Grammys 2020: Our predictions for the top awards and hometown faves
Sunday’s 62nd annual Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles is largely about the newcomers. With best new artist nominees Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X also vying for awards in most of the major categories, even stars in their early 30s such as Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey seem like the old-hat establishment by comparison.
That’s partly reflected in the half-dozen Austin acts up for Grammys this year, too. Yes, 80-something Willie Nelson and 60-something Jimmie Vaughan are in the mix, but it’s 35-year-old Gary Clark Jr. who got four nominations and fledgling band Black Pumas that scored a nomination in a category that will be awarded as part of Sunday’s prime-time CBS telecast.
The grammy.com website will livestream an afternoon ceremony featuring most of the Austin artists’ categories. We’ll get to those below, but first, here are our thoughts on who will win the major awards.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Ariana Grande, “7 Rings”; Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”; Bon Iver, “Hey, Ma”; H.E.R., “Hard Place”; Khalid, “Talk”; Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road”; Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”; Post Malone & Swae Lee, “Sunflower”
Deborah Sengupta Stith: When Lizzo’s booty club soul revival and self-love communion arrived at the Austin City Limits Music Festival after a summer of explosive buzz building, she drew one of the largest crowds we’ve ever seen at the park. When she led an ecstatic rap-along of “Truth Hurts,” it felt like Zilker Park broke open as 50,000 voices in unison vanquished the ghosts of loves gone wrong. But 2019 was a very weird year. Gay black cowboy rapper Lil Nas X leased a beat on an Austin-based streaming service to create “Old Town Road.” It was a viral sensation that, with an assist from Miley Cyrus’ dad, became the ubiquitous song of the summer and probably the strongest contender in this category. Having said all that, I think this is Billie Eilish’s night and would not be at all surprised to see “Bad Guy” take the trophy.
Peter Blackstock: Grande, Eilish, Lizzo and H.E.R. might make this a tight race among women who all could be deserving winners. But it’s hard to deny that Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was the most omnipresent record of 2019, spending a record-breaking 19 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Cyrus, who’s never won a Grammy on his own, benefits from strapping himself to the “Old Town Road” rocketship.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Bon Iver, “I,I”; Lana Del Rey, “Norman F***ing Rockwell”; Billie Eilish, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”; Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”; H.E.R., “I Used to Know Her”; Lil Nas X, “7”; Lizzo, “Cuz I Love You” (Deluxe); Vampire Weekend, “Father of the Bride”
D.S.S.: Wooed by her radiant positivity and her undeniable rap and soul chops, Team 360 fell in love with Lizzo several years back. Watching her stratospheric rise in 2019 was magical, in no small part because she used her music as a vehicle to preach a joyous gospel of self-love. But since the moment she was announced as this year’s leading nominee, I’ve been mentally preparing myself for the letdown. (Grammy voters, let’s remember, snubbed Beyonce’s landmark album “Lemonade” in 2017 and passed over the pop superstar’s self-titled smash for a sleepy Beck album in 2015.) Though I would not be shocked to see Lana Del Rey take the trophy for “Norman F***ing Rockwell,” a perfectly lovely album by America’s favorite sad girl, I think Eilish’s collection of dark fantasies that invert everything we thought we knew about teen pop will land on top.
P.B.: Eilish and Grande finished 1-2 on the year-end Billboard 200 album charts, but the winner in this category often isn’t a sales blockbuster. (Last year’s winner, Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” peaked at No. 4 upon release but didn’t make the year-end top 200.) Lil Nas X had the big single but not the big album, so I’d be surprised if he got this one. Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver seem like also-rans in this particular year. That leaves Lizzo, Del Rey and H.E.R., of whom I think Lizzo is most deserving. But H.E.R. may well follow the two Grammys she got last year with her first in a major category here.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Nominees: “Always Remember Us This Way,” Lady Gaga; “Bad Guy,” Billie Eilish; “Bring My Flowers Now,” Tanya Tucker; “Hard Place,” H.E.R.; “Lover,” Taylor Swift; “Norman F***ing Rockwell,” Lana Del Rey; “Someone You Loved,” Lewis Capaldi; “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo
P.B.: Here’s the most intriguing showdown of old guard vs. new blood. Between them, Swift and Gaga have won 19 Grammys. And kudos to Tucker for being nominated at age 61. But I think Lizzo’s viral summer smash “Truth Hurts” gets its due in this category. (Note: This award actually goes to the songwriters; we’ve listed only the performers’ names for the sake of simplicity.)
D.S.S.: There are few artists that Grammy voters love more than Taylor Swift, and “Lover” was a very good song, but Swift doesn’t seem to have the buzz behind her this year. I desperately want this to go to Lizzo, a flute-toting force of nature who wrote the most empowering breakup song of the decade, but Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” is tough competition.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Nominees: Black Pumas; Billie Eilish; Lil Nas X; Lizzo; Maggie Rogers; Rosalía; Tank & the Bangas; Yola
P.B.: As cool as it is to have Austin’s Black Pumas, the dynamic soul singer Yola and eclectic New Orleans group Tank & the Bangas up for a major award, this one is quite clearly a three-horse race between Eilish, Nas and Lizzo. I’m thinking the Grammys will go for the newest of the new here and recognize Eilish, who just turned 18 last month.
D.S.S.: Shout out to Austin’s Black Pumas for making the cut, but like I said, this is Billie Eilish’s night.
OTHER AUSTIN NOMINEES
Gary Clark Jr: Best contemporary blues album, “This Land”; best rock song, “This Land”; best rock performance, “This Land”; best music video, “This Land.” Throughout his career, industry insiders have struggled with how to categorize Clark’s music. While he’s easily one of the greatest electric blues guitarists of his generation, his 2019 release, “This Land,” fueled by the explosive rock of the title track and buoyed by the sweet R&B vibes of standout single “Pearl Cadillac,” doesn’t really feel like a blues album. Still, Clark is the highest profile nominee with a very good shot at the contemporary blues album award.
For rock song, the stiffest competition for Clark’s incendiary indictment of the American dream should be Brittany Howard’s powerful lament “History Repeats.” But it is probably Vampire Weekend’s wistful examination of America’s dark side, “Harmony Hall,” a fine example of the band’s sophisticated songcraft, that will resonate with a good portion of the (let’s be honest, mostly white) Grammy voting base. Performance is Clark’s sweet spot, and he has a very strong shot at the rock performance category: Votes for Bones UK’s “Pretty Waste” and Karen O & Danger Mouse’s “Woman” will cancel each other out, and Clark’s refusal to pull punches on race in America will be rewarded.
Clark’s fearless plantation reclamation on “This Land” should make it a strong contender for best music video, except that it’s up against the “Old Town Road Movie.” Expect Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, aided by special guest star Chris Rock, to take the trophy. — D.S.S.
Willie Nelson: Best country solo performance, “Ride Me Back Home.” Will Nelson reach double-digits in Grammy wins with his 52nd nomination? He’s had better luck lately with old-school standards, winning the best traditional pop vocal album category two of the last three years for tributes to Gershwin and Sinatra. Nominees here are Tanya Tucker, Blake Shelton, Ashley McBryde and Tyler Childers. I’d bet on Tucker, whose “Bring My Flowers Now” is also up for the across-all-genres Song of the Year award. — P.B.
Jimmie Vaughan and Delbert McClinton: Vaughan, a 50-year Austinite, and McClinton, a part-time resident for many years now, are both up for best traditional blues album. Either Vaughan’s “Baby, Please Come Home” or McClinton’s “Tall, Dark & Handsome” could easily win over fellow nominees Bobby Rush, Jontavious Willis and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. If they don’t, we’ll go with Ingram, the 21-year-old Mississippi guitar phenom who’s caught fire in the last couple of years. — P.B.
Patty Griffin: Best folk album, self-titled. We’d call Griffin, who won her first Grammy nine years ago, the odds-on favorite: Compared to Andrew Bird, Joy Williams, Gregory Alan Isakov and Che Apalache, it’s likely Griffin who’s most widely known. Williams won three Grammys with the Civil Wars, but her solo career is still in the process of catching on. This is Bird’s first nomination, and while the creative Chicagoan deserves a Grammy, getting one in his first shot seems unlikely. South Africa-born Colorado singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov and Argentinian band Che Apalache give the field an international touch, but neither seems likely to win. — P.B.
Craig Hella Johnson (Conspirare): Best choral performance, “The Hope of Loving.” Donald Nally’s Philadelphia-based ensemble the Crossing received nominations for two different works in this category, but that may work against them if votes get split between their two performances. Conductor Robert Simpson and the Houston Chamber Choir give Texas two nominees here, with Peter Jermihov and the PaTRAM Institute singers the fifth nominee. We’d give a 50-50 shot to Johnson and Conspirare, who won their first Grammy five years ago. — P.B.
Prime-time TV: The 62nd annual Grammy Awards air live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 7 p.m. on CBS, preceded by an hourlong “Grammy Red Carpet Live” lead-in at 6 p.m. The prime-time telecast covers the major awards only, supplemented by many performances.
Performers: Among those scheduled to appear are Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus, H.E.R., the Jonas Brothers, Tanya Tucker with Brandi Carlile, Rosalia, Camila Cabello and Bonnie Raitt. Austin’s Gary Clark Jr. will play his song “This Land” with the Roots. (Clark also will take part in a separate Grammy tribute to Prince to be taped Tuesday for airing on CBS later this year.)
Premiere ceremony: Most awards are given out during an afternoon event that runs from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and will be livestreamed on grammy.com. (That ceremony will include the categories featuring all of the Austin nominees, except Black Pumas in the prime-time best new artist category.)