2019 Grammys: Will this be Kendrick Lamar’s year?

When the Grammy Awards take place the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, don’t expect one artist to dominate the night — like 2012, when Adele’s 21garnered six statuettes, let alone the landmark years when Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Santana’s Supernatural each swept eight categories. This year, the Recording Academy will thinly, evenly spread the love.

However, Kendrick Lamar is this year’s top nominee with eight nods, and Yahoo Entertainment’s resident Grammy and charts expert, Paul Grein, thinks this will finally be the year that Lamar picks up the top award. Lamar has been nominated for the Album of the Year three times before — in 2014 for Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, in 2016 for To Pimp a Butterfly, and just last year for DAMN., which actually won a Pulitzer.

Grein says Lamar will likely win Album of the Year for his expertly curated Blank Panthersoundtrack — not just to compensate for past oversights, but “because the movie was so groundbreaking and history-making.” However, Grein notes that this is “sort of a disappointing outcome for Kendrick — to finally win with an album that isn’t even hisalbum.”

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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: Dolly Parton performs onstage MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Dolly Parton at Los Angeles Convention Center on February 8, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
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(From L) US singer Miley Cyrus and parents Tish and Billy Ray Cyrus arrive for the 2019 MusiCares Person Of The Year gala at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles on February 8, 2019. (Photo by Valerie MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 08: Billie Lourd attends MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Dolly Parton at Los Angeles Convention Center on February 08, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
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Perhaps those previous snubs are why Lamar (along with Drake and Childish Gambino, two of 2018’s biggest hitmakers and top nominees) reportedly turned down an invite to perform at this year’s Grammy Awards. If Black Panther ends up winning, it will make Grammy history — not just because it would end Lamar’s losing streak, but because it will be only the fifth soundtrack ever to win Album of the Year — but it’s unclear if Lamar will even be at the ceremony to accept in person.

Before we take a deep dive into Yahoo’s predictions for the “Big Four” Grammy categories — Album, Record and Song of Year, plus Best New Artist — it should be noted that votes were due Jan. 9, which is unusually early. (For instance, the voting for February’s other big awards show, the Oscars, continues until five days before the telecast.) “If there’s a late-breaking single, or a great television performance, or some scandal or controversy in the news that might shift votes one way or the other, it’s irrelevant, because it was all locked up 31 days before,” Grein explains. This also, presumably, would mean Lamar’s refusal to perform would not factor into any voting decisions.

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Prediction: Various Artists, Black Panther: The Album

Possible alternates: Brandi Carlile, By the Way, I Forgive You; Kacey Musgraves,Golden Hour

(Also nominated: Cardi B, Drake, H.E.R., Post Malone, Janelle Monáe)

With the Big Four categories expanding from the usual five nominees to a whopping eight this year, it’s more difficult than ever to forecast clear winners — especially in this packed category. “It complicates things,” says Grein. “An album could conceivably win with only 20 percent of the vote, or even 15 percent! The winning album and the fifth-place album could only be a few percentages apart.”

Keeping this in mind, Black Panther is hardly a shoo-in. Additionally, no album has ever won Album of the Year that wasn’t also nominated for its genre album award — and bizarrely, Black Panther is not up for Best Rap Album, despite being eligible. Interestingly, Drake’s Album of the Year nominee, Scorpion, was also overlooked in the Best Rap Album category; Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys was passed over for Best Pop Vocal Album; and Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer isn’t up for Urban Contemporary Album. “That’s a vulnerability,” says Grein.

So that cracks the door open for Americana/country singer-songwriters Carlile or Musgraves — especially since Lamar, Drake, Cardi B and H.E.R. could split the hip-hop vote.

 

RECORD OF THE YEAR

Prediction: Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Possible alternates: Zedd with Maren Morris & Grey, “The Middle”; Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”; Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, “I Like It”

(Also nominated: Drake, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar & SZA, Post Malone & 21 Savage)

Grein predicts Gaga’s A Star Is Born ballad will prevail simply because “it’s a very good song” and “all the Grammy voters presumably saw the movie — and it’s used to great effect in the film.” But he also thinks “Shallow” has an edge because “the nominating committee overdid it on hip-hop. There are five hip-hop records in this category that might split the hip-hop vote and work to the advantage of the three that are not in that world” — the other two being Zedd’s EDM/pop hit “The Middle” and Carlile’s politically charged folk-rock ballad “The Joke.”

But don’t rule out “I Like It,” which could make up for “Despacito’s” surprising shutout at the 2018 Grammys. “Last year, I thought ‘Despacito’ would win Record and Song of the Year, and it didn’t,” says Grein. “But in addition to being such a monster hit, it opened the door to Latin music finally getting on pop radio, and there’s been a number of Latin crossover hits since — including ‘I Like It.’ So that’s also a strong candidate.”

SONG OF THE YEAR

Prediction: Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

Possible alternates: Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”; Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

(Also nominated: Drake, Kendrick Lamar & SZA, Ella Mai, Shawn Mendes, Zedd)

“This is the easiest by far of the Big Four to predict. It’s hard to imagine anything but ‘Shallow’ winning,” Grein says of the song Gaga co-wrote with Mark Ronson, Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, and Dirty Pretty Things/Libertines musician Anthony Rossomando.

There are only two Song nominees, Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” and Shawn Mendes’s “In My Blood,” that aren’t also up for Record of the Year, which makes them both long shots. But Grein is pleased to at least see Mendes in the running. “Shawn is the kind of artist who gets overlooked in the new Grammys world, which is very focused on diversity and inclusion and honoring hip-hop and alternative and other music sources,” he says. “And all of that’s great, but it does mean that just a white pop guy can get passed over. Shawn should’ve been up for Best New Artist a few years ago, so I think it’s good that the Academy finally said, ‘Hey, let’s give him some recognition.’”

 

BEST NEW ARTIST 

Prediction: Luke Combs or H.E.R.

Possible alternates: Dua Lipa, Greta Van Fleet

(Also nominated: Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha, Jorja Smith)

Grein is quick to note that 2018’s biggest breakout star, Cardi B, would have been the obvious favorite to win Best New Artist — but she wasn’t eligible, because her hit “Bodak Yellow” was nominated for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song last year. (Grein says she’s likely to win Best Rap Album this year, so she needn’t fret.)

However, of 2019’s eight nominees for Best New Artist, six are female, four are women of color and three are in the urban music field. Therefore, expect some Twitter outrage if a white male country singer wins, which is highly likely. But Grein says Combs’s victory would be deserved, and hardly a shocker: “Luke’s album has done astonishingly well in the country field. He was No. 1 on the country album chart for 24 weeks. And country is a big part of the academy.”

Combs has an advantage as the only country Best New Artist nominee, and this category’s other male contender, Greta Van Fleet, is in a similarly advantageous outlier position as the only rock nominee. However, the growing critical backlash against the throwback Michigan rock band lands GVF a distant fourth in Grein’s predictions. “It’s great that they broke through; we need more rock bands for balance. It’d be nice if a rock act won. But I’m just not sure that it should be a rock act that is kind of a Led Zeppelin tribute band,” Grein chuckles.

If Combs loses, he will probably lose to R&B critical darling H.E.R., the only Best New Artist nominee who is actually up for any of the other Big Four awards. While Grein believes H.E.R.’s surprise Album of the Year nod was “premature” and “a gift by the academy,” he explains, “The fact that they put her up for Album of the Year, it’s kind of the power of suggestion: The Grammys organization is kind of hinting that they wouldn’t mind if she won Best New Artist. She definitely could win.”

The 61st Annual Grammy Awards air on CBS Sunday, Feb. 10, at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET.

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