Music’s biggest award, the Grammy for Album of the Year, will be handed out on Monday, February 15, but unlike most people, I think it’s one of the most unpredictable races of the year. Contrary to Gold Derby’s combined predictions, which have “1989” as the strong frontrunner with 4/5 odds, Taylor Swift would have to defy a number of odds to actually win.
The biggest hurdle is that she’s a very recent winner, having won three albums ago for “Fearless” in 2009 when she was still considered a country musician. Furthermore, no female artist has ever won this award more than once for her own album. In fact, only four acts have ever repeated as winners for their own work, most recently U2 in 2005 for “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” after winning in 1987 for “The Joshua Tree.”
Next in line according to our odds is “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which marks Kendrick Lamar‘s second nomination in the category, following “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” in 2013. It’s been over 10 years since the the first and only rap album to win this award: “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” by OutKast in 2003. And just like Lamar, OutKast had also been nominated and lost two years prior (“Stankonia,” 2001), so perhaps history will repeat itself.
Lamar is also the night’s nomination leader with 11, a total that makes him the second most nominated artist ever in a single night, just behind Michael Jackson, who had 12 nominations in 1983, the year he took home this award for “Thriller.”
But then there’s the amazing year that The Weeknd has had both for his own nominated album “Beauty Behind the Madness” and his work on other projects. The Weeknd’s first trip toward the top of the charts came in 2014 when he was featured on Ariana Grande‘s top-10 hit single “Love Me Harder,” a feat he then surpassed on his own when his single “Earned It” from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack hit number-three on the US charts before going on to score an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. As if that wasn’t enough, his next two singles, “The Hills” and “Cant Feel My Face,” both rose to number-one, a spot he held for nine non-consecutive weeks in 2015. But despite the wide success of his singles, Gold Derby’s predictors have The Weeknd as the least likely to win Album of the Year with 40/1 odds.
Tracking ahead of The Weeknd is Alabama Shakes, who have 11/2 odds of winning for their album “Sound and Color.” The group was previously nominated in 2012 for Best Rock Performance and Best New Artist, but lost both. It’s the Best New Artist nomination that is the most intriguing stat: that’s the same award Mumford and Sons lost two years before winning their own Album of the Year title for their sophomore album “Babel” in 2013 — a “Sound & Color” win this year would be a similar accomplishment.
But Alabama Shakes are among the least nominated of the five acts up for this award. As previously mentioned, Kendrick Lamar leads the night with 11 nominations, ahead of Taylor Swift and The Weeknd with seven each. Alabama Shakes only have four, none of which are in the night’s other general field categories Record of the Year or Song of the Year.
That’s also true of fellow nominee Chris Stapleton, who also enters the night with only four nominations. Stapleton’s album “Traveller” is the obligatory country music nominee in the category. Though there was no country act nominated last year, the genre has had a rather firm grip on the category since the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack took home the top honor in 2001. Since then a country act has won the award in three out of seven nominations (“Taking the Long Way” by the Dixie Chicks in 2006, the country/folk “Raising Sand” by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss in 2008, “Fearless” by Swift in 2009). Perhaps it’s this factor that has inspired predictors to rank Stapleton over The Weeknd for fourth place with 28/1 odds to win.
With all that being said, my picks in this category are:
WILL win: Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”
Despite having one of the most popular and well-received albums of 2015, I think the hiccup in Taylor Swift’s road to the win is her status as a previous winner. Not only is this a category where an act is rarely awarded a second time, but there’s also precedent for such a popular and heavily favored album to lose; it was only last year that Beyonce‘s surprise-released, buzzworthy, bestselling and overall fantastic self-titled album lost the award to Beck‘s underdog “Morning Phase.” It’s that win, as well as the aforementioned OutKast victory, that leads me to believe this is Kendrick Lamar’s to lose.
SHOULD win: The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness”
Like I said before, The Weeknd has had an exceptional year that, as far as I’m concerned, matches that of Lauryn Hill‘s glorious 1998 when she won for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” The Weeknd has the same type of crossover appeal that Lauryn Hill had, as evidenced by his nominations in multiple genres: “Can’t Feel My Face” is nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance while his album and his song “Earned It” show up in the Urban Contemporary and R&B fields. Hill also had multiple songs from her winning album earn nominations across the pop and R&B categories. I’d say there are even some songs on “Beauty Behind the Madness” that would have deserved nominations in the rock categories — he did collaborate with Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey after all. It’s this crossover appeal that makes me believe that not only can he win, but that he should win, as a representation of the evolving landscape and blurred genre lines of contemporary music.
Who do you think will win?
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Photo credits:The Weeknd by Veda Jo Jenkins/REX; Kendrick Lamar by Richard Isaac/REX; “To Pimp a Butterfly” by Aftermath; “Beauty Behind the Madness” by Republic