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Grammys 2016: Who Should Win, Who Will Win, and Who Was Snubbed?

Our annual predictions for music's self-proclaimed biggest night

With the 2016 Grammys coming up this Monday, the SPIN staff takes a look at ten of the biggest categories to determine who should will, who will win, and who was unjustly left out of the running altogether. And the Grammys will (maybe) go to…


Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Chris Stapleton, Traveller
Taylor Swift, 1989
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

Who Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
This one should be obvious. Not just from the fans’ perspective, but because even the most out-of-touch Grammy voters would’ve had to have been in a coma to not realize To Pimp a Butterfly was the most important album of last year. I’m not saying they’re racist if Taylor Swift wins the same award she earned back when she was 20, but it would signal they’re still not paying attention even when a brick of capital-A art is thrown through their windows.

Who Will Win: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Please don’t let the long-spoiled Taylor Swift or not-quite-good-enough Alabama Shakes take this. Predicting Album of the Year isn’t easy when all of the artists nominated are under the age of 40, but Sound & Color is probably tempting for voters already past middle age; Alabama Shakes’ broader, generation-spanning appeal is most likely the biggest threat to Kendrick. K-Dot, meanwhile, has the potential to do what only OutKast and Lauryn Hill managed with a rap album previously, but the odds are clear when only OutKast and Lauryn Hill have done it before — and both with a lot more singing than Butterfly has. Then again, Daft Punk and Arcade Fire have now won this thing, so here’s hoping…

Who Was Snubbed: Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
If you guessed in 1999 that Carrie Brownstein would eventually stand a better chance at landing an Emmy before even a nomination at the Grammys, well, you were right. — DAN WEISS


Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”
Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”
Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”
Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Who Should Win: Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”
Down to the wire between “Girl Crush” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” The latter obviously has historical import on its side, but this is (ostensibly) a songwriting award, and, on those grounds, the electrically charged nuance of the former’s lustful heartbreak gets the edge for us over the broader strokes of “Alright.”

Who Will Win: Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”
The Grammys will undoubtedly claim Ed Sheeran as their own soon enough; young singer/songwriters who play guitar and quote Marvin Gaye while also going multi-platinum don’t grow on trees anymore. He’ll have to eclipse a pretty impressive field here — not just Kendrick and LBT, but the chart-conquering schmaltz of Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” and the popular-kids-table front-running of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” — but we’re betting Sheeran gets his first taste of Grammys love here.

Who Was Snubbed: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”
Oddly, one artist Sheeran won’t have to eclipse is the Weeknd, nominated for Record of the Year but not Song. Voters evidently concluded the production of Tesfaye’s chart-topping hits to be the true beauty behind his madness, but if there is a pop song that conveyed more in 13 monosyllabic words than the “Can’t Feel My Face” chorus, it ain’t nominated in this category. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER


D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Really Love”
Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”
Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”
Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”
The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Who Should Win: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”
Tossing aside his longtime gloomy aesthetic, the Weeknd instead aims for the fences with his MJ-inspired “ooh!“-ing and a shimmering Max Martin melody on “Can’t Feel My Face.” It’s not only Abel Tesfaye’s strongest song to date, it’s one of the finest pop tracks of the decade, still thrilling in ways “Uptown Funk” simply isn’t.

Who Will Win: Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”
After rejuvenating a previously stale song at the Super Bowl last week, Bruno Mars looks pretty poised to take home the trophy for his Mark Ronson collaboration, which brought the funk back to Top 40. Though both men would readily admit the song’s myriad influences are rooted in the past, there’s something irrefutably fresh and necessary about Mars’ vocals that makes “Uptown Funk” a timeless, surefire win.

Who Was Snubbed: Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now”
Nobody was repping for a Justin Bieber comeback in the first three months of 2015, until Diplo and Skrillex unleashed “Where Are Ü Now,” a tin-whistle shrieking team-up with the pint-sized brat that turned public goodwill entirely in his favor. Many soundalikes followed, but none worked quite as well as the neatly synthesized fluctuations of the original. — BRENNAN CARLEY


Courtney Barnett
James Bay
Sam Hunt
Tori Kelly
Meghan Trainor

Who Should Win: Courtney Barnett
The unexpected recognition for Courtney Barnett, our Favorite Songwriter of 2015, is certainly heartening, though it remains strange she was shut out in all of the other categories. Nonetheless, few voices in rock, new or old, were as singular as Courtney’s last year, and the best argument for her not winning here — besides the fact that country crossover star Sam Hunt had an awesome breakout season himself — is that there’s virtually zero chance of her succumbing to the Best New Artist curse.

Who Will Win: Meghan Trainor
Barnett and Hunt would both certainly be worthy winners; unfortunately, they’re both likely sitting ducks lying in the M-Train’s path: Trainor’s Top 40-slaying one-year-wonderness couldn’t scream Best New Artist any louder if she had titled her album that. (Don’t rule out Tori Kelly, though — innocuous, but there has to be a reason she’s made it this far.)

Who Was Snubbed: Fetty Wap
Even Meghan Trainor would probably agree that the lack of acknowledgement for Fetty Wap’s Kristaps Porzingis-like rookie season threatens to render this entire category moot. — A.U.


Kelly Clarkson, Piece By Piece
Florence & the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
Mark Ronson, Uptown Special
Taylor Swift, 1989
James Taylor, Before This World

Who Should Win: Taylor Swift, 1989
No pop album inspired as much discourse the past year as Taylor Swift’s 1989 — the “no its Becky” memes, the New York City ambassadorship, the music video that brought “#squad” to its cultural saturation point, and so much more. But aside from all that, no other record in this category so drastically changed the conversation surrounding its creator; Taylor building on the pop dalliances begun with 2012’s Red and dancing into her next chapter with all-’80s synths, glossy production, and not a single backwards glance.

Who Will Win: Taylor Swift, 1989
If you’re going to combine hype, star power, and hard numbers, Taylor Swift outshines every last one of her fellow nominees. Swift’s 1989 sold more than a million copies upon its first week of release — substantially more than the albums she’s competing with in this category. Also helps that 1989 is a behemoth of a pop record, teeming with instant Top 40 classics and sincere, self-actualizing themes. It had a genuine point of view that critics (rightly) melted all over and placed on their end-of-2014 lists. She’s the one to beat here.

Who Was Snubbed: Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TION
Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION may not have sold millions of records (it debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 and and barely sold 16,000 copies in its first week) or received much radio rotation, but it was one of the most critically adored pop albums of last year, making SPIN’s best-of 2015 list, and finishing third in last year’s annual Pazz & Jop poll. There’s not a snoozer on the entire album, which came helmed by soundboard brainiacs like Ariel Rechtshaid, Dev Hynes, and Peter Svensson. But critical opinion and solid songcraft doesn’t always translate to a trophy. — RACHEL BRODSKY


Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
Björk, Vulnicura
My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall
Tame Impala, Currents
Wilco, Star Wars

Who Should Win: Tame Impala, Currents
Good thing it’s called “Alternative Music” and not “Alternative Rock” — Currents was the album in which Tame Impala stopped being Australia’s best psych-rock band and became the world’s best synth-soul purveyors. Give it all the Grammys.

Who Will Win: Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
A fairly strong crop of nominees, so it wouldn’t be impossible to make the case for any of the five albums recognized here — all strong efforts by established artists —  taking home the prize. Sadly, despite their Currents almost certainly being the finest of the five LPs, Tame Impala probably has the weakest mainstream name recognition of the bunch. Sound & Color being the only set also nominated for Album of the Year doesn’t necessarily make Alabama Shakes a shoo-in for this, but it probably makes them the front-runners — especially considering it sold more in its first week than some of the other nominees likely did in their entire run. 

Who Was Snubbed: Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
It seems like a veteran, venerated, all-but-unassailable legacy act like Sleater-Kinney would be stringing necklaces of these statues by now, but they continue to be ignored by the Grammys altogether. Doubtful they really care, but hopefully it ends up as a subplot on this Portlandia season anyway. — A.U.


J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Dr. Dre, Compton
Drake, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint

Who Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Sure, both The Pinkprint and 2014 Forest Hills Drive deserved more respect, and Compton deserved less. And until they give out an award for Best Rap Meme, I’m not gonna tell #Drakehive to give up on their dreams. But Kendrick deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom; nabbing this award is merely a souvenir on the way.

Who Will Win: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Hopefully Kendrick’ll Instagram himself texting Macklemore “No hard feelings.”

Who Was Snubbed: Who Wasn’t?
Vince Staples is too cool to ever get a Grammy nom. Heems possibly has a shot someday if his sitcom takes off. Future would maybe get a nod if the Recording Academy wasn’t so sure he’d find a way to wear the trophy during sex. — D.W.


Caribou, Our Love
The Chemical Brothers, Born in the Echoes
Disclosure, Caracal
Jamie xx, In Colour
Jack Ü, Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü

Who Will Win: Jamie xx, In Colour
The Grammys have been historically lambasted as tone-deaf to dance and electronic music, among relative new ravers and those who have been clubbing since before EDM became synonymous with Calvin Harris and Zedd. But between crowning sterling long-players from Daft Punk and Aphex Twin in 2014 and 2015, respectively, the committee has been on a pyrotechnic-hot streak and this year’s nominees have been touted as some of the Recording Academy’s more timely. Jamie xx’s In Colour will probably come out on top, since it politely breakdances the increasingly drawn line between technocrats and the average beats’n’bass fan, especially as competitors Disclosure have gone more populist and Jack Ü is still tied — for better or worse, in this case — to Justin Bieber.

Who Should Win: Caribou, Our Love
Caribou’s Dan Snaith may not have shimmied onto as many worldwide charts as the category’s other contenders (perhaps he could have made more of a recognizable name for himself had he been featured on The Bachelorette) but a well-earned win for his enlightened 2014 LP is worth the risk of another Arcade Fire moment. There are many parallels between Our Love and Jamie xx’s downtempo romp — both of which smelt 40 or so years of electronic music history into aural gold — but Caribou’s exquisite full-length could benefit from a stab at that coveted post-Grammy sales boost.

Who Got Snubbed: Floating Points, Elaenia
It might be too much to expect the committee that nominated Al Walser for Best Dance Recording to notice an album like Elaenia, which doesn’t bangarang as much as it floats along with help from both a real and synthesized orchestra. It’s a seamless modern-day integration of classical and electronic music on par with (if not better than) Jeff Mills’ Blue Potential, and since the Grammys have already come a remarkably long way towards recognizing the simultaneous merging and dissolution of genres, it would’ve made sense for them to recognize an artist elegantly nudging the parameters of the dance floor. — HARLEY BROWN


Sam Hunt, Montevallo
Little Big Town, Pain Killer
Ashley Monroe, The Blade
Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Who Should Win: Sam Hunt, Montevallo
When Kacey Musgraves beat out Taylor Swift for her Same Trailer, Different Park Grammy in 2014, shockwaves rippled from the arena to the airwaves. Her inclusive major-label debut widened the margins of country songwriting and voters responded by embracing the change. Sam Hunt’s Montevallo could signal a similar lane-shift, eschewing both the homespun twang of the classics and also the PBR can-crumpling silliness of bro-country in favor of hip-hop leaning brilliance. Hunt’s voice might not be the best or brightest but damn if his album isn’t the most intriguing thing to come out of Nashville in a minute.

Who Will Win: Chris Stapleton, Traveller
The Kentucky-born “Whiskey and You” howler’s 2015 album is good — very good, in fact — but it doesn’t really help advance the genre. That won’t matter to Grammy voters, though, who likely noticed Stapleton’s lengthy pre-fame career as a Nashville songwriter, saw his big wins at last fall’s Country Music Awards, and ticked his name off on their ballots. A deserving win, to be sure, and one that won’t ruffle many feathers — just how the country establishment likes it.

Who Was Snubbed: Kelsea Ballerini, The First Time 
With snappy singles like “Dibs” and “Love Me Like You Mean It” that skew early-Swiftian — far rootsier territory than Taylor herself has visited in quite some time — Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time is more of a mixed bag than this year’s nominees, but ignoring her entirely feels short-sighted. That said, since she’s only 22, the young singer’s still got plenty of time to leave her bootprint. — B.C.


The Weeknd, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”
Common & John Legend, “Glory”
Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do”
Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth, “See You Again”
Lady Gaga, “Til It Happens to You”

Who Should Win: Lady Gaga, “Til It Happens to You”
Lady Gaga and Diane Warren’s “Til It Happens to You” is a beautiful, personal song, and its important message about sexual assault is in some ways the polar opposite to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, which is filled with songs steeped in sex but light on consequences.

Who Will Win: The Weeknd, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”
This is a tough one, because there’s a winning narrative for pretty much every song nominated. “Glory” and “Til It Happens to You” both have gotten love from the Academy Awards, but, due to the difference in eligibility periods, from two different Oscar ceremonies. (The former won last year’s trophy for Best Original Song and the latter’s a current nominee.) “See You Again” would be forgettable were it not for the death of Furious 7 star Paul Walker, so there’s your angle right there. In the end, though, chances are the narrative that’ll win out is the least interesting one — the Weeknd is, after all, the only nominee who has yet to hit his ceiling. And, hey, the kids like Fifty Shades of Grey, right?

Who Was Snubbed: Beanz and Justin Bostwick, “Drip Drop”
This highlight from Empire season 1 — one of the most strangely progressive and wonderfully off-the-rails shows to air on national television in recent memory — never would’ve had a chance in hell at winning, but c’mon, it’s just too absurd and pleasurable to be ignored completely. The Grammys could’ve thrown some shine in TV’s direction — even if they didn’t intend on handing over the actual award in the end. — JAMES GREBEY