The Grammys are well known for decision-making we’ll call … curious. But this year, some of our favorite artists are up for the big awards. Is there any chance the Recording Academy gets it right? Here, Ringer staffers give their predictions for the wins we’re certain will happen, the ones we want to happen most, and the trophies we’re already prepared to dispute.
Album of the Year
The Winner We Expect: ‘25,’ Adele
It’s hers to lose. She is unlikely to lose it. That’s boring. I’m sorry. But Adele is far too industry-beloved, and has sold far too many records. What’s funny is that 25, which came out in November 2015, now literally feels like it’s 25 years old, a relic from some bygone century, a no. 1 smash for an entirely different country. She oughta get some kind of lifetime-achievement award while she’s up there to acknowledge the lifetime that seems to have passed since we heard “Hello” for the first time.
The Winners We Want: ‘Lemonade,’ Beyoncé, or ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,’ Sturgill Simpson
If we’re judging this on Individual Fan Enthusiasm, Beyoncé’s Lemonade wins handily, but that’s a little too progressive a choice for a ruling body that likes its upsets troll-based and bizarre to the point of random. An intriguing dark horse from a randomness perspective is Sturgill Simpson’s country-soul opus A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, a fantastic record that deserves the same awards-show boost that Chris Stapleton’s Traveller got not too long ago. Sturgill’s got the most to gain here; his victory would be the best possible triangulation of “shocking” and “enjoyable.” That tantalizing possibility is why we watch. But it’s rarely why this show broadcasts in the first place.
The Winners We Won’t Stand For: ‘Purpose,’ Justin Bieber, or ‘Views From the 6,’ Drake
We have suffered enough.
Best Rap Song
The Winner We Expect: ‘No Problem,’ Chance the Rapper
Chancelor Bennett has a writing credit on three of the five nominees in this category. There should be some sort of special Grammy you win for appearing on more than 50 percent of the songs nominated, or at least a commemorative T-shirt. But it’s likely that the two Kanye songs he assisted with — “Famous” and “Ultralight Beam” — will split the category, leaving a clear lane for Chance to dab up to the stage in his Super Mario Bros. overalls, and for 2 Chainz to become the first person in history to win a Grammy for rhyming “Ikea” with “diarrhea.” Blessings indeed.
The Winner We Want: ‘Famous,’ Kanye West
How funny would it be if the song responsible for last year’s self-righteous subtweet of a Taylor Swift Grammy acceptance speech then in turn won a Grammy itself? This turn of events would of course be much more dramatic if Kanye were attending this year’s ceremony, but just the thought of what kind of speech he’d give in this scenario is enough to make me quote Swizz Beatz: “Goddamn!”
The Winner We Won’t Stand For: ‘Hotline Bling,’ Drake
“Hotline Bling” is not a rap song. HOTLINE. BLING. IS NOT A RAP SONG. Point to the part in “Hotline Bling” where he raps. I’ll wait.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. “Hotline Bling” cannot be the Best Rap Song because it is not even a rap song. Don’t play yourself, Grammys.
Song of the Year
The Winner We Expect: ‘Hello,’ Adele
The three biggest Grammy categories — Album, Record, and Song of the Year — are basically a Beyoncé vs. Adele thunderdome. The Recording Academy is a notably clueless body, and while I don’t think they’ll send Beyoncé home empty-handed, a well-deserved Lemonade sweep feels like a lot to ask. So I think they’ll split the big categories: I’ve got Lemonade penciled in for Album of the Year; that’s the one that really matters, and Lemonade is the kind of cohesive, brilliant statement that justifies the Spotify-era existence of the album. But I think Grammy favorite Adele takes home the song and record trophies. The academy loves tradition and craft, a simple and catchy lyric, and the British commonwealth. (Seriously: Four of the past five winners were Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Lorde, and — yes — Adele.) “Hello” delivers on all counts. Please make it quick and painless, Beyhive.
The Winner We Want: ‘Love Yourself,’ Justin Bieber
Did you enjoy Justin Bieber’s apology tour? Me neither. The Biebs’s Purpose was a strange, treacly document, 18 songs of well-meaning and totally oblivious regret. Well, 17 songs of well-meaning, oblivious regret, actually — because the best song on Purpose, and the one that’s nominated for Song of the Year, and the one that I would really like to win the category, is his vicious little ditty “Love Yourself.” It sounds like something I taught myself to play at summer camp to impress girls, only it’s extremely petty and mean. “My momma don’t like you, and she likes everyone” is a kiss-off for the ages — and more importantly, it feels true to the Hall of Fame teenage nightmare persona Bieber has worked so hard over the past year and change to shed. Let your true colors show, Justin. They deserve a Grammy.
The Winner We Won’t Stand For: ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza,’ Mike Posner
Actually it’s pronounced “Ee-beeth-horrendous.”
Best R&B Song
The Winner We Expect: ‘Come and See Me,’ PartyNextDoor feat. Drake
Drake is a Grammy juggernaut, and he seems poised to collect a fair number of them for last year’s deeply lackluster Views. And because 2016 was the year we collectively rewarded mediocrity with boundless praise, I wouldn’t be surprised if he and fellow 3-a.m.-in-Toronto crooner PartyNextDoor snag the win for the P3 single “Come and See Me,” too. It’s a perfectly adequate R&B track, a far less whiny and intrusive “Marvin’s Room” redux with corny lines that are forgivable if only because they inspire memes far better than the song itself. So — fine, it won’t be the end of the world if this sentient Twitter DM of a song wins.
The Winner We Want: ‘Kiss It Better,’ Rihanna
The real star of this category is “Kiss It Better,” the second single from Rihanna’s tremendous Anti. The song traffics in both Rihanna’s undeniable sensuality and Anti’s noticeable shift toward devastating honesty. It’s bold and vulnerable, sexy and smooth — all characteristics of R&B at its best. “Kiss It Better” was not meant for whispers; it insists you belt if you want to sing along. It is an anthem that refuses to name itself as such, and Rihanna should be celebrated for it. And not just because she gets us to scream “Man, fuck your pride!” every time it’s played in a bar.
The Winner We Won’t Stand For: ‘Exchange,’ Bryson Tiller
If Bryson Tiller’s “Exchange” wins, I will go into both my little brothers’ closets and burn all their Nike Dri-FIT apparel. Tiller’s singing is just as … marginally competent … as Big Sean’s rapping, but Tiller lacks personality. “Exchange” is brooding and moody, but without the kind of weight that signals investment. His lyrics are bland and immature, ranging from recycled clichés about love (“Guess it’s nothing I can do, man, it’s true, exes change, yeah”) to overquoted pleas to higher powers (“Lord, please save her for me, do this one favor for me”). No. No favors, please.
Best Rap/Sung Performance
The Winner We Expect: ‘Ultralight Beam,’ Kanye West
The song to beat here is “Ultralight Beam,” a tremendous record carried by Kanye West, who’s boycotting this year’s Grammys, and Chance the Rapper, for whom the Recording Academy had to rewrite its awards rules at the last minute so that he’d even be eligible for three (Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Album) of the five categories in which he’s nominated this year. A year ago, the song to beat would’ve been “Hotline Bling,” which wasn’t even nominated in 2015; it enters this strange, second year of eligibility only because Drake tacked the song onto his latest album, Views, in order to inflate his sales and streaming totals. In any case, the way hip-hop and R&B are both headed (in tandem), I expect that Best Rap Performance won’t even be a category five years from now. All rap is sung. All song is rap. Rap/Sung is the future.
The Winner We Want: ‘Freedom,’ Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar
Historically, the Best Rap/Sung Performance favors rap records that happen to feature some singing. This puts “Freedom” at a disadvantage, which is a shame considering that Kendrick Lamar raps through a full asthma attack, on beat the whole time, on that song. It’s a crazy feat and he definitely deserves some sort of award for it. And Beyoncé is the best rapper in the category anyway.
Winner We Won’t Stand For: ‘Famous,’ Kanye West
“Famous,” starring Kanye West and featuring Rihanna, is also in the mix here despite being an unlistenable song that subjects listeners to late-career Swizz Beatz ad libs. Remember “Open Letter”? We gotta stop humoring dude.
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
The Winner We Expect: ‘Work,’ Rihanna feat. Drake
Am I willfully ignoring how massive a hit the Chainsmokers’ “Closer” was? Yes. Anyway, last year, I made a playlist called “Work,” which comprised songs from 2016 that either included the word “work” in their titles, or were directly inspired by another song from 2016 that did include “work” in its title (call it the Young Thug Exception). It’s 12 songs long, but only because every other song is Rihanna’s “Work.” If I had to guess, you hear the word “work” around 700 times in its 46 minutes.
Workworkworkworkworkwork was an incessant drone during the first half of last year, but at least some of the song’s genius can be seen in how it takes the tedium inherent in the word (by using it about 80 times) and turns it into the fulcrum of an undeniable pop jam. It made work, in all its forms, sound empowering, even on the days when it cracked us in half. That’s hard work, and it ought to be rewarded.
The Winner We Want: ‘Cheap Thrills,’ Sia feat. Sean Paul
This is mostly a shout-out to Sean Paul’s triumphant return to top-40 radio. Few things provided me more joy last year than hearing him say “bi-di-bong” over and over again. The way he transmutes the word “gold” — you couldn’t bake a croissant with as many layers. I’m glad Sean Paul is back in my life. I love this song unconditionally.
The Winner We Won’t Stand For: ‘7 Years,’ Lukas Graham
The meaty, vaguely Astral Weeks–era-Van Morrison–looking bro that comes up on a cursory Google search for “Lukas Graham” is not Lukas Graham. This was an infuriating revelation. See, Lukas Graham is not a person, and I’m disappointed to tell you that it isn’t a 3-D-printed industry plant, either. Even worse: It’s the name of a four-piece band. Van Bro–ison is the lead singer, and for some reason, the band agreed upon using his first and middle name as its own. Please don’t make me find out why.
I will not stand for a Lukas Graham win, and luckily, it doesn’t seem like the Grammys will, either: Since the first iteration of the award was given out in 1961, no duo or group with a full-legal-name-ass sounding name has ever won. Wilson Phillips came close in both 1991 and 1992. Lukas Graham ain’t Wilson Phillips.
Best Alternative Music Album
The Winner We Expect: ‘Blackstar,’ David Bowie
This is uncomplicated. The late icon, who died 13 months ago, is finally being celebrated properly with five nominations for his final album. (He’d only been nominated 12 times total in his career.) This meditative, knowing enactment of his own mortality has been rightly praised as one of the most graceful exits in music history.
The Winner We Want: ‘Post Pop Depression,’ Iggy Pop
Don’t you want to see that crepuscular assemblage of bone and sinew slither up to the stage and accept his first Grammy alongside Josh Homme? Imagine the hip swivel, the exposed chest, the haunted look, the gentle sneer, the groaning Iggy drone. What’s the history on Grammy stage dives?
The Winner We Won’t Stand For: ‘A Moon Shaped Pool,’ Radiohead
This category has arguably the strongest track record of any in the past quarter-century, awarding gramophone statuettes to St. Vincent, Vampire Weekend, Beastie Boys, Nirvana, and Tom Waits in its 26 years of existence. The only truly black mark on its resumé is that time they gave it to Gotye instead of Fiona Apple. (Gotye happened.) That was unforgivable.
There is no wrong answer in this year’s lineup, but Radiohead have been nominated eight times and won thrice. Pool is not the band’s strongest work; I’m willing to wager it is not a single Radiohead fan’s favorite album. We can move on. Without Bowie, there is no Radiohead, there is no Iggy Pop, there is no PJ Harvey, and there is no Bon Iver. Book it.
Best New Artist
The Winner We Expect: Chance the Rapper
There’s a correct answer here. And then there’s another one that’s almost equally correct, and two more that definitely aren’t correct, but less incorrect than the one that’s extremely not correct. In 2016, Chance the Rapper put out Coloring Book, did a Muhammad Ali tribute at the ESPYs that reduced us (fair, maybe just me) to a puddle of tears, got Jay Electronica to descend from his mountain-top monastery — twice — and did a derpy Kit Kat commercial in a bear suit. Chance the Rapper is the correct answer here, but not the only acceptable one, which brings us to …
The Winner We Want: Anderson .Paak
Anderson Paak made Malibu, an album that, front to back, sounds like late July sun and beading sweat on the skin feels. He also released a joint project with Knxwledge (under the name NxWorries) called Yes Lawd! featuring the song “Suede,” which might have the funniest, bluest hook crafted for any R&B song since T-Pain said “I’m the man in here / you better calm the fuck down” on an Epiphany throwaway in 2007. Anderson .Paak is the answer that’s almost equally correct, and one that I will also accept. Actually, I prefer it.
The Winner We Won’t Stand For: Anyone that is not Chance the Rapper or Anderson .Paak
Either Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris could be just fine, but both names also sound suspiciously made up and neither made “Come Down.” Those are the two answers that are less incorrect than the Chainsmokers, who are extremely not the correct answer. With a few no. 1 singles and an unwavering commitment to appealing to the lowest possible common denominator (brightly colored trop house, bad melodies, general excess), they’re the exact kind of thing you might reach for if you’re looking for music to ignore at a pregame. In a perfectly ordered universe, either Chance or .Paak would win, which means that the Chainsmokers probably will, followed closely by the melting of the icecaps, a price hike on every streaming service, and all of Baja California crumbling into the ocean.