2019 Grammys: Our final predictions for the major awards

Kendrick Lamar is nominated for album, record and song of the year at Sunday's Grammy Awards.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Pop Music Critic

Given the increasing chatter over who’s set to perform on the Grammy Awards — or, as in the case of Ariana Grande, who’s not — it may have slipped your mind that Sunday’s show will also feature the distribution of eight or nine golden trophies. (That’s how many Grammys are expected to be awarded on the live CBS telecast, with the remaining 70-something to be handed out during an untelevised ceremony Sunday afternoon.)

But forget about music’s biggest prize we, at least, have not. Here are some final predictions as show time approaches.

Album of the year

The Recording Academy’s decision to boost the number of nominees in the major categories from five to eight — one of several measures this year intended to bring some overdue diversity to the field — means there’s no clear front-runner for the night’s most prestigious title.


Oddsmakers have pointed to Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” a quirky yet intimate country album that strikes the blend of tradition and innovation that academy members so often reward.

But the presence of another such album — Brandi Carlile’s “By the Way, I Forgive You” — could end up splitting the vote. The same goes for a pair of streaming hip-hop smashes in Drake’s “Scorpion” and Post Malone’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys” and for two left-of-center R&B efforts in Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer” and the self-titled debut by H.E.R.

That leaves Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” and Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack for “Black Panther,” the latter of which has the edge if only because this is the fourth time the celebrated rapper has been up for album of the year. With his three previous losses still a sore point for many, expect voters to attempt some damage control here.

Cardi B performs at the Coachella festival in 2018.
(Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

Record of the year

The correct choice, of course, is “I Like It” by Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin — the irresistible (and inescapable) Latin-pop smash that united generations and felt like a political statement even as Cardi B rapped about her love of fancy sneakers that look like socks.

But it was just last year that a similarly geared number, “Despacito,” somehow lost this prize. And if there’s one thing the academy loves, it’s repeating its mistakes (as Lamar, among others, can tell you).

Absurdly, a rapper has never won this prize, which would seem to narrow the chances of Malone’s “Rockstar,” Drake’s “God’s Plan” and Lamar and SZA’s hit “Black Panther” duet, “All the Stars.” Ditto Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” though voters may have been sufficiently moved by that song’s video — in which Donald Glover addresses gun violence and racial terror with an unflinching eye — to relax their usual bias against hip-hop.


The smart money is on Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow,” a real-deal event record that’s taken on a life beyond “A Star Is Born” — and satisfies the Grammys’ well established desire to see a slick pop star go rootsy.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in a scene from "A Star Is Born."
(Clay Enos / Warner Bros. Pictures)

Song of the year

The academy’s highest-profile songwriting award — as opposed to record of the year, which recognizes performance and production — song of the year has historically made even less room for rap than the other category. So it’s almost impossible to imagine “God’s Plan,” “This Is America” or “All the Stars” winning here. (Tellingly, “I Like It” and “Rockstar” weren’t even nominated.)


Nods for Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” and Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood” reflect voters’ admiration for young songwriters who’ve paid close attention to their predecessors; the presence of “The Middle” — the country-pop-EDM collaboration from Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey — suggests the academy is less opposed to songwriting-by-committee than you might’ve thought. (“The Middle” has seven credited writers, more than any other nominee this year.)

But like recent tunes by Adele, Sam Smith, Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks before it, “Shallow” seems primed to take both song and record of the year.

Chloe Bailey, left, and Halle Bailey of Chloe x Halle perform at Coachella in 2018.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Best new artist


Expect more vote-splitting here, particularly between Bebe Rexha and Dua Lipa and between Luke Combs and Margo Price — although given that it’s been nearly a decade since a country act won best new artist, the latter two may never have had a chance to begin with.

Greta Van Fleet’s nomination feels like little more than a last-ditch effort to land a rock band somewhere in the major categories; Jorja Smith released an intriguing debut (and made some impressive guest appearances with Drake and Kali Uchis) but remains too obscure to win.

Who’s left? Chloe x Halle, the Beyoncé-mentored sister duo who sang “America the Beautiful” at last weekend’s Super Bowl, and H.E.R., whose album of the year nod makes voters’ preference clear.

‘The 61st Annual Grammy Awards’


Where: CBS

When: 5 p.m. (live) and 8:30 p.m. (tape) Sunday

Twitter: @mikaelwood