Who will take home the trophies at Sunday’s 59th Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles? With a leading nine nods, including one for the coveted album of the year award, will Beyoncé finally earn the recognition her fans hoped for in 2015? Or are we being set up for another Kanye West outburst, perhaps directed at Adele this time?
And now that the Grammys have acknowledged streaming music exists, perhaps it will be a big year for Chance the Rapper. The late David Bowie’s swan song “Blackstar” was criminally shut out of the major categories but still received five nominations, and he could win all of them.
Here are our picks to win, in a select variety of categories.
Record of the year
Nominees: “Hello,” Adele (from “25”); “Formation,” Beyoncé (from “Lemonade”); “7 Years,” Lukas Graham (from “Lukas Graham”); “Work,” Rihanna featuring Drake (from “Anti”); “Stressed Out,” Twenty One Pilots (from “Blurryface”)
Deborah Sengupta Stith: “Formation,” Beyoncé’s take-no-prisoners statement of self as a black woman, instantly broke the internet when it debuted last year at the Super Bowl. This category awards performance, and ’Yoncé snarls through a dangerous whisper rap loaded with meme-ready catchphrases that tumble into a triumphant dance club hook. I’d give her the trophy, but my money says Grammy winners have been really missing Adele, and her soaring return single “Hello” will take the win.
Peter Blackstock: Based on past history, odds are indeed on Adele, who’s won 10 of the 13 times she’s been nominated, including the last eight straight. Still, the teaming-up of Rihanna and Drake just might provide the star power to stop that streak, and Beyoncé can’t be counted out. Here’s hoping the Grammys don’t go the way of the Oscars, which lately has rewarded films about filmmaking, and give this one to “Stressed Out,” a song about making music. Danish soul-pop upstarts Lukas Graham broke through big with “7 Years,” but they seem the longest shot here.
Album of the year
Nominees: “25,” Adele; “Lemonade,” Beyoncé; “Purpose,” Justin Bieber; “Views,” Drake; “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” Sturgill Simpson
D.S.S.: Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” is a masterpiece, both a healing meditation that works through infidelity and other forms of betrayal and a powerful call to arms that resonated profoundly with women everywhere. It captured the fury, the pain and the righteous rage of America in 2016. It made the political intensely personal and invigorated a new generation of feminists while revitalizing the old guard. With its gorgeous long-form video release, Bey also reinvented the surprise album drop (again), reminding us she’s not just a pop superstar but a brilliant industry disrupter. Having said all that, we’ve been here before. I will be the least surprised person in the room if there’s a “shocking” Simpson upset.
P.B.: Simpson is the outsider whose victory was simply getting nominated. He’ll clean up in country categories but doesn’t really stand a chance here: The other nominees were the four top-selling albums of 2016 (per Billboard), whereas Simpson’s wasn’t even in the top 200. Adele’s was No. 1, and she may be in for yet another Grammy sweep night, even though the consensus was that “25” didn’t quite reach the same heights of her 2011 breakthrough “21.” It’s a fair bet that there are far too many Bieber-haters for him to have a shot, which leaves Beyoncé and Drake as the potential Adele-stoppers. The Grammys’ great disgrace is not having David Bowie’s “Blackstar” in this field.
Song of the year
Nominees: “Formation,” Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles and Michael L. Williams II, songwriters (Beyoncé from “Lemonade”); “Hello,” Adele Adkins and Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele from “25”); “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” Mike Posner, songwriter (Mike Posner from “At Night, Alone”); “Love Yourself,” Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin and Ed Sheeran, songwriters (Justin Bieber from “Purpose”); “7 Years,” Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard and Morten Ristorp, songwriters (Lukas Graham from “Lukas Graham”)
D.S.S.: Again, I’d give Beyoncé the trophy. There wasn’t a more important song last year, but did all that talk of “negro noses” and afros make Grammy voters uncomfortable? Seems likely. Bieber singing a petty breakup song with the sincerity of co-writer Ed Sheeran might be hard to resist, but I think Grammy voters really missed Adele.
P.B.: Grammy habits tip this toward another Adele award, though Beyoncé’s “Formation” certainly pushed the envelope more. In another year, Lukas Graham might pull an Ed Sheeran-like upset here, but against this competition, it seems unlikely. Bieber finally got his first Grammy last year, but in a lesser category; even with Sheeran’s assist, he’s a dark horse here. Like Twenty One Pilots, former Duke frat boy Posner is nominated for a song that’s about being a songwriter. Don’t do the Oscar thing, Grammys.
Best new artist
Nominees: Kelsea Ballerini, Chainsmokers, Chance the Rapper, Maren Morris, Anderson Paak
D.S.S.: The Recording Academy changed the rules this year to include digital releases alongside their physical counterparts and suddenly Chance the Rapper is a new artist, which seems terribly unfair to his competitors. Chance for the easy win.
P.B.: “New artist” always has been a rather relative term for the Grammys; in this batch, Morris released her debut album in 2005, though last year’s “Hero” was her first for a major label. Regardless, Chance’s “Coloring Book” mixtape had the greatest impact and makes him the clear favorite here. The widely acclaimed Paak may have an outside shot.
Best pop vocal album
Nominees: “25,” Adele; “Purpose,” Justin Bieber; “Dangerous Woman,” Ariana Grande; “Confident,” Demi Lovato; “This Is Acting,” Sia
D.S.S.: “25” is a solid record with a few extremely good songs. Overall, “Dangerous Woman” is better, but have I mentioned how much I think Grammy voters missed Adele?
P.B.: Even if Adele doesn’t end up sweeping the major categories, she’s a shoo-in here. It’s not really a fair fight, even with a couple of quality contenders in the field.
Best alternative music album
Nominees: “22, A Million,” Bon Iver; “Blackstar,” David Bowie; “The Hope Six Demolition Project,” PJ Harvey; “Post Pop Depression,” Iggy Pop; “A Moon Shaped Pool,” Radiohead
P.B.: If Bowie doesn’t win this, just close down the entire Grammy process. Nothing against a very strong field here, but even the Radiohead-heads would have to acknowledge the unique achievement of “Blackstar.”
D.S.S.: As much as it hurts my heart to vote against a Bon Iver album I loved, there’s no way Bowie’s complex and beautiful swan song doesn’t take this one.
Best rock album
Nominees: “California,” Blink-182; “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” Cage the Elephant; “Magma,” Gojira; “Death of a Bachelor,” Panic! at the Disco; “Weezer,” Weezer
P.B.: Panic! at the Disco’s album far outperformed the other nominees here, and they’ve been critically well-received enough to figure as the favorite. Weezer and Blink-182 are blasts from the past with fresh albums that satisfied old fans, but they probably won’t win over voters who never went for them before (Blink has never won a Grammy; Weezer got a video award in 2008). Recent Austin City Limits Fest darlings Cage the Elephant and long-running French metal band Gojira are glad-to-be-nominated adds.
Best rap album
Nominees: “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper; “And the Anonymous Nobody,” De La Soul; “Major Key,” DJ Khaled; “Views,” Drake; “Blank Face LP,” Schoolboy Q; “The Life of Pablo,” Kanye West
D.S.S.: There’s a solid case to be made for Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” as the best rap song of the year, but the 23-year-old whiz kid Chance the Rapper picks up the “Jesus Walks” Chicago sound pioneered by his mentor, West, with soulful integrity. He fervently takes us all to church, going to “war with his wrongs” with such ecstatic grace it reminds all of us to count our “Blessings.”
Best country album
Nominees: “Big Day in a Small Town,” Brandy Clark; “Full Circle,” Loretta Lynn; “Hero,” Maren Morris; “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” Sturgill Simpson; “Ripcord,” Keith Urban
P.B.: Here’s where Simpson gets his due. Even though this record wasn’t as eye-opening as his 2014 breakthrough “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” he still should have an easy win, with only Morris and perhaps old-school darling Lynn presenting any challenge.
Best urban contemporary album
Nominees: “Lemonade,” Beyoncé; “Ology,” Gallant; “We Are King,” King; “Malibu,” Anderson Paak; “Anti,” Rihanna
D.S.S.: All around, this is one of the strongest categories. Not a weak release in the bunch, but surely at least this one is Beyoncé’s.
Best Americana album
Nominees: “True Sadness,” Avett Brothers; “This Is Where I Live,” William Bell; “The Cedar Creek Sessions,” Kris Kristofferson; “The Bird & the Rifle,” Lori McKenna; “Kid Sister,” Time Jumpers
P.B.: It’s an unusual and refreshingly eclectic batch. Do the Avetts, easily the biggest contemporary draw, coast here, or do Grammy voters give a “lifetime” nod to Kristofferson, whose retrospective double-album was recorded right here in Austin? Soul great Bell, country hit-maker McKenna and Nashville western-swingers the Time Jumpers all are worthy nominees, if less likely to prevail.
Best folk album
Nominees: “Silver Skies Blue,” Judy Collins & Ari Hest; “Upland Stories,” Robbie Fulks; “Factory Girl,” Rhiannon Giddens; “Weighted Mind,” Sierra Hull; “Undercurrent,” Sarah Jarosz
P.B.: Grammy voters probably will gravitate toward by far the best-known name here in Collins. But we wish that youth could rightfully be served, as thrice-nominated Wimberley native Jarosz made the best album of her now fully blooming career. Giddens, who won as a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops six years ago, is deserving on her own, but “Factory Girl” is just an EP, a follow-up to her solo debut album that was nominated but didn’t win last year.
- Willie Nelson is nominated for best traditional pop vocal album for “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.”
- Sarah Jarosz, a Wimberley-raised Austin native who now lives in New York, is nominated for best folk album for “Undercurrent” and best American roots performance for “House of Mercy.” The engineers of “Undercurrent” are nominated for best engineered album (non-classical).
- Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin electronic band Survive are nominated for two volumes of their score for the Netflix show “Stranger Things” in the best score soundtrack for visual media category.
- Sisters Sarah and Shauna Dodds are up for best recording package for Reckless Kelly’s album “Sunset Motel,” after winning the category last year for an Asleep at the Wheel tribute to Bob Wills.
All of those awards will be given out in an afternoon ceremony streamed live on the grammy.com website.
Austin guitarist Gary Clark Jr. isn’t nominated but will be among the performers during the prime-time telecast, which airs at 7 p.m. on CBS. “Austin City Limits” producer Terry Lickona is co-producer of the Grammys telecast.