eight more announced performances, all involving nominees. Country contenders Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne will collaborate with past nominee Eric Church in tribute to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting — which could be genuinely moving considering these are three of the standout artists in a mostly unremarkable modern country scene. Also with significant tearjerking potential are Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khalid’s run through their anti-suicide anthem “1-800-273-8255″ and Kesha’s spotlight moment, should it involve her Dr. Luke takedown “Praying.” (UPDATE: It will, in a show of solidarity with the #MeToo movement also featuring Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, and Andra Day.)

Lady Gaga and Pink both specialize in awards-show spectacle, so even if you find their recent output somewhat blasé they’ll probably entertain you. I am supposed to care about beacons of country authenticity Chris Stapleton and Loretta Lynn duetting, but God help me, I do not care the teeniest, tiniest bit. Little Big Town, country stars of a slightly more modern tilt, will likely opt to exhibit Taylor Swift’s motherfucking craft, but it’s easy to imagine that gig getting lost in the shuffle. What will not be so forgettable is SZA, if her tremendous SNL appearance is anything to go by. Between SZA and Kendrick, it’s not hard to imagine team TDE generating the show’s two best moments.

Who’s presenting?

So many memorable awards-show moments involve two otherwise unrelated celebrities posted up at a podium, flubbing their lines or throwing serious side-eye at winners or whatever. Maybe that will happen again? Dave Chappelle is presenting, so there’s heavy potential there. According to a press release today, these other famous people will also be present to hand out trophies: Tony Bennett, Kelly Clarkson, NFL player Victor Cruz, Eve, Jim Gaffigan, Katie Holmes, Nick Jonas, Anna Kendrick, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Shemar Moore, Trevor Noah, Sarah Silverman, Hailee Steinfeld, and old kid on the block Donnie Wahlberg.

And Now For Some Predictions

Let’s burn through nine categories of interest, lightning-round style, and finish up with some thoughts about the Album Of The Year race.

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Gorillaz – Humanz
LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
The National – Sleep Well Beast
Should win: Even though I’d rather see Josh Tillman’s acceptance speech, American Dream is the best of these albums.
Will win: Everything Now, LOL.

BEST RAP ALBUM
Jay-Z – 4:44
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Migos – Culture
Rapsody – Laila’s Wisdom
Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy
Should win: DAMN. because damn.
Will win: 4:44 because my colleague Tom Breihan is probably right, and it’s hard to see Jay losing Best Rap Album if he’s winning Album Of The Year.

BEST URBAN CONTEMPORARY ALBUM
6lack – Free 6lack
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Khalid – American Teen
SZA – Ctrl
The Weeknd – Starboy
Should win: Ctrl because even though I like American Teen and Starboy they both have major filler problems.
Will win: Kind of hard to imagine them not giving it to “Awaken, My Love!” considering that one’s also up for Album Of The Year.

BEST ROCK ALBUM
Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand
Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct
Nothing More – The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains
The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Should win: Beer commercial lead guitar shit, obviously.
Will win: Metallica, obviously.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Coldplay – Kaleidoscope EP
Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
Imagine Dragons – Evolve
Kesha – Rainbow
Lady Gaga – Joanne
Ed Sheeran – ÷
Should win: Lana!
Will win: I’d say Ed Sheeran is a lock here, but do you realize that not only is Ed Sheeran shut out of the major categories, he’s also not even performing?! What happened between Ed Sheeran and NARAS? He’s obnoxious, but according to all Grammy precedent, after the year he just had, he should be cleaning up Sunday night. Do not be surprised to see this go to Gaga or Kesha, both of whom are on deck to perform.

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, NON-CLASSICAL
Calvin Harris
No I.D.
Greg Kurstin
Blake Mills
The Stereotypes
Should win: Calvin Harris on the strength of “Slide” alone.
Will win: No I.D. (or maybe Greg Kurstin on the off chance Jay-Z isn’t winning Album Of The Year).

BEST NEW ARTIST
Alessia Cara
Khalid
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels
SZA
Should win: Uzi or SZA.
Will win: Any of the other three, none of whom would be a disappointing pick besides Cara. (I’m still here for “Here,” but c’mon.)

SONG OF THE YEAR
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee – “Despacito” (Feat. Justin Bieber)
Jay-Z – “4:44″
Julia Michaels – “Issues”
Logic – “1-800-273-8255″ (Feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid)
Bruno Mars – “That’s What I Like”
Should win: “Issues,” though I maintain “Uh Huh” is the best Julia Michaels single.
Will win: Oh no, it’s going to be the suicide PSA, isn’t it?

RECORD OF THE YEAR
Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee – “Despacito” (Feat. Justin Bieber)
Jay-Z – “The Story Of O.J.”
Kendrick Lamar – “Humble.”
Bruno Mars – “24K Magic”
Should win: It would only be right for everyone else to have to sit down and be humble.
Will win: Probably “Despacito” — the Grammys stay rewarding commercial success — but I could see whoever takes Album Of The Year winning this too.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Jay-Z – 4:44
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.
Lorde – Melodrama
Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

Should win: Kendrick! Kendrick Lamar should win! I say this as someone who deeply enjoys the Lorde and Bruno Mars albums and sees the merit of the Jay-Z album and is a big fan of Childish Gambino’s TV show: DAMN. was the best album released during the eligibility period. (Yes, I realize Stereogum named Melodrama the #1 album of 2017 over DAMN. last year; I am diverging from the company line on this one.) I’ve written a bit about how good the Kendrick album is here and here, and I continue to believe it deserves to win this award on merit alone, setting aside the fact that Kendrick, the greatest musical artist of this decade, is overdue to win a Grammy for Album Of The Year.

Will win: It’s never easy to figure out who’s going to win this particular gramophone. Scratch that — there are years when it’s easy, and then there are years that throw your judgment out of whack even in the easy years. Everything seems inevitable in hindsight, but lately for every “of course Adele/Taylor won” situation there has been a genuinely surprising winner along the lines of Daft Punk (my initial reaction: wow!) and Beck (my initial reaction: lolwut). Don’t act like you thought Arcade Fire were going to win for The Suburbs — not against Eminem, Ladies Gaga and Antebellum, and (especially) Katy Perry’s mega-selling hit machine Teenage Dream!

And anyhow, this is not one of those years when the winner seems obvious. Among the nominees, the closest thing to an Adele-style sales behemoth is DAMN., and we’ve already alluded to the Grammys’ history of leaving Kendrick out in the cold. Stereogum contributor Al Shipley has long advanced the statistically verified hypothesis that the Grammys favor men over 40 and women under 30, which bodes well for Jay-Z and Lorde this year. Given that Melodrama was not the industry-saving sales blockbuster Adele and Taylor Swift albums tend to be, you can give the advantage to Jay. If I had to bet, I’d bet on 4:44, one of those grand elder-statesman statement albums NARAS so adores.

I don’t think you can rule out any of the five nominees, though. Bruno Mars was designed in a laboratory to win Grammys, and he’s still making hits off an album that came out a year and a half ago. (The first two hits off 24K Magic are up for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year respectively, and he’s performing the third hit at this ceremony. Hmm…) Meanwhile Donald Glover has grown into a figure with serious clout across the entire entertainment landscape, he’s performing on the show, his album is as self-consciously retro as Bruno Mars’ album, and in addition to his Album Of The Year nod he’s also up for Record Of The Year for a tune that enjoyed no small bit of streaming and radio success. It’s not unfathomable that this is the year they’ll finally coronate King Kendrick. Lorde just turned 21 and she’s already been a Grammy darling for years, and a win for her would be symbolic of the new generation of pop stars NARAS seems eager to recognize this year. Then again, who are the Grammys for if not for elderly 1-percenters like Shawn Carter?

All things considered, I remain genuinely curious about what’s going to happen Sunday night. And a little excited. And more than a little terrified — not just because James Corden will probably sing showtunes but because of all the different ways the internet could melt down in the aftermath. Imagine the takes, the memes, the backlash that could ensue! For once, it really does feel like Music’s Biggest Night™, or at least it will during those pivotal final moments when the Grammy people are setting a whole year’s worth of storylines in motion with one weighty decision. Let’s just hope when it’s all over we’re saying “damn” for the right reasons.

CHART WATCH

In somewhat of a pleasant surprise, Camila Cabello is holding down the #1 spot on both major Billboard charts this week. Per Billboard, she’s the first solo artist to simultaneously notch her first #1 single and album since Beyoncé in 2003. And if we’re disqualifying Beyoncé due to Destiny’s Child’s #1 achievements, Cabello is the first to pull off this particular feat since Britney Spears in 1998.

Perhaps the more surprising of those two achievements: After seven nonconsecutive weeks at #2, her single “Havana” with Young Thug has risen to #1 on the Hot 100. It’s the first #1 single for both artists, and it bumps Ed Sheeran’s (and sometimes Beyoncé’s) “Perfect” back to #2. Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar” returns to #3, knocking Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s “Finesse” remix down to #4.

Halsey’s “Bad At Love” reaches a new #5 peak and remains her best charting song as a lead artist. Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” holds at #6, while G-Eazy, A$AP Rocky, and Cardi B’s “No Limit” falls to #7. Then at #8 comes Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” her first ever top-10 hit in America. Closing out the top 10 are Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes” at #9 and Migos, Cardi B, and Nicki Minaj’s “MotorSport” at #10 — and yes, that makes four weeks in a row with three songs in the top 10 for Cardi.

Cabello’s victory on the Billboard 200 albums chart was no sure thing either. Her album Camila and The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack were battling to top the chart this week, but ultimately Cabello pulled it out. The former Fifth Harmony singer debuted at #1 with 119,000 equivalent album units — outpacing an industry forecast of about 90,000 — with traditional sales accounting for 65,000. The Greatest Showman actually outsold Camila with 70,000 in sales, but it falls to #2 this week with an overall total of 104,000 (a wildly impressive figure for an album in its sixth week on the chart, and one that could have easily landed it back at #1 for a third straight week against lesser competition). Billboard says Cabello is the first women to reach #1 with her debut album since Meghan Trainor three years ago and the youngest to land her debut at #1 since her former duet partner Shawn Mendes, also three years ago.

The rest of the top 10 largely comprises longstanding hits by Ed Sheeran, Post Malone, Taylor Swift, G-Eazy, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and Lil Uzi Vert. (Yes, that’s three white rappers lingering in the top 10 — five if you count noted Future collaborators Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.) At #10 comes a far less familiar name, rapper Lil Skies, whose Life Of A Dark Rose makes the jump from #23 mostly thanks to streams: 25,000 of the album’s 28,000 units derive from streaming.

POP FIVE

Justin Timberlake – “Say Something” (Feat. Chris Stapleton)
Attempting to recapture the lightning that was the 2015 CMAs performance was always going to be a fool’s errand, but after everything we’ve seen and heard throughout this Man Of The Woods rollout, a Justin Timberlake/Chris Stapleton duet could have turned out a lot worse. Then again, all those qualifiers just go to show how far the bar has been lowered for what should have been a heavily anticipated A-list pop LP. (P.S. Is this song Timberlake clapping back at all the people who think he should publicly apologize to Janet Jackson?)

Zedd, Maren Morris, & Grey – “The Middle”
Not a bad Zedd single all-told, but isn’t it a little on the nose for Maren Morris to build her craven monogenre crossover attempt around the lyric “Why don’t you just meet me in the middle?” (Also, alas, no, this is not a Jimmy Eat World cover.)

Rudimental – “These Days” (Jess Glynne, Macklemore & Dan Caplen)
The pop posse cuts keep on coming! I’m not sure whether we should be disappointed or relieved this is not a cover of the Jackson Browne/Nico classic. That song is obviously incredible whereas this one is obviously not, but I’m not sure I could handle hearing the real “These Days” subjected to the cultural forces that generated this EDM x Mackle-core shitshow. Glynne’s never going to recapture that “Rather Be” glory, is she?

Sia, David Guetta & Afrojack – “Helium”
This song’s core is basically Sia-by-numbers, but that big EDM instrumental break is first-rate. Is that a sax I hear?

Kris Wu, Rich Brian, Trippie Redd, Joji, & Baauer – “18”

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Ed Sheeran got engaged. [BBC]
  • N.E.R.D. will perform at the NBA All-Star Game. [The Fader]
  • Halsey spoke at the 2018 Women’s March in NYC. [Twitter]
  • Nick Jonas has a new collection with John Varvatos called JV x NJ. [Instagram]
  • Eminem and Dr. Dre hit the studio with Mike Will Made-It. [XXL]
  • Britney Spears is taking her Vegas residency show on tour this summer. [E!]
  • Lorde dragged GQ over its Jack Antonoff feature: “knew there was a way to describe the personal and skilful work that i do turns out it’s ‘singing jack antonoff songs.'” [Twitter]
  • Lil Yachty previewed a joint project with Takeoff “coming real soon.” [Complex]
  • J. Lo debuted a Skrillex collab at Calibash 2018 and said a remix from Calvin Harris is on the way. [Billboard]
  • Speaking of Calvin Harris, he says he’s retiring the sound of last year’s great Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, so don’t hold your breath for Vol. 2, I guess. [Twitter]
  • Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke has a new solo single (“Perfect”) out tomorrow. [Twitter]
  • Enrique Iglesias sued Universal over streaming royalties. [Variety]
  • Here’s Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds’ anti-smoking PSA that will air during the Grammys. [YouTube]
  • Ingrid Michaelson is writing an entire album based on Stranger Things. [Complex]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME