The last time Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar faced off in this category, a reluctance to award an artist twice in four years (Swift’s Fearless won back in 2010), as well as the Academy’s reticence toward hip-hop in the general field, resulted in Daft Punk’s star-studded commercial juggernaut Random Access Memories taking home the top prize—an outcome, it should be noted, we predicted. It’s tempting to make a case that voters, with #OscarSoWhite on their brains, will want to distinguish themselves from their myopic cinematic counterparts by rewarding a socially conscious album by a black man. But it’s unlikely they’ll feel obligated to make that course correction here, especially for a relatively new rapper whose album title contains the word “pimp.”
As for the prohibitive frontrunner Swift, Grammy faves U2 are the only act in the 26-year-old’s lifetime to win two Album of the Year trophies. But 1989, whose critical bona fides are bested only by its commercial success, is truly Swift’s coming out, an album that transformed the singer from a crossover pop star to a bona-fide superstar. It’s the kind of album people of every age, sex, and race can get behind—and by people I mean Academy voters. (Even Ryan Adams paid tribute.) As our own Eric Henderson likes to say, Taylor Swift is the music industry right now. Fellow nominees Alabama Shakes, Chris Stapleton, and the Weeknd are mere footnotes.
Will Win: Taylor Swift, 1989
Could Win: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Should Win: Either one.