No matter who takes home the biggest trophies at the 61st Grammy Awards, one certainty is that more people than usual will be disappointed. Not because the works in contention are exceptionally bad — though some choices do boggle the well-informed mind — but because the Recording Academy for the first time has upped the number of nominees in the major categories from five to eight.
Which means, of course, that come “music’s biggest night” on Feb. 10, we’ll be positively swimming in losers — including some who might have won had the academy’s effort to be more inclusive in those categories not led to what’s likely to be a number of split votes. But enough about the empty-handed! Here’s who stands a chance of grabbing Grammy gold.
Album of the year
Cardi B, “Invasion of Privacy”
Brandi Carlile, “By the Way, I Forgive You”
Post Malone, “Beerbongs & Bentleys”
Janelle Monáe, “Dirty Computer”
Kacey Musgraves, “Golden Hour”
Various artists, “Black Panther: The Album”
The specter of a split vote looms large for the ceremony’s flagship prize. Figure that Drake and Malone, kings of hip-hop’s streaming era, will cancel each other out with their double-disc marathons; ditto H.E.R. and Monáe with their forward-looking R&B and Musgraves and Carlile with their heartfelt roots music. That leaves Cardi B’s smash debut against Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther” soundtrack — a race in which academy members, who’ve nominated three of Lamar’s previous albums, are likely to go with the more familiar name.
Record of the year
Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, “I Like It”
Brandi Carlile, “The Joke”
Childish Gambino, “This Is America”
Drake, “God’s Plan”
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”
Kendrick Lamar & SZA, “All the Stars”
Post Malone featuring 21 Savage, “Rockstar”
Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey, “The Middle”
It’s hard to imagine anyone beating Lady Gaga here — and not just because her win would allow insiders to say they got the jump on Oscar voters (who are even more certain to honor the singer’s power ballad from “A Star Is Born”). “Shallow” is also classic Grammys bait: an intimate yet grand-scaled acoustic number from an artist finally stripping down after years of perceived excess.
Song of the year
“All the Stars,” written by Kendrick Duckworth, Solána Rowe, Al Shuckburgh, Mark Spears & Anthony Tiffith (performed by Kendrick Lamar & SZA)
“Boo’d Up,” written by Larrance Dopson, Joelle James, Ella Mai & Dijon McFarlane (performed by Ella Mai)
“God’s Plan,” written by Aubrey Graham, Daveon Jackson, Brock Korsan, Ron LaTour, Matthew Samuels & Noah Shebib (performed by Drake)
“In My Blood,” written by Teddy Geiger, Scott Harris, Shawn Mendes & Geoffrey Warburton (performed by Shawn Mendes)
“The Joke,” written by Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb, Phil Hanseroth & Tim Hanseroth (performed by Brandi Carlile)
“The Middle,” written by Sarah Aarons, Jordan K. Johnson, Stefan Johnson, Marcus Lomax, Kyle Trewartha, Michael Trewartha & Anton Zaslavski (performed by Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey)
“Shallow,” written by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando & Andrew Wyatt (performed by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper)
“This Is America,” written by Donald Glover & Ludwig Goransson (performed by Childish Gambino)
As Adele, Sam Smith, Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks can tell you — and that’s just in recent years — a win for record of the year is often accompanied by a win for song of the year. So look out for “Shallow” to repeat here, unless voters take a political stance and get behind “This Is America,” Childish Gambino’s dramatic meditation on racism and gun violence.
Best new artist
Chloe x Halle
Greta Van Fleet
Given the dearth of guys with guitars elsewhere, this category is likely to be one where older academy members stage a symbolic insurrection against the rappers and pop stars vying for other awards. The question, in that case, is whether they’ll go with a proudly scruffy country star (Combs) or a rock band designed to satisfy Led Zeppelin fans miffed by that group’s refusal to reunite (Greta Van Fleet).
Best pop vocal album
Camila Cabello, “Camila”
Kelly Clarkson, “Meaning of Life”
Ariana Grande, “Sweetener”
Shawn Mendes, “Shawn Mendes”
Pink, “Beautiful Trauma”
Taylor Swift, “Reputation”
Shut out of the major categories (after twice winning album of the year), Swift has only a single nomination for the polarizing “Reputation.” But even if her supporters rally around her here, she faces stiff competition from Grande, whose “Sweetener” — inspired in part by the terrorist bombing of her 2017 concert in Manchester, England — led many grown-ups to take her as seriously as she’s long deserved.
Best urban contemporary album
The Carters, “Everything Is Love”
Chloe x Halle, “The Kids Are Alright”
Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, “Chris Dave and the Drumhedz”
Miguel, “War & Leisure”
Meshell Ndegeocello, “Ventriloquism”
The academy’s convoluted definition of this prize — it’s “for albums containing at least 51% playing time of newly recorded contemporary vocal tracks derivative of R&B” — means so little that you can picture almost anybody taking the thing. But with Beyoncé in the running (as half of the Carters with her husband, Jay-Z), the reality is clear.
Producer of the year, non-classical
If West’s recent antics cost him nominations for his album “Ye,” this behind-the-scenes nod feels like the academy’s way of recognizing his undeniable studio skills. Which isn’t to say he’ll win (even if his work this year means he should). Never put it past Grammy voters to turn a prize like this into a de facto lifetime-achievement award for a veteran such as Klein or Perry.