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GRAMMY CHEW, ALBUMS: 30 FOR EIGHT

The Grammy discussion has begun in earnest, if the nonstop calls we’ve been getting are any indication. We therefore now offer our first run-through of potential contenders for Album of the Year. With more big releases coming, this is far from a final list—but it’s where we are at the moment. Let the games begin.

THREE FAVORITES AT PRESSTIME

Harry Styles: The Brit superstar has made the pop album of the year, fueled by two gigantic hits. There’s tons of good will for him as he becomes the biggest star in the world, with a creative vibrancy that embraces key influences from Liverpool to Laurel Canyon.

Taylor Swift: Taylor’s latest has been a commercial triumph and earned serious critical acclaim; her folklore is definitely being consumed—and discussed—as an album. Despite prior snubs by Grammy, she looks like a lock for a nod.

The Weeknd: The Canadian with the heavenly vocal cords is believed by many to be the favorite. His ambitious After Hours, highlighted by “Blinding Lights” (one of the year’s strongest singles), showed that he’d once again leveled up as both artist and marketplace force of nature. If there’s a sweep in the cards, it’s his.

THE BLOCKBUSTERS

Justin Bieber: Biebs is always a wild card in Grammyland. But his huge #1 single, “Intentions,” accompanied another successful update of his brand. At some point Grammy will have to take him more seriously—is this the year?

BTS: Grammy definitely wants these global sensations on its stage—their presence would be a factor in the ratings. What’s more, they may be on the verge of having a substantial Pop hit. Culturally, though, the K-Pop troupe is much bigger than music.

Camila Cabello: Having had a second giant hit, her monster duet with Shawn Mendes, the ultra-charismatic performer is now established—no Harmony needed. She’s also shown how brightly she can shine on the Grammy telecast.

The Chicks: 2020 marks a timely return by these outspoken artists, whose Gaslighter is lyrically smart and musically impeccable. Their political and social message couldn’t be more relevant.

Drake: Drizzy’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes was hardly among his biggest—but it was very big for a mixtape. And it’s Drake, dammit; he’s a force of nature and occupies a category all his own.

Dua Lipa: Another talented Brit who took to the limelight like a duck to water, Dua has firmly established herself as the next rising pop star, fueled by two #1 radio giants. Her aptly titled Future Nostalgia was clearly the dance record of year.

Future: The hip-hop star’s latest #1 album, High Off Life, was boosted by a hot Drake collab—and he remains one of the most unpredictable and imaginative rappers around, as well as a huge streaming force.

Lady Gaga: Amid the most varied, glittering career imaginable, Lady G is about as well-respected as you can get. Her hit Ariana duet broadened her audience. If we’ve learned anything over the last decade or so, it’s not to underestimate this endlessly versatile artist.

Miranda Lambert: This country superstar continues stretching creatively—and connecting commercially. Her last album was overlooked, despite a Country song nod; will Grammy rectify that oversight this time?

Post Malone: With Hollywood’s Bleeding, Posty had the top-selling album of the last year (he also has a leading contender for SOTY/ROTY with the ubiquitous “Circles”). Post’s gargantuan streams and spins alone make the case for his inclusion, but he’s also proved to be a personable, durable star.

Travis Scott/Jackboys: Scott is an enormous presence in the culture, and his incendiary performance on the 2019 telecast was just slightly ahead of where the zeitgeist was going. His innovative Fortnite concert, meanwhile, showed his tremendous reach and marketing acumen.

 

RECENT BREAKOUTS

Luke Combs: A success by every metric, this likable country everyman streams alongside the biggest acts in the biz, scoring hit after hit. If a country artist makes the final list, he appears to be the top contender for that spot.

DaBaby: He’s one of top streaming acts in the world—the definition of a hit machine in today’s ecosystem—and has charisma to burn. Could he make it to the shortlist?

Doja Cat: She’s had one giant single, which held the top spot at radio for an astounding six weeks, and her strong imaging established her identity. Will she be more of a force in other categories?

Juice WRLD: A posthumous project reflecting another promising career cut short, his stylistically diverse Legends Never Die has won respect in many corners and is now even getting Alternative airplay. Will this late “artist’s artist” make the list?

Lil Baby: He was already making chart waves when his work took a powerfully political turn in the midst of #BLM ferment. It seems like his moment; if Grammy wants to demonstrate its solidarity with the movement, Lil Baby could well end up in the spotlight.

Pop Smoke: His tragically short life is a heartbreaking story, but this rapper’s very strong posthumous album, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon, has earned much respect. “The Woo” is one to watch.

Roddy Ricch: The biggest streaming act of the year, with his one megahit boosted by several high-profile features. Will Grammy think outside “The Box?”

 

 

CRITICAL FAVORITES

Jhené Aiko: Inventive, enticing and slightly mysterious, Aiko occupies the arty Sade slot. She shows signs of a breakout this year, and there’s more than a little curiosity about what she’d bring to a Grammy performance.

Fiona Apple: The veteran singer/songwriter earned critical huzzahs for a very challenging record. A nomination would be an acknowledgement of both her continuing vitality and adventurousness and her beloved earlier work.

Phoebe Bridgers: With one of the true buzz albums of the year, Bridgers is a major wild card—and should be a strong contender in several categories. Is she the next young singer/songwriter to be anointed?

Eric Church: The Nashville stalwart has had a bevy of Country radio hits and is a huge live act; his songwriting depth—and embrace of big rock guitars—have earned him strong reviews. Could he make the leap to the top tier?

HAIM: The sisters have earned critical love and established their bona fides as a touring act; this time out they’ve kicked their songwriting up a notch. Will they be recognized for their creative growth and impressive career?

Halsey: A true star who’s constantly taking creative chances, Halsey is bigger than her records. She’s also an accomplished painter and dedicated political activist; it goes without saying that she brings a lot to the table. 

Ashley McBryde: Already nominated twice for Grammys—and lauded at various country awards—this Nashville bard continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Will her critical acclaim and industry buzz translate to a high-profile Grammy 2021 moment?

Tame Impala: The boundary-busting band is the biggest streaming act in the Alternative world and set to headline Coachella, whenever that is. They’re bigger than you think they are and have support across the biz.

Summer Walker: An R&B innovator and truly insightful songwriter who’s flown with streaming platforms and critics alike—and who got a career-boosting cosign from Drake—Walker was overlooked last year; look for her to be a major factor this time.

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