Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

Will 2016 be Kendrick's year, or will the Grammys leave us scratching our heads yet again?


We all like to pretend we are experts at picking award show winners, but looking at past Grammy choices, it’s clear that the Grammys’ unpredictability remains a very real feature of the institution. From Beck’s Album of the Year last year to recent hauls from Bon Iver and Arcade Fire, there have been many times when the Grammys have thrown us for a loop, both for good and for bad.

That said, the unpredictability tends to work in the favor of white artists, rock and pop artists, and uncontroversial choices. Sure, it is great that Grammy nominations, unlike acting awards shows, don’t raise as many issues about under-representation, but that doesn’t always carry all the way through to who wins Grammys. With Kendrick Lamar nominated for 11 awards this year, the bulk of which are for his landmark To Pimp a Butterfly (which already saw track “i” win two awards last year), the Grammy voters have a prime opportunity to not only award a deserving artist who isn’t safe or easy, but one who is also a departure from their whitewashing tendencies.

Should the night not go Lamar’s way, that would likely mean good things not only for The Weeknd and Taylor Swift, but also for thinkpiece writers across the media lands. Essentially, the best thing for the Grammys to do in 2016 is be predictable, to surprise no one and reward the most deserving artist. We’ll have to wait until Monday, February 15th to see what happens (and to see an intense slate of performances including Swift, Lamar, Adele, Lady Gaga saluting David Bowie, and Rihanna), but for now, check out the Consequence of Sound staff’s choices for who should win and who will win at the 2016 Grammy Awards.

–Philip Cosores
Associate Editor


Best Music Film

James Brown – Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown
Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways
Nina Simone – What Happened, Miss Nina Simone?
Roger Waters – The Wall
Amy Winehouse – Amy

Who should win: Amy Winehouse – Amy
Who will win: Amy Winehouse – Amy

This year’s Best Music Film category is a two-horse race between iconic R&B singers from different eras. Amy and What Happened, Miss Nina Simone? both draw on unreleased archival footage to create a picture of a remarkably talented, remarkably troubled woman, and both succeed in doing so. What Happened, Miss Simone? is far more conventional and feels more cursory than its counterpart, scratching the surface of Nina Simone’s story without diving too deeply into its darker recesses. Asif Kapadia’s Amy, on the other hand, takes us inside Amy Winehouse’s personal life in a way that feels almost invasive. We’re meant to understand this invasion as a symptom of the way we consume media and to share blame for participating in the culture that perpetrated Winehouse’s death. This film is much more than a documentary; it’s an indictment of the way we view and treat celebrity in the 21st century. –Collin Brennan

Best Music Video

ASAP Rocky – “LSD”
The Dead Weather – “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)”
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”
Pharrell Williams – “Freedom”

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Who will win: Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”

Kendrick Lamar figures to be a winner in the Best Music Video category – but will it be for “Alright” or tangentially as a guest in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”? Swift’s kinetic clip bludgeons you with sheer star power (Selena Gomez! Ellie Goulding! Cara Delevingne!) and nods to tons of action-flick tropes. Her video would be the flashy and popular choice (like last year’s winner, “Happy”), but Lamar’s video has its merits as well. Our top music video of 2015, “Alright” features so many striking visuals: Lamar jams with the Black Hippy crew in a car, with the camera quickly panning out to show they’re being carried by cops. The silhouetted emcee is shot off a light pole with sprawling views of LA in the background. The video has its grim moments of police brutality and urban decay, but with K. Dot flying through the city, it manages to encapsulate a vision that’s simultaneously stark, beautiful, and surreal. –Killian Young

Best Song Written For Visual Media

fb wiz Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win
The Weeknd – “Earned It”
Common and John Legend – “Glory”
Ellie Goulding – “Love Me Like You Do”
Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth – “See You Again”
Lady Gaga – “Til It Happens to You”

Who should win: Common and John Legend – “Glory”
Who will win: Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth – “See You Again”

Two bona fide hits from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack made it to the final list of contenders, but they’ll likely be overshadowed by the trio of heavy-handed ballads they’re up against. It’s true that there’s no runaway favorite like Frozen’s “Let It Go” from last year, but there’s still plenty here to tug at the heartstrings. In fact, somber seems to be the dominant note in the category this year, with Lady Gaga’s anti-rape PSA “Til It Happens to You” up against Oscar tearjerker “Glory” and Wiz Khalifa’s not very fast, not very furious tribute to the late Paul Walker. All of the above tracks have their merits, but none conveys its message as forcefully and as movingly as “Glory”. “See You Again” is cloying, sentimental, and somehow up for Song of the Year, so with that in mind, it’s probably going to win. –Collin Brennan

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media

keaton birdman Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win
Antonio Sanchez – Birdman
Alexandre Desplat – The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer – Interstellar
Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Theory of Everything
Justin Hurwitz – Whiplash

Who should win: Hans Zimmer – Interstellar
Who will win: Antonio Sanchez – Birdman

“Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media” is a bit of a novelty category, if only because each year it celebrates the scores to films that were in consideration for the previous Oscars. Now almost a year later, we’re still talking about Birdman, Interstellar, and Whiplash. Okay, so what about Alexandre Desplat and his score for The Grand Budapest Hotel ? After all, it won the Oscar, and now it’s not even nominated?! Well … no. It won last year’s Grammy in the category because the film came out in March of 2014. Yeah, it’s confusing.

What we can glean from the Oscars is that Birdman won Best Picture, making Antonio Sanchez’s percussion-heavy, jazzy score the probable winner for this year’s Grammy. For my money, you can’t do better than what Hans Zimmer did with Interstellar, imparting profound emotion over a complex and sometimes fractured film, with his seemingly never-ending supply of unique, mesmerizing compositions. Give this man more awards! –Zack Ruskin

Best Comedy Album

louis ck elevator Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win
Lisa Lampanelli – Back to the Drawing Board
Wyatt Cenac – Brooklyn
Jay Mohr – Happy. And a Lot.
Craig Ferguson – Just Being Honest
Louis C.K. – Live at Madison Square Garden

Who should win: Louis C.K. – Live at Madison Square Garden
Who will win: Louis C.K. – Live at Madison Square Garden

Unfortunately, the competition to dethrone Louis C.K. as the modern king of comedy ended when the final nominees were announced. With no disrespect to the talented likes of Lisa Lampanelli, Wyatt Cenac, Jay Mohr, and Craig Ferguson, some of the year’s finest stand-up comedy is missing in this category, leaving the door wide open for Louis C.K. to continue his reign. Comics like Kyle Kinane (I Liked His Old Stuff Better) may not have the name recognition of other nominees, but ask any comic working today, and they’ll tell you he’s at the top of their list. Likewise, heavyweights like John Mulaney, Amy Schumer, and Aziz Ansari all released televised specials, rendering them ineligible for Grammy recognition. And don’t worry about Eugene Mirman and his utterly brilliant I’m Sorry (You’re Welcome) – it came out after the September 30, 2015, cutoff and thus can’t be nominated until next year.

Complaints and caveats aside, none of this is to say that Louis C.K. isn’t fully deserving of the gold. He continues to push boundaries in his material, saying things about mortality, his own children, social stigmas, and so forth that comics are hesitant to tackle or afraid to embrace for their comedic potential. C.K. has also made great strides for artist and fan equality against ticketing behemoths like Live Nation and major distributors like Netflix by releasing his last few specials for $5 through his own website and selling his own tickets to his live dates as well. For that effort alone, the Grammy should be all his. See you in 2017, Eugene. –Zack Ruskin

Best R&B Album

Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges – Coming Home
D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah
Andra Day – Cheers to the Fall
Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
Charlie Wilson – Forever Charlie

Who should win: D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah
Who will win: Leon Bridges – Coming Home

Much like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, D’Angelo’s comeback album is a masterpiece, but also challenging for many listeners, packed to the brim with ideas, arguments, and themes. If the album were stacked up against some solid, if unexceptional competition, that might not be enough to hurt his chances. But, the Best R&B Album category also happens to feature one of the most crowd-pleasing albums of recent memory: Leon Bridges’ sublime Coming Home. While Black Messiah has more social weight and throws it around to amazing results, Bridges delivered a pitch-perfect representation of classic R&B stylings, the kind of thing that’s as sweet to new listeners as it is to those hankering for the good, old days of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. No one will be offended, challenged, or confused by Coming Home. Some might fall into each of those categories for D’Angelo. Add in the fact that Black Messiah dropped much longer ago, fading in the memory, and you’ve got the recipe for a Bridges win. –Adam Kivel

Best Urban Contemporary Album

The Internet – Ego Death
Kehlani – You Should Be Here
Lianne La Havas – Blood
Miguel – Wildheart
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

Who should win: Miguel – Wildheart
Who will win: The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

This one might just be a no-brainer. The Weeknd is easily the most recognizable name of the bunch, with a few mega-smash radio hits more than the rest of the pack combined. This category is always the most difficult to figure out — it always has the most drastic gap between the biggest name and the smallest. Last year, Pharrell and Mali Music shared nominations, and you can guess which of them won. That said, had Miguel’s album gotten as much attention as The Weeknd’s, it’d reveal similar hook ability and oozing sex appeal, but with a little less glossy pop overriding the eccentric angles. Miguel’s album is sexier intrinsically, but The Weeknd’s is sexier in the business sense. Sorry, Miguel. –Adam Kivel

Best Dance Recording

Above & Beyond featuring Zoe Johnston – “We’re All We Need”
The Chemical Brothers – “Go”
Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
Galantis – “Runaway (U & I)”
Skrillex and Diplo featuring Justin Bieber – “Where Are Ü Now”

Who should win: Flying Lotus featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
Who will win: Skrillex and Diplo featuring Justin Bieber – “Where Are Ü Now”

Flying Lotus’ excellent LP You’re Dead! saw the electronic musician and producer delve into some serious jazz influences. When combined with one of Kendrick Lamar’s hottest verses to date (well, at least before To Pimp a Butterfly came out), the song explodes. But it doesn’t stop there. FlyLo shows off his talent by shifting gears post-Kendrick verse the only way you can: insane keys, double-time bass drum, and unrelenting hand claps. Eventually, it’s all swallowed up in massive swelling synth and choral hums, fading to a beautiful, passionate outro. It’s a hell of a collaboration. There’s no denying that.

Let’s not forget “Where Are Ü Now” is in the mix. It’s a dream team of two Grammy-winning musicians and one Grammy-nominated musician. Together, they made an electronic song that you can hear in a mall and not feel like smashing your head against a wall. Sure, that weird electro-flute-sounding sample may get bothersome when stuck in your head for too long, but its other elements are too soothing to make an issue of it. It’s a neutral, comfortable, pleasing track. It also has half a billion plays on YouTube alone. The Grammys are, most often, for famous musicians congratulating themselves on being so famous. This is one of those trifectas — and it’s built to win. –Nina Corcoran

Best Dance/Electronica Album

Disclosure new album 2015
Caribou – Our Love
The Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes
Disclosure – Caracal
Jamie xx – In Colour
Skrillex and Diplo – Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü

Who should win: Jamie xx – In Colour
Who will win: Disclosure – Caracal

There’s no denying 2015 was a strong year for dance music. When the contenders for the category include Caribou, The Chemical Brothers, Disclosure, Jamie xx, Skrillex, and Diplo, you know there’s bound to be some close calls with the votes. Those who have done their homework know standout In Colour is the one that’s still grooving in 2016. Jamie xx outdid himself on his long-anticipated debut LP. After taking some time away from The xx, he handcrafted the dance album that pleases all types of listeners. It’s downtempo enough to listen to in the morning, quick enough to get you dancing at night, and innovative enough for you to hear two measures and immediately know he’s behind the board. Paired with memorable graphics and aesthetically pleasing videos, the entire In Colour package is a dance treat the music world wasn’t ready for but sure as hell devoured with happy ears and eyes.

Is Jamie xx going to win? Not when he’s paired against the comfortable familiarity of longtime favorites The Chemical Brothers (who have won twice already) or dudes even your parents know, like Skrillex (who also won twice, but his awards came back-to-back in 2012 and 2013). After losing to the unbeatable Daft Punk in 2014, Disclosure are due for a late win, even though Caracal is the stale one of the bunch. After all, the category for Best Dance/Electronic Album was only brought into the mix in 2005. Expecting Grammy voters to know their stuff isn’t that reasonable — though last year’s Aphex Twin win may signal a shift in the category. –Nina Corcoran

Best Pop Vocal Album

florencemach3 Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

Kelly Clarkson – Piece by Piece
Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
Taylor Swift – 1989
James Taylor – Before This World

Who should win: Taylor Swift – 1989
Who will win: Taylor Swift – 1989

Sometimes the obvious choice is the right one. While the Grammys’ timing requirements for its nomination process may lead to issues where a nearly 18-month-old album is the front-runner for all the major awards, it’s hard to deny the impact 1989 has had on the course of popular music since its release in October 2014. While there have been plenty of blunders along the way from Swift’s camp (the “Wildest Dreams” video, the Nicki VMA debate), no artist has dominated the discourse and airwaves quite like Swift did. Even Adele has seemed to fade away more quickly, and 25 isn’t even three months old. While the switch from country to pop was at the time a potentially risky move for Swift, both the widespread popularity and critical acclaim immediately validated the change. The nominees she’s up against are respectable as Florence, Kelly Clarkson, and James Taylor (!!) all put out solid albums this year. Even though the Grammys have messed this category up in recent years (Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox won in 2014 over Lorde’s Pure Heroine and Justin’s The 20/20 Experience), this one seems like a no-brainer. Swift may be up against heftier competition in the main categories, but this one is all her. –David Sackllah

Best Pop Solo Performance

taylor swift 2015 tour dates Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win
Kelly Clarkson – “Heartbeat Song”
Ellie Goulding – “Love Me Like You Do”
Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud”
Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”

Who should win: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
Who will win: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Ah, a relatively young category, as this award used to be split up between Male, Female, and Instrumental recipients. Since all three became one, the winners have been Lorde, Pharrell, and Adele … twice. Both Kelly Clarkson and Ellie Goulding’s lack of presence in the big categories make their chances here seem remote, making it a three-horse race. Swift has long been a Grammy favorite, and “Blank Space” is arguably her best pop performance yet. Sure, The Weeknd could be in line to pull upsets in many categories come Grammy night, but we’ll stick our money on T-Swift. –Philip Cosores

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Florence and the Machine – “Ship to Wreck”
Maroon 5 – “Sugar”
Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”
Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth – “See You Again”

Who should win: Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”
Who will win: Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar – “Bad Blood”

With many of the traditional pop groups either now defunct (N’Sync) or operating on a level outside of Grammy consideration (One Direction), the “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance” category has become a spotlight for unlikely collaborations and whatever Maroon 5’s latest single happens to be. There is also the curious inclusion of Florence and the Machine, who are nominated for one single in the Best Rock Song category (their rightful home) and another here. Clearly this is a category rife with confusion, which makes ascertaining the probable and rightful winner that much easier.

On their own, Taylor Swift or Kendrick Lamar are always a solid bet to win any category they find themselves in. Put them together, and you’ve got one of the surest locks of the evening. “Bad Blood” follows in the tradition of rapper/pop collaborations that in recent years have spawned tracks like Katy Perry’s “E.T.” featuring Kanye West and Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One” with A$AP Rocky. That “Bad Blood” is also as catchy as all hell is almost beside the point; no Grammy voter is resisting the chance to fete two industry heavyweights with one statue. –Zack Ruskin

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

1433858765 jidenna1 Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win
Big Sean featuring Kanye West and John Legend – “One Man Can Change the World”
Common and John Legend – “Glory”
Jidenna featuring Roman GianArthur – “Classic Man”
Kendrick Lamar featuring Bilal, Anna Wise, and Thundercat – “These Walls”
Nicki Minaj featuring Drake, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown – “Only”

Who should win: Jidenna featuring Roman GianArthur – “Classic Man”
Who will win: Kendrick Lamar featuring Bilal, Anna Wise, and Thundercat – “These Walls”

What a strange group of nominations. There’s not just one, but two inspirational John Legend tracks, one of which won an Oscar. There’s the lesser of two Nicki/Drake/Lil Wayne songs from the same record , as “Truffle Butter” didn’t really have any singing in it. Round it out, there’s a surprise radio smash from a member of Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records collective and a deep cut from To Pimp a Butterfly featuring Thundercat and Anna Wise, seemingly nominated as the only song from the record that fit the guidelines for this category. It’s a bit of a doozy.

“Glory” is a fine song that would be deserving of a win, but the fact that “One Man Can Change the World” is so similar makes it likely that neither will win. “Only” may have reached the highest of any of these songs on the charts, but most will agree it’s the weakest of the Pinkprint’s many singles. That leaves “Classic Man” and “These Walls”. From the infamous Grammy snub in favor of Macklemore to the nearly unanimous designation of To Pimp a Butterfly as album of the year from critics, this year’s Grammys have been almost preordained as the year of Kendrick. In the likely scenario that Kendrick loses most of the big awards to Taylor Swift, the Grammys will surely attempt to save face by throwing him some consolation awards. No one else in this category had a song received well enough to where it would feel like a snub if they lose, so a Kendrick win here makes sense.

The things is, “These Walls” is a fine song, but probably one of the weakest on Kendrick’s masterpiece, and “Classic Man” was a fun, unassuming track that ended up being the sleeper hit of the summer, inspiring the fervent #JidennaHive and making a name for the rising artist. The song is fun, light, catchy, and stronger than the majority of pop hits from 2015. Kendrick himself appeared on the remix (though the original is the one nominated) and deserves all the awards he gets on Grammy night, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Jidenna takes one home as well. –David Sackllah

Best Rap Performance

J. Cole – “Apparently”
Drake – “Back to Back”
Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Nicki Minaj featuring Lil Wayne – “Truffle Butter”

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Who will win: Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

Kendrick Lamar looks to keep his reign in this category. (The emcee won this award last year for “i”.) J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive was a good record, but “Apparently” isn’t even the best track on the album – “A Tale of 2 Citiez”, “Fire Squad”, and “G.O.M.D.” all better exemplify Cole’s flow and verbal dexterity. The braggadocio of “Truffle Butter” is mostly unremarkable save for Lil Wayne’s rapid-fire alliteration toward the end of the song (“I’m so heartless, thoughtless, lawless and flawless/ Smallest regardless, largest in charge”). Drake’s diss track “Back to Back” maybe could give K. Dot a run for his money with his well-executed jabs (see: “Trigger fingers turn to Twitter fingers” and “Is that a world tour or you girl’s tour?”).

But overcoming “Alright” will be a tall task for any of the other nominees. Our top song of 2015, the track packs a whirlwind of feelings – defeat, triumph, agony, hope – into its three-minute runtime. Lamar’s rapid acceleration in his second verse shows his impeccable control of his flow, and the song’s coda continues the deep introspection in To Pimp a Butterfly’s overarching poetic narrative. The beautifully simple hook – “We gon’ be alright!” – rightfully became a rallying cry around Lamar’s positivity. –Killian Young

Best Rap Song

Kendrick Lamar
Kanye West featuring Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom, and Paul McCartney – “All Day”
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Drake – “Energy”
Common and John Legend – “Glory”
Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Who will win: Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

Drake had a huge year. Fetty Wap blew up out of nowhere. Common and John Legend already won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Kanye is Kanye. But Kendrick Lamar released the best album of last year, and “Alright” is not only the centerpiece, but a powerful statement of empowerment in the face of oppression. That said, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the Grammy committee followed suit with their fellow not-always-with-it awards ceremony pals and handed another statue to Common and Legend. To that same end, if the Grammy voters are going to award a “hip” choice, they might just go the Kanye route, even if it’s not Ye’s strongest. But then Kendrick has both the youth appeal of Kanye and the social awareness of “Glory”. How could he possibly get passed over?. –Adam Kivel

Best Rap Album

J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Dr. Dre – Compton
Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Who will win: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Anyone but Kendrick winning this award would be a massive shock; that’s a given. But let’s not discount this category’s recent unsavory past, including Macklemore’s win two years ago and a field last year that showed a real disconnect between voters knowledge of rap albums and what were actually the best rap albums of the year. All that said, this year’s nominees are a lot better, including a couple records (Drake, Dre) that deserve awards in their own right and a couple records (Minaj, Cole) that were huge cultural moments that raised the star of both artists. If anyone beats Lamar, both Dre’s longevity and Drake’s past Grammy successes could be the reason (Drake won this category in 2013 for Take Care), but this looks like a year that the Grammys get this one right. –Philip Cosores

Best Rock Performance

Foo Fighters
Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”
Florence and the Machine – “What Kind of Man”
Foo Fighters – “Something from Nothing”
Elle King – “Ex’s & Oh’s”
Wolf Alice – “Moaning Lisa Smile”

Who should win: Florence and the Machine – “What Kind of Man”
Who will win: Foo Fighters – “Something From Nothing”

Foo Fighters’ “Something from Nothing” has all the hallmarks of a Grammy favorite. There’s the cross-country backstory for Sonic Highways, the production in Steve Albini’s studio with Butch Vig, and of course the appeal of Dave Grohl (13 Grammy wins since 2000). The track’s slow build, funky riff, and rip-roaring climax all exemplify the Foos’ electric stadium-rock appeal. “Something from Nothing” is by all accounts a solid rock song, but for an upset bid, Florence and the Machine’s “What Kind of Man” would also be a deserving pick. Emblematic of the band’s pared-down, grand sound on their newest record, the track effortlessly pairs its crunchy guitar riff with big drum hits and triumphant horns. And of course, the song is carried by Florence Welch’s impressive vocals, which fluctuate from the reserved, mournful opening to her powerful croon in the final chorus. –Killian Young

Best Rock Album

Death Cab For Cutie - 2015 Tour
James Bay – Chaos and the Chain
Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi
Highly Suspect – Mister Asylum
Muse – Drones
Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter

Who should win: Highly Suspect – Mister Asylum
Who will win: Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

What a sad category. Really, Alabama Shakes should have been nominated in this category rather than the Alternative one, as the band is in all the other Rock categories except for this one. Instead, we get a much more alternative Death Cab for Cutie that shouldn’t be nominated for their weak recent contribution, a much more pop James Bay, and a much more metal Slipknot. Highly Suspect is also pretty left field, if only because the group’s stock had not been that high ahead of their multiple Grammy nominations. So, with no clear-cut favorite, deserving or not, we’ll go with Death Cab just based on their career output. –Philip Cosores

Best Rock Song

alabama Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”
Elle King – “Ex’s & Oh’s”
James Bay – “Hold Back the River”
Highly Suspect – “Lydia”
Florence and the Machine – “What Kind of Man”

Who should win: Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”
Who will win: Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight”

While the nominations for Best Rock Album may be scraping the bottom of the barrel, there are a few strong contenders for Best Rock Song (even if the albums they’re on may be nominated in the Pop or Alternative categories because Grammy categories make zero sense.) Both Elle King and James Bay had decent singles, and while Bay may be a sleeper for a few upset takeaways come Grammy night for his maudlin approach, Florence and Alabama Shakes both seem too strong for him to topple here. Florence’s single was stellar, benefiting from restraint that the artist is typically not associated with. Judging from the fact that they are up for Album of the Year, though, this year’s Grammys feel like the year of Alabama Shakes and deservedly so. Sound & Color was arguably the strongest rock album of 2015, and this soulful slow-burner was its mission statement. From the opening seconds of the track, Brittany Howard announces her presence with that signature wheeze and delivers a knockout performance from there. The Grammys’ infatuation with “authentic” rock and roll instead of innovators may be growing tiresome, but Alabama Shakes are the rare group where the hype is justified. An excellent slice of classic rock revivalism, they deserve all the Grammys they (may) take home. –David Sackllah

Best Alternative Album

Tame Impala new song
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Björk – Vulnicura
My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
Tame Impala – Currents
Wilco – Star Wars

Who should win: Tame Impala – Currents
Who will win: Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

While this crop of nominees looks particularly sharp at first glance, it’s interesting to note that the only artist of the five contenders to be in the category for their first time is the Alabama Shakes. And with an Album of the Year nomination also in their pocket, it would be somewhat surprising if the band didn’t take this one home. Still, Best Alternative Album has been particularly progressive in recent years, with St. Vincent and Vampire Weekend each winning previous years with particularly excellent LPs. This might bode well for Tame Impala (or maybe even Bjork), whose album is more in line with what would traditionally be considered “alternative.” It could even be possible that Alabama Shakes will pull an Arcade Fire, losing this category and then winning Album of the Year (The Black Keys bested AF in this category in 2011), but that is a pretty unlikely scenario. It’s also worth noting that Wilco won this award before (2005’s A Ghost Is Born), which is always good for your Grammy odds. –Philip Cosores

Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett - rock 2015
Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

Who should win: Courtney Barnett
Who will win: Meghan Trainor

Best New Artist has always been a laughable category at the Grammys. Let’s break it down word by word. “Best” is the problematic word of every category at the Grammys, an awards ceremony where countless musicians feel music is not properly represented (and often bail on the ceremony completely to make their point). What qualifies as “new” isn’t always “new” to those tuned in to music releases and rising artists. Same goes for “artist,” where past musicians who were nominated used ghostwriters, like Britney Spears and Kid Rock.

It should come as no surprise that this year’s crop will likely lead to disappointment. Courtney Barnett gave 2015 her all. The Australian singer-songwriter released her highly-anticipated full-length, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, climbed her way up festival slots, and refused to stop touring simply because enough people were turning up at her sold-out shows (and, duh, because she loves to play). With wit as innovative as hers and hooks as delectable as those in her songs, it’s simple math to understand why Barnett is the year’s best new artist.

But, of course, it seems far more likely that hit-maker Meghan Trainor and her controversial pop songs will win simply because those voting will recognize the name. She rocketed to fame — and the millions of YouTube views under her name can back her up. There’s a chance Barnett could win given the widespread coverage she received, but we’re betting that chance is one we’re going to be left dreaming of. –Nina Corcoran

Song of the Year

Taylor Swift
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
Little Big Town – “Girl Crush”
Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth – “See You Again”
Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud”

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Who will win: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

It doesn’t seem feasible that T. Swift will walk away empty handed after all the admiration and hype that surrounded the release of 1989. I’ll even admit, that album is what made me kick down the door of my closeted fandom and openly revel in her pop prowess. Of the handful of hits that spawned from the album, “Blank Space” stands out as a record breaker. As Billboard reported, the song secured Swift the honor of becoming the first woman in the history of Hot 100 to supersede herself for the No. 1 spot. All that being said, Swift’s slice of history pales in comparison to the history Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly speaks to. His album is aggressive and affecting, filled with crude rhymes and provoking proclamations. Though “Alright” made less tangible history, it became an anthem against police brutality and racial unjust, highlighting the civil unrest that has followed. “Alright” is centered on these topics, and Lamar is relentless in delivering his message to the masses. A win for Lamar would be a win for a movement — I can almost hear his acceptance speech now. So, though Swift is likely to scoop up this award, Lamar won’t likely be “Alright” with losing to her, or anyone else, and with good reason. –Lyndsey Havens

Record of the Year

the weeknd
D’Angelo and the Vanguard – “Really Love”
Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud”
Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”

Who should win: The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”
Who will win: The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”

The Weeknd had quite a year — he became a pop and R&B sensation by finding a perfect balance between mainstream hit-maker and slow-and-steady seducer — all while maintaining his oddly structured yet somehow appealing up-do. His breakout single “Can’t Feel My Face” (co-written and co-produced with hitmaker Max Martin) falls into the former of the two categories, and after spending weeks at No. 1, the record finally quenched his career’s thirst for success. Unlike other nominees who are familiar and friendly with attention and/or award ceremonies, a handful of Grammy nods is new to The Weeknd. He managed to turn a side-effect of drugs into the song of the summer, and while the other contenders in this category crafted equally catchy records, none pulled off as impressive a feat as The Weeknd. Some records reignited slowing careers (D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Bruno Mars), and others sustained successful ones (Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran), but The Weeknd’s record launched him into an entirely new arena, one he rightfully deserves to dominate. –Lyndsey Havens

Album of the Year

Kendrick Lamar
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Chris Stapleton – Traveller
Taylor Swift – 1989
The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Who will win: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

One of the best things that the Album of the Year category has going for it is that each of the five nominees has a legitimate claim to the award. Alabama Shakes have already proven to be a Grammy favorite on their previous album cycle (see their Boys & Girls nominations, and take into account that Sound & Color is even better), while Chris Stapleton is a rare country singer to find favor beyond his genre’s confines (see him play this year at Coachella of all places). And while The Weeknd’s stock has never been higher, proving a singles machine that has found a nice balance between commercial and critical acclaim, this year will likely come down to two wildly different horses. Any other year would find Taylor Swift with this award on lockdown; her 1989 is a cultural pillar that doesn’t get enough credit for how brave it was. But it seems foolish to pick against Kendrick Lamar this year. The Compton rapper created the critical consensus best album of the year, and the Grammy voters might feel like they owe him for previous snubs. –Philip Cosores