2016 Grammy Awards: Staff Picks & Predictions

The good folks at NARAS know how to keep things interesting, producing yet another diverse crop of nominees in the general, country, and country-adjacent fields.

Here are the personal picks from some of our contributing staff, along with who we predict will take home the gold tomorrow.

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a ButterflyAlbum of the Year

Should Win:

  • Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
  • Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Kevin, Jonathan, Tara
  • Chris Stapleton, Traveller – Leeann
  • Taylor Swift, 1989
  • The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

Will Win:

  • Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
  • Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly – Tara
  • Chris Stapleton, Traveller – Jonathan
  • Taylor Swift, 1989 – Kevin, Leeann
  • The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness

KJC:  These are all excellent albums. I think that Taylor Swift is best positioned to win, but the album with the most resonance and relevance is Kendrick Lamar’s.

LW: I’m, admittedly, not familiar with most of these albums, but I wouldn’t bet against Taylor Swift’s 1989, though I’m holding out a far fetched hope for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller.

JK: No solo artist since Stevie Wonder in 1977 has won the top Grammy award more than once, and, as much as it does seem like there’s a potential vote-split that could swing this in Taylor Swift’s direction, my gut says that NARAS is more likely to wait until next year to break that particular streak with Adele’s 25.

This is one of the more solid line-ups in recent years, and Lamar’s incisive album would be my pick. But the entire music industry is agog over Stapleton at the moment, and I don’t think Alabama Shakes will siphon off enough votes to keep him from pulling off the surprise win. And Taylor’s stans on social media are going to be hilarious when that happens.

TS: Lamar’s album is the most striking and relevant of the five, and I’ll take a gamble that its weight will help him edge out Swift and Stapleton.

Mark Ronson Bruno Mars Uptown FunkRecord of the Year

Should Win:

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

Will Win:

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

KJC: Again, five great entries. I’d pick the Weeknd for being the first record I’ve heard that is true to the spirit of Michael Jackson, rather than just mimicking the sound. (Justin Timberlake, take notes.) Ed Sheeran seems like the typical Grammy bait.

JK: The D’Angelo track is lovely, and Swift’s army of lonely Starbucks lovers is one of her very best singles. Both would be deserving winners, but I can’t fathom a scenario in which the expertly produced and thrillingly performed “Uptown Funk,” which has cross-generational and cross-genre appeal that will draw a wide swath of voters, doesn’t hit its hallelujah.

TS: I suspect the adrenaline rush of “Uptown Funk” will carry it to a win, and deservingly so.

Wiz Khalifa See You AgainSong of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Alright” – Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, and Pharrell Williams
  • “Blank Space” – Max Martin, Shellback, and Taylor Swift – Jonathan
  • “Girl Crush” – Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose – Kevin, Leeann, Tara
  • “See You Again” – Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth, and Cameron Thomaz
  • “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge

Will Win:

  • “Alright” – Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, and Pharrell Williams
  • “Blank Space” – Max Martin, Shellback, and Taylor Swift
  • “Girl Crush” – Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose
  • “See You Again” – Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth, and Cameron Thomaz – Jonathan, Tara
  • “Thinking Out Loud” – Ed Sheeran and Amy Wadge – Kevin

KJC: Same logic as Record that has me predicting Ed Sheeran. I am incapable of rooting against Lori McKenna for any award.

LW: “Girl Crush” is purely wishful thinking, but I’ll go for it anyway.

JK: “Alright,” as brilliant as it may be, is the only nominee that would surprise me as the winner here. “Blank Space” is only Swift’s fourth-or-fifth best-written song, but it would narrowly edge “Girl Crush” as my pick. “See You Again” won a Golden Globe and surprised many by missing out an Oscar nomination, but it’s the kind of sentimental song (see “Dance With My Father,” “Daughters”) that so often triumphs in this category.

TS: “Girl Crush” deserves recognition for its perspective-flipping storytelling, but I can’t see any of these songs winning over the nostalgia-driven “See You Again.”

Meghan Trainor Lips are MovinBest New Artist

Should Win:

  • Courtney Barnett
  • James Bay
  • Sam Hunt
  • Tori Kelly – Tara
  • Meghan Trainor – Kevin, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Courtney Barnett
  • James Bay
  • Sam Hunt – Tara
  • Tori Kelly – Jonathan
  • Meghan Trainor – Kevin

KJC: Pop songwriter become pop star without compromise. Trainor deserves the win she is likely to get.

LW: Trainor is one of the few pop stars that has cracked through my normal ignorance of pop. I enjoy her.

JK: She can construct a pop hook, but I find nearly everything else about Trainor appalling and indefensible. That she failed to score any other nominations suggests that voters aren’t buying her shtick. I can’t think of a scenario in which either critical darling Barnett or near-unknown Bay win. Which leaves Hunt, the most logical winner, to square off against the big-voiced Kelly. Hunt has the best sales and a bizarre degree of critical cachet, but the history of this category favors the Aguileras and Underwoods of the pop world. I’m calling the upset for Kelly.

TS: I like Kelly well enough, but my gut says Hunt’s rising profile and commercial clout will push him ahead. That he’s representing the best of country music’s new artists is frustrating.

Lee ann Womack the Way I'm LivinBest Country Solo Performance

Should Win:

  • Cam, “Burning House”
  • Chris Stapleton, “Traveller” – Leeann
  • Carrie Underwood, “Little Toy Guns” – Kevin
  • Keith Urban, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”
  • Lee Ann Womack, “Chances Are” – Jonathan, Tara

Will Win:

  • Cam, “Burning House”
  • Chris Stapleton, “Traveller” – Kevin, Leeann, Jonathan
  • Carrie Underwood, “Little Toy Guns” – Tara
  • Keith Urban, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”
  • Lee Ann Womack, “Chances Are”’

KJC: The hype is all about Stapleton right now, and I expect him to dominate the genre categories. Underwood has been acknowledged twice already in this category, but I’d still pick her again for the powerhouse “Little Toy Guns.”

LW: “Traveller” was my favorite single of last year, so I’d love for it to get some Grammy love.

JK: Womack’s understated performance is arguably a career-best and would get my vote over Cam and Stapleton. Stapleton’s momentum and haul of nominations and Underwood’s history as a perennial winner in the country vocal performance categories suggest this is a race between the two of them.

TS: “Chances Are” is superbly performed and a personal favorite of mine, but I’ll guess that Underwood will continue her winning streak with the only set of voters that still has an affinity for her.

Joey + Rory Country ClassicsBest Country Duo/Group Performance

Should Win:

  • Brothers Osborne, “Stay a Little Longer”
  • Joey + Rory, “If I Needed You” – Kevin, Leeann
  • Charles Kelley, Dierks Bentley, and Eric Paslay, “The Driver”
  • Little Big Town, “Girl Crush” – Jonathan, Tara
  • Blake Shelton featuring Ashley Monroe, “Lonely Tonight”

Will Win:

  • Brothers Osborne, “Stay a Little Longer”
  • Joey + Rory, “If I Needed You”
  • Charles Kelley, Dierks Bentley, and Eric Paslay, “The Driver”
  • Little Big Town, “Girl Crush” – Kevin, Leeann, Jonathan, Tara
  • Blake Shelton featuring Ashley Monroe, “Lonely Tonight”

KJC: Yes, I am letting sentimentality cloud my judgment! Joey + Rory’s heartbreaking personal journey these past few months push me into their camp, though I suspect that voters will still reward “Girl Crush,” which managed a Big Four nomination for its songwriters.

LW: “Girl Crush” has had enough written about it to be sure to be on the Grammy voters’ radar, but I would love to see Joey+Rory win based on their legitimately sweet performance and my admitted sentimental support for them.

JK: This is not a great line-up. If Little Big Town could win for “Your Side of the Bed,” a good song that had a fraction of the impact that “Girl Crush” did, then a loss here would be one of the night’s biggest upsets. They’d get my vote, too, but I couldn’t be mad about a win for Joey + Rory.

TS: “If I Needed You” and “Girl Crush” are the only deserving nominees in this category, and I’d be happy to see either win. It would certainly be a sweet, meaningful win for Joey + Rory, but “Girl Crush” was more significant for the genre and I think the voters will recognize it.

Brandy-Clark-Final-iTunes-Cover_20130823_101736-1024x1024Best Country Song

Should Win:

  • “Chances Are” – Hayes Carll
  • “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” – Barry Dean, Luke Laird, and Jonathan Singleton
  • “Girl Crush” – Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose
  • “Hold My Hand” – Brandy Clark and Mark Stephen Jones – Kevin, Leeann, Jonathan, Tara
  • “Traveller” – Chris Stapleton

Will Win:

  • “Chances Are” – Hayes Carll
  • “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” – Barry Dean, Luke Laird, and Jonathan Singleton
  • “Girl Crush” – Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose – Jonathan
  • “Hold My Hand” – Brandy Clark and Mark Stephen Jones
  • “Traveller” – Chris Stapleton – Kevin, Leeann, Tara

KJC: Okay, so there is a way I can end up rooting against Lori McKenna, and it’s if she’s nominated against Brandy Clark! “Hold My Hand” is a brilliant song that should’ve been covered by now. I may be overstating Stapleton’s chances by betting he wins over the “Girl Crush” songwriters, but the Grammys can get very streaky, and I suspect that will carry him to a win.

LW: I can’t root against Brandy Clark and I’d love for her to win for a great song, but I think this is either Stapleton’s or the writers of Little Big Town’s hit to lose.

JK: How it was still eligible is anyone’s guess, but “Hold My Hand” is the best-written song in this very strong line-up. Any of these songs would be a worthy winner in a different year, and it’s especially nice to see Carll’s nomination. The nomination for Song Of The Year in the General Field should give “Girl Crush” the edge, but a win for “Traveller” wouldn’t be a shock.

TS: The incisiveness of “Hold My Hand” places it slightly above the lovely “Chances Are” for me, but as Jonathan noted, this is a great line-up all around. I think the voters will use this as another opportunity to reward Stapleton.

ashley-monroe-the-bladeBest Country Album

Should Win:

  • Sam Hunt, Montevallo
  • Little Big Town, Pain Killer
  • Ashley Monroe, The Blade – Leeann, Jonathan, Tara
  • Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material – Kevin
  • Chris Stapleton, Traveller

Will Win:

  • Sam Hunt, Montevallo
  • Little Big Town, Pain Killer
  • Ashley Monroe, The Blade
  • Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
  • Chris Stapleton, Traveller – Kevin, Leeann, Jonathan, Tara

KJC: Stapleton’s to lose, though I still like the Musgraves album best.

LW: I have a hard time believing that Stapleton won’t sweep and I won’t be upset if he does, but I’d also love for Ashley Monroe to be a surprise winner.

JK: Traveller seems poised to pull off the CMA – ACM – Grammy trifecta. It isn’t my favorite album, but this category has seen far worse winners (what’s up from before, Lady Antebellum?) over the years. Monroe would get my vote without hesitation for her exceptional The Blade.

TS: Monroe’s album is timeless and carries the most emotional depth of the five; it’s an easy choice for me. There’s no overcoming the hype around Traveller, though, as strange as it still feels to say that.

Punch Brothers The Phosphorescent BluesBest American Roots Performance

Should Win:

  • Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, “And am I Born to Die”
  • Buddy Guy, “Born to Play Guitar”
  • The Milk Carton Kids, “City of Our Lady”
  • Punch Brothers, “Julep” – Leeann, Jonathan
  • Mavis Staples, “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” – Kevin

Will Win:

  • Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, “And am I Born to Die”
  • Buddy Guy, “Born to Play Guitar”
  • The Milk Carton Kids, “City of Our Lady”
  • Punch Brothers, “Julep”
  • Mavis Staples, “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” – Kevin, Jonathan, LEeann

KJC: Mavis Staples, y’all. Respect.

LW: ‘m sure Mavis Staples will win, but I like The Punch Brothers’ song a lot.

JK: Punch Brothers continue to develop into one of popular music’s most progressive and exciting acts, and they’re my favorite among these nominees. The legendary Staples is the most likely winner for her terrific performance.

Best American Roots Song

Jason Isbell 24 FramesShould Win:

  • “All Night Long” – Raul Malo
  • “The Cost of Living” – Don Henley and Stan Lynch
  • “Julep” – Chris Eldridge, Paul Kowert, Noam Pikelny, Chris Thile, and Gabe Witcher
  • “The Traveling Kind” – Cory Chisel, Rodney Crowell, and Emmylou Harris
  • “24 Frames” – Jason Isbell – Kevin, Leeann, Jonathan

Will Win:

  • “All Night Long” – Raul Malo
  • “The Cost of Living” – Don Henley and Stan Lynch – Kevin, Leeann, Jonathan
  • “Julep” – Chris Eldridge, Paul Kowert, Noam Pikelny, Chris Thile, and Gabe Witcher
  • “The Traveling Kind” – Cory Chisel, Rodney Crowell, and Emmylou Harris
  • “24 Frames” – Jason Isbell

KJC: I think that Isbell is without peer right now, but the combination of this being Henley’s only nomination and his sudden status as surviving Eagles icon should push him to victory.

LW: I’m not naive enough to bet against an Eagle, but Isbell deserves this one.

JK: I was legitimately surprised that this ended up being the only nomination for Henley’s Cass County project; I agree with Kevin’s logic that voters are going to rally around Henley in this category on balance. “You thought God was an architect / Now you know / He’s something like a pipe bomb / Ready to blow,” is the one of the year’s very best lines, though, and Isbell would get my vote.

Emmylou Harris Rodney Crowell Traveling KindBest Americana Album

Should Win:

  • Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter
  • Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind – Leeann
  • Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free – Kevin, Tara
  • The Mavericks, Mono
  • Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues – Jonathan

Will Win:

  • Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter
  • Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, The Traveling Kind – Kevin, Tara
  • Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free – Leeann, Jonathan
  • The Mavericks, Mono
  • Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues

KJC: I expect that Harris and Crowell will repeat, and it’s a worthy winner. Just not as worthy as Jason Isbell.

LW: The Traveling Kind is my favorite of these albums, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Isbell will win and it’ll be well deserved.

JK: All five of these albums rate as somewhere between very, very good and brilliant, and I could honestly see a case being made for any of the five as the eventual winner. NARAS took a beating on social media for failing to nominate Isbell’s Southeastern for this award two years ago, so a win for Isbell would allow them to save face a bit, even though Something More Than Free isn’t as strong of an album.

TS: I’m usually out of my depth in this category, but this year I know and enjoy all five of the nominated albums. Something More Than Free  is the one I revisit the most, but I agree with Kevin that The Traveling Kind will likely take this.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver In SessionBest Bluegrass Album

Should Win:

  • Dale Ann Bradley, Pocket Full of Keys
  • Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, Before the Sun Goes Down
  • Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, In Session – Jonathan
  • Ralph Stanley and Friends, Man of Constant Sorrow
  • The SteelDrivers, The Muscle Shoal Recordings – Leeann

Will Win:

  • Dale Ann Bradley, Pocket Full of Keys
  • Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley, Before the Sun Goes Down
  • Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, In Session
  • Ralph Stanley and Friends, Man of Constant Sorrow – Leeann, Jonathan
  • The SteelDrivers, The Muscle Shoal Recordings

LW: The SteelDrivers are still super good, even without Chris Stapleton, and the Ralph Stanley and Friends album is good too. While I’m rooting for The SteelDrivers, why wouldn’t Ralph Stanley win?

JK: Of the three albums I’ve heard from this set, the Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver hit my Bluegrass sweet spot the most, though the Dr. Ralph Stanley and the SteelDrivers albums are worthy nominees. Stanley’s legendary status will carry him to the win, unless Stapleton-mania somehow spreads to his former bandmates. Which, since this is the Grammys we’re talking about, isn’t unfathomable.

Rhiannon Giddens Tomorrow is My TurnBest Folk Album

Should Win:

  • Norman Blake, Wood, Wire & Words
  • Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn
  • Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow is My Turn – Leeann, Jonathan
  • Patty Griffin, Servant of Love
  • Glen Hansard, Didn’t He Ramble

Will Win:

  • Norman Blake, Wood, Wire & Words
  • Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn – Leeann
  • Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow is My Turn – Jonathan
  • Patty Griffin, Servant of Love
  • Glen Hansard, Didn’t He Ramble

LW: The Fleck/Washburn album is very good, but I’m rooting for the excellent Rhiannon Giddens album all the way!

JK: The idea that Griffin might be recognized for Servant of Love, on which her glorious voice sounds absolutely shot to hell, kind of breaks my heart. Giddens’ album was one of 2015’s finest, and the Fleck & Washburn album is smart and charming. Hansard and Blake both have their devoted fans, but those fans come from two divergent generations of voters, so it’s hard to imagine either could rally the wide support they’d need to win. Giddens’ profile has been on the rise throughout the voting period; Fleck and Washburn or Griffin could both win, but I’m giving the edge to one of popular music’s most exciting contemporary vocalists.

19 Comments

  1. So many names I’m not familiar with on the non-country side.
    Best Country Solo – Burning House – but even though I’m not a Carrie fan, Little Toy Guns is very good.
    Best Country Song – Hold My Hand – surprised it’s still eligible
    Best Country album – CASS COUNTY – I know … of those actually nominated, I’d go with the Blade
    Best American Roots Song – Cost of Living

  2. I’m not making too many predictions here, other than that Chris Stapleton should walk off with a few…and probably Mr. Henley as well. I also look for Rhiannon Giddens to snag for Best Folk Album.

    And not that this necessarily matters, but Linda Ronstadt will be one of those artists getting a Lifetime Achievement Award, along with jazz master Herbie Hancock; 1960s counterculture rock band Jefferson Airplane; and 70’s R&B legends Earth, Wind, and Fire (whose leader Maurice White recently passed away). A special ceremony honoring them will be held sometime this spring.

  3. Mavin Staples won American Roots Performance, so all of you got that one.

    Jason Isbell won American Roots Song, so you all got your should but not will!

  4. Jason Isbell won Americana Album, so Jonathan and Leann got that one right.

    The Steeldrivers won Bluegrass Album. I kind of wonder if they won by association with Stapleton.

    Fleck/Washburn won Folk Album, so Leann was right on that one.

  5. I really, really want Ashley Monroe to win for album. Ashley Monroe needs to win some award eventually, the women has way too much talent to be ignored. That and The Blade in my opinion was an effective masterpiece of pure, raw emotion.

    New Artist is a lose lose situation as I hate both Meghan Trainor and Sam Hunt equally and their the only two that have a shot.

  6. Chris Stapleton won Country Solo, so most of you were right on that one.

    Little Big Town predictably won Country Duo/Group.

    “Girl Crush” won Country Song. Why did so many of you pick something else when “GC” is the one also in Song of the Year?

  7. Ugh! I really wanted “Little Toy Guns” to win. I hope still Ashley Monroe or Kacey Musgraves can win for album. Both ladies produced fantastic album. Chris Stapleton was good but him winning that much at the CMAS puts a sour taste in my mouth.

    So I still am hoping Ashley Monroe can win or Kacey. The other 3 I could do without (sorry Little Big Town’s last album was an overproduced Pop-Rock album only saved by Girl Crush)

    I am upset that Carrie Underwood couldn’t quite win. I am curious who will have the bigger night Little Big Town or Chris Stapleton.

  8. Chris Stapleton is easily the favorite in Country Album since he’s also in Album of the Year. It has happened, but it’s rare for a nominee in Album, Record, or Song to not win its genre award.

  9. I would also add that it was a highlight last night’s show to see Stapleton, Gary Clark Jr., and Bonnie Raitt do B.B. King’s 1970 smash “The Thrill Is Gone” in tribute to the late blues music giant.

  10. Yeah, that BB King tribute was one of the top 3 performances for sure. I think Kendrick Lamar had the best performance by far, but the BB King tribute and James Bay/Tori Kelly were real highlights, too.

    Like with a lot of awards shows there seemed to be a lot of sound issues, though. It’s 2016, folks!

  11. “And Taylor’s stans on social media are going to be hilarious when that happens.” Taylor’s stans got the last laugh.

  12. Turns out Sam Hunt’s stans were the ones who were being ridiculous on social media. (And I’m happy for Swift, for the record.)

  13. Of course then Taylor had to go and reference Kanye in her speech and completely undermine her accomplishment. All I’ve seen is coverage of her speech and not that she won. She and Kanye are so alike.

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