Did this year’s surprising Grammys lineup clear the way for Taylor Swift to win Album of the Year?

When the Grammy nominations were announced back in November, the lineup for Album of the Year was especially perplexing. But one thing that I was able to derive from the surprising snubs and inclusions was that it meant Taylor Swift could more likely steamroll to her third career trophy in the category for “Folklore.” But this seemingly forgone conclusion has made me reexamine this category and now I can’t help but wonder how the field was rounded out in a way that seems to help Swift so much.

The first thing that makes me question this lineup is how arbitrary much of it seems. Only three of the actual nominees were in our top 25 based on the combined predictions of thousands of Gold Derby users: Swift, Dua Lipa (“Future Nostalgia”) and Post Malone (“Hollywood’s Bleeding”). The remaining nominees were positioned 28th (Haim‘s “Women in Music Pt. III”), 36th (Coldplay‘s “Everyday Life”), 38th (Jhene Aiko‘s “Chilombo”) and 64th (Black Pumas‘ deluxe self-titled album). The final nominee, Jacob Collier (“Djesse Vol. 3”), wasn’t even in our predictions center.

Now consider some of the people who missed out on a nomination here: The Weeknd (“After Hours“), Lady Gaga (“Chromatica“), Roddy Ricch (“Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial”), Fiona Apple (“Fetch the Bolt Cutters“), The Chicks (“Gaslighter“), Brittany Howard (“Jaime”), FKA Twigs (“Magdalene”), Megan Thee Stallion (“Suga”) and Bob Dylan (“Rough and Rowdy Ways”). The fact that all of them missed out is highly suspect, not just because we got them wrong (we’re used to that) but because the recording academy instead nominated several albums that didn’t even have enough voter support to get nominated in their respective genre categories and left out most of Swift’s potential pop, country and Americana/folk rivals.

Things get even more questionable when you consider the organization that puts on this whole dog and pony show: the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). The way Grammy voting has worked over the past several years has lacked transparency. The ultimate nominees for Album of the Year and other top categories are decided by a nomination review committee after the wider academy membership narrows it down to the top 20. Identities of committee members aren’t disclosed, and last year this all came to a head when former CEO Deborah Dugan, who had just been ousted from the organization, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In addition to claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, Dugan alleged that the nominations process is filled with conflicts of interest. This includes members of the board of trustees pushing for artists they have relationships with to receive nominations, and even recording artists being on the committee for categories they end up nominated for. While NARAS has denied Dugan’s claims and assures that there is a process to ensure no conflict of interest occurs, their process is still largely shrouded in secrecy, so all we have from them is their word.

But why did the Grammys turn out this way in particular? Who was on the committee that decided who to include and exclude for Album of the Year? Does NARAS possibly think that by awarding Swift again, especially now that she’s more closely associated with feminism and the #MeToo movement, they can point to her victory as a way of absolving themselves of Dugan’s accusations? Or could it be that the Grammys are just stubborn about what they like and what they like is the idea of rewarding Swift with a third Album of the Year trophy when she’s only 31?

The list of people who think something fishy is going on with the Grammys includes big stars like The Weeknd, Halsey, Drake and now even Zayn, but we may never know for sure. All I can say is that if Swift wins, like our odds are overwhelmingly predicting, it should be looked at with a bit of a side-eye considering who she didn’t have to compete against.

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