2021 Grammys: here’s who we think will win

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Grammy awards

By Gary Sowder and Joshua Sokol

2020 was a wild year for music. Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga released albums loaded with club bangers just as clubs became a thing of the past. Fiona Apple made her third comeback, reigning in legions of new fans and topping year-end lists. Megan Thee Stallion, Beyoncé, and H.E.R. used music to soundtrack global protests against police brutality.

All of us listened to this music in isolation, in our childhood bedrooms, our off-campus apartments, and on long socially-distanced walks.

It makes sense, then, that the self-proclaimed biggest night in music, will happen just as abnormally. Postponed and held in a hybrid model.

Without further ado, these are our predictions for the 2021 Grammy winners. They don’t represent the opinions of The Beacon or Emerson College, although they should because we are arbiters of taste.

Album of the Year

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Chilombo – Jhené Aiko

Black Pumas (Deluxe Edition) – Black Pumas

Everyday Life – Coldplay

Djesse Vol. 3 – Jacob Collier

Women in Music Pt. III – Haim

Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa

Hollywood’s Bleeding – Post Malone

Folklore – Taylor Swift

Who will win: Folklore

Who should win: Folklore

 Folklore was a change of pace for Swift, musically and promotionally. An artist typically known for massive roll-out cycles, months of teasing, huge bombastic singles, and gaudy music videos, Swift abandoned all of these trappings for Folklore. She announced the album less than 24 hours before its release, dropping the record, single, and music video all at once. 

It was a move that mirrored Folklore’s sonic change, which shunted the pop bombast of her previous three albums for somber, lyrically-driven, chamber pop. It was the first mainstream quarantine album and its relaxed pace and introspective themes captured a specific mood for the saddest summer in history.

Folklore brought Swift back to her halcyon days of critical acclaim, reinforced her position as one of the 21st century’s greatest lyricists, and shifted the cultural conversation, finally, away from Swift’s relationships and towards her immense talent as a singer, songwriter, producer, and superstar.

Breaking streaming records across all platforms, having 10 of its 16 songs enter the Top 40 the day of its release, and being the highest selling album of 2020 won’t hurt its chances at Grammy success either.  

Record of the Year

“Black Parade” – Beyoncé 

“Colors” – Black Pumas

“Rockstar” DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch

“Say So” – Doja Cat

“Everything I Wanted” – Billie Eilish

“Don’t Start Now” – Dua Lipa

“Circles” – Post Malone

“Savage” – Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé

Who will win: “Say So”

Who should win: “Savage”

Record of the Year tends to be a category that favors commercial success, and while Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s powerhouse remix of “Savage” dominated the charts and made the rounds on TikTok, Doja Cat’s “Say So” was the ever-present Gen-Z anthem.

With funky throwback guitars, an airy chorus, and an infectious spit-fire rap, “Say So” has a real shot at impressing older Grammy voters. Doja spent the better half of 2020 parading the song around award shows, doing a musical theater version at the BBMAs and a heavy metal version for the EMAs, and released two remixes with Nicki Minaj, making sure that this sickly sweet track never left our playlists.

“Say So” was produced primarily by Dr. Luke. Numerous musicians, including fellow nominee Fiona Apple, have spoken out against Luke’s nomination following accusations of emotional abuse and sexual assault from Kesha. Unfortunately, this hadn’t changed “Say So’s” chart dominance or it’s status as a front-runner. While the film industry was upended and began the long process of restructuring following the #MeToo movement, the music industry is in dire need of a reckoning.

Beyoncé’s effortless flow and airy harmonies mixed with Megan Thee Stallion’s raunchy, bold Houston style sound-tracked Stallion’s hot girl summer part two. It’s a better song, it’s a better pick, and it wasn’t produced by an alleged rapist.

Song of the Year

“Black Parade” – Beyoncé

“The Box” – Roddy Ricch

“Cardigan” – Taylor Swift

“Circles” – Post Malone

“Don’t Start Now” – Dua Lipa

“Everything I Wanted”– Billie Eilish

“I Can’t Breathe”– H.E.R

“If the World Was Ending”– Julia Michaels

Who will win: “Don’t Start Now”

Who should win: “Black Parade” or “I Can’t Breathe”

 Dua Lipa had a few solid weeks with “Don’t Start Now,” until it’s throwback disco sound was relegated to living room dance parties and at-home workouts. The violin samples, rubbery bass, and kiss-off lyrics made it the essential song for the pre-game or the game. 

 With her sophomore record Future Nostalgia, Lipa sought to create an album that felt timeless, nostalgic, but deeply of the moment, and “Don’t Start Now” captures that effortlessly, by merging modern dance-pop with elements of funk, French house, and Italian disco. It’s pure joy, pure confidence, all smushed into three minutes.

 As danceable as “Don’t Start Now” is, Beyoncé’s trap influenced “Black Parade” condemned racism, called to action protesters against police brutality, and simultaneously celebrating Blackness. While recent Grammy favorite H.E.R scored anger with her trademark guitar-led R&B, the end half, which is less rap and more spoken word piece, condemning white allies and the police, is a true gut-punch. Either one would make for a great victory, however, the Grammys has a long history of nominating Black women in its general field and never giving them the win.   

Best New Artist

Ingrid Andress

Phoebe Bridgers

Noah Cyrus

Chika 

D Smoke

Doja Cat

Kaytranada

Megan Thee Stallion

Who will win: Doja Cat

Who should win: Megan Thee Stallion

Doja Cat absolutely dominated the hellscape that was 2020. Her rise to pop stardom is one from the history books. Two years ago, she was soundtracking Seth Rogen films and eating french fries in front of a green screen. Now she’s a go-to rap feature and Ariana Grande’s latest duet partner. She’s churned out two albums back-to-back, become an award show mainstay, and has so many TikTok dances to her name it’s getting hard to keep track.

In a year where we all felt disconnected, Doja never failed to remain in the conversation.

However, Megan Thee Stallion has better songs, better flow, and radiates star power every time she steps, no arrives, on the stage. Her raps seamlessly weave brassy confidence with poignant personal and political activism.

We’d say Phoebe Bridgers is a contender, but a Best New Artist nod on your second album?

Best Pop Vocal Album:

Fine Line – Harry Styles

Folklore – Taylor Swift

Changes – Justin Bieber 

Chromatica – Lady Gaga

Future Nostalgia – Dua Lipa

Who will win: Lady Gaga

Who should win: Taylor Swift

While a much awaited Lady Gaga album, Chromatica, was an all-around dystopian pop hit with incredible features— namely K-pop powerhouse BLACKPINK — the album does not hit the winner’s requirements. It is largely predictable, disjointed, and for the standard that Gaga has set for herself, disappointing. It was ill-promoted with gimmicky, yet fun, marketing attempts (Oreos, jock straps, etc.) That being said, Lady Gaga is a shoe-in for a Grammy win.

Miss Gaga swept the MTV Music Awards. She’s a force to be reckoned with this award season, and I think she will come up on top.

That being said, each one of us can remember the dramatic and cathartic moment Taylor Swift’s Folklore dropped. It is an album filled to the brim with poetic lyricism and emotional vulnerability that brought us back to life after what seemed like an emotionally stunted bunch of months. Swift’s eighth studio album changed the game for her personally, as well as for the artistic landscape of pop music. Folklore brought the innovation that Chromatica lacks. 

Best Pop Solo Performance:

Justin Bieber – “Yummy”

Doja Cat – “Say So”

Billie Eilish – “everything i wanted”

Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now”

Harry Styles – “Watermelon Sugar”

Taylor Swift – “Cardigan”

Who will win: “Watermelon Sugar”

Who should win: “Don’t Start Now”

What to say about Harry Styles? Seeing his transformation from a boy-band sensation in One Direction to a vision in Gucci has been interesting to say the least. As far as his solo music goes, it is sensationally well-received. “Watermelon Sugar” has been seen in TikToks, on Top 40 charts, and is generally a pretty catchy tune. Is it Best Pop Solo Performance material? No. Will it win? Yes.

The GRAMMYS love a re-invention, especially for male artists who make a statement or seemingly make a statement. The conversation around Harry Styles and his “progressive” stance on expression is in itself enough to grant Styles brownie points towards a GRAMMY win. 

However, “Don’t Start Now” was a reinvention of Dua Lipa in her own right. The song rings in references to disco hits and Prince levels of musical complexity. Very rarely do I read due credit for this track, but Lipa has a way of merging her gritty altos with pop melodies that could light up the darkest of rooms. Plus, who doesn’t love the addition of cow bell in a hit pop song?

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance:

J Balvin, Dua Lipa, Bad Bunny & Tainy – “Un Dia (One Day)”

Justin Bieber (ft. Quavo) – “Intentions”

BTS – “Dynamite”

Lady Gaga (ft. Ariana Grande) – “Rain on Me”

Taylor Swift (ft. Bon Iver) – “Exile”

Who will win: “Dynamite”

Who should win: “Exile”

The fury of the BTS Army is not one to be reckoned with. I’m a little scared for my safety just writing this. If restriction of free press is the death of democracy, then criticizing BTS is the death of the music journalist. While “Dynamite” is catchy enough, and has more than enough clout to snag an award, the track itself leaves a little to be desired. It’s a fun song, it has you singing along at some junctures, but it follows the very safe dance-pattern of a pop song. 

Not to take anything away from them as a group, they are immensely talented and have one of the most loyal and dedicated fan bases in the world.

There is a special kind of intimacy that exists within the chords of “Exile”. A chronicle of a breakup leading to an emotional and physical distance. It’s a tale of finding yourself without a home, without someone to find comfort in. The dichotomy of Bon Iver’s baritone combined with Swift’s dreamy range echoes when they sing about giving each other the signs that a relationship was doomed. The layering and juxtaposition of vocal ranges and lyricism is what makes this track a true artistic interpretation of a duo performance — utilizing both voices and tones to tell the opposite perspectives of a story.

Best R&B Performance:

Jhené Aiko (ft. John Legend) – “Lightning & Thunder”

Beyoncé – “Black Parade”

Jacob Collier (ft. Mahalia & Ty Dolla $ign) – “All I Need”

Brittany Howard – “Goat Head”

Emily King – “See Me”

Who will win: “Black Parade”

Who should win: “Black Parade”

Out of everything that can be said about “Black Parade,” the most important aspect of the song is that it celebrates Blackness and Black joy. It equally acts as a protest song — long a role of music in times of social unrest — and a declaration of empowerment. It centralizes one of the key tenements of R&B — spirituality.

The song ranges from spiritual reference to spiritual reference. These anecdotes make the song a transcendent being beyond a specific time and space and into an evergreen movement. Beyonce merges symbolic and spiritual metaphors from different cultures with her commanding vocals and strings them along effortlessly to create cohesive community and solidarity. “Black Parade” is the intersectional anthem that the R&B category needs and deserves.

Best Traditional R&B Performance:

The Baylor Project (ft. Jean Baylor & Marcus Baylor) – “Sit on Down”

Chloe x Halle – “Wonder What She Thinks of Me”

Mykal Kilgore – “Let Me Go”

Ledisi – “Anything For You”

Yebba – “Distance”

Who will win: Chloe x Halle

Who should win: Chloe x Halle

It goes without saying that the Bailey sisters dominated the R&B scene in 2020. Their album Ungodly Hour made the Top 20 in both the U.S. Billboard Top 20 charts as well as the U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. Executively produced by Beyoncé, this album harkens back to an early 2000’s style of R&B that feels all the same contemporary. 

The Bailey sisters are self-taught musicians with a wide array of references. Vulture writer Jada Yuan coined the duo the “First Superstars of the Beyoncé Generation.” The style, grace, and harmony of their music embodies the angelic cover art of the album, and their single up for nomination “Wonder What She Thinks of Me” is no exception.

Best Alternative Album:

Fetch the Bolt Cutters––Fiona Apple

Hyperspace––Beck

Punisher––Phoebe Bridgers

Jaime––Brittany Howard

The Slow Rush––Tame Impala

Who will win: Punisher

Who should win: Fetch the Bolt Cutters

“Motion Sickness,” Bridgers’s first bona fide hit, cemented her as a sad girl with a knack for power chords. On Punisher, her solo comeback after two stints in two different supergroups, she cranks her talents up to 11. The ballads are softer, more devastating, more detailed; the rockers are heavier, the guitars crunchier, and the trumpet solos more triumphant. All culminating in “I Know the End,” a six-minute banger that starts as a ballad, ruminating on how much she hates this part of Texas, and climaxing with a cacophony of screams declaring that “the end is here!” With even more trumpets and wails from the album’s multitude of famous guests––Conor Oberst, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, among others––closing out on Bridgers alone, voice hoarse, letting out her last few shrieks.

She captured the zeitgeist of the pandemic before any of us knew what a coronavirus was.

While her debut felt like a journey backward, a retrospective look at the pain inflicted by others and the pain she’s inflicted upon herself, Punisher has Bridgers breaking out of depression’s prison, finally organizing the junk-drawer of her mind.

The obvious snub here is Fiona Apple’s fourth comeback, Fetch the Bolt Cutters. While it topped nearly every major best-of list and nabbed Pitchfork’s first perfect ten since 2010, Fiona’s comments about the Grammys nomination of Dr. Luke and her promise to destroy the award if she wins puts her on rocky territory with the Recording Academy.

Best Rock Song:

“Kyoto” – Phoebe Bridgers

“Lost in Yesterday” – Tame Impala

“Not” – Big Thief

 “Shameika” – Fiona Apple

“Stay High” – Brittany Howard

Who will win: “Kyoto”

Who should win: “Shameika”

 Phoebe Bridgers’ “Kyoto” began as another ballad, set to be placed on an album already chock full of tearjerkers. It was a track about her complicated and ever-changing relationship with her father, who divorced her mother while Bridgers was 20 and left the two women viciously angry. After hearing the demo, producer Tony Berg suggested they up the song’s tempo, and Bridgers agreed, growing tired of Punisher’s many sad songs.

 The sunny trumpet arrangements and twinkling, elevator music-esque, synth line brilliantly contrast the song’s drab descriptions of wandering Japan alone, wailing about how much she wants to kill her father, and remarking that he forgot his son’s birthday. It’s lyrically devastating, musically bright, the song you could blast at the funeral’s afterparty.

 Apple’s “Shameika,” a song about a one-off encounter in elementary school that has stuck with her for 20 years, is the best written song of the group— but Apple’s open disdain for the award ceremony makes her chances at any wins this Sunday very slim.

Best Rock Performance:

“The Steps” –– HAIM

“Stay High” –– Brittany Howard

“Not” –– Big Thief

“Shameika”–– Fiona Apple

“Kyoto”–– Phoebe Bridgers

“Daylight”–– Grace Potter

 Who will win: “The Steps”

Who should win: “The Steps” or “Kyoto”

Haim has been skirting around a Grammy for years, losing Best New Artist to Sam Smith in 2015, becoming think piece talking points after their debut and sophomore albums received no nomination, despite hefty amounts of critical acclaim. While two nominations isn’t quite the full sweep Women in Music Pt. III rightfully deserves, it does point towards a redemption arc.

Frontwoman Danielle Haim’s vocals are steeped in analog fuzz, backed by her two sisters whose harmonies could rival Chloe X Halle. The sisters soar above warped basslines and pounding drums––as with their three other records they played all the instruments––and muse on a slowly shattering relationship.

HAIM’s only competition is Bridgers. While the highlight of Kyoto lies in its composition, the way Bridgers soars above the wall-of-sound and deftly harmonizes with herself and the instrumentation is more than enough spectacle to nab her a win.

Best Rap Performance:

“Deep Reverence” –– Big Sean featuring Nipsey Hussle

“Bop” –– DaBaby

“What’s Poppin” –– Jack Harlow

“The Bigger Picture” –– Lil Baby 

“Savage” –– Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé

“Dior” –– Pop Smoke

 Who will win: “Savage”

Who should win: “Savage” or “Dior”

“Savage” is the only rap song with any presence in the general field, which tracks as the Grammys tend to keep rap and R&B quarantined in their respective categories. With nominations for Song and Record of the Year, “Savage” is the clear frontrunner.

Aside from report cards, “Savage” is just a really fucking good song. This remix upends the original version, which first appeared on Stallion’s mixtape Suga, and gives us new verses from both women along with Bey’s ad-libs on the already iconic chorus.

Beyoncé glides between angelic harmonies––the likes of which we haven’t seen since her feature on Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White” ––and unflinching verses in her subtle rasp. She name drops TikTok, demon time, OnlyFans, and her own mother.

Stallion keeps up with Bey and then some, never fading into the background. Every word lands like a punch, dealt with a gloriously manicured hand, every “ah” is so bold, so raunchy, so camp. 

With a joint declaration that they’ve been that bitch, Houston’s biggest stars reclaim a word that, for centuries, was used to vilify Black women.

It’s only contender might just be Pop Smoke’s woozy track “Dior,” which features Smoke’s deep, raspy, reverbed voice riding a sparse trap beat with quick staccato flow. It’s a marvelous performance that just might knock Queen Bey and Thee Stallion off their high horse­­––pun intended.

Best R&B Song:

“Better Than I Imagine” – Rober Glasper featuring H.E.R. and Meshell Ndegeocello

“Black Parade” – Beyoncé

“Collide” – Tiana Major9 and EARTHGANG

“Do It” – Chloe x Halle

“Slow Down” – Skip Marley and H.E.R.

Who will win: “Black Parade”

Who should win: “Black Parade” or “Do It”

 Beyoncé being the most nominated person at the 2021 Grammys, in a regular album cycle is astonishing. To rack up this many nominations on the back of just two singles, is a bona fide power move.

“Black Parade” arrived at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests and much like her previous politically charged singles––“Flawless,” “Freedom,” “Formation”––serves as both a call-to-action and an anthem of empowerment. It’s a rallying cry to start protesting, and never stop.

With its double-edged approach to empowerment––by making the personal political and the political deeply personal –– Beyoncé declares to stay vigilant, stay proud, and to stay active.

Plus, all the proceeds from the song go to Knowles’s own BeyGOOD Black Business Impact Fund, which has helped nearly 250 small Black-owned businesses. Beyoncé walks the walk just as strongly as she talks the talk.

 Beyoncé’s possible competition are her own protégés, Chloe X Halle. With “Do It,” the sisters saunter deftly into adulthood, fashionably late. While their soaring high notes dance above a stuttering 808, they sing about a night with the girls, no man necessary.

Best Progressive R&B Album

Chilombo––Jhené Aiko

Ungodly Hour––Chloe x Halle

Free Nationals––Free Nationals

Fuck Yo Feelings––Robert Glasper

It Is What It Is––Thunder Cat

Who will win: Ungodly Hour

Who should win: Ungodly Hour

The Bailey Sisters’ debut album, The Kids are All Right, twinkled with youth (featuring songs originally written for an ABC Family show and a Disney flick) on their sophomore record, Ungodly Hour, Chloe x Halle are all grown up. 

With harmonies as tight as ever coupled with lush instrumentation from a host of producers, they dunk on emotionally immature guys, instructing the boys to find some self-worth before giving them a call. They float through a multitude of genres, from Destiny’s Child infused R&B to trap to acoustic and never lose what makes them unique: soaring vocals, marvelous runs, and I’m going to talk about the harmonies again.

Their first album proved why Beyoncé took them under her wing, Ungodly Hour proves they have everything it takes to stand beside her. The students are becoming the masters.

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