While awards shows like the Oscars and the Tonys had to push back their eligibility windows and ceremonies due to pandemic complications, the Grammys are moving ahead right on schedule, happening on January 31, 2021, hosted by Trevor Noah. And not only that, the year is shaping up to be fairly par for the course for the Recording Academy. There’s some category-naming controversy. The academy is still having president issues. Taylor Swift is here.
The biggest question may end up being how the ceremony looks as an event, with some music awards shows successfully going fully remote while others truck along with in-person indoor shows in a pandemic. Last week, SportsBettingDime.com had the odds in favor of an in-person, reduced-capacity show. People are betting on this! But here at Vulture, we’re sticking to what we know best: the nominations. After Billie Eilish swept the Big Four categories last year, don’t expect anything close this time — the general categories feel stacked as ever this year, and ripe for some snubs and surprises. Remember, the Recording Academy shifted the eligibility window last year, so the upcoming ceremony will recognize music released from September 1, 2019, to August 31, 2020. That means recent releases like Ariana Grande’s positions will have to wait another year — as will one of the years biggest songs, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP,” which Cardi is waiting to enter with a yet-unreleased new album. Here are our predictions for the 2021 Grammy Awards. Check back on November 24 for the full list of nominations.
Album of the Year
About half of these slots will go to albums that just feel too big to fail. There’s the Weeknd’s After Hours, a synth-pop odyssey that spawned one of the year’s biggest hits. There’s Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, her return to form that the Grammys have loved her for, from The Fame through Born This Way. There’s Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, a sophomore effort that makes good on the academy’s vote of confidence when it handed her Best New Artist in 2019. And there’s Taylor Swift’s folklore, the most acclaimed album in years from an artist who was once a shoo-in for the general categories. If she was ever going to decisively reclaim that distinction, now’s the time. As the only first-time nominee of the bunch, Lipa could miss the cut — but at the same time, a previous nomination in the category isn’t a guaranteed ticket back, something Post Malone could learn this year with more competition than the 2019 field, when he was last nominated for AOTY. Still, consider Hollywood’s Bleeding the most likely pop record to sneak in, with larger barriers for Roddy Ricch’s Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial (pinning its hopes on one hit), Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour (almost every other likely nominee charted in the top ten), and Harry Styles’s Fine Line (it’d be one of his first-ever nominations).
It’s a different story when it comes to past winners. Two-time trophy-holder Bob Dylan should make another appearance with Rough and Rowdy Ways, which has earned comparisons to his 1998 winner Time Out of Mind. The Chicks took home the award in 2007 for Taking the Long Way; their long-awaited followup Gaslighter seems primed for another nomination, between their new partnership with category favorite Jack Antonoff and a possible renewed desire to stick it to the country Establishment that shunned them in the late 2000s. Past nominees Brittany Howard (with Alabama Shakes, in 2016) and the Highwomen (member Brandi Carlile, in 2019) return as dark-horse contenders with Jaime and The Highwomen as well. Expect a nomination for a more low-key Grammy darling: Fiona Apple, who’s nabbed genre nominations for her past four albums. She’s poised for her return to the general categories, 23 years after her Best New Artist nomination, with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, her sublime, wildly acclaimed, years-in-the-making return. If she’s nominated, it’s a major credit to the new eight-slot category, which last year made first-time AOTY nominees of fellow indies Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver, and Vampire Weekend.
It’d be a glaring miss for the academy to not honor at least one of the year’s posthumous rap albums by Mac Miller, Pop Smoke, and Juice WRLD. At the same time, it’s hard to see them honoring multiple of these records with so much living talent in contention. Miller is the only previous nominee of the bunch, but he’s never cracked the general categories, and Circles wasn’t as big of a hit as the other two. Legends Never Die charted like a monster, but it’s hard to see such a quick turnaround on Juice WRLD after his previous two albums didn’t catch any nominations. So our money’s on Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon, a big, boundary-pushing rap record with campaigning help from producer 50 Cent and Pop Smoke’s star manager Steven Victor.
Record of the Year
The charts dictate Record of the Year, which feels the most firmed up of the big four. Expect easy nominations for the Weeknd’s unstoppable “Blinding Lights,” Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s hit “Rain on Me,” and Dua Lipa’s early quarantine anthem “Don’t Start Now” to carry over from Album of the Year. Regardless of if he breaks into AOTY again, Post Malone should make an appearance here for “Circles,” one of his best songs yet. Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” has been the year’s biggest chart hit and should have no trouble catching a nod. (It will make a harder path for his other long-running No. 1, “Rockstar” with DaBaby though.) Megan Thee Stallion is reaching new peaks at the perfect time for the Grammys, so expect to see her first No. 1, the Beyoncé-lifted “Savage,” as well. After she failed at splitting her Record and Song of the Year entries last year, Taylor Swift is entering “cardigan,” one of folklore’s more muted offerings, in both categories — making for a bit of an uphill battle here, but one that should ultimately end in her favor, given folklore’s sonic shift. Other lyric-driven songs like Fiona Apple’s “Shameika,” Maren Morris’s “The Bones,” and Harry Styles’s “Adore You” could have more trouble, though. If another one is going to make it, bet on a Grammy darling like Billie Eilish (“everything i wanted”) or H.E.R. (“I Can’t Breathe”). But the safest final choice is another hit: We’ll go with Doja Cat’s “Say So.” Yes, it would be Dr. Luke’s first Grammy nomination since his legal battle with Kesha, but the academy hasn’t stopped nominating other alleged abusers like Chris Brown, and Luke’s contributions to the song (he produced it under a pseudonym) didn’t stop it from going to No. 1.
Song of the Year
About half of the category should carry over from Record of the Year: “Blinding Lights,” “Don’t Start Now,” and “Rain on Me” will have no trouble; “cardigan” has a better chance of appearing in Song of the Year, where Swift has been a stronger competitor. (On the other hand, established rappers tend to fare better than new ones in this category, making nominations a bigger challenge for “Savage” and “The Box.”) The songwriting category tends to be more genre-flexible, so expect nominations for Maren Morris’s country-pop banger “The Bones” and Fiona Apple’s Bolt Cutters entry “Shameika.” Brandi Carlile has received SOTY nominations two years straight for her own song “The Joke” and Tanya Tucker’s “Bring My Flowers Now,” making the Highwomen’s “Redesigning Women” a dark horse — especially if it does net that key album nomination. And if you really want to talk about left field, Bob Dylan has never been nominated in this category, and if anything could push him over the edge, it’d be his 17-minute epic “Murder Most Foul.” At least one song inspired by the year’s Black Lives Matter protests should get a writing nomination too, and as great as it would be to see this category go for a rap song like Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture,” expect “I Can’t Breathe” by perennial nominee H.E.R. to be the academy’s selection, after her first SOTY nomination last year.
Best New Artist
Last year, newcomers like Billie Eilish and Lizzo ran the table with nominations in all four general categories. No artist is set up to pull off a feat like that this year, but do expect nominations for all the new artists we’ve picked above. Megan Thee Stallion is peaking at the right time, with two No. 1 hits this year and buzz off her new album Good News (not in contention till 2022, along with her Cardi B collab “WAP”); Doja Cat also earned a No. 1, and would be a safer pick here, where Dr. Luke wouldn’t share the trophy; Pop Smoke would be an unprecedented posthumous nominee in this future-focused category, but could also benefit from ticket-splitting in album of the year voting. Best New Artist has previously caught heat for recognizing already-established musicians like Bon Iver and Chance the Rapper; Phoebe Bridgers could continue that trend this year, being recognized for her second solo album (fourth counting boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center). But the category could also give the indie kids something to celebrate and nominate pop crossover Rina Sawayama, who feels on the verge of an even bigger breakthrough. Speaking of recognizing things too late, this could be the year K-pop breaks into the Big Four, with Blackpink releasing a debut and logging collabs with Selena Gomez and Cardi B — but given the academy’s tepid history toward K-pop, we’re not betting on it. We’ll look to some of the genre awards to fill out the last few spots: Summer Walker, who won Soul Train Best New Artist off her record-setting debut Over It, and Morgan Wallen, who rode past his canceled Saturday Night Live performance to grab Best New Artist at the CMA Awards. With the year’s especially strong crop of new country stars, we’ll slot in a second here. And as much as we’re personally pulling for Mickey Guyton and Jimmie Allen, it’s Gabby Barrett who has a pop cosign from Charlie Puth and is on a slow climb to her first No. 1 song.