Sunday, July 15, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Death, Beyonce and big upsets: Five storylines to watch at the Grammys Sunday

Is it time to get in Formation, or will a simple Hello suffice? Are you ready to Work, or do you feel too Stressed Out? And is this the year we all share a toast of Lemonade? Those are a few of the questions entering 59th annual Grammy Awards Sunday. Performers include Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, the Weeknd, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Metallica, Daft Punk and more. But the two artists everyone will be watching are pop queens Adele and Beyoncé. Here's the skinny on their long-awaited showdown, plus four other storylines to watch at this year's Grammys.

1 Beyoncé versus Adele: The two pop icons have been on a collision course ever since Beyoncé's surprise album Lemonade hijacked the Album of the Year momentum of Adele's record-breaking juggernaut 25. They'll also square off in Record and Song of the Year (Adele's Hello vs. Beyoncé's Formation) and Best Pop Solo Performance (Hello vs. Hold Up). Both would be deserving winners in any category (though the Beyhive will explode if Album of the Year eludes their queen for the second time in three years). My prediction: Hello sweeps the song awards, but Beyoncé's best, boldest and most talked-about album finally earns her the top prize.

2 Who wins Best New Artist? The fourth major award brings a fascinating race between two bright young country singers (Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini), two genre-defying hip-hop talents (Chance the Rapper and Anderson Paak) and a chart-topping pop EDM duo (the Chainsmokers). A Chainsmokers win would be a breakthrough for electronic artists, and no pop act broke out bigger in 2016. Morris and Ballerini could split the Nashville vote. Paak's soulful electricity could lead to an upset, but the frontrunner has to be Chance the Rapper. He's co-signed by the likes of Kanye West and Barack Obama, he's headlining major festivals all summer, and with a new Grammy rule making free and streaming-only releases eligible for contention — a change spurred in part by Chance's breakout success — the time feels right to honor his passionate, principled party music.

3 Could we see any big upsets? Look: It's the Grammys. There will always be shocking, face-palming upsets aplenty. If anyone other than Beyoncé or Adele wins Record or Album of the Year, expect riots in the streets. But in Song of the Year, you could throw a fiver on Lukas Graham's 7 Years or Justin Bieber's Love Yourself (co-written with last year's winner Ed Sheeran) without losing too much sleep over it. While Sturgill Simpson's unorthodox A Sailor's Guide to Earth is nominated for Album of the Year, I could see it losing Best Country Album to Morris' Hero or Loretta Lynn's Full Circle. And despite an outpouring of love for David Bowie's widely acclaimed album Blackstar, he faces stiff competition in the rock and alternative categories from artists like Radiohead, Jack White and, yes, even Beyoncé. Blackstar could still win a technical award or two, but it's entirely possible that Bowie, who during his life never won a competitive Grammy, will go statueless on this night, too.

4 How will the Grammys handle the Year of Death? Following the deaths of David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Lemmy Kilmister, last year's ceremony was an often turgid trudge from tribute to tribute. And that was BEFORE the world lost Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Sir George Martin and countless others. At minimum, expect all-star salutes to George Michael and Prince (there are rumors Bruno Mars and the Time might be involved in the latter, which would be a ton of fun). I'll just add that if Rufus Wainwright isn't singing Hallelujah during the In Memoriam segment, the Grammys should fire everyone involved and start over.

5 Who has the most to gain? Electrifying live acts like Simpson and Paak might see their Q ratings go up with a stellar performance on the big stage. Longer term, a major win by Chance the Rapper could open the door for greater Grammy inclusion of independent or streaming-only artists. But historically? It's Beyoncé. If she sweeps her nine nominations (a long shot, but not impossible), she'll have 29 career Grammy wins, the most of any woman and second most all time. With even a respectable showing, she'll surpass legends like Stevie Wonder, John Williams and U2. Twirl on that, haters.

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