Who will – and should – win the major categories at the Grammys 2018

Can Jay-Z finally dominate the major categories with his 13th album? Will Despacito be snubbed? And could Cardi B beat the boys to the rap crown?

Album of the year

Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino
4:44 – Jay-Z
Damn – Kendrick Lamar
Melodrama – Lorde
24K Magic – Bruno Mars

This is the first time Jay-Z has been nominated for this award, on his 13th attempt, and so he could well be the Sam Rockwell of the Grammys – the person who will win because of a long career rather than their best ever work.

But he has a titanic battle against Kendrick Lamar’s Damn. Jay is sequestered off from the most listeners in Tidal’s ivory tower – his album is invisible on the streaming services used by the vast majority of people – while Lamar’s is not; there is no doubt as to which MC is at the heart of today’s hip-hop culture, and whose flow is most exciting. Giving it to Jay, when his wife was denied the same award last year by Adele, is an optical wrinkle that academy voters may want to avoid, too. But then again, it’s a thoughtful, frank album, dubious opinions about Jewish property ownership aside – and Jay continues to teach Lamar everything he knows about turning solipsism into social commentary, be it making your passage from the ghetto a Horatio Alger story, or ruminating on your own blackness as a way to explore everyone else’s. Jay is also an icon of the US music industry, and is under-rewarded, at least in terms of major gongs.

With her raw-hearted, anthemic songwriting – and her sheer charisma and iconography – Lorde has a chance, but the lack of dial-shifting hits will wither her challenge. Awaken, My Love! is a little too uneven to win, and Mars’s album is very entertaining, but the sheer level of pastiche makes it a worthy winner of the 1987 award.

Will win: Jay Z
Should win: Kendrick Lamar

Record of the year

Redbone – Childish Gambino
Despacito – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat Justin Bieber
The Story of OJ – Jay-Z
Humble. – Kendrick Lamar
24K Magic – Bruno Mars

There is hopefully only one game in town here: to not give the award to Despacito, a song that rang out from barrios to boarding schools on its way to 4.7bn YouTube views, would be scandalous. Prejudiced, even. It has dominated the zeitgeist and done so with the rarest of things, an elegant earworm. Jay has no chance here – you don’t win this without a smash hit – and Lamar’s Humble isn’t quite blockbuster enough either, while voting for Mars’s 24k Magic seems fluffy and featherweight in comparison. Childish Gambino’s Redbone could be the curveball – a huge radio hit all year long in the US, its chorus of “stay woke!” defined 2017 like no other. An academy wanting to prove it wasn’t #SoWhite might get behind it – especially as it is an exceptional, sensual song. But to do so would be to cut off their nose to spite their face: if they want to champion diversity, they should choose the Latin pop song that took over the world.

Will win: Despacito
Should win: Despacito

Song of the year

Despacito – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat Justin Bieber
4:44 – Jay-Z
Issues – Julia Michaels
1-800-273-8255 – Logic feat Alessia Cara and Khalid
That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Record of the year is about the songwriting, production, and – tacitly – the entire social impact of a track; song of the year homes in on lyricism and melody. Given the Spanish lyrics and a predominantly anglophone academy, Despacito is unlikely to win, though its sheer catchiness might see it through. The candid self-flagellation of 4:44 is affecting, but it didn’t even break the US Top 20; Julia Michaels’ Issues is equally soul-baring, but to my ears has too earthbound and unoriginal a melody to win. Mars’s lyric sheet is too basic – even if gloriously so – leaving the simple, hugely affecting suicide prevention anthem 1-800-273-8255 from Maryland rapper Logic. The sheer clarity of his chorus, borne upwards with perfect melodic, well, logic, allowed many to find words for their psychic strife – he is the pop star for the age of anxiety.

Will win: 1-800-273-8255
Should win: Despacito

New artist

Alessia Cara
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels

The strongest field for this award since 2014, when Macklemore beat Lamar and got all white guilt about it. Khalid and Lil Uzi Vert are the go-to artists for drowsily existential millennial angst; Julia Michaels and SZA are the go-to artists for brazenly sexual millennial angst; and Alessia Cara is the go-to artist for drowsily existential, brazenly sexual millennial angst. SZA is up against some blue-chip competition in her other five categories – though a clean sweep is by no means beyond her – so hopefully she will bring this one home. The strength of Michaels’ CV, co-writing for Katy Perry et al – and with the industry needing a big new female star – may see her anointed instead.

Will win: SZA
Should win: SZA

Pop solo performance

Love So Soft – Kelly Clarkson
Praying – Kesha
Million Reasons – Lady Gaga
What About Us – Pink
Shape of You – Ed Sheeran

Given that Sheeran was snubbed in the top three categories, he will be swamped with votes for what was perhaps the definitive English-language pop song of 2017. Kesha will have some loyal support given an extremely rough few years, but Pink’s, Kelly Clarkson’s and Lady Gaga’s songs are derivative, frankly B-list material put next to their impressive discographies. Sheeran should also win the pop vocal album category.

Will win: Shape of You
Should win: Shape of You

Rock album

Emperor of Sand – Mastodon
Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct – Metallica
The Stories We Tell Ourselves – Nothing More
Villains – Queens of the Stone Age
A Deeper Understanding – The War on Drugs

After Cage the Elephant – a half-hearted shrug made manifest in leather trousers – won last year, it’s nice to see some bands whose guitar lines might not topple over in a light breeze: Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica and Nothing More all have the riffs that this category deserves. The War on Drugs seem to have wandered in from the alternative category, their beautifully gauzy anthems now just big enough to rock. It’s the best album here but probably won’t win over the voting bloc. Metallica are as spunky and gleeful as they’ve been in years, and that pep should see them through. It would be nice for the breakthrough act Nothing More, and their abdominals, to win something from their three noms though.

Will win: Hardwired ... to Self-Destruct
Should win: A Deeper Understanding

Rap performance

Bounce Back – Big Sean
Bodak Yellow – Cardi B
4:44 – Jay-Z
Humble – Kendrick Lamar
Bad and Boujee – Migos feat Lil Uzi Vert

Another strong category, like a wild night out interrupted by your mate moaning on about their relationship woes. But on turf he has helped define, Jay-Z could well win. The exquisite equipoise of Lamar’s wordplay makes him a strong contender, and the same is true to a slightly lesser extent with Big Sean. Migos’s own waltz-time flow has had greater influence this year than both of them, though lyrically they’re more conservative. But if we’re talking rap performances, surely Cardi B’s magnificent Bodak Yellow will triumph. The chorus makes an infernally catchy melody out of almost nothing – with the petulance distilled into “I don’t wanna choose” Oscar- as well as Grammy-worthy – and she can freeze-dry opponents’ confidence with a single withering syllable: “bitch”, “opp”, “look”. Just imagine her acceptance speech.

Will win: Bodak Yellow
Should win: Bodak Yellow

Country solo performance

Body Like a Back Road – Sam Hunt
Losing You – Alison Krauss
Tin Man – Miranda Lambert
I Could Use a Love Song – Maren Morris
Either Way – Chris Stapleton

It may not be a big category to passing British readers, but this is a fascinating face-off between the diverse, sometimes warring factions of country music. The biggest hit here is Sam Hunt’s Body Like a Back Road, the most bro-country song title since Joe Nichols’ Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off. My guess is academy voters will hoist their noses aloft and head towards something a bit deeper. Maren Morris’s mid-tempo I Could Use a Love Song is fresher and more robust than Miranda Lambert’s wafty ballad, but the spare, rootsy Chris Stapleton will please big swaths of august voters who use the phrase “real music”, and his voice is a timeless instrument. Losing You, by 27-time winner Alison Krauss, is perfectly good, but many will feel it’s time for a changing of the guard.

Will win: Either Way
Should win: I Could Use a Love Song


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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