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TWO GRAMMY NERDS PICK WINNERS IN THE BIG FOUR CATEGORIES

Wednesday was the last day for members of the Recording Academy to participate in the final round of voting for the 61st annual Grammy Awards. The winners will be announced 2/10.

Why, you might ask, does voting close so far in advance of the telecast? (Voting for the Oscars closes five days before their telecast.) Things like that that have caused some people to speculate that maybe Grammy winners in the top four categories aren't decided by rank-and-file voters, as the Grammys maintain, but are instead decided by a Secret Committee of Grammy insiders—similar to the committee which has for the past 24 years selected the final nominees in the marquee categories. Under this scenario, once the members' votes are tallied, the Secret Committee convenes and picks the winners. That would help explain the time lag.

Your Grammy Nerds are split on this issue. Paul believes the Academy when it says that the members decide the winners; Lenny isn't so sure. There's no way to really resolve this, but let's dig into it a little bit. Let's say Lenny's suspicions are right and the committee picks the winners. Why would they have given Adele all of the Big Three awards two years ago and Bruno Mars all three last year? They could have shared the wealth and made Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar happy too—and quieted the Grammys' critics who say hip-hop is routinely short-changed in the Big Four categories.

Whenever Lenny and Paul have these Grammy bull sessions, Lenny invariably brings up Esperanza Spalding, whose nomination for Best New Artist in 2010 was a surprise—and whose subsequent win was a Grammy shocker for the ages. That, surely, proves that the committee picks the winners, Lenny opines.

Both Paul and Lenny find the timing outlined above suspicious—31 days to count the votes? Really? (Memo to the Academy: If you significantly shrank that time lag, you would put a stop to this rude and possibly baseless speculation. You would also get fresher results to present on your big show, rather than results that are a month old by the time you finally announce them.)

Paul believes the Academy when it says that the members
decide the winners; Lenny isn't so sure.
 

The Grammys know they're being watched like never before. So they made two major changes this year. They expanded the number of nominees in each of the Big Four categories from five to eight. They also invited 900 new members to join, and even pre-approved them and extended the deadline for them to be able to vote this year. All 900 prospects were 39 or younger, women and/or people of color—a concerted effort to balance the older, mostly white voters who have long dominated the membership.

So how do your Grammy Nerds predict the winners if we can't agree, with certainty, on how they're chosen? We've decided to each predict the winner both if the voters decide and if the committee decides.

By now, you know what Grammy voters tend to like. The committee members, who are hand-picked by the Academy, have their own tastes and opinions, but they also keep in mind what would reflect well on the Academy. The biggest criticism of the Grammys is that hip-hop artists don't get their due in the Big Four categories (there's truth to that) and, lately, that women are somehow short-changed in the Grammy process (that's not true, but the charge is out there). So it's reasonable to assume that if the committee members had the final say, they would try to help address these image problems, if they could.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Nominees: Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy, Brandi Carlile's By the Way, I Forgive You, Drake's Scorpion, H.E.R.'s H.E.R., Post Malone's Beerbongs & Bentleys, Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer, Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour and Black Panther: The Album, Music from and Inspired By.

Paul: I found it more difficult to predict this year. Expanding the field to eight nominees makes it more confusing and unwieldy.

Lenny: I agree. I think if voting decides it, Black Panther wins. If it's a committee decision, then Brandi wins. The committee obviously likes her—she and Drake and Kendrick are the only artists nominated in each of the Big Three categories this year. And the other two dominated the year. She didn't, really. They put her there.

Paul: It's a strange situation, because four of these albums were passed over for nominations in their genre album categories. Black Panther and Drake were passed over for noms for Best Rap Album. Post Malone was passed over for a nom for Best Pop Vocal Album—though some pop voters may have thought he didn't really fit there. Janelle Monáe was passed over for a nom for Best Urban Contemporary Album. It would be unprecedented for an album to win Album of the Year after having been passed over for a nom in its genre album category—going back to the introduction of genre album awards in 1994.

Lenny: You looked that up?

Paul: I did. I don't make this stuff up, Lenny.

Lenny: If it's based on voting, I think Kacey and Brandi will hurt each other.

Paul: I agree with you. They are both in that same country/Americana lane. But Black Panther, Drake and Cardi B are all hip-hop, as is Post Malone, even though he was slotted in Pop. So there will be some vote-splitting on that side, too.

Lenny: I don't think Post has a prayer here. I eliminated him right off. I find it hard to eliminate anything else.

Paul: I eliminated H.E.R. I have her coming in eighth.

Lenny: OK, I eliminate H.E.R. also.

Paul: Her album just hasn't done that well in the marketplace. The Grammys are making a statement that she's a great artist that much of the general public doesn't know about yet and that it should. I get what they're doing, but I don't think that translates to her being a serious contender to win.

Lenny: Black Panther has the most artist constituencies. It has SZA, Kendrick, Swae Lee, Travis Scott, The Weeknd and others.

"If it's based on voting, I think Kacey and Brandi
will hurt each other." —Lenny

Paul: And the movie is the third highest-grosser of all time domestically. We've been reminded of the movie practically every day for the past year in some context, not just the music but also the history-making nature of the movie. It's bigger than any one artist—certainly bigger in the zeitgeist than Brandi or Kacey. If Black Panther wins, it would be the third rap album to win, following Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. If Brandi wins, it would be the fourth Americana or Contemporary Folk album (as classified by the Grammys) to win, following Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind, Robert Plant/Alison Krauss' Raising Sand and Mumford & Sons' Babel.

Lenny: So what do you make of that?

Paul: They're clearly overdue for another rap album to win. But they keep going back to Americana and contemporary folk—that's obviously a sweet spot for a lot of voters.

Lenny: So what's your pick?

Paul: I've gone back and forth several times between Black Panther and Brandi or Kacey. I guess it's time to settle on one. I'll say Black Panther, whether the voters decide or the committee decides. The committee would want to quell the criticism that artists of color and hip-hop artists often come up short in this category.

Lenny's pick if the voters decide: Black Panther. Lenny's pick if the committee decides: Brandi Carlile.

Paul's pick if the voters decide: Black Panther. Paul's pick if the committee decides: Black Panther.

RECORD OF THE YEAR

Nominees: Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin's "I Like It"; Brandi Carlile's "The Joke"; Childish Gambino's "This Is America"; Drake's "God's Plan"; Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper's "Shallow"; Kendrick Lamar & SZA's "All the Stars"; Post Malone featuring 21 Savage's "Rockstar"; Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey's "The Middle."

Paul: I think the committee went overboard on hip-hop. Four of these singles were entered for Best Rap/Sung Performance, and "God's Plan" is also in that general area. That glut of hip-hop entries could work to the advantage of one of the three others, "Shallow," "The Joke" or "The Middle."

Lenny: So who do you like?

Paul: I think the voters will pick "Shallow."

Lenny: And if the committee has the final say?

Paul: If the committee were to pick, I don't think they'd be adverse to "Shallow" winning, but I think they would rather see a hip-hop record win, to quell the criticism. And if they went with a hip-hop record, they'd probably go with the one with the strongest point of view, "This Is America."

Lenny: That's where I'm at too.

Paul: "Shallow" is a great record. If I can slip in a Grammy Factoid, Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen" from the previous incarnation of A Star Is Born was nominated for Record of the Year, but lost to the Eagles' "Hotel California." But I don't think any of this year's other nominees have that kind of stature.

Lenny's pick if the voters decide: "Shallow." Lenny's pick if the committee decides: "This Is America."

Paul's pick if the voters decide: "Shallow." Paul's pick if the committee decides: "This Is America."

SONG OF THE YEAR

Nominees: "All the Stars," "Boo'd Up," "God's Plan," "In My Blood," "The Joke," "The Middle," "Shallow," "This Is America."

Paul: Six of these eight songs repeat from Record of the Year—an unusual degree of overlap. The only difference between these two fields is that "Boo'd Up" and "In My Blood" made it here, in place of "I Like It" and "Rockstar."

Lenny: I'm going with "Shallow" under both scenarios; whether it's decided by voters or the committee.

Paul: I'll repeat what I did in Record of the Year and say "Shallow" if the voters decide and "This Is America" if the committee decides. I might add that "Evergreen" also won Song of the Year—in a tie with "You Light Up My Life."

Lenny's pick if the voters decide: "Shallow." Lenny's pick if the committee decides: "Shallow."

Paul's pick if the voters decide: "Shallow." Paul's pick if the committee decides: "This Is America."

BEST NEW ARTIST

Nominees: Chloe X Halle, Luke Combs, Dua Lipa, Greta Van Fleet, H.E.R., , Margo Price, Bebe Rexha, Jorja Smith.

Paul: This is another one where I'm torn. Four of these artists could realistically win: Luke Combs, H.E.R., Greta Van Fleet and Dua Lipa.

Lenny: I figure that all of Nashville is going to get behind Luke, which is about 20% of the vote. The question is does anybody else get more than 20%?

Paul: If Luke wins, he'll be first country act to win here since Zac Brown Band nine years ago. Luke's album has logged 22 weeks at #1 on the country chart, across three calendar years. But it concerns me that this is his only nomination after two years of country success. He was passed over both years for noms for Best Country Solo Performance. If they like him so much, why haven't they nominated him in the country field?

Lenny: He won the CMA award for New Artist of the Year.

Paul: That's true. But he'll have to share the country vote a little bit here. Margo Price was born in Nashville, though the Grammys have her slotted as Americana, not country.

Lenny: I don't think she's a real factor in this race. Neither are Chloe x Halle and Jorja Smith. I think the only person who can get more than 20% is Dua Lipa. She's had big hits, so people know who she is. She's European, so it's cool—and she's attractive, which never hurts. 

"The Grammys are signaling to the voters, as they do, that they would
like to see H.E.R. win." —Paul
 

Paul: I think Greta Van Fleet is also in the mix. Not many rock bands have broken through in the past few years. Voters might rally around one that has.

Lenny: Yeah, but they sound so much like Led Zeppelin that some will say they're derivative. I give them about 15-20% of the vote, but I don’t see them winning. If the voters decide, I'll take Dua. If the committee decides, I'll take H.E.R.

Paul: I agree with you on H.E.R. if the committee decides. She's the only new artist nominee who is also nominated in one of the Big Three categories. The Grammys are signaling to the voters, as they do, that they would like to see her win. That power of suggestion might work with some voters.

Lenny: In the voting, I think Luke will come in second, behind Dua Lipa.

Paul: I think she has a good chance. Voters historically favor female solo artists in this category. She would be the first woman from England to win here since Adele 10 years ago. "New Rules" may be my favorite single from last year. It's zesty and it has a smart lyric.

Lenny: It's a really good record.

Paul:  It's too bad the hit version wasn't eligible for Record of the Year.

Lenny: It's too bad (Camila Cabello's) "Havana" (featuring Young Thug) wasn't eligible. That's the Record of the Year.

Lenny's pick if the voters decide: Dua Lipa. Lenny's pick if the committee decides: H.E.R.

Paul's pick if the voters decide: Luke Combs. Paul's pick if the committee decides: H.E.R.

 

 

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