Taylor Swift dominated 2023 to such a degree that when she was ranked No. 1 on Billboard’s Greatest Pop Star of the year franchise in December, our subhead on that story simply said “Obviously.” Swift had one of the biggest years of any artist in the modern pop era, up there with The Beatles in 1964, Elton John in 1975, Bee Gees in 1978, Michael Jackson in 1983 and Adele in 2011.
So, does that mean she’s a cinch to sweep the Grammys on Feb. 4? Not necessarily. Adele won all three of the top Grammys – album, record and song of the year – in her biggest year, but none of these other artists swept all three of these categories.
Swift would make history if she won album of the year. She’s already tied with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon with three wins in this category. She’s vying to become the first four-time winner.
Predicting Grammy winners has never been easy. Music is constantly changing, and so is the membership of the Recording Academy, especially in the past four years. The Academy has added thousands of new voting members in an aggressive effort to make the voting membership younger and more diverse.
Seven years ago, Adele’s 25 controversially beat Beyoncé’s Lemonade for album of the year. That contest might have turned out differently with today’s voting membership.
This year, for the first time, the Recording Academy bumped producer of the year, non-classical and songwriter of the year, non-classical to what it calls the General Field. This will greatly increase the number of people voting in these two categories. All Grammy voting members can vote in the General Field. After that, they can vote in no more than 10 other categories spread across no more than three fields. (Got all that?)
The awards will be presented at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Feb. 4. Trevor Noah, who won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding talk series on Jan. 15 and is nominated for a Grammy for best comedy album, is hosting for the fourth year in a row.
Let’s get into it. Here’s how I see the races shaping up in the six General Field categories.
Album of the Year
Nominees: Jon Batiste’s World Music Radio, boygenius’ The Record, Miley Cyrus’ Endless Summer Vacation, Lana Del Rey’s Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, Janelle Monáe’s The Age of Pleasure, Olivia Rodrigo’s Guts, Taylor Swift’s Midnights, SZA’s SOS
This is the most female-dominated fields of album of the year contenders in Grammy history. Here are all the times female artists have dominated in the category.
Analysis: I asked three Billboard colleagues who they thought would win in each of the Big Four categories. They are all super-smart and plugged-in. In this category, they gave me three different answers (Swift, SZA and boygenius), so I guess I’m on my own here.
Each of Swift’s three album of the year winners represented a major chapter in her career – Fearless, her breakthrough as a pop/country superstar; 1989, a risky and hugely successful transition into pop; and Folklore, a perfectly-timed folkie side-step during the pandemic. The capsule summary of this album – a concept album about late-night ruminations inspired by her sleepless nights – isn’t quite as compelling.
SZA is a very strong challenger with SOS, which topped the Billboard 200 for 10 nonconsecutive weeks, longer than any of these other nominees. The narrative here is the emergence of a newly-minted superstar in an industry that relies on them.
SZA is vying to become the first Black woman to win in this category as a lead artist since Lauryn Hill 25 years ago for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Last year, many (including me) thought Beyoncé would win for Renaissance. Instead, Harry Styles won for Harry’s House, and while he was a deserving winner, there is a pent-up frustration on the part of many that R&B and hip-hop are so often passed over in the Big Four categories. That Grammy history is unavoidably playing into this year’s contest.
Boygenius is also aiming to make history. The all-female trio, consisting of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, would become just the second all-female group or duo to win in this category, following The Chicks, who won in 2007 for Taking the Long Way.
Boygenius wrote their entire album by themselves and produced it with Catherine Marks. The album even had a female mastering engineer, Pat Sullivan. (The album had both male and female engineer/mixers, so men weren’t completely sidelined here.) This is the only album of the year finalist to also be nominated for best engineered album, non-classical.
Batiste’s World Music Radio is nominated two years after he was the surprise winner in the category for We Are. Winning again so soon is a longshot, but if it happens, he’ll be the first artist to win twice in the space of three years as a lead artist since the mid-’70s, when Stevie Wonder won three times in a four-year span.
A side-note here: If Midnights (or Rodrigo’s Guts) wins, Serban Ghenea would become the first person (not artist, mind you) to win album of the year five times. The Canadian engineer/mixer previously won in the category as an engineer/mixer on Swift’s 1989 and Folklore, Adele’s 25 and Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic.
Predicted winner: SZA
And if not her: Taylor Swift, boygenius
Record of the year
Nominees: Jon Batiste’s “Worship,” boygenius’ “Not Strong Enough,” Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers,” Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?,” Victoria Monét’s “On My Mama,” Olivia Rodrigo’s “Vampire,” Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero,” SZA’s “Kill Bill”
Analysis: There was at least some agreement among my crack team of advisers in this category. Two said Cyrus’ “Flowers.” One went with Swift’s “Anti-Hero.”
Both singles are strong candidates. Both topped the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks – the longest run by far for Cyrus and the longest by a one-week margin for Swift. “Flowers” represented a bigger breakthrough for Cyrus: If anyone still thinks of her as the former Hannah Montana star who then went a little overboard in trying to smash that image, it’s time to get over it. “Flowers” proved that she’s a thoroughly credible mainstream pop star. Cyrus is nominated for album, record and song of the year. Even if she doesn’t win any of them, she won just by being nominated in Big Four categories for the first time.
Three other nominees also have a good chance of winning. Eilish’s dreamy ballad was featured in the year’s biggest box-office hit, Barbie. It’s a subtle record, but one that grew on listeners and gradually developed into a genuine hit. It has remained on the Hot 100 for six months, so far peaking at No. 14.
Eilish would make history if she wins. This would be her third record of the year winner, which would put her in a three-way tie as the artist with the most wins in the category. She would join Paul Simon (counting two Simon & Garfunkel hits) and Bruno Mars (counting one collab with Mark Ronson and another with Anderson. Paak as Silk Sonic). This would make Eilish the first woman to win three times; the first artist to win three times strictly as a solo artist; and the first artist to win three times in the space of five years. Eilish previously won for “Bad Guy” and “Everything I Wanted.”
Rodrigo’s “Vampire” and SZA’s “Kill Bill,” both of which also reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, also have a reasonably good chance of winning. The theatrical “Vampire” is impressively different from Rodrigo’s first nominee in this category, the piano ballad “drivers license.” “Kill Bill” is a little edgy for Grammy tastes – though those tastes, like the times, are a-changin’.
Predicted winner: Taylor Swift
And if not her: Billie Eilish, Miley Cyrus
Song of the year
Nominees: “A&W” (Jack Antonoff, Lana Del Rey & Sam Dew), “Anti-Hero” (Jack Antonoff & Taylor Swift), “Butterfly” (Jon Batiste & Dan Wilson), “Dance the Night” (Caroline Ailin, Dua Lipa, Mark Ronson & Andrew Wyatt), “Flowers” (Miley Cyrus, Gregory Aldae Hein & Michael Pollack), “Kill Bill” (Rob Bisel, Carter Lang & SZA), “Vampire” (Daniel Nigro & Olivia Rodrigo), “What Was I Made For?” (Billie Eilish & Finneas)
Analysis: My ace advisors split again, with two predicting Eilish and Finneas and one going for Swift. Making the case for “What Was I Made For?,” one said “Billie’s an awards machine, and that might be her songiest hit yet.” Can’t argue with that.
And yet… Swift has never won song of the year. Many regard her as the songwriter of her generation. Most see songwriting as her chief strength, even more than her singing or performing. She has already received more song of the year nominations than anyone else in Grammy history (seven). I would guess that she’d rather bring home song of the year, finally, than win in almost any other category. (I say “almost” because, well, she is going for history in album of the year.)
If “Anti-Hero” wins, it will be the second win in this category for Antonoff, who co-wrote fun.’s Janelle Monáe-featuring smash “We Are Young,” which won in 2013. That would put him in a tie for the most wins in this category with (take a deep breath) Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer, James Horner, Will Jennings, U2, Adele, Bruno Mars & Christopher Brody Brown and Dernst Emile II (D’Mile).
Three other songwriters are also vying for their second wins in the category. Eilish & Finneas won three years ago for “Bad Guy.” Dan Wilson, nominated for co-writing “Butterfly” with Jon Batiste, won in 2007 for co-writing The Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
“What Was I Made For?” is likely to win the Oscar for best original song on March 10. If “What Was I Made For?” wins here, it would be the first song to win a Grammy for song of the year before winning the Oscar since “You Light Up My Life.” That ballad, an inexplicably gargantuan hit in 1977, won the Grammy on Feb. 23, 1978, five weeks before it won the Oscar.
Swift has won so many Grammys, and so many awards in general, it may not be that well-known that she has never won song of the year. If that were better-known, there would probably be more people saying “That’s not right. Let’s fix that while we have the chance here.”
This one is a real coin toss. I’ll go with the pretty song that was on the radio every hour on the hour during the final-round voting period (Dec. 14 to Jan. 4).
Predicted winner: “What Was I Made For?”
And if not that: “Anti-Hero,” “Flowers”
Best New Artist
Nominees: Gracie Abrams, Fred again.., Ice Spice, Jelly Roll, Coco Jones, Noah Kahan, Victoria Monét, The War and Treaty
Analysis: My colleagues split again, with two going with Kahan and one with Monét.
Monét received seven nominations this year, more than any of the other best new artist nominees. Moreover, she is the only one of these nominees to land an additional nomination in a Big Four category. She is up for record of the year for “On My Mama.” She’s one of three best new artist nominees who was also nominated for the album award in her home genre. She and Coco Jones are both nominated for best R&B album. Fred again… is nominated for best dance/electronic music album. Finally, Monét’s album (which Monét co-engineered) is up for best engineered album, non-classical.
There’s another reason to think that Monét (or Abrams, Ice Spice or Jones) or might win. Grammy voters have long favored female solo artists in this category, including the last six years in a row, when the award went in turn to Alessia Cara, Dua Lipa, Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion, Rodrigo and Samara Joy.
Kahan is a textbook case of artist development. His Stick Season album has reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200, tied with Jelly Roll’s Whitsitt Chapel as the highest-charting album of any of this year’s best new artist nominees. And Kahan’s alt-folk sound puts him right in the Grammy wheelhouse, which also includes Mumford & Sons (album of the year winners 11 years ago) and Hozier (a song of the year nominee nine years ago). It’s concerning that this was his only nomination, but his career has developed a lot since nominations-round voting concluded on Oct. 20.
Country artists don’t often win in this category. The last to do so was Zac Brown Band 14 years ago. But Jelly Roll has found success in both country and rock. And he has a much larger and more colorful image than most country artists. If Jelly Roll, 39, wins best artist, he’ll become the oldest solo artist to win in this category. That distinction is currently held by Sheryl Crow, who was 33 when she won in 1995. (Note: Ward Swingle, leader of The Swingle Singers, was 36 when that choral group won in 1964.)
If The War and Treaty, consisting of married couple Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter, wins, they’ll become the first married duo to win in this category. Starland Vocal Band, best known for “Afternoon Delight,” a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 in 1976, included a married couple and also a future married couple.
The War and Treaty and Kahan both competed for a nomination for best Americana album. Both fell short. They could split the alt/folk vote here, just as Monét and Jones could split the R&B vote. This is another close call.
Predicted winner: Noah Kahan
And if not him: Jelly Roll, Victoria Monét
Producer of the year, non-classical
Nominees: Jack Antonoff, Dernst Emile II (D’Mile), Hit-Boy, Metro Boomin, Daniel Nigro
Analysis: This is the fifth nomination in a row in this category for Antonoff, the second in a row for D’Mile and the second in two years for Hit-Boy. It’s the first for Metro Boomin and Nigro.
Antonoff has six total nominations this year, more than any other of the other nominees here. Nigro is second with five nods, followed by D’Mile with three and Metro Boomin with two. This is Hit-Boy’s only nomination this year.
Antonoff co-produced two album of the year nominees – Swift’s Midnights and Lana Del Rey’s Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. He also co-produced Swift’s record of the year nominee, “Anti-Hero.” Nigro produced Rodrigo’s album of the year nominee Guts and her record of the year nominee “Vampire.” D’Mile co-produced Monét’s record of the year nominee “On My Mama.”
Antonoff won in each of the last two years. If he wins again, he would become only the second producer to win in three consecutive years, following Babyface (1995-97).
Predicted winner: Jack Antonoff
And if not him: Daniel Nigro, D’Mile
Songwriter of the year, non-classical
Nominees: Edgar Barrera, Jessie Jo Dillon, Shane McAnally, Theron Thomas, Justin Tranter
Analysis: This is the first nomination in this category for all five songwriters. This is only the second year the Academy has presented this award.
McAnally and Dillon are the only contenders in this category who have other nominations this year. McAnally is also nominated for best musical theater album for Shucked. Dillon is also nominated for best country song for co-writing Brandy Clark’s “Buried.” That’s Dillon’s fourth nomination for best country song, which tops her dad, Dean Dillon, who has been nominated in that category twice. McAnally has received eight nominations for best country song, but none this year.
It’s impressive that two songwriters primarily known for country are nominated, but they may split the country vote in the Academy, which isn’t all that big to begin with.
Likewise, it’s impressive that Barrera was nominated for writing for such Latin stars as Don Omar, Karol G and Bad Bunny. The Mexican/American songwriter and producer has won 21 Latin Grammys, including songwriter of the year last November, but it’s doubtful that the Academy has enough Latin members to boost him to a win here.
Tranter co-wrote a song (“River”) on Cyrus’ album of the year nominee Endless Summer Vacation. In each of the last two years, that would have made them an album of the year nominee, but this year the Academy tightened the eligibility rule so participants must be involved on at least 20% of an album’s playing time to be nominated. It was a smart rule change, but the timing was unfortunate for Tranter.
Two of these contenders are past nominees in the all-genre song of the year category. Thomas was nominated last year for co-writing Lizzo’s “About Damn Time.” Tranter was nominated six years ago for co-writing Julia Michaels’ “Issues.”
Predicted winner: Justin Tranter
And if not them: Theron Thomas, Shane McAnally