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2016 GRAMMY Awards: Who Should Win And Will Actually Win?

2016 GRAMMY Awards: Who Should Win And Will Actually Win?

Originally published on Slant.

The 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards aren't until February 15, but it's never too early to begin speculating who will bring home the hardware on "Music's Biggest Night."

While a lot of attention is paid to the performances (expect the adjective "lackluster" to be serially overused) and what the stars wear on the red carpet, there is no GRAMMY Awards without the awards. 

And although your friend Craig asserts that "nobody cares about the GRAMMYs," Craig is most likely making that assertion while sitting in a basement and eating a bag of stale Funyuns. Translation: Why do we care what Craig thinks? Side note: Can somebody get Craig a baby wipe? He's getting Funyun dust all over your couch. 

The fact is, although the GRAMMYs often paint in broad strokes, recognize chart dominance and sales over artistry, and employ enough backup dancers to sustain the backup dancer industry for another fiscal year, it's one night a year where we can take the pulse of popular music and honor artists for their craft. In an age where you can download pretty much every album made by every person ever, it's heartwarming as a music fan to see your favorite bands and artists come together and vibe out to each other's work. There aren't many other places where you'll see Fetty Wap grooving to Chris Stapleton, or Sam Smith head-banging to Foo Fighters. 

Let's take a sonic trip through the nominations in some of the most interesting categories and break down which artists will win and which artists should win GRAMMYs.

Best Rap Song

"All Day" by Kanye West

"Alright" by Kendrick Lamar

"Glory" by Common & John Legend

"Energy" by Drake

"Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap

Who Will Win: Kendrick Lamar

Who Should Win: Fetty Wap

Why?

Let's be real: "Trap Queen" was a jam of 2015. While we may look back at it and be embarrassed how big we let it become, there was no bigger hip hop song across the board than Fetty's auto-tuned banger. "Alright" may be the track that music historians deem more "significant," but you could bop to "Trap Queen" in a sweaty college frat house, at a Bar Mitzvah, or in the club. And for that it deserves a win.

Best Rap Album

Forest Hills Drive 2014 by J. Cole

Compton by Dr. Dre

If You're Reading This It's Too Late by Drake

To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

The Pinkprint by Nicki Minaj

Who Will And Should Win: Kendrick Lamar

Why?

Even the most diehard Kendrick fan must've been skeptical upon the release ofTo Pimp A Butterfly. "How can someone follow up an all-time great record like good kid, m.A.A.d City?" This record had sophomore slump written all over it. But from the slow fade-in of "Wesley's Theory" to the last few words from Tupac on "Mortal Man," TPAB reels you and doesn't let you go. In a year that was defined by police brutality, black bodies dead in the streets, and a renewed sense of social responsibility, the themes of To Pimp A Butterfly couldn't be more timely. Sonically, nothing comes close. To Pimp A Butterfly is the new standard-bearer for hip hop.

Best Country Album

Montevallo by Sam Hunt

Pain Killer by Little Big Heart

The Blade by Ashley Monroe 

Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves

Traveller by Chris Stapleton

Who will win: Kacey Musgraves

Who Should Win: Chris Stapleton

Why? 

In a crowded category, it's nice to see up-and-comers (Hunt and Monroe) and a respected veteran band (Little Big Town) honored with nods. But the category comes down to two artists who are setting their own path and blazing new trails for country music. Both records are fantastic, but with no love for Best Country Song, Musgraves goes 2-for-2 on Best Country Album wins, following up her debut, Same Trailer Different Park.

Best R&B Album

Coming Home by Leon Bridges

Black Messiah by D'Angelo

Cheers To The Fall by Andra Day

Reality Show by Jazmine Sullivan

Forever Charlie by Charlie Wilson

Who Will Win: Leon Bridges

Who Should Win: D'Angelo

dangelo.jpg

Why? 

Breakout or comeback? Leon Bridges' debut is a straight-up throwback to the soul of Sam Cooke. D'Angelo's jazz-funk meditation on black lives signaled the creative resurgence of one of the genre's favorite innovators. It's a win-win for listeners, but Bridges just edges out D'Angelo in a stellar category. 

Best Urban Contemporary Album

Ego Death by The Internet

You Should Be Here by Kehlani

Blood by Lianne La Havas

Wildheart by Miguel

Beauty Behind The Madness by The Weeknd

Who Will Win: The Weeknd

Who Should Win: Miguel

Why?

They should just change the name of this category to "Sexiest Album." All five contenders ooze sensuality. They're also mostly outsiders, working on the fringe of the mainstream, with sounds that will influence those closer to the center. Beauty Behind The Madness was a huge commercial success, but there wasn't a sexier album made in 2015 than Wildheart. It's impossible to put Miguel's latest LP on and not feel a little bit frisky. 

Best Alternative Music Album

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

Vulnicura by Bjork

The Waterfall by My Morning Jacket

Currents by Tame Impala

Star Wars by Wilco

Who Will Win: Alabama Shakes

Who Should Win: Tame Impala

Why? 

Historically, the Alternative Music category has served as the collection of artists who could give less of a crap if they win a GRAMMY. All five nominees have rabidly loyal fanbases and have made a handful of other great records. AlthoughSound & Color is a major step forward for blues rock outfit Alabama Shakes, Tame Impala's Currents is the weirdest, best album of the bunch. Immaculate production, and an equal dose of futuristic freakouts and timeless funk, come together for a record that gets better with every play. 

Best Rock Album

Chaos And The Calm by James Bay

Kitsungi by Death Cab For Cutie

Mister Asylum by Highly Suspect

Drones by Muse

.5: The Gray Chapter by Slipknot

Who Will Win: Muse

Who Should Win: Highly Suspect 

"Meh." That about sums it up for "rock" in 2015. James Bay is not a rock artist, and Death Cab's album was good, but definitely not great. While Muse are rock behemoths, Drones was disappointing when compared with previous records. By default, almost, let's give this one to Highly Suspect, who are the only act listed above that will actually make you bang your head consistently. 

Best Dance/Electronic Album

Our Love by Caribou

Born In The Echoes by The Chemical Brothers

Caracal by Disclosure

In Colour by Jamie xx

Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü by Skrillex and Diplo

Who Will Win: Jamie xx

Who Should Win: Diplo and Skrillex

Why? 

The tasteful pick is critical darling In Colour. And it's easy to hate Skrillex and Diplo, especially if you're a purist. But Jack Ü is a crossover smash, with one foot squarely in the electronic world and the other in pop. When you listen to Jack Ü,it's hard not to hear its sonic influence on the rest of music. Diplo and Skrillex are certainly polarizing, but it's difficult to deny they can get a party started. Jack Ü is the pinnacle for the two dance floor titans. 

Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett

James Bay

Sam Hunt

Tori Kelly

Meghan Trainor

Who Will Win: Sam Hunt

Who Should Win: Courtney Barnett

Why?

Back-to-back wins for a guy named Sam? Sam Smith won it last year, continuing a tradition of winners who would blow up post-GRAMMYs. Sam Hunt is huge in the country music world, but still relatively unknown to more mainstream audiences. Plus, a country act hasn't won since 2010 with Zac Brown Band, meaning maybe voters shy away from a mainstream pop act like Trainor or Kelly. However, the Aussie songstress Courtney Barnett should come away with the prize for a universally-acclaimed album and a style that feels completely fresh. Sure, we've seen the bro country thing before. But when has a new artist been so left-field, while still being able to find a large, loyal following? This is just the beginning for Barnett, and as such, she deserves the top prize. 

Song Of The Year

"Alright" by Kendrick Lamar

"Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift

"Girl Crush" by Little Big Town

"See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth

"Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran

Who Will Win: Ed Sheeran

Who Should Win: Little Big Town

Why?

People LOVE that Ed Sheeran song. We're one step away from state governors mandating that it be played at every wedding. It wins for one simple reason: the GRAMMYs perpetually disappoint music fans. Why would we give a songwriting award to a song that is a direct ripoff of "Let's Get It On?" So with that fatalistic worldview, the least-deserving song of the 5 nominated wins. But breaking it down further, many music bloggers are anticipating an epic Kendrick vs. T-Swift showdown. I think those artists split votes, people ignore Little Big Town, and voters don't respect Wiz, giving Sheeran the trophy. 

BUT MAYBE, just maybe, the GRAMMYs do something else they're prone to do: choose the left-field nominee. Little Big Town are probably the least likely on paper to win. But they're heavy-hitters in the country world and deserving of some love in a year where all the country love is directed toward newcomers like Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves, and Chris Stapleton. And at the end of all the politicking and industry dynamics, "Girl Crush" is a damn good song.  

Record Of The Year

"Really Love" by D'Angelo and The Vanguard

"Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars

"Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran

"Blank Space" by Taylor Swift

"Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd

Who Will Win: Taylor Swift

Who Should Win: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars

Why?

You've got to think that Swift will come away with at least one of the main prizes this year. Before Adele was saying "yo what up" from the other side, Swift was the queen of the music industry. Her album, 1989, is proof that a business people routinely deem "dead" is alive and kicking. "Blank Space" is perhaps her most tightly-produced track on the record and has a knack for wriggling its way deep into your subconsciousness. It's an earworm of epic proportions. 

But when we're talking about pure production, how can you beat Mark Ronson? "Uptown Funk" sounds like it was genetically engineered in a government-funded catchiness bunker. You can't help but smile when it comes on, even thousands of listens later. It's a song that for a million reasons should be annoying as hell at this point, but somehow it's still fun and entirely listenable. It sounds forward-thinking and vintage simultaneously. That's a testament to Ronson's production work, adding layers upon layers of instrumentation over a fairly simple song. That's why it deserves to win. 

Album Of The Year

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes

To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

Traveller by Chris Stapleton

1989 by Taylor Swift

Beauty Behind The Madness by The Weeknd

Who Will Win: Kendrick Lamar

Who Should Win: Taylor Swift

Why? 

Okay, let me explain. People expect the GRAMMYs to make the wrong choice. Many connoisseurs believe Kendrick is owed a big prize after losing last year to Macklemore. For "true" hip hop fans, Macklegate was a slap in the face. PickingThe Heist over good kid, m.A.A.d city was just another nail in the GRAMMYs' coffin of irrelevancy. Since Kendrick was robbed last year, the narrative that feels most just includes an embrace of Kendrick for an album that could not be more timely or ambitious. In a year where race dominated the national conversation, K.Dot made the album about race in the modern era. It deserves to win as a redress for prior injustices, and it deserves to win because it deftly explored huge themes that resonate with millions of people in 2015. It's no doubt a masterpiece, and the GRAMMYs would become slightly cooler for anointing it thus. For that exact reason, I think Kendrick pulls an "upset" and takes home the night's top prize. 

1989 is a massive pop record. It has hit after hit after hit. It's not tethered to a specific time or place. It's by one of the modern era's most popular and most successful artists. It represents a transition in that artist's career. It was risky by the mere fact that it was so pop and so accessible. We love to hate Taylor Swift. We love to hate traditional Top 40. We love to hate catchiness. But when we go back and listen to Taylor Swift, we will have a strong opinion. We will either fervently defend it as a turning point in pop and the strongest album yet by the most consistently successful artist of her time, or will deride it as trite and derivative and everything that's wrong with our popular culture. Pretty much every critic adored the other 4 albums. But T-Swift? She really forced you to develop an opinion about the status of popular music in the 21st century, to pick a side. What other artist (that isn't named Adele) can do that? That divisiveness is exactly what makes choosing 1989 the more interesting pick. 

Cover photo: Getty

 

 

 

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