Almost exactly a year after the live music business shut down due to COVID-19 — and six weeks after the show was originally scheduled to happen before being postponed — the 63rd Grammy Awards will finally take place Sunday night in Los Angeles.
The telecast itself will be obviously shaped by the necessities of the pandemic: Ben Winston, who's overseeing the Grammys for the first time after Ken Ehrlich's four decades at the helm, has promised a supremely intimate experience geared to viewers at home, as opposed to the live audience that won't exist. (Performances are expected from Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny, BTS and last year's big winner, Billie Eilish, among many others.)
But Sunday's winners and losers — Beyonce leads nominations with nine, followed by Swift, Lipa and Roddy Ricch, with six apiece — will also reflect the Recording Academy's efforts to move past the turmoil of 2020, when the group's previous CEO, Deborah Dugan, was ousted following explosive allegations regarding discrimination and vote rigging.
To discuss how it all might shake out, and to handicap some of the major races, LA Times pop music critic Mikael Wood convened — where else? — on Zoom with LA Times music reporter Suzy Exposito and Charles Holmes, staff writer at the Ringer and co-host of "The Ringer Music Show" on Spotify.
Let's start with an artist who won't be on Sunday's show. Does the conspicuous shutout of the Weeknd, whose synth-pop smash "Blinding Lights" just became the first single to spend 52 weeks in the top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100, damage the credibility of the Grammys?
Exposito: There's a lot the academy needs to explain, and they haven't, at least to the satisfaction of people in the music industry. So just a year after Deborah Dugan — yeah, people are increasingly skeptical of the organization.
Holmes: I'm not gonna sit here and say the Weeknd's "After Hours" album is high art. But I also don't think the Grammy Awards are in the business of rewarding quality.
Judging by his tweets, the Weeknd is deeply invested in the Grammys; he's said the show is "corrupt," and he appears to believe that's bad for music. Yet other young artists — especially artists of color, including Drake and Frank Ocean — have said plainly that the Grammys don't matter to them.
Holmes: If they want to attract diverse artists, they have to convince people that everyone's competing for the same thing. Because historically what has happened is, if you're not a cis white man or you don't have a guitar in your hand — let's say you're a rapper — they give you the rap awards, but in the general categories it's like, "Sit down and shut up." I mean, the last rap album to win album of the year was Outkast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" in 2004.
Exposito: You know the last Latin album to win album of the year? Santana's "Supernatural" in 2000.
Beyonce is probably the best illustration of this: She's the most nominated woman in Grammys history, but the vast majority of her nominations have come in the genre categories. And she's only won a major award once — song of the year in 2010 for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."
Exposito: Which is insane. The way that Beyonce has shaped pop music is undeniable. She's changed the music industry in such a tangible way. Think about her self-titled album — the surprise midnight album drop — and how almost everybody does that now.
Holmes: If you're Beyonce and you're sitting in the crowd, you're giving a bump to Grammys viewership. But if these people aren't winning the general categories, at a certain point, they're gonna say, "I'm not telling my fans to watch your thing if I'm only getting a participation trophy."
Indeed, Beyonce isn't performing on this year's show, though she is up for record of the year and song of the year — a performer's prize and a songwriter's prize, respectively — with "Black Parade," which she released on Juneteenth during last year's Black Lives Matter protests. What do you guys make of this song? I love its wit and swagger. But it also feels like minor Beyonce.
Holmes: Beyhive, please don't attack me. That song is fine, but I could not sing it to you if someone had a gun to my head.
Exposito: It's so tied to the BLM discourse that you have to wonder: If it wins, which I think it might, will it be on the merits or because the Grammys are scrambling to show they care?
Holmes: If this is the record that does get Beyonce her big wins, after she's been robbed for so many years, more power to her. But why did she have to work twice as hard to get to the point where now we're going to reward her?
The last Black woman to take album of the year was Lauryn Hill in 1999.
Holmes: I don't think Black women should have to damn near change the trajectory of pop music to win. Their white counterparts don't have to.
For record of the year, Beyonce's most serious competition seems to be herself — she features on Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage" — and Dua Lipa, whose disco throwback "Don't Start Now" might win over folks who voted for Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" in 2014.
Holmes: Plus, Dua won best new artist two years ago. Once you're in there, they're rewarding you because they think they know you. Same with Billie Eilish, who's nominated in record and song with "Everything I Wanted." Shout out to Billie and her team — they did a great job of ingratiating her to Grammy voters.
Exposito: That song is her version of John Cage's "4'33" — just negative space.
Let's talk about the rap categories. Best rap album is filled with work by veterans such as Nas and Jay Electronica — very on-brand for the Grammys. Yet best rap performance includes younger, more vital stars like Lil Baby, DaBaby and the late Pop Smoke.
Holmes: A lot of older voters cherish values in hip-hop that might not be what's popping on the Hot 100. If you come from a certain era, maybe you can't see why Lil Baby or Roddy Ricch are so transformative; these are kids recording stuff that sometimes has never been done before. So they'll throw out a rap performance nomination, but when it comes to rap album: "All right, we're gonna reward Nas' 10th-best album."
The Grammys still privilege the album as a format. It's where they confer the real institutional prestige.
Exposito: But the definition of prestige is changing. The album being the be-all, end-all of how intellectual an artist you are — that's a very outdated concept. Better to pay attention to what people are actually responding to, what they're passionate about. I recently interviewed somebody who got a major-label deal by lip-syncing videos on TikTok.
The academy has reorganized the Latin awards this year to be less vague and more targeted. Does that represent progress?
Exposito: They finally got rid of this category that lumped in Latin alternative, rock and urban into a single group. But there's still a poverty to the way the American-centric industry thinks when it comes to Latin music. Cardi B's "I Like It" and Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" — those were the only two Spanish-language songs that made the big four categories in years.
Big Spanish-language hits should be regarded as part of the pop mainstream.
Exposito: Bad Bunny's last album debuted at No. 1. And he's Puerto Rican — he's as American as you and Charles! What is the Recording Academy waiting for?
Taylor Swift feels like a lock to me for album of the year with the rootsy "Folklore." It pushes the Grammys' musical buttons, and it offers the academy a chance for a make-good following the lack of love for her last couple of albums.
Holmes: The Grammys love a comeback narrative. They slept on "Reputation" and "Lover," and now they get the chance to say, "Taylor, welcome back — you're a true artist again."
Exposito: I do have a soft spot for the cottage-core ballads.
What's your vibe on Megan Thee Stallion's chances? Beyond record of the year, I'd say best new artist amounts to a battle between her and Phoebe Bridgers.
Holmes: If you look at the history of best new artist, it's very hard for women who aren't holding a guitar to win. Voters reward what Phoebe does more often than they reward what Megan does. And if you look at the people that haven't won — Drake, Nicki Minaj, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar — I would put Megan squarely in that category.
Maybe the losers are better company than the winners.
Exposito: Do we think this category is cursed?
Holmes: Look what Chance the Rapper is going through right now. Look where Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are. You tell me.
As always, best new artist also includes some wild cards, none wilder than 21-year-old Noah Cyrus, who's almost certainly better known for being Miley's younger sister than for the handful of dodgy trap-folk EPs she's put out.
Holmes: It's strange as hell and it makes perfect sense. The Grammys are all about a lineage. But as we're saying, maybe it's great if Noah Cyrus wins. Maybe I want Noah Cyrus to win.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Jhene Aiko, "Chilombo"
Black Pumas, "Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition)"
Coldplay, "Everyday Life"
Jacob Collier, "Djesse Vol. 3"
Haim, "Women in Music Pt. III"
Dua Lipa, "Future Nostalgia"
Post Malone, "Hollywood's Bleeding"
Taylor Swift, "Folklore"
Will win: "Folklore" (Exposito, Holmes, Wood)
Should win: "Folklore" (Exposito, Wood); "Future Nostalgia" (Holmes)
RECORD OF THE YEAR
Beyonce, "Black Parade"
Black Pumas, "Colors"
DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, "Rockstar"
Doja Cat, "Say So"
Billie Eilish, "Everything I Wanted"
Dua Lipa, "Don't Start Now"
Post Malone, "Circles"
Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyonce, "Savage"
Will win: "Black Parade" (Holmes); "Circles" (Exposito); "Don't Start Now" (Wood)
Should win: "Savage" (Exposito, Holmes, Wood)
SONG OF THE YEAR
"Black Parade," written by Denisia Andrews, Beyonce, Stephen Bray, Shawn Carter, Brittany Coney, Derek James Dixie, Akil King, Kim "Kaydence" Krysiuk and Rickie "Caso" Tice (performed by Beyonce)
"The Box," written by Samuel Gloade and Rodrick Moore (performed by Roddy Ricch)
"Cardigan," written by Aaron Dessner and Taylor Swift (performed by Taylor Swift)
"Circles," written by Louis Bell, Adam Feeney, Kaan Gunesberk, Austin Post and Billy Walsh (performed by Post Malone)
"Don't Start Now," written by Caroline Ailin, Ian Kirkpatrick, Dua Lipa and Emily Warren (performed by Dua Lipa)
"Everything I Wanted," written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell (performed by Billie Eilish)
"I Can't Breathe," written by Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas (performed by H.E.R.)
"If the World Was Ending," written by Julia Michaels and JP Saxe (performed by JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels)
Will win: "Black Parade" (Wood); "Cardigan" (Holmes); "Don't Start Now" (Exposito)
Should win: "The Box" (Holmes), "Don't Start Now" (Exposito, Wood)
BEST NEW ARTIST
Megan Thee Stallion
Will win: Phoebe Bridgers (Exposito, Holmes); Megan Thee Stallion (Wood)
Should win: Megan Thee Stallion (Exposito, Holmes, Wood)
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Justin Bieber, "Changes"
Lady Gaga, "Chromatica"
Dua Lipa, "Future Nostalgia"
Harry Styles, "Fine Line"
Taylor Swift, "Folklore"
Will win: "Folklore" (Holmes); "Future Nostalgia" (Exposito, Wood)
Should win: "Future Nostalgia" (Exposito, Holmes, Wood)
BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE
Fiona Apple, "Shameika"
Big Thief, "Not"
Phoebe Bridgers, "Kyoto"
Haim, "The Steps"
Brittany Howard, "Stay High"
Grace Potter, "Daylight"
Will win: "Shameika" (Exposito); "The Steps" (Holmes, Wood)
Should win: "Kyoto" (Exposito); "Shameika" (Holmes); "The Steps" (Wood)
BEST RAP PERFORMANCE
Big Sean featuring Nipsey Hussle, "Deep Reverence"
Jack Harlow, "What's Poppin"
Lil Baby, "The Bigger Picture"
Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé, "Savage"
Pop Smoke, "Dior"
Will win: "Savage" (Exposito, Holmes, Wood)
Should win: "Dior" (Exposito, Holmes); "Savage" (Wood)
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