What a difference a year makes.
After absorbing a backlash following the 2018 Grammy Awards, when only 17 women or female-fronted bands earned trophies and a mere six were nominated in the leading categories – album, record and song of the year and best new artist - the Recording Academy knew it had to instate changes.
It did – expanding the nomination field in those top categories from five to eight and aggressively recruiting a more diverse voting membership. And now, the 61st annual ceremony, which will air live from Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Sunday (CBS), is a bounty of estrogen.
While rapper Kendrick Lamar received a leading eight nominations with Drake on his trail with seven, the major categories are stocked with names including Atlanta-based Janelle Monae and Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves.
As usual, Georgia is heavily represented with artists such as Chloe x Halle, Future, Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) and former President Jimmy Carter earning nominations. Even though 21 Savage is up for a pair of awards – record of the year and best rap/sung performance with Post Malone (“Rockstar”), his immigration issues will prevent him from attending.
The telecast from the Staples Center will lean heavily on performances – Monae, Lady Gaga, Diana Ross, Miley Cyrus, Dolly Parton, Shawn Mendes, Travis Scott, Chloe x Halle, Cardi B, Red Hot Chili Peppers and an Aretha Franklin tribute with Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day are a small sampling of names – and Alicia Keys will make her hosting debut.
Here is a look at some of the winners we might see (the eligibility period for this year’s awards was Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018).
Record Of The Year (awarded to the artist, producer(s), recording engineer(s), mixer(s) and mastering engineer(s):
“I Like It” (Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin); “The Joke” (Brandi Carlile); “This is America” (Childish Gambino); “God’s Plan” (Drake); “Shallow” (Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper); “All the Stars” (Kendrick Lamar and SZA); “Rockstar” (Post Malone and 21 Savage); “The Middle” (Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey)
Who will win: Let the march to the Oscars begin! Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (who will be in England for the BAFTA Awards this weekend, leaving Mark Ronson in his place for the live performance) will triumph thanks to the allure of a sparse, emotionally resonant ballad.
Who should win: “Shallow” deserves the nod, but if voters look elsewhere, it should be the visceral contribution from Stone Mountain’s Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover).
Album of the Year:
“Invasion of Privacy” (Cardi B); “By the Way, I Forgive You” (Brandi Carlile); “Scorpion” (Drake); “H.E.R.” (H.E.R.); “Beerbongs & Bentleys” (Post Malone); “Dirty Computer” (Janelle Monae); “Golden Hour” (Kacey Musgraves); “Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired By” (Kendrick Lamar)
Who will win: It’s one of those unusual years when (almost) any of the targeted picks would make an acceptable victor. Lamar has been overlooked in this category several times, but vote-splitting among him, Drake and Cardi B will likely lead to Musgraves celebrating crossover success in a tremendous way for a body of work that adeptly marries synthesizers and twang. And that would be fine.
Who should win: Monae took five years to craft this alluring mélange of funky soul-pop (she was also diverting her attention to other professional interests between albums) and landed with an intoxicating collection of songs sprinkled with the fairy dust of Prince.
Song of the Year (a songwriter(s) award):
“All the Stars,” Kendrick Lamar and SZA (Kendrick Duckworth, Solána Rowe, Al Shuckburgh, Mark Spears & Anthony Tiffith, songwriters); “Boo’d Up,” Ella Mai (Larrance Dopson, Joelle James, Ella Mai and Dijon McFarlane, songwriters); “God’s Plan,” Drake (Aubrey Graham, Daveon Jackson, Brock Korsan, Ron LaTour, Matthew Samuels and Noah Shebib, songwriters); “In My Blood,” Shawn Mendes (Teddy Geiger, Scott Harris, Shawn Mendes & Geoffrey Warburton, songwriters); “The Joke,” Brandi Carlile (Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb, Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth, songwriters); “The Middle,” Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey (Sarah Aarons, Jordan K. Johnson, Stefan Johnson, Marcus Lomax, Kyle Trewartha, Michael Trewartha and Anton Zaslavski, songwriters); “Shallow,” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper ( Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt, songwriters); “This is America,” Childish Gambino (Donald Glover, Ludwig Goransson and Jeffery Lamar Williams, songwriters)
Who will win: It might be a “Shallow” sweep, but if not, voters could recognize Lamar (with an assist from SZA) for this Auto-Tuned beauty from the “Black Panther” soundtrack.
Who should win: Carlile – the most nominated female nominee – digs deep on this country-rock stunner bathed in emotional heft and a soaring vocal performance. As a songwriter, she is unparalleled here.
Best New Artist
Chloe x Halle; Luke Combs; Greta Van Fleet; H.E.R.; Dua Lipa; Margo Price; Bebe Rexha; Jorja Smith
Who will win: Dua Lipa. Already a star in her native England, the former opening act for Bruno Mars and Coldplay has intrigued U.S. listeners with her collaborations with Calvin Harris and Mark Ronson.
Who should win: The hometown pride in Chloe x Halle aside, it would be heartening to see Greta Van Fleet score some hardware for their swampy blues rock.
Best Country Album
“Unapologetically,” Kelsea Ballerini; “Port Saint Joe,” Brothers Osborne; “Girl Going Nowhere,” Ashley McBryde; “Golden Hour,” Kacey Musgraves; “From a Room: Volume 2,” Chris Stapleton
Who will win: If she doesn’t earn the major album award of the night, Musgraves is already crowned to take the genre-specific one.
Who should win: Musgraves undoubtedly deserves the nod – it’s the most potent release in her already impressive catalog – but if she’s tapped for bigger things Sunday night, Stapleton’s warm soulfulness is a worthwhile alternative.
Best Pop Vocal Album
“Camila,” Camila Cabello; “Meaning of Life,” Kelly Clarkson; “Sweetener,” Ariana Grande; “Shawn Mendes,” Shawn Mendes; “Beautiful Trauma,” Pink; “Reputation,” Taylor Swift
Who will win: Despite her new beef with the Recording Academy, Grande likely wooed enough voters before the process closed in early January on the strength of her emotionally vulnerable songs.
Who should win: As much as Swift is a Grammy darling, her “Reputation” (snubbed in the major categories) wasn’t nearly as potent and everlasting as Pink’s seventh album, which just missed the eligibility cycle when it was released in October 2017.
Best Rock Song (a songwriter’s award; includes rock, hard rock and metal songs)
“Black Smoke Rising,” Greta Van Fleet (Jacob Thomas Kiszka, Joshua Michael Kiszka, Samuel Francis Kiszka & Daniel Robert Wagner, songwriters); “Jumpsuit,” Twenty One Pilots (Tyler Joseph, songwriter); “Mantra,” Bring Me the Horizon (Jordan Fish, Matthew Kean, Lee Malia, Matthew Nicholls & Oliver Sykes, songwriters); “Masseduction,” St. Vincent (Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark, songwriters); “Rats,” Ghost (Tom Dalgety and A Ghoul Writer, songwriters)
Who will win: It’s an oddly scattered category, but look for the magic of co-writer Jack Antonoff to pay off for St. Vincent (Annie Clark) on the electro-rock thumper, “Masseduction.”
Who should win: It’s hard to argue with a St. Vincent win, but Greta Van Fleet deserves a spotlight for trying desperately to stimulate a rebirth with serrated guitars, howling vocals and big choruses – you know, rock.
Best Rap Performance
“Be Careful,” Cardi B; “Nice for What,” Drake; “King’s Dead,” Kenrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake; “Bubblin,” Anderson.Paak; “Sicko Mode,” Travis Scott, Drake and Swae Lee
Who will win: Lamar is guaranteed some attention here, even if it isn’t the meatiest contender.
Who should win: That would be Cardi B, who already knows how to deliver a stinging slap even when it’s shrouded in coy, slinky beats.