Ask any pop music fan to tell you who the biggest artists of the year are, and their answers will likely include R&B-superstar SZA and pop icon Taylor Swift. Both Swift and SZA are having amazing years, repping the success of their late-2022-released albums “SOS” and “Midnights,” respectively. Big success often translates to some sort of Grammy recognition. As such, and with no other true front-runner this season so far (the eligibility period ends September 30, so there’s still time), let’s consider the idea that either Swift or SZA will end up taking the Grammy for Album of the Year.
There’s good reason to believe both of these ladies are front-runners. On Swift’s side, it’s clear that the Grammys really respect her, as she’s the only woman to win Album of the Year three times. On top of that, virtually every album she releases gets acknowledged in one way or another. Additionally, “Midnights” was critically acclaimed like her last few records, achieved 1.5 million equivalent album units in its first week, and has remained steady on the charts. It also produced one of Swift’s biggest hit singles, “Anti-Hero.” Such success rarely goes unnoticed by the Grammys.
For SZA, Album of the Year would be a fitting title. “SOS,” her long-awaited second album, has spent 10 weeks atop the Billboard 200, the most for any female album this decade. The record has also spawned multiple hits, including the smash “Kill Bill,” which is easily SZA’s most successful as a lead artist. “SOS” was also massively acclaimed, scoring 90 on Metacritic, a rare achievement. Her narrative is strong too: she managed to take her time between new releases — more than five years — and dropped arguably one of the most successful sophomore albums ever, beating the sophomore slump and exceeding expectations for an R&B artist.
When it comes to narratives, SZA could have the edge over Swift. Voters might admire her successful comeback, especially since Black women often don’t get their due. SZA is also a fresher pick; academy members are presumably aware Swift already has three Album of the Year titles, the last of which was not long ago. It can also help that “SOS” is one of the most sonically varied albums of the season, drawing from R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock to make for a diverse but coherent listen. This means it could appeal to a broader swath of voters, especially if the final lineup has little genre diversity and there are no other clear options for those voters.
That said, Swift has history on her side. The Grammys are definitely a bit biased towards pop records, and Swift is one of the leading pop artists of her generation. Yes, she may have three AOTYs, but if anyone is going to collect the most ever, Swift wouldn’t be an odd choice. She’d also be the safe choice: she’s been in the industry for a while, she makes very accessible music, “Midnights” is digestible for listeners of all ages, and she doesn’t alienate many audiences. Put that in contrast with recent pop AOTY losers, like Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour” — which may have been regarded as too juvenile — or Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s “Love For Sale” — which may have skewed too old. Swift may have the winning balance.
We still have months ahead of us until the Grammy deadline, so there’s still time for the Album of the Year race to diversify — or perhaps for one of the two current front-runners to make an obvious leap above the other. Still, a lot of Album of the Year winners have been released by this point of the eligibility year, so it’s not too early to consider whether the Grammys will award SZA or Swift. Right now it looks like a coin toss.
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