The Grammys Early Line: Who Are the 2020 Album of the Year Contenders?

Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix/REX/Shutterstock Ariana Grande attends Billboard’s 13th Annual Women in Music Event in New York City on Dec. 6, 2018.

We’re seven months into the Grammy eligibility year — time to see how the field is shaping up.

On Monday, we looked at contenders for record of the year for the 62nd annual Grammy Awards. Now, we examine potential candidates for the other top award: album of the year.

How do you even begin trying to predict what the Nominations Review Committee, which selects the final nominees each year, is likely to support? The committee usually favors big hits that also earned a measure of critical respect. Looking at the album of the year field from the 61st Grammys, seven of the eight nominees made the top 10 on the Billboard 200. (The outlier was H.E.R.’s eponymous compilation, which peaked at No. 23.) Five of the eight nominees had a robust rating of 80 or higher at Metacritic.com. (Post Malone’s beerbongs and bentleys was nominated despite a tepid Metacritic score of 51; Drake’s Scorpion overcame a so-so score of 67.)

So a low Metacritic score isn’t fatal, nor is an inglorious chart number. But, as a general rule, it’s that combination of commercial and critical success that paves the way to a Grammy nom.

Cardi B and Bruno Mars perform onstage during the 60th Annual Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, 2018 in New York City. 

The Grammys Early Line: Who Are the 2020 Record of the Year Contenders?

This will be the 25th year that the final nominations in the Big Four categories — album, record and song of the year and best new artist — have been decided by a Nominations Review Committee. That committee selects the eight entries it likes best from a list of the 20 top vote-getters from rank-and-file voting members. (The committee is not involved in choosing the final winners, according to the Academy.)

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards will be held on Jan. 26, 2020. The eligibility period runs Oct. 1, 2018-Aug. 31, 2019.

Here are some early front-runners for album of the year.

A finished Grammy statue, wrapped in protective foam sits in a cardboard box at Billings Artworks in Ridgway Colorado on Jan. 12, 2019.

Grammy Eligibility Year to Close One Month Early

LEADERS

Ariana Grande, thank u, next: After six years of stardom, Grande has yet to be nominated in a Big Four category. Grande is this year’s hottest artist and her output keeps getting better (the title song to this, her fifth album, is undeniable). Grande won her first Grammy in February with Sweetener, which was voted best pop vocal album. This follow-up spent its first two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

Solange, When I Get Home: Solange won a Grammy for best R&B performance with “Cranes in the Sky” from her last album. Her critically acclaimed fourth album could be a contender for an album of the year nom. Solange’s big sister, Beyoncé, is a three-time album of the year finalist. The Knowles sisters would become the first siblings to each be nominated in this marquee category since Michael and Janet Jackson.

Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go: Eilish’s debut studio album, following a pair of EPs, has a chance. Eilish, who will turn 18 on Dec. 18, would be the youngest nominee in this category in Grammy history, topping 20-year old nominees Janet Jackson (Control, 1986), Mariah Carey (Mariah Carey, 1990) and Taylor Swift (Fearless, 2009). Eilish’s album, which is due Friday, is expected to enter the Billboard 200 at No. 1.

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born soundtrack: This best-seller has logged four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, longer than any other album so far in this eligibility period. But the album was released in the very first week of the eligibility year. It may be seen as old news late this year, during Grammy voting season — after all, the album’s key song, “Shallow,” has already been performed on, and honored by, both the Grammys and the Oscars. Even so, it will be in the mix of albums from which the Nominations Review Committee selects the final nominees. It would be Gaga’s fourth album of the year nom.

CONTENDERS

Jenny Lewis, On the Line: Lewis’ fourth solo album is getting great reviews. Lewis has been the subject of glowing profiles in such major publications as Rolling Stoneand the Los Angeles Times. Lewis formerly fronted the indie rock band Rilo Kelly, with which she also recorded four studio albums.

P!nk, Hurts 2B Human: P!nk has received lifetime accolades at the VMAs (in 2017) and the BRITs (in 2019) but has never really gotten her due at the Grammys. She has won three Grammys (from 20 noms) — but just one for for a track from one of her own albums. (The other two were for collabs.) Her only nomination as a lead artist in a Big Four category is a song of the year nom six years ago for “Just Give Me a Reason.” So her eighth studio album, Hurts 2B Humandue April 26, is sure to get a look.

Maren Morris, Girl: Morris’ major-label debut album, Hero, was nominated for best country album three years ago. Pop powerhouses busbee and Greg Kurstin produced her second, which entered the Billboard 200 at No. 4 and Top Country Albums at No. 1.

Thomas Rhett, Center Point Road: Rhett’s last album, Life Changes, was nominated for best country album two years ago. His fourth album, due May 31, could move him up to the Big Four.

Khalid, Free Spirit: Khalid’s debut album, American Teen, was nominated for best urban contemporary album two years ago. “Better,” the lead single from his sophomore album, out April 5, cracked the top 20 on the Hot 100.

Gary Clark Jr.This Land: The blues rocker’s third major-label studio album has drawn strong reviews. Clark won a Grammy six years ago for “Please Come Home,” which was voted best traditional R&B performance.

Eric Church, Desperate Man: Church is a two-time winner of the CMA Award for album of the year, but he hasn’t gotten much Grammy love over the years. He’s never been nominated in a Big Four category, and he’s never won in any category. That could change, given the strong reviews his sixth album has received. Desperate Man spent its first two weeks on Top Country Albums at No. 1.

POSSIBILITIES

The 1975, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships: The English band’s third album has received critical acclaim and won a BRIT Award as British album of the year on Feb. 20. The band’s fourth album, Notes on a Conditional Form, is due later this year.

2 Chainz, Rap or Go to the League: The rapper has received six Grammy noms over the years, including a best rap album nom seven years ago for his debut, Based on a T.R.U. Story. This, his fifth album, entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1.

21 Savage, I Am > I Was: The rapper’s sophomore album drew strong reviews and spent its first two weeks on the Billboard 200 at No. 1. This is 21 Savage’s first release since his record of the year nom as a featured artist on Post Malone’s “Rockstar.” Also, voters may show support after his well-publicized arrest by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for overstaying his visa.

Juice WRLD, Death Race for Love: I was sure Juice WRLD’s classy 2018 smash “Lucid Dreams” would be nominated for record and song of the year. Didn’t happen. In fact, he wasn’t nominated in any categories. His sophomore album has spent its first two weeks on the Billboard 200 at No. 1, which suggests that “Lucid Dreams” was no fluke. Maybe Grammy voters will be more responsive this time around.

A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Hoodie SZN: The rapper’s sophomore album has spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

-Mumford & Sons are past winners in this category, but their latest album, Delta, drew tepid reviews. So did Imagine Dragons’ Origins and Greta Van Fleet’s Anthem of the Peaceful Army. The Nominations Review Committee may be reluctant to endorse an album that has been critically panned.

-Other albums in the mix include Maggie Rogers’ Heard It in a Past Life, Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby!, Ella Mai’s Ella Mai, Andrea Bocelli’s Si, twenty one pilots’ Trench, Kane Brown’s Experiment, Backstreet Boys’ DNA, Metro Boomin’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes, Meek Mill’s Championships, Kodak Black’s Dying to Live and the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack.

-Upcoming releases that look promising include BTS’ Map of the Soul: Persona EP,due April 12; Swae Lee’s first solo album, Swaecation, due May 4; Kanye West’s long-awaited Yandhi; and untitled albums by Childish Gambino, Rihanna, The Weeknd and Cardi B.

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