Beginning tomorrow, we’re predicting the winners in the so-called Big Four categories at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, airing Monday, September 15th on CBS. Kendrick Lamar is nominated for a whopping 11 awards, besting Eminem for the rapper with the single most nods in one night, and second only to Michael Jackson, who was nominated for 12 awards back in 1984. Of course, Lamar will have to compete with Taylor Swift, Alabama Shakes (pictured above), Kanye West, and more. We’re kicking things off with our picks in some of the smaller genre categories, including the usual suspects—dance, rock, R&B, and rap—as well as musical theater (the opening number from hip-hop-infused frontrunner Hamilton will be broadcast live from Broadway during the show). Keep an eye on our predictions all this week to see how we think things will shake out!
Best Alternative Music Album: Bjork’s nomination for what many consider a return to form, Vulnicura, marks the Icelandic icon’s 14th Grammy nod. That might sound like it sets her up for a long-overdue win in this category (she’s been nominated here for every studio album she’s released in the last two decades), but Bjork’s art is an acquired taste—one that we just don’t think most voters have developed. The last time Wilco were nominated in this category, they emerged victorious, but it’s their sole nomination this year. Alabama Shakes have four in comparison, including Album of the Year, which makes their Sound & Color almost a sure bet. Sal Cinquemani
Best Rock Song: After losing in 2013 for both Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance, the momentum would finally seem to be on Alabama Shakes’s side, barring an upset from their only real competitor (and fellow former Grammy snub) Florence and the Machine. Elsewhere, Elle King’s “Ex’s and Oh’s” has been played to saturation and James Bay has a Best New Artist nomination to boost his credibility here, but neither has the star power history suggests drives this category. Ultimately, Alabama Shakes’s blend of inoffensiveness and sales will overwhelm NARAS voters, as such similar combinations do most every year. Jesse Nee-Vogelman
Best Dance Recording: It can be notoriously difficult to predict a winner in this category, especially when one of the biggest factors to consider is popularity, a practical impossibility to gauge in a field that literally sees a new #1 song every single week. (Only on the dance charts could something as ubiquitous as Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk” be instantly unseated by Cazzette featuring Terri B.) But compared to the Best Dance/Electronic Album category, which seems a total and genuinely defensible five-way race, Best Dance Recording feels like an open-and-shut case…with one major caveat. With both critical and popular acclaim, the ersatz Watch the Throne-style double bill Skrillex and Diplo with Justin Bieber’s “Where Are Ü Now” seems unstoppable, especially in this moment of Bieber renaissance. Just one factor gives us pause: Flying Lotus’s featured guest performer, Kendrick Lamar, who might sway a bunch of voters down ballot even though “Never Catch Me” feels like it’s been out for a half-decade. Eric Henderson
Best R&B Album: The difference between Best R&B Album and the queasily titled Best Urban Contemporary Album seems to signify that Grammy regards this category as “best R&B album for the elderly.” If so, then the ’60s pastiches of Leon Bridges and, to a less stifling extent, Andra Day would normally have to be considered a reasonable threat for the prize. So, too, would Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson for hanging in there and getting his second nomination in the category, though Grandma Henderson doesn’t approve of his “Bad Mama Jamma”-swiping love song with the acronymic title “Sugar.Honey.Ice.Tea.” Jazmine Sullivan’s album was among the year’s best, but includes at least a few songs that would probably scare the horses (or seduce them). So it’s D’Angelo’s late-breaking 2014 comeback, Black Messiah, that will prove victorious here, an admittedly safer bet given that some voters were probably already AARP members when Voodoo was released. Henderson
Best Rap Performance: From the day NARAS announced the Grammy nominations, this category was one that was Kendrick Lamar’s to lose. “Alright” has become an international social-justice anthem in a year where the #BlackLivesMatter movement has dominated the news cycle. He should be a lock here, especially if NARAS follows previous patterns and denies Kendrick awards in the Big Four. On the other hand, Kanye West’s “All Day” features Paul McCartney, which might make the star-packed track hard to resist. Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” the only song on the list to challenge “Alright” in terms of raw musical accomplishment, would be a victory for anyone championing diversity and originality in the Grammys, but when have the voters ever given us that? Nee-Vogelman
Best Musical Theater Album: This category’s nominees include two shows whose creators are masters of the medium (the kaleidoscopic Gershwin tuner An American in Paris, the Rodgers & Hammerstein revival The King and I), as well as last year’s Tony winner for Best Musical, Fun Home, an adaptation of the Allison Bechdel graphic novel. The latter’s tear-jerky songs, from “Ring of Keys” to “Telephone Wire,” would make it a frontrunner in almost any other year, but this is, of course, Hamilton’s world; everyone else is just living in it. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda won this award in 2009 for In the Heights, and he should make some additional space on his shelf for another gramophone…at least as a placeholder for his inevitable Tony award. Cinquemani
Read more predictions here.