At the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, taking place this Sunday at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, there will be a rematch of sorts: between Adele, who controversially won Album of the Year five years ago for 25, and Beyoncé, who many fans (possible even Adele herself) feel should have won that year for Lemonade. This time around, the two Grammy-darling divas respectively lead the Album of the Year race with 30 and Renaissance.
“When 25 won, Adele was extraordinarily gracious in her acceptance speech, and practically said that she thought Beyoncé had deserved the award. It was just a lovely, warm, personal moment, a loving tribute to someone who I believe is her friend and somebody who she greatly admires as an artist. But she said it so convincingly, I think she convinced everybody that Beyoncé probably should have won,” Billboard’s awards editor and a veteran Grammys expert, Paul Grein, tells Yahoo Entertainment.
Adele waves to Beyoncé at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)
Lemonade’s Album of the Year defeat at the 2017 Grammys, and the viral outrage that ensued, was just one example of the Recording Academy’s snub, or perceived snub, of a deserving Black superstar; another such case occurred in 2014, when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar for both Best New Artist and Best Rap Album. Grein stresses, “I feel a little bad for artists who get caught up in these Grammy wars. Macklemore’s career, and probably his pride, suffered from the controversy over him beating Kendrick, and that wasn’t his fault — just like it's not Adele's fault that 25 beat Lemonade. I do feel bad when artists get beat up over things they can't control. … So, as an Adele fan, I almost hope she doesn't win, because I don't think she needs to get beat up over it again. She’s already won twice [the first time for 21]. It might be better for her if she didn't win — you know, let somebody else win this time.’
Grein predicts that Renaissance will prevail this weekend not just because it’s “another strong Beyoncé album, and another thematically unified album — a tribute to dance music and its Black and gay roots that produced two legitimate smash hits,” but also because it’s simply “Beyoncé’s time. This is her fourth Album of the Year nomination; she's lost to Taylor Swift, then to Beck, and then to Adele. She has stayed at the top level of stardom for 20 years, which is extraordinary. She just can't be denied again.”
This year's Grammys ceremony sets the stage for a rematch between Adele and Beyoncé, after the former shut out the competition in major categories in 2017. (Photos: Niklas Halle'n, Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
However, Beyoncé will also likely benefit from recent sweeping changes to the Grammys’ nomination and voting processes, as the Recording Academy has made a concerted effort to recruit more voters of color. “This the fourth year that the Grammys have had a large new member class; this year, nearly 2,000 new members were brought into the Academy," Grein explains. “Over a four-year period, the number of women voters has increased by 19%, and the number of members from what they call traditionally ‘underrepresented communities’ — and by that, they mean non-white — has increased 38%. And the numbers specifically of Black members has increased 100%. So, while they have been looking to have a more diverse membership, they've particularly been honing in on bringing in more Black members, which is a theme across a lot of award shows.”
Grein says a big catalyst for this reform was an epic, 45-minute speech by Sean "Diddy" Combs at Clive Davis’s annual pre-Grammy gala in 2020, when the hip-hop mogul received the Industry Icon Honor and used his time at the podium to address the “elephant in the room.” Combs’s passionate comments followed the scandalous ousting of Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan, who had been placed on administrative leave only 10 days before that year’s Grammy Awards and less than six months after she’d been hired to supposedly foster much-needed change and create more diversity within the Academy.
“I say this with love to the Grammys, because you really need to know this: Every year, y’all be killing us, man. I'm talking about the pain. I'm speaking for all the artists here, producers, executives. … Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys,” Combs declared in front of a ballroom of industry A-listers that evening. (The only hip-hop artists who’ve ever won Album of the Year are Lauryn Hill and OutKast, with OutKast, the more recent win, occurring almost 20 years ago.) “Black music has never been respected by the Grammys — to the point that it should be. So, right now, with this current [Dugan] situation, it’s not a revelation; this thing’s been going on.” Combs’s speech climaxed with him challenging the Recording Academy: “And that stops right now. I’m officially starting the clock. You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together.”
“I think [Diddy’s speech] gave the Academy a push to open the door and invite more Black members to join,” says Grein. “And they've done that now.”
Another major recent development is that the Grammys’ “Big Four” categories — Record, Album, and Song of the Year, and Best New Artist — now feature 10 nominees each. Each of these categories used comprise just five nominees, which was increased to eight artists in 2018 before expanding to 10 last year. “I think the Academy was hoping to bring in more diversity — along the lines of race, of genre. They wanted hip-hop to get in there, and their hope is that maybe the second [batch of] five [nominees per category] would bring more diversity to the table than the first five would,” Grein theorizes.
However, spreading the Grammy love so thin could affect Sunday’s results in ways that the Academy didn’t intend or foresee. “I think we're still all trying to get a grip on what impact that this expansion is going to have,” says Grein. “For instance, in both the Record and Song of the Year categories this year, we have both Beyoncé's ‘Break My Soul’ and Lizzo’s ‘About Damn Time' — they’re both great records, both smash records, but stylistically similar, so they might split the vote — where if only one of them was nominated, either of them might’ve had a better chance. Nominees can pull from each other, meaning that theoretically, something could win with just a little more than 10% of the vote.”
With that being said, Beyoncé is likely to win at least one Big Four award, and Adele probably won’t go home totally empty-handed either. “I think the Grammys are going to share the wealth this year and have three different winners for Album, Record, and Song of the Year, as opposed to some years when somebody sweeps all three,” says Grein. And of course, there are a whopping 91 Grammy categories overall — expanded this year from the previous total of 86 — so there is a lot of wealth to go around.
However, below, Grein focuses on the “Big Four” categories and makes his predictions in each, before the 65th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony takes place at Los Angeles’s Crypto.com Arena and airs on CBS/Paramount+ this Sunday.
Yahoo Entertainment: Let’s start with Album of the Year. There are a few nominees that seem like longshots, like ABBA’s Voyage, Mary J. Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous, and Coldplay’s Music of the Spheres. Ones that seem to have more of a chance are Brandi Carlile’s In These Silent Days, Lizzo’s Special, Harry Styles’s Harry’s House, and Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti. And Kendrick Lamar is up for Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, so if it’s not Beyoncé, who you’ve already predicted will win, then it could finally be Kendrick’s year…
Paul Grein: Well, when his record first came out, I thought it would have a very strong chance at Album of the Year — because just like with Beyoncé, it's his fourth nomination. But Mr. Morale didn't seem to register in the same way that DAMN. or To Pimp a Butterfly did. It wasn't a breakthrough album; he kind of treaded water a little bit with this release. He didn't lose ground, but he didn't move forward.
So, is Adele's 30 the “runner-up” in this category, then?
I don't think so. … I think maybe Bad Bunny is next in line, because Un Verano Sin Ti was such a historic success. You know, five years ago, you didn't have a Spanish-language album penetrating [the mainstream] anywhere near like this one, which spent 13 weeks at No. 1. It's the first Spanish-language album to be up for Album of the Year at the Grammys. He won Artist of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards, and what impressed me most was he gave his acceptance speech in Spanish, on an American awards show. That's a sign of his authenticity. So I put Bad Bunny in second, but I think that the Academy's strong emphasis on boosting the number of Black voters will help carry the day for Beyoncé.
OK, let's look at Beyoncé and everyone else’s chances for Record of the Year. There are a lot of the same big names here: Beyoncé for “Break My Soul,” Kendrick Lamar for “The Heart Part 5,” Adele for “Easy on Me,” Lizzo for “About Damn Time,” and Harry Styles for “As It Was.” We also have ABBA, Mary J. Blige, and Brandi Carlile again, also though they seem like longshots in this category as well. The two outliers are Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit” and Doja Cat’s “Woman,” which seem like reasonably strong contenders. Thoughts? Will Beyoncé win this award too?
No, I think everybody knows she's going to win Album, so that will hurt [her chances] in Record. She doesn't need both. I think “About Damn Time” is a terrific record that kind of summarizes everybody's feelings about where we are after a couple of years of stress and pressure, so I think that’s more likely to win. But the real frontrunner is “As It Was.”
Do you think the Academy is trying to make up for sort of being late to the Harry Styles party? His first solo album earned zero nominations, even though it was a very solid debut and “Sign of the Times” was a great single. When he put out his second album, he did win Best Pop Solo Performance for “Watermelon Sugar,” but it took until this year for him to get any nods in the Big Four categories.
Well, it makes sense that maybe he had some image issues to overcome — coming from not only a boy band [One Direction], but also coming from a reality show [The X Factor]. Maybe he had to prove that he was for real. But I think now he has.
Who would you place second in the Record of the Year category? Lizzo?
No, the nominee that gives me pause is “Bad Habit,” which would be an interesting choice, because it's modern and progressive but at the same time it's not off-putting to more traditional Grammy voters. It has broad appeal.
Let’s move on to Song of the Year. This category honors the songwriters, not the performers, but there is still a lot of overlap with Record here. “Break My Soul, “The Heart Part 5,” “About Damn Time,” “As It Was,” “Bad Habit,” and “Easy on Me” are all nominated. The outliers are “abcdefu” by Gayle, “God Did” by DJ Khaled, “Just Like That” by Bonnie Raitt, and “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (The Short Film)” by Taylor Swift.
This is probably the hardest of the four in terms of predictions. I think Adele will win this one; “Easy on Me” is a great ballad. But Taylor Swift is in here, and she's never won Song of the Year. A lot of people think she's the songwriter of her generation — I've lost count of the number of people who say Taylor is this generation's Carole King or Joni Mitchell, this generation's preeminent songwriter — so it would be fitting for her to finally win this award.
But her entry isn’t exactly a new song. It’s a new version of a song from 2012. No shade, but I don’t honestly understand how it qualifies. I wouldn't question it being up for, say, Best Pop Performance, but since this is a songwriting category, it kind of raised my eyebrows that this song, of all the songs that were actually written in 2022, was among the 10 that the Recording Academy recognized.
The Academy would, I suppose, argue that Taylor’s expansion of it to a 10-minute version added so much depth and fresh content to the original that it can be considered new. I think sometimes the Academy likes to make big stars happy. … But anyway, some [voters] may agree with you, but I think others will argue that this [version/nomination] shows that songwriting is a living thing, and you can revisit a song, expand it, open it up, add to it — it's not a static museum piece. And some people will appreciate that.
OK. Finally, there’s the Best New Artist race. This one is all outliers, in a way! It's quite unusual that none of the nominees in this category — especially considering that there's 10 of them — are nominated in any of the other Big Four categories.
Yes, it's the first time in six years that that's happened. Even Gayle, who is up for Song of the Year with a very charming song, wasn't nominated for Best New Artist.
So, the Best New Artist nominees are DOMi & JD Beck, Tobe Nwigwe, Omar Apollo, Samara Joy, and Molly Tuttle — all of whom seem like underdogs, with the exception of maybe Omar — and Wet Leg, Anitta, Muni Long, Latto, and Måneskin. I’d predict it would come down to one of those last five.
It is certainly one of the most mixed bags in years — unlike in recent years with Olivia Rodrigo or Billie Eilish, when everybody knew they were going to win. Latto, with “Big Energy,” had by far the biggest hit of this bunch, so I think she will win.
Well, I know we talked a lot about how the Academy has taken a lot of steps to diversify its membership, but I imagine there are a lot of older voters who miss the heyday of rock, and they might go for the act that’s doing duets with Iggy Pop, covering the Four Seasons, and opening for the Rolling Stones: Måneskin. I'm wondering if you think Måneskin’s retro vibe is going to appeal to a certain demographic of voters. Also, if you’d told me last year that a band that plays hard rock, is from Italy, does not always sing in English, and is a Eurovision winner would have the kind of U.S. success that Måneskin has had, I would not have believed you. I love how they’ve broken through, and I could see that being rewarded.
Yes, Måneskin could win too, because they really are an outlier: They don't sound like anybody else on here. They're really the only act in the business that sounds and looks like them. And what I like about them is they've really earned their success. They seem to have played every TV show that would have them, and they’ve worked to get where they are. It wasn't handed to them; they had to keep working and working and working. I think they're a very strong contender and I wouldn't be totally surprised if they won, or if Anitta did, but I still think Latto will win.
But in the end, 2023 is finally going to Beyoncé’s year?
Well, I really should note that Beyoncé has won 28 Grammys! It’s just that only one of them has been in a Big Four category, Song of the Year, for “Single Ladies.”
But that is still bizarre to me. Yes, of course it’s absolutely nothing to sneeze at that she’s the most decorated woman and performer in Grammy Awards history. But to have that many Grammys, and for 27 of them to be in categories that often aren't even announced on the air... there's probably a lot of people think that those genre-specific awards are mere pats on the head or consolation prizes.
Yes, Beyoncé has 28 Grammys, but she's won a lot of those in the R&B category — and she transcends R&B. … I would certainly agree that she's due for another Big Four win. And I think she'll get one.
Beyoncé poses backstage after winning five Grammy Awards in 2004. (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)