Rihanna & Drake, Lukas Graham, Twenty One Pilots battle for Grammy in jam-packed Pop Duo/Group race

The Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance has a great track record. In its last five years it has honored the Record of the Year champion three times. This year does not stray from that path, as all five nominees ranked among Billboard’s top 20 hits of 2016 (the lowest of them at #12). Competition is fierce but only one can get the gold.

The nominees are “Closer” by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, “7 Years” by Lukas Graham, “Work” by Rihanna featuring Drake, “Cheap Thrills” by Sia featuring Sean Paul, and “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. Of those, three are also nominated for Record of the Year — “7 Years,” “Work” and “Stressed Out.” Let’s consider the pros and cons of those three now.

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WHY THEY’LL WIN: They’ve got the major nominations to support a genre win
Traditionally, a look at the nominees for Album, Record, and Song of the Year give us good insight into the likely winners in genre categories. Recent winners of this category include Record of the Year champs Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars (“Uptown Funk,” 2016); Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams (“Get Lucky,” 2014); and Gotye and Kimbra (“Somebody That I Used to Know,” 2013). This year Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” is the only Pop Duo/Group Performance nominee to score nominations for both Record and Song of the Year. The sentimental favorite may win this category as a consolation prize if Adele and Beyonce bulldoze through the general field as they are expected to do according to our racetrack odds.

WHY THEY WON’T WIN: Sometimes it takes more than a hit song to win a Grammy
As mentioned above, recent winners of this category include powerhouse names like Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson, and Pharrell, in addition to Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse, and Tony Bennett. While “7 Years” was a huge hit, Lukas Graham doesn’t yet have the longstanding industry cred to match those A-listers. Their competition includes highly regarded superstars like Rihanna, Sia, and Drake, as well as newer, consistent hit-makers Twenty One Pilots and The Chainsmokers. With only one widely recognizable song to their name, voters may feel like they haven’t yet earned their Grammy.

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WHY THEY’LL WIN: Name recognition
This pair has a combined 16 Grammy nominations this year, including a shared Record of the Year nom for “Work.” They are two of the biggest superstars on the planet, and they have built up plenty of good will with their fans and within the industry. “Work” is one of many collaborations between Rihanna and Drake, but it’s the biggest of them all – it spent nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 last spring. In competition with many newcomers, Rihanna may prevail here as one of the most likeable and exciting artists in the business. It’s a pop category after all, and no one here is more popular than Rihanna or Drake.

WHY THEY WON’T WIN: Traditional Grammy voters may not “get” “Work”
Despite being a massive across-the-board hit, “Work” can be fairly polarizing. Its club-friendly lyrics, dancehall production, and Rihanna’s patois could prove to be a difficult sell with a voting body that typically honors more traditional musicianship. RiRi’s lack of compromise could cost her a win here, but don’t feel bad if she loses, as she has seven other nominations this year.

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WHY THEY’LL WIN: The category reads pop, but voters want rock!
Similar to The Chainsmokers, Twenty One Pilots emerged with an unrelenting string of three huge singles in 2016, headlined by “Stressed Out.” But unlike The Chainsmokers with their electronic foundation, 21P laid their groundwork on the alternative charts, giving them a unique kind of rocker credibility in a category otherwise dominated by pure pop acts. That edge has worked wonders in major categories in previous years for artists like Kings of Leon (“Use Somebody,” 2010 Record of the Year) and Lorde (“Royals,” 2014 Song of the Year).

WHY THEY WON’T WIN: Their nominated single might be old news
With competition this strong, it may be important that voters feel their pick is fresh and exciting. While Twenty One Pilots had a banner year, they’ve had equal success and perhaps greater acclaim with their more recent soundtrack single “Heathens” (from “Suicide Squad”), nominated in rock and visual media categories this year. “Stressed Out,” meanwhile, debuted on Billboard’s alternative songs chart way back in the summer of 2015, so perhaps voters have moved on, not only to the band’s newer singles, but to the more recent nominees in this category. “Closer” is still riding high on the Hot 100 and Rihanna and Sia’s hits were charting well into the summer of 2016.

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