The Week In Pop

Predicting The 2019 Grammy Winners

It’s that time of year again: the time when we as a culture must reckon with the insane/mundane prestige-populist fever dream that is Grammy logic.

The Recording Academy will host its 61st annual ceremony at 8PM ET this Sunday, live from the Staples Center in LA. As ever, the slate of nominees in the major categories combines superstars and “tasteful” obscurities in ways that will make you say “huh” on the micro level and “of course” on the macro — a perfectly blasé tapestry of artists voraciously consumed by America’s youth plus stuff their parents who don’t really keep up with music anymore might have happened upon in an NPR segment during their morning commute. The genre-specific races will continue to make you wonder whether the selection committees have more than a glancing familiarity with the genres in question. This is especially true of the rock and metal categories, which may or may not have been scraped together by the Shop Boyz.

In anticipation of Sunday’s shenanigans, I tried to make sense of the four “general field” categories plus assorted others of interest. Who should win? And who will? Read on to join me in this entertaining if immensely stupid guessing game. I’ll go deep on the four big ones and then hit you with a few other quick picks. As always, keep in mind that the timeframe for these nominations was Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018.

Album Of The Year

Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy
Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
Drake – Scorpion
H.E.R. – H.E.R.
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Post Malone – Beerbongs & Bentleys
Various Artists – Black Panther: The Album

Overview: This is the first year the Grammys expanded the general field categories from five nominees to a flexible range of five to 10. As with the Oscars, more nominees ostensibly means wider representations and increased intrigue, but it doesn’t necessarily make it more likely that the people in charge will make a defensible choice.

In this case it just means more of the kinds of releases that usually get nominated: mainstream behemoths (Cardi B, Drake, Post Malone, Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack), lesser-known underdogs playing respectable Grammy-friendly music (Brandi Carlile, H.E.R.), and artists who fall somewhere between those poles (Janelle Monáe, Kacey Musgraves). The resulting array of contenders is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Some of the albums are truly excellent, and all eight have at least a few great songs, yet together they comprise an uninspiring portrait of the musical vanguard.

Who should win: If the Grammys really and truly want to recognize artistic merit, they should give Album Of The Year to Kacey Musgraves. Golden Hour was this website’s pick for the #1 album of 2018 because Musgraves’ lovestruck, sun-kissed, lightly psychedelic pop-country opus was just fantastic front to back. Other choices would be reasonable, but Golden Hour is The One.

Who will win: It’s a wide open race. Oddsmakers originally favored Monáe and Musgraves, both of which would be satisfying results. Monáe’s Dirty Computer is among the most colorful, engaging, socially relevant records of the year. It manages to feel important and fun all at once. And given that aspiring EGOT Monáe seems to have been minted as an awards show fixture for life, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see her take home a trophy. Musgraves, meanwhile, made an extremely Grammy-friendly album — vaguely rootsy, loosely experimental, offering high reward for low effort — and it already won the same prize at the CMAs. Musgraves is also a prior Grammy winner, while Monáe is a six-time nominee.

Beyond those frontrunners, non-household names like H.E.R. (an R&B singer-guitarist who has scraped the lower reaches of the Hot 100) and Carlile (a widely respected roots-rock institution, and the year’s most nominated woman with six) don’t get nominated unless they have an actual chance to win. Courtesy nominations are typically reserved for superstars like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and the Carters, all of whom were relegated to the genre categories (wrongfully, I’d argue, in Grande’s case). It doesn’t seem out of the question that the Grammys would reward Drake for Scorpion’s commercial dominance the same way they honored Adele’s industry-boosting 25 two years ago. Despite also enriching the music business quite a bit last year, I don’t expect Cardi B to enjoy the same kind of appreciation campaign from Grammy voters, even if Invasion Of Privacy is a far better album than Scorpion.

At the end of the day, the Grammys will always Grammy hard when given the opportunity, and I keep coming back to two ways that might happen. One is that Kendrick Lamar will finally win his elusive Album Of The Year gramophone for Black Panther — now projected by some oddsmakers as the most likely outcome. It’s hard to imagine a more Grammy move than snubbing triplet masterworks good kid, m.A.A.d. city, To Pimp A Butterfly, and DAMN. and then awarding top honors to a movie soundtrack compilation album — a highly enjoyable, deftly executed movie soundtrack compilation album, but still. The irony would be delicious.

The only more delicious irony, and the only way the Grammys could possibly Grammy harder, would be awarding Album Of The Year to Post Malone’s endless, insubstantial, admittedly quite catchy Beerbongs & Bentleys — an album that nearly equalled Scorpion’s massive statistical achievements. Think about how easily voters could convince themselves they’re making a bold step into the future by anointing a tattoo-faced genre-bending hip-hop superstar, when in fact they’d be staying in step with their history of elevating poppy white rappers at every opportunity. It would be the Macklemore debacle all over again, except with a rich Texas rodeo clown who seems to actively disdain his own music and would never even think to apologize for winning. I don’t know who’s going to win, but if I had to bet, I’d bet on Post.

Record Of The Year

Cardi B, Bad Bunny, & J Balvin – “I Like It”
Brandi Carlile – “The Joke”
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – “Shallow”
Drake – “God’s Plan”
Kendrick Lamar & SZA – “All The Stars”
Post Malone & 21 Savage – “Rockstar”
Zedd, Maren Morris, & Grey – “The Middle”

Overview: Though Album Of The Year is the award people tend to remember, Record Of The Year — which honors the year’s best single — is typically the final award of the night. Every song in this year’s field was a top 10 hit except Carlile’s Obama-beloved “The Joke.” Half of them — “I Like It,” “This Is America,” “God’s Plan,” and “Rockstar” — spent multiple weeks at #1. Two more, “Shallow” and “All The Stars,” are also nominated for Oscars.

Who should win: Here are the songs that shouldn’t win: “Rockstar,” which pales in comparison to Post’s subsequent chart-topper “Psycho”; “God’s Plan,” the least exciting hit of Drake’s banner 2018; “This Is America,” a decent-enough song that happened to be attached to an iconic video; and “All The Stars,” a deeply underrated pop track, but surely not the best single of the year. I wouldn’t be mad if “The Joke” won, but I can’t say I’m as moved by it as some, despite its timely word to children born into this hellish historical moment.

“Shallow,” on the other hand, has caused my spine to tingle more than once. It’s just a monstrous tune all around, even more so when you see it in the context of A Star Is Born, and I’d love to see it win here. If not “Shallow,” the lovable party track “I Like It” would be a fantastic nod to the increasingly multilingual state of mainstream pop. And I’d be lying if I wasn’t rooting at least a little bit for “The Middle,” a song that took over my household last year. Is it pop-by-numbers? Yes, but to me — and my wife, and our preschooler — it has never failed to hit the spot. What’s not to love about about Maren Morris passionately roaring over punchy cyborg pop-rock?

Who will win: Oddsmakers favor “This Is America” — a believable scenario considering Donald Glover’s showbiz golden-child status and the Album Of The Year nomination the Grammys bestowed upon his last Gambino LP, “Awaken, My Love!” This is probably what will happen, but don’t rule out my beloved “The Middle,” exactly the sort of whitebread pop hit that historically appeals to the Grammy base. Also, it got its first big push in a Target ad during last year’s Grammys, therefore symmetry, or something.

Song Of The Year

Brandy Carlile – “The Joke”
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Drake – “God’s Plan”
Kendrick Lamar & SZA – “All The Stars”
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper – “Shallow”
Ella Mai – “Boo’d Up”
Shawn Mendes – “In My Blood”
Zedd, Maren Morris, & Grey – “The Middle”

Overview: Song Of The Year is a songwriter’s award. The idea is to respect fucking craft, not necessarily the final product. It’s always interesting to see which songs don’t cross over from the Record Of The Year pool — in this case, “I Like It” and “Rockstar,” which the Academy apparently appreciates for reasons other than songwriting. Replacing them are Ella Mai’s R&B sleeper hit “Boo’d Up” and Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood,” a surging pop-rocker about coping with depression.

Who should win: Again, what is “God’s Plan” doing here? I like it well enough, but who considers it exemplary songwriting? It’s basically sonic chicken broth. Similarly, would there be anything left of “This Is America” if you stripped away the production? A win for “The Joke” makes more sense in this category, but I like the idea of that song more than I like the actual song. Ditto “In My Blood.” I’d be pleased with a win for “Shallow,” “The Middle,” or “All The Stars,” but my love for those songs has a lot to do with spellbinding vocal performances from Gaga, Morris, and SZA.

That leaves “Boo’d Up,” which would be a deserving winner. Mai, Mustard, and co-witers Larrance Dopson and Joelle James updated ’90s R&B into a modern template so successfully that the results feel timeless. Plus, few songs in recent memory have so accurately communicated the buzz of a crush budding into full-fledged romance. Given that Mai has yet to release another song this good, this may be her only chance at a Grammy. I hope she gets it.

Who will win: Oddsmakers recently moved “Shallow” ahead of this “This Is America,” which in my opinion would be a far better outcome. But don’t rule out “The Middle” or especially “In My Blood” because Mendes seems likely to be a Grammy staple for the next 50 years.

Best New Artist

Chloe x Halle
Luke Combs
Greta Van Fleet
H.E.R.
Dua Lipa
Margo Price
Bebe Rexha
Jorja Smith

Overview: A whole lot of promising young pop and R&B singers on this list! Besides H.E.R. there is Beyoncé-molded sister act Chloe x Halle. There is also Drake- and Kendrick-approved British neo-soul revivalist Jorja Smith. And there are Dua Lipa and Bebe Rexha, a pair of established stars who really shouldn’t be eligible for Best New Artist if the Academy is going to rule out Post Malone and Cardi B for being too successful already. Country is represented too via Duck Dynasty extra Luke Combs and Third Man signee Margo Price, an Artist To Watch three years ago on this very website. Last, and quite possibly least, there is the popular Led Zeppelin tribute act Greta Van Fleet.

Who should win: Dua Lipa looks set for a long and fruitful career and already has more bops to her name than the rest of these artists combined. She deserves this. Though to be honest the absence of Snail Mail or Soccer Mommy as the token indie-rocker is galling. You’d think with the expanded field they could have at least given one underground sensation the Courtney Barnett treatment.

Who will win: Lipa is a Vegas favorite here, second only to H.E.R., which makes sense because H.E.R. is also up for Album Of The Year. But I have a sneaking suspicion this one’s going to Greta Van Fleet, who voters may mistakenly credit for Bringing Real Rock Back.

Best Alternative Music Album

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino
Beck – Colors
Björk – Utopia
David Byrne – American Utopia
St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION
Who should win: Björk.
Who will win: St. Vincent.

Best Rap Album

Cardi B – Invasion Of Privacy
Mac Miller – Swimming
Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap
Pusha T – Daytona
Travis Scott – Astroworld
Who should win: Pusha, though all five of these albums are good.
Who will win: Mac Miller, R.I.P.

Best Rock Album

Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog
Fall Out Boy – M A N I A
Ghost – Prequelle
Greta Van Fleet – From The Fires
Weezer – Pacific Daydream
Who should win: No one!
Who will win: Greta Van Fleet.

Best Pop Vocal Album

Camila Cabello – Camila
Kelly Clarkson – Meaning Of Life
Ariana Grande – Sweetener
Shawn Mendes – Shawn Mendes
P!nk – Beautiful Trauma
Taylor Swift – Reputation
Who should win: Ariana.
Who will win: Camila.

Best Urban Contemporary Album

The Carters – Everything Is Love
Chloe x Halle – The Kids Are Alright
Chris Dave And The Drumhedz – Chris Dave And The Drumhedz
Miguel – War & Leisure
Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism
Who should win: Miguel.
Who will win: The Carters.

Best Country Album

Kelsea Ballerini – Unapologetically
Brothers Osborne – Port Saint Joe
Ashley McBryde – Girl Going Nowhere
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 2
Who should win: Kacey Musgraves, though it would be hard to get too upset about Ashley McBryde pulling the upset.)
Who will win: Kacey Musgraves, despite previous Grammy love for Ballerini and Stapleton.

Best Metal Performance

Between The Buried And Me – “Condemned To The Gallows”
Deafheaven – “Honeycomb”
High On Fire – “Electric Messiah”
Trivium – “Betrayer”
Underoath – “On My Teeth”
Who should win: Deafheaven!
Who will win: I can’t even pretend to know. Between The Buried And Me?

Best Music Video

The Carters – “APESHIT”
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Joyner Lucas – “I’m Not Racist”
Janelle Monáe – “PYNK”
Tierra Whack – “Mumbo Jumbo”
Who should win: Definitely Childish Gambino, and definitely not Joyner Lucas — but please note this would be a different conversation if Tierra Whack was up for Whack World instead of “Mumbo Jumbo.”
Who will win: Childish Gambino.

CREDIT: Dennis Leupold

CHART WATCH

As projected, Backstreet Boys score their first #1 album in 18 years with DNA this week. The album tallied 234,000 equivalent album units, 227,000 of them comprising actual album sales. Billboard calls it the biggest debut by a pop album since Justin Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods put up 293,000 units a year ago. The album sales market for former boy band icons is apparently quite robust!

Future, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, and A Star Is Born are at #2, #3, and #4 respectively. At #5 with 39,000 units is Weezer’s self-titled “Teal Album,” up from #47 last week. The covers collection debuted by surprise on a Wednesday night, so last week’s total was based on only one day of tracking. Hip-hop albums comprise the rest of the top 10: Post Malone, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Travis Scott, and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.

Over on the Hot 100, Ariana Grade’s “7 Rings” holds on to #1 for a second straight week, followed by former chart-toppers “Without Me” by Halsey and “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee. Hopping from #26 to #4 in its second week is J. Cole’s “Middle Child.” Per Billboard, it becomes his highest-charting single to date, besting the #6-peaking “ATM.” The rest of the top 10: Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes,” Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier,” Post Malone’s “Wow.,” and Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You.” That last song ties the Chainsmokers and Halsey’s “Closer” for second most weeks in the top 10 (32) and next week could tie Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” for the record.

POP FIVE

Kim Petras – “If U Think About Me,” “Homework” (Feat. Lil Aaron), & “1, 2, 3 Dayz Up” (Feat. SOPHIE)
Of these three new Petras songs out today, I expected “1, 2, 3 Dayz Up” to be the one that blew me away, but I don’t hear SOPHIE’s fingerprints on it the way I’d hoped. “If U Think About Me,” on the other hand, lets that voice soar like it does on all the best Petras songs. “Homework” ingratiates itself with warm vibes and another big hook, but I still prefer the sugar rush of “Heart To Break” and “Can’t Do Better” over this one’s trap-pop power balladry.

The Chainsmokers & 5 Seconds of Summer – “Who Do You Love”
The fact that these groups didn’t combine for something more outrageous is an outrage.

Lil Peep & ILoveMakonnen – “I’ve Been Waiting” (Feat. Fall Out Boy)
I am not surprised that Fall Out Boy hopped on a song with Makonnen and the late Lil Peep. I am a bit surprised that it sounds like chintzy new wave.

Ally Brooke – Low Key (Feat. Tyga)
A few weeks ago, I ranked Ally Brooke last in my post-Fifth Harmony power rankings. “Low Key” just might have given her a boost! It’s similar enough to her former associate Camila Cabello’s “Havana” to raise some red flags, but the beat and hook are both undeniable.

Lil Pump – “Racks On Racks”

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Shawn Mendes and Miley Cyrus have a new song together and may be performing it at the Grammys. [TMZ]
  • Ariana Grande released a “7 Rings” remix with 2 Chainz. [YouTube]
  • Marshmello played the first in-game concert in Fortnite, which also introduced a skin of the DJ. [The Verge]
  • Chris Brown and Offset feuded over 21 Savage memes. [ET]
  • Yo-Yo Ma covered Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” for his Spotify Single. [Spotify]
  • Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX, and Lizzo will voice the Spy Girls in the upcoming UglyDolls movie which also features Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monaé, Nick Jonas, Pitbull, and Blake Shelton. [Twitter]
  • Nicki Minaj shared a video for “Hard White.” [YouTube]
  • Billie Eilish announced the When We All Fall Asleep Tour. [The Fader]
  • Meghan Trainor has a new EP, The Love Train, out tomorrow. [Twitter]
  • The man who broke into Taylor Swift’s NYC townhouse and took a nap was sentenced to six month in jail. [Page Six]

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