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Adele! Beyoncé! Bowie! What to Expect From the 2017 Grammy Awards Nominations

Variety logo Variety 12/6/2016 Jeremy Blacklow
© Provided by Variety

When it comes to the 2017 Grammys, there’s one particular headline that everyone will be watching out for: Adele vs. Beyoncé.

As two of the main artists who can still push huge album sales (it’s an off year for Taylor Swift), both women delivered the goods in a big way in 2016. And it’ll be a head-to-head diva collision for who takes home the night’s main prizes.

Beyoncé released what is arguably her career magnum opus, “Lemonade,” in April of this year. A conceptual album (with an accompanying visual component, which debuted on HBO) that channeled all of the emotions in its depiction of the black female experience in America, there’s no overlooking the magnitude of “Lemonade” on the cultural zeitgeist.

On the other hand, one can never bet against Adele, whose third album, “25,” charged forward into the world in November 2015 on the shoulders of ever-infectious lead single “Hello.” The long-awaited “25” sold over 17 million copies in 2015 alone, led to a resurgence in the sales of physical album copies (a feat almost considered impossible in this decade), and was supported by a mega world tour.

It’s anyone’s guess who will prevail in the Album of the Year category. Adele seems well-positioned, with her wide-ranging appeal to young and old and to so many other sectors of the music-listening public. While Beyoncé arguably produced the thematically higher concept work of art with “Lemonade,” Adele seems better positioned to appeal to the Recording Academy’s broad membership.

But with 2016 being the topsy-turvy year that it’s been, one should indeed expect the unexpected. Adele and Beyoncé could end up cancelling each other out, paving the way for another contender to sweep in for the Album of the Year win.

If anyone can disrupt Adele or Beyoncé’s reign, it’s certain to be the late great David Bowie, who died on Jan. 10. The outpouring of emotion over the Thin White Duke’s death (along with the passing of so many other icons in 2016) was one of music’s most defining stories this past year. His final album, “Blackstar,” was released on his 69th birthday, Jan. 8, just two days before his death.

“Blackstar” also marked the first #1 album of Bowie’s career on the Billboard 200. Knowing his death was near, the album was created as a prescient reflection upon his own passing. “Blackstar” was Bowie’s “goodbye” to the world.

Another argument for a Bowie upset is that he’s only ever received two Grammys in the course of his storied career (for Best Video, Short Form in 1985 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006). A Bowie win for Album of the Year would feel similar to Ray Charles’ posthumous Album of the Year win for “Genius Loves Company,” a sentimental favorite in 2005, which prevailed over Green Day’s epic rock opera “American Idiot,” also defeating Alicia Keys’ “The Diary of Alicia Keys,” and Usher’s “Confessions.”

So, who could fill those final two Album of the Year spots? 2016 was a huge year for Drake, so the Academy could very well nominate his fourth studio album, “Views,” in this category. Drake’s latest effort also is the first album to hit 1 billion streams on Apple Music. Although lacking Drake’s commercial success, it would be a huge surprise if Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” didn’t also slip into the Album of the Year category as well.

Another potential spoiler is Sia, whose concept album “This Is Acting,” didn’t contain a weak track from start to finish. The Aussie’s seventh studio album also had an interesting twist – all of the tracks were originally written by Sia for other artists, but not chosen. The singer/songwriter then re-purposed each song for herself, a move that could very well nab the heard-but-rarely-seen singer a spot as one of the honorees for the night’s main prize.

There are at least eight other contenders who can’t be ruled out as Album of the Year nominees. Bon Iver, 2012’s Best New Artist winner, released a very well-received third studio album this year, “A Million.” Perennial favorite Paul Simon returned last June with his first studio album in five years “Stranger to Stranger” (his 13th, to date), which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, marking his highest ever debut. Stadium fan favorites Coldplay could sneak in there for “A Head Full of Dreams.” And you can never rule out Jack White, whose “Acoustic Recordings 1998 – 2016” dropped in late September, just in time for the Grammys cutoff.

Hip hop has three major contenders this year as well. Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled unmastered” consisted of unreleased demos from the 2016 Album of the Year contender, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Newcomer Chance the Rapper could be the main beneficiary of the Recording Academy’s new rule this year to allow submissions that have only been made available through streaming. His album, “Coloring Book,” has been one of the medium’s most successful to date. And Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” is also impossible to ignore on its artistic merit, and could gain momentum based on sympathy for the rapper’s recent personal difficulties.

Lastly, it’s hard to imagine any Album of the Year lineup without representation from country music. This year’s entry could be Carrie Underwood’s fifth album, “Storyteller,” which came out way back in October 2015. Dierks Bentley could potentially sneak in with “Black,” as could Eric Church with “Misunderstood.”

Two albums that you won’t see nominated this year because they missed the 2017 awards cutoff – but that are sure to surface as 2018 nominees — are Garth Brooks’ “Gunslinger” (which came out in late November) and the late Leonard Cohen’s 14th and final album, “You Want it Darker,” released in late October. Like Bowie’s “Blackstar,” Cohen’s final album release was cognizant of the artist’s own impending death, which took place on November 7.

One person who will be glaringly missing from this year’s Grammy nods is Frank Ocean, who did not submit himself for consideration. Although his long-awaited album, “Blonde” (also, at times, titled “Blond”), was released in plenty of time for his year’s kudos (it came out on August 20; the cutoff date for 2016 Grammy consideration was September 30), a rep for the R&B crooner confirmed in October that neither Ocean, nor anyone on his team, chose to submit his work. Ocean himself eventually confirmed in a November interview with the New York Times that he made a very purposeful decision not to submit himself.

“That institution certainly has nostalgic importance,” Ocean told the Times’ Jon Caramanica. “It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.”

Ocean added that although the Recording Academy reached out to him, he still decided against submitting, adding, “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated. I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammys than sit there in the audience.”

While still signed to Universal’s Def Jam, Ocean also released a visual album, “Endless,” which was only available via streaming on Apple Music. This reportedly fulfilled his contract with his former label, resulting in a stir of controversy throughout the music industry. Had Ocean submitted, he no doubt would be contending for top honors in several categories this year, as his album was one of the most critically-acclaimed of 2016.

Should Grammy voters choose to honor Bowie in the Album category, expect Record of the Year and Song of the Year to be the categories in which the aforementioned competition takes place between Beyoncé and Adele. This is where the former’s “Formation” and the latter’s “Hello” should go head-to-head, leaving all other contenders in their wake. Bowie’s lead single, “Lazarus,” could also well be a dark horse.

Other leading contenders for Record of the Year should include Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” (feat. Sean Paul) and Justin Timberlake’s ubiquitous summer anthem, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Worthy opponents who could sneak into those fourth or fifth slots could include something from more mainstream pop fare (Rihanna’s “Work,” Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” DNCE’s “Cake By The Ocean”), or a country entry. (Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” Dierks Bentley’s “Different for Girls” featuring Elle King, or “The Fighter” by Keith Urban featuring Carrie Underwood)

The Weeknd certainly also maintains status as one of the biggest players in music over the past couple of years. And he managed to slip in his album’s first two singles, title track “Starboy” and the infectious “False Alarm,” just in time for Grammys’ late September deadline — although his album will have to wait until next years’ awards.

Grammys’ Song of the Year award tends to go a bit more highbrow, as the award is given to the songwriters. This is where more esoteric fare, such as Bowie singles “Lazarus” or “Blackstar,” is more likely to surface. It’s also where a “Let It Go” by James Bay or “7 Years” by newcomer Lukas Graham could pop up. Radiohead’s “Burn The Witch” could also nab a spot here.

And then there’s Grammys’ ever controversial Best New Artist category, where anything goes. Although, in response to decades of past criticism, at long last the Recording Academy has finally amended the Best New Artist rules. This year any nominee for Best New Artist, must:

  • Must have released a minimum of five singles/tracks or one album, but no more than 30 singles/tracks or three albums.
  • May not have entered into this category more than three times, including as a performing member of an established group.
  • Must have achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and impacted the musical landscape during the eligibility period.

Last year Best New Artist went a bit more mainstream, awarding pop ingénue Meghan Trainor. Expect this year’s award to go to someone a bit edgier, with the aforementioned Chance the Rapper leading the pack. Or it could be the year in which an electronic entry surfaces again, as The Chainsmokers are leading contenders, powered by crossover hits “Closer” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” And since the Academy showed some love in the form of a nomination for Aussie rocker Courtney Barnett, they could check the Aussie and electronic boxes this year by nominating Flume. The last nominee from the EDM genre was Skrillex in 2012.

2016 was also a big year for new male teen heartthrobs, and Lukas Graham, Shawn Mendes, or Troye Sivan could slip in there. Other leading nominees could include female vocalists Alessia Cara, Halsey, Cam, Rachel Platten, or country breakout Maren Morris. Also look for The 1975 to possibly get a nod.

As the race for Grammys begins, it’ll be interesting to watch and listen to which direction the Recording Academy heads. Will Beyoncé add to her 53 career Grammy nominations and 20 wins, pushing her past Alison Krauss (27 wins) as the most decorated female artist in Grammy history? Or could Adele break her tie with Beyoncé for the most wins in one night by a female (each have had six-win nights). Moreover, could the nostalgia factor launch David Bowie past them both?

And might viewers expect a special star-filled edition of “Carpool Karoake” from first-time host James Corden? Find out when Trainor announces the nominees in the four main categories during the 8:30 a.m. half of “CBS This Morning” Tuesday and when the winners are announced at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards on CBS on Sunday, February 12.

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