Grammy predictions: who will win in the rock and pop categories?

Adele, Beyoncé, Drake, Justin Bieber and country singer Sturgill Simpson are battling for best album and David Bowie’s Blackstar performance could get a nod

Album of the year

The four top-selling albums of 2016 – Adele’s 25, Drake’s Views, Justin Bieber’s Purpose and Beyoncé’s Lemonade – all got nods in this “big four” category, the sort of confluence between popularity and Grammy popularity that happens far less often than one might think. The fifth nominee, maverick country singer Sturgill Simpson, did not make the year-end albums chart, although the epistolary A Sailor’s Guide to Earth received copious praise from critics. Figure that Bieber and Drake, both of whom are skipping Sunday’s ceremony, are out of the running for various reasons, including their albums not being up to the artistic par set by Adele’s third album, let alone the offerings from Beyoncé and Simpson.

The question then becomes one of what memories the Grammy hive mind is in the mood to reward. If it’s cash-register popularity that brings to mind the Diamond Award-garnering days of the early 21st century, Adele is your pick; she’s still selling boatloads of albums, with 25 even cracking the 10m mark. If callbacks to the singer-songwriter era of the 70s, Simpson is your man; A Sailor’s Guide has its eye on classic country ideals, but it isn’t so rooted in the past that it doesn’t include a (very good!) cover of Nirvana’s sardonic In Bloom. And if unfettered artistic ambition is the name of the game, the answer is Beyoncé, whose Lemonade – in both audio and visual form – was not only expertly executed, exhibiting an unbelievable breadth of artistic knowledge that culminated in self-discovery, it also had more than a few cracking tunes.

Will win: 25
Should win: Lemonade

Record of the year

Adele … saver of thanksgivings everywhere
Adele … saver of Thanksgivings everywhere. Photograph: Joel Ryan/AP

Adele’s Hello was a monster of a single, able to heal politically induced Thanksgiving-dinner wounds and induce tears almost on demand. That it was the reigning song of the end of 2015 – a vastly different time for the world – is one of the reasons that the Grammys always seem kind of trapped in amber, just behind trends enough to merit a pat on the head or two. Similarly, Beyoncé’s Formation, which turned the world on its ear when it was released, feels very pre-summer of 2016; if anything, the fiery Freedom feels more appropriate to the current moment, especially when you think about the way Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar staged it at the BET Awards last summer. 7 Years and Stressed Out were two songs that helped make 2016’s pop radio landscape absolutely dreary. Lukas Graham, the Danish band behind 7 Years, has put forth a lament by a not-yet-30-year-old who is anxious about his accomplishments. Similarly, Twenty One Pilots’ Stressed Out is a plea to time-travel back to childhood, “when our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re …” That these two songs struck a chord this year speaks to an underlying anxiety that should unnerve any sociologically minded observers. Finally, there’s Rihanna’s Work, the lead single from her shoulda-been-nominated-instead-of-Drake Anti. Record of the Year is a production-focused award, and if nothing else, Work sounded different than anything else on the radio, its sparse production allowing Rihanna’s ultimatums to fully shine and its sparks of sexual frustration to coalesce around the cameo verse by Drake.

Will win: Hello
Should win: Work

Song of the year

Three of the five record of the year nominees – Hello, Formation and 7 Years – are up for this songwriting-focused award. The other two entrants: Justin Bieber’s sneering Love Yourself, a kiss-off built around a playground-taunt chorus (“My mama don’t liiiike you, and she likes everyone”) and Bieber’s Purpose-era maturity; and I Took A Pill In Ibiza, Michigan singer-songwriter Mike Posner’s tale of post-pop-fame woe that became an unexpected hit after being remixed into a radio-ready bounce by the Norwegian duo Seeb. The affable Posner is, at least, aware of his comeback’s irony, which gives him points over Lukas Graham, whose faux-deep tale of being on the verge of 30 sags under its own seriousness.

Will win: 7 Years
Should win: I Took A Pill In Ibiza

Best rock performance

David Bowie in the video for Blackstar
David Bowie in the video for Blackstar. Photograph: video grab

Offering perhaps the most odd assortment of nominees this year, the best rock performance category contains two entrants that essentially snuck in via technicality – an Austin City Limits recording of the Grammy-beloved Alabama Shakes’ Joe, which was a bonus track on 2016 Album of the Year nominee Sound and Color; and Disturbed’s Conan performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, which appeared on the band’s 2015 album Immortalized. The other contenders include two nominees for best rock song, which goes to the songwriters: the towering title track of the often-Grammy-snubbed Bowie’s posthumous Blackstar; and Twenty One Pilots’ sullen Linkin Park update Heathens. The dual nominations might indicate more widespread support for those tracks’ artistic merits, but don’t count out Beyoncé – the stinging Don’t Hurt Yourself both showcases her ability to front a pyrotechnic rock act and features an assist from the perennial Grammy favorite Jack White.

Will win: Don’t Hurt Yourself
Should win: Blackstar

Best rock album

A true toss-up category: dick-joke pop-punk (Blink-182’s California), chugging yet curious alt-rock (Cage the Elephant’s Tell Me I’m Pretty), razor-sharp French metal (Gojira’s Magma), overly ambitious pop-rock that succeeds even when it misses the mark (Panic! At The Disco’s Death of a Bachelor) and self-referential powerpop (Weezer’s Weezer, AKA The White Album) go head to head. The sheer audacity of Death of a Bachelor, which features a super-obvious Rock Lobster sample and ends with frontman Brendon Urie showcasing his piano-bar crooner bona fides, makes it easy to root for. But really, this category is anyone’s to win, if only because most of the truly notable rock records of the last year didn’t make the cut.

Will win: Tell Me I’m Pretty
Should win: Death of a Bachelor


Maura Johnston

The GuardianTramp

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