Graham: Kendrick Lamar set for big Grammy night, maybe

Adam Graham Detroit News Pop Music Critic

Last year’s Grammy Awards were all about Beyoncé — right up until the point when they weren’t, and Beck snuck off with the Album of the Year prize in a shocking victory.

Similarly, the 2011 Grammys were Eminem’s big night — right up until the point where it wasn’t, and Arcade Fire scored an upset win in the Album of the Year category.

Predicting the Grammys is a fool’s game, as conventional wisdom tends to get tossed out the window when it comes to the big prize on Music’s Biggest Night.

Heading into Monday’s ceremony, the smart money is on Kendrick Lamar’s complex, topical and universally respected “To Pimp a Butterfly” to take home the Album of the Year award. But Taylor Swift and Alabama Shakes could mix things up and throw a wrench in Kendrick’s plans, and the Weeknd and Chris Stapleton can’t be counted out, either.

Taking a look at 10 of the night’s top categories, here are suggestions of who should win and predictions of who will win, keeping in mind that anything can happen once the envelopes are opened. Just ask Beyoncé.

Album of the Year

Nominees: 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” is a dense and daring work that refused to conform to anyone’s expectations, a jarring listen and a master-level treatise on race and politics in America today.

Who will win: Kendrick, whose artistic merit should be enough to triumph over Swift’s commercial juggernaut. A win for Kendrick would make “To Pimp a Butterfly” the first rap album to win Album of the Year since OutKast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” in 2004.

Record of the Year

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

Who should win: “Uptown Funk,” which was ubiquitous in early 2015 and owned the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart for 14 weeks.

Who will win: In a strong field — “Can’t Feel My Face” catapulted the Weekend to stardom, “Blank Space” is the strongest song on Swift’s “1989” set — “Uptown Funk” has the edge. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

Song of the Year

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

Who should win: Lamar’s “Alright,” whose thematic heft dwarfs its comparatively light competition (no disrespect toward “See You Again,” Wiz and Charlie’s tribute to the late great Paul Walker).

Who will win: Lamar and his songwriting partners, Kawan Prather, Mark Anthony Spears and Pharrell Williams, will take this songwriter’s award (as opposed to Record of the Year, which honors performers).

Best New Artist

Nominees: Courtney Barnett; James Bay; Sam Hunt; Tori Kelly; Meghan Trainor

Who should win: Courtney Barnett, the Australian alt-rocker whose sharp tongue and heavy riffs made her one of music’s hottest new talents to watch.

Who will win: Meghan Trainor, even though the “All About That Bass” singer’s 15 minutes of fame are tick, tick, ticking away. Or hopefully are, at least.

Best Pop Vocal Album

Nominees: 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: Swift. She had been leaning toward dance pop for years, but “1989” marked her full-on pop crossover, and it made her more massive than ever.

Who will win: Sorry James, but Taylor Swift has you licked these days in the pop star department.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Nominees: Florence & the Machine, “Ship to Wreck”; Maroon 5, “Sugar”; Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”; Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood”; Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Who should win: “Uptown Funk,” which couldn’t have rained down more funk if the Time was its backing band.

Who will win: “Uptown Funk” will triumph over Taylor and Kendrick’s “Bad Blood,” a collaboration that never truly gelled.

Best Alternative

Music Album

Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color”; Bjork, “Vulnicura”; My Morning Jacket, “The Waterfall”; Tame Impala, “Currents”; Wilco, “Star Wars”

Who should win: Tame Impala, whose freaky, psychedelic “Currents” was the year’s trippiest record.

Who will win: Alabama Shakes, whose album sales might as well include a donation to NPR.

Best R&B Song

Nominees: Miguel, “Coffee”; the Weeknd, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”; Jazmine Sullivan, “Let It Burn”; D’Angelo and the Vanguard, “Really Love”; Tyrese, “Shame”

Who should win: The Weeknd, whose “Fifty Shades of Grey” anthem shifted perceptions about his hit-making abilities and signaled his ascent to the big time. He earned it.

Who will win: D’Angelo, whose long-in-the-works “Black Messiah” album was overlooked in the Album of the Year category and will pick up this trophy as a concession prize.

Best Rap Album

Nominees: 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: Drake’s minimalist “If You’re Reading This” was his most streamlined effort to date and Dre’s long and winding “Compton” managed to distill his entire career into one set, but this is Kendrick’s year and it’s his award to lose.

Who will win: Kendrick Lamar.

Best Country Album

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

Who should win: Stapleton’s “Traveller” — and his performance on the CMAs — put him on country music’s map, and his nominations in the evening’s bigger categories signal a win here.

Who will win: Stapleton, whose win will be seen as a vote in favor of rugged authenticity and away from the breezy beach bum “bro country” that has dominated country airwaves throughout this decade.


The 58th Grammys

8 p.m. Monday