Here’s our best guess as to what the nominees will be — the eight top contenders (in alphabetical order, just as they will appear on the list of nominations and, later, the Grammy ballot). We also briefly list eight top alternates.
These categories are fiercely competitive. There were 1,225 entries for album of the year, 1,463 for record of the year, 1,443 for song of the year and 343 for best new artist. You will hear the word “snub” thrown around a lot on Tuesday. In the Big Four categories, especially, if something isn’t nominated, it isn’t necessarily a snub. It could mean someone came in ninth out of more than a thousand entries. Keep that in mind.
Here we go. (Wish us luck.)
Album of the year
Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters: This would be the first album of the year nod for Apple, who was nominated for best new artist in 1997.
Luke Combs, What You See Is What You Get: This was the first country album to top the Billboard 200 for two weeks since Chris Stapleton’s Traveller five years ago — which was nominated in this category. Combs’ album won album of the year at both the ACM and CMA Awards.
Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia: This would be the first album of the year nod for Lipa, who won best new artist two years ago.
Post Malone, Hollywood’s Bleeding: This would be Post’s second album of the year nod. Beerbongs & Bentleys was nominated two years ago.
Roddy Ricch, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial: This won album of the year at the BET Awards and hip hop album of the year at the BET Hip Hop Awards.
Harry Styles, Fine Line: This would be Styles’ first Grammy nod — in any category, solo or with One Direction. Better late than never.
Taylor Swift, Folklore: This would put Swift back in the album of the year finals after her last two albums fell short. This would be her fourth nod in this category.
The Weeknd, After Hours: This would be The Weeknd’s second nod in this category. Beauty Behind the Madness was nominated five years ago.
Other top contenders: Bad Bunny, YHLQMDLG; The Chicks, Gaslighter; Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways; Lady Gaga, Chromatica; Miranda Lambert, Wildcard; Lil Baby, My Turn; Lil Uzi Vert, Eternal Atake (Deluxe) — Luv vs. the World 2; Pop Smoke, Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon.
Record of the year
Billie Eilish, “Everything I Wanted”: Eilish won in this category last year with “Bad Guy.” She’s vying to become the first artist to return to the finals the year after winning in this category since U2 nearly 20 years ago.
Post Malone, “Circles”: Post has been nominated in this category in each of the last two years with “Rockstar” (featuring 21 Savage) and “Sunflower,” a collab with Swae Lee. He’s vying to become the first artist to receive a record of the year nod three years running since Steve Winwood (1986-88).
Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé Knowles, “Savage”: This would be Beyoncé’s sixth career nomination in this category, which would enable her to surpass Barbra Streisand as the female artist with the most career nods. They are currently tied with five record of the year nods each. Moreover, this would be the third all-female collab to be nominated in this category, following Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” (1998) and Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX’s “Fancy” (2014).
Maren Morris, “The Bones”: This hit, which logged 19 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, won the CMA Award for single of the year. This would be Morris’ second record of the year nod. She was nominated two years ago for “The Middle,” a pop-minded collab with Zedd and Grey.
Travis Scott, “Highest in the Room”: This would be Scott’s first nomination in a Big Four category for one of his own records. He received an album of the year nod four years ago as a featured artist on Justin Bieber’s Purpose.
Harry Styles, “Adore You”: “Watermelon Sugar” was a bigger hit, but Styles’ camp entered this song instead, probably thinking it has a more traditional Grammy sound.
The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”: This would be The Weeknd’s second nod in this category. He was nominated five years ago for “Can’t Feel My Face.”
Other top contenders: Gabby Barrett, “I Hope”; DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch, “Rockstar”; Doja Cat’s “Say So”; Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me”; Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now”; Roddy Ricch, “The Box”; Taylor Swift, “Cardigan”; 24kGoldn featuring Iann Dior, “Mood.”
Song of the year
This award goes to the songwriters, not the artists. Artists’ names are shown here in parentheses just to help you identify the song.
“Adore You” (Harry Styles): Amy Allen, Thomas Hull, Tyler Johnson & Harry Styles, songwriters.
“The Bigger Picture” (Lil Baby): Dominique Jones, Noah Pettigrew & Rai’shaun Williams, songwriters. In the year of George Floyd and BLM, the Grammys are certain to nominate one or more songs that address the topic of race. Past song of the year nominees that addressed the issue are Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” (2015), Beyoncé’s “Formation” (2016) and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” (2018). “The Bigger Picture” won impact track at the BET Hip Hop Awards.
“Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd): Ahmad Balshe, Oscar Holter, Max Martin, Jason “Daheala” Quenneville & Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, songwriters. This would be Martin’s fifth nod in this category.
“The Bones” (Maren Morris): Maren Morris, Jimmy Robbins & Laura Veltz, songwriters. This won song of the year at the recent CMA Awards.
“Cardigan” (Taylor Swift): Aaron Dessner & Taylor Swift, songwriters. This would be Swift’s fifth nod in the category, which would be more than any other female songwriter in Grammy history. She’s currently tied with lyricist Marilyn Bergman with four nods each.
“Circles” (Post Malone): Louis Bell, Adam Feeney, Kaan Gunesberk, Austin Post & Billy Walsh, songwriters. Neither of Post’s previous record of the year candidates was nominated for song of the year.
“Everything I Wanted” (Billie Eilish): Billie Eilish O’Connell & Finneas O’Connell, songwriters. The talented siblings won in this category last year for “Bad Guy.” At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, if this were to win, the sibs would become the first songwriters in Grammy history to win back-to-back awards in this category.
“I Can’t Breathe” (H.E.R.): Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. & Tiara Thomas, songwriters. H.E.R. was nominated in this category last year for co-writing “Hard Place.” If “I Can’t Breathe” is nominated alongside “The Bigger Picture,” this would mark the first time that two race-themed songs have been nominated in this category in the same year. “I Can’t Breathe” won video for good at both the VMAs and the MTV EMAs.
Other top contenders (songwriters’ names omitted in the interest of space): “Before You Go” (Lewis Capaldi); “Black Parade” (Beyoncé); “Don’t Start Now” (Dua Lipa); “I Hope” (Gabby Barrett); “Mood” (24kGoldn featuring Iann Dior); “Murder Most Foul” (Bob Dylan); “Savage” (Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé Knowles); “10,000 Hours” (Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber).
Best new artist
Gabby Barrett: “I Hope,” the breakthrough hit by the 20-year old country singer, has logged 16 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs. Barrett was nominated for new female artist of the year at the ACM Awards and new artist of the year at the CMA Awards. She’s vying to become the first female country artist to win in this category since Carrie Underwood 14 years ago.
BlackPink: The all-female group is vying to become the first K-pop act to receive a nomination in this category. BlackPink’s first full-length album, The Album, entered the Billboard 200 at No. 2. “Ice Cream,” the group’s collab with Selena Gomez, reached No. 13 on the Hot 100.
Doja Cat: Cat won push best new artist at the VMA Awards and best new at the MTV EMAs. Her “Say So” reached No. 1 on the Hot 100.
Conan Gray: Gray’s debut album, Kid Krow, reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Gray is a big fan of Taylor Swift, who was nominated in this category 13 years ago.
Megan Thee Stallion: The rapper was entered in this category last year but wasn’t nominated. She had had a big 2019, but an even bigger 2020, with two No. 1 singles on the Hot 100. Megan is vying to become the first female hip-hop artist to win best new artist since Lauryn Hill 22 years ago.
Pop Smoke: The rapper, who was shot to death in February at age 20, has a good chance of becoming the first artist to receive a posthumous nomination in this category. (The category dates to 1959, the second year of the Grammy Awards.) The only potential stumbling block: The award has long been seen as a vote of confidence in a promising, up-and-coming artist. What does a vote of confidence mean in the case of an artist who has died? Pop Smoke won best new hip hop artist at last month’s BET Hip Hop Awards. He was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards in June.
Summer Walker: Walker’s debut album, Over It, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Walker was nominated for best new artist at the BET Awards.
Morgan Wallen: Wallen has amassed four top 20 hits on the Hot 100, including one (“7 Summers”) that cracked the top 10. Wallen won new artist of the year at the CMAs (beating Barrett). Could they both be nominated here? There were two country contenders in this category four years ago—Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini. And that was back when there were only five nominees.
Other top contenders: Ingrid Andress, Phoebe Bridgers, City Girls, Mickey Guyton, Orville Peck, Rex Orange County, Tones and I, YoungBoy Never Broke Again.
Note 1: First-round Grammy voting closed on Oct. 12, 12 days before 24kGolden’s “Mood” (featuring iann dior) reached No. 1 on the Hot 100. Obviously, 24kGolden would have had a better shot at a best new artist nomination if voting had closed later, but could he squeeze in anyway?
Note 2: Roddy Ricch wasn’t eligible for best new artist because he won a Grammy last year as a featured artist on Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks in the Middle” (which was voted best rap recording).