Album of the Year by Adora Adeyemi, Francesca Theofilou, and Zach Warren
Prediction: SOS by SZA
Should Win: SOS by SZA
After last year’s controversial decision to award the title to Harry Styles’s Harry’s House among an incredibly competitive list of nominees, the Grammys are once again faced with the daunting task of crowning a new best album. The nominations yielded a variety of listener reactions, from swift relief to delighted surprise to outright bewilderment. Though some nominees certainly feel lackluster, each album has at least one good reason that justifies its inclusion. Although Miley Cyrus’s return to conventional pop music was lackluster, Endless Summer Vacation did produce “Flowers,” one of 2023’s defining records. Grammys darlings Jon Batiste and Olivia Rodrigo both picked up their second nominations in the category, with Rodrigo’s chart-topping GUTS being a fan favorite. Nominees like Lana Del Rey’s Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd and boygenius’s the record rounded out the list, providing emotional complexity and alternative flair to an otherwise pop-heavy category.
While each nominated album has one or a few elements it executes exceptionally well, SZA’s SOS stands out as the all-around winner. The quality and range of SZA’s vocals are unmatched, from the raw, emotional belt on “Nobody Gets Me” to the unbelievably smooth runs on “Good Days” and “Blind.” Thematically, the album explores loneliness and heartbreak with incredible depth and wit. SOS had many well-deserved moments in the sun over the past year, with hit singles like “Kill Bill” and “Shirt” as well as golden lines like “Them hoe accusations weak / them bitch accusations true” and “My past can’t escape me / My pussy precedes me” going viral. Feedback from critics, fans, and casual listeners has been overwhelmingly positive; SOS undeniably dominated the first half of 2023. The 23 unique songs venture through different genres and production styles, tied together by incredibly strong lyricism. SZA created a complete project with no skips, one that contributed countless iconic moments and songs to the cultural zeitgeist.
SZA isn’t exactly a Grammy darling: the Recording Academy snubbed her in 2018, when her debut album, Ctrl (2018) did not receive an AOTY nomination despite cementing itself as a timeless paragon of the R&B genre. Although SZA was the most nominated woman at the 60th Grammys, it wasn’t enough for her to walk away with a single win. While she has won a Grammy since then, it was merely for her featured verse on “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat. So yes, some of her fellow nominees such as Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift might have her beat in the number of Grammys they hold. But it’s impossible to ignore how much SZA’s artistry and sheer impact on popular culture has grown since 2018. The five year wait for new SZA music raised the anticipation and hype behind her return to a fever pitch, and SOS still did the impossible and soared above lofty expectations. The album produced a sturdy balance of both strong critical acclaim and cultural dominance that none of the other nominees can boast. Now that she’s been carried into a new level of record-breaking, mainstream fame, things have changed for SZA and her music since the 60th Grammys, and it seems the Recording Academy knows it too. By giving her the most nominations out of any artist, perhaps this means that they’re finally ready to give her not just any Grammy, but the well-deserved, long-overdue, most prestigious award of the night.
Record of the Year by Eileen Chen
Prediction: “Anti-Hero” by Taylor Swift
Should Win: “Kill Bill” by SZA
We can’t lie: it’s been a truly unstoppable year for Taylor Swift. Every one of her endeavors—The Eras Tour, the sustained Midnights hype, the vault tracks off the Taylor’s Versions of Speak Now and 1989—has been met with unparalleled success, so it’s no surprise she swept this year’s Grammy nominations. It would be hard to justify not handing Taylor the golden gramophone: there’s no other track on the list that’s been as overwhelmingly well-received by the collective mainstream audience as “Anti-Hero.” It’s also the perfect opportunity for the Recording Academy to remedy the fact that she hasn’t taken home a general category award since folklore won Album of the Year in 2021. Most notably, evermore’s 2022 AOTY snub and “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”’s loss of 2023 SOTY were met with significant outrage, and “Anti-Hero” certainly checks all the boxes for a redemption track that would sit right with the public.
However, Record of the Year is meant to honor the production quality and artist performance of a particular record, and “Anti-Hero,” already far from the strongest song off Midnights itself, falls even further from the rest of the nominations. The spotlight should rightfully shift to “Kill Bill” by SZA; in every aspect of its songwriting and production, the masterfully crafted song outshines the rest of the field as the clear winner. “Kill Bill” seamlessly infuses a catchy R&B rhythm with groovy hip-hop influences, showcasing SZA’s hallmark silky, soothing vocals. The lyrics are a clever nod to the iconic 2003 Tarantino film, and SZA’s relaxed delivery of blunt, violent desires creates a cognitive dissonance; the irony forms a humorous undertone that underpins the track, making it the most unique record conceptually. From composition to lyricism to performance, “Kill Bill” is undeniably exquisite, and it would be a welcome surprise to see the Recording Academy recognize SZA’s ingenuity and artistry.
Song of the Year by Maanasi Chintamani
Prediction: “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish
Should Win: “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish
This year’s Grammys boast a group of strong contenders for Song of the Year. From the immersive sonic and lyrical world-building of Lana Del Rey’s “A&W” and SZA’s “Kill Bill” to Olivia Rodrigo’s characteristic candor on her ballad “vampire,” the nominees recognize some of the very best in songwriting and composition.
Yet even among this stiff competition, one song stands above the rest: Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” Beginning with the muted piano introduction, it’s clear that the track represents the pinnacle of Eilish’s signature spare instrumentation and probing lyricism. The melody floats over haunting harmonies as Eilish ponders her purpose and asks life’s big questions: how can I find happiness? What do people want from me? And ultimately, as the title suggests, what was I made for? While the song was written as the soundtrack to the emotional climactic scene in last summer’s cultural juggernaut Barbie (2023), it functions just as well outside the film as a standalone single (as evidenced by its chart-topping success and inescapable virality). Eilish manages to strike an intimate and personal chord, both in the context of her own meteoric rise to superstardom and with regard to the universal human experience of coming of age, a process fraught with self-doubt, insecurity, and soul-searching.
Given Eilish’s past dominance at the Grammys (to the tune of 25 nominations and seven wins over the past three years) and the outstanding quality of “What Was I Made For?,” it seems likely that Eilish and her brother and collaborator, Finneas, will take home the award. But for what it’s worth, Jon Batiste has been known to thwart Halftime’s predictions in the past, so no outcome can ever be too certain as long as he’s in the running.
Best New Artist by Sofia Kemeny
Prediction: Noah Kahan
Should Win: Ice Spice
For the Grammys, the word “new” in Best New Artist is… quite subjective. Seven out of this year’s eight nominees have been making music for the past five years. With stiff competition ahead of this year’s nominees, the Grammys will give the coveted title of Best New Artist to the musician who “achieved a breakthrough into the public consciousness and notably impacted the music landscape.”
It’s difficult to determine who exactly had the breakthrough of all breakthroughs this past year. From Gracie Abrams’s unique voice and complex lyricism that led her to open for fellow singer-songwriters Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift, to Coco Jones’s single “ICU” reviving the R&B music scene, all these musicians have established themselves as bright artists in their respective genres. However, there is one artist whose influence is unlike any other: the People’s Princess herself, Ice Spice.
Ice Spice’s breakthrough into mainstream music was quite unprecedented, especially for an artist who hadn’t released her first album. With her first single “Munch (Feelin’ U),” Ice Spice broke into the cultural zeitgeist and quickly it became impossible to scroll through Twitter or TikTok without hearing her name or the various terms she coined (e.g. munch, baddie friend, and smoochie). She continued to release bop after bop, with her premiere EP Like…? (2023) climbing into the top 40 of the Billboard 200. However, while conventional measurements of popularity are one of the most significant factors for determining the winner of Best New Artist, it is one the least relevant criteria when looking at Ice Spice’s artistry. Sticking to her roots with a classic Bronx drill sound, alongside her ability to drop the craziest lyrics with a confident air of nonchalance, there is truly no other artist who is doing it like Ice Spice; she is ushering in the new age of hip-hop.
While Ice Spice has cemented herself as one of the most prominent artists of the early 2020s, it’s still uncertain whether the Grammys will give her the award she deserves. The Grammys has an extensive history of snubbing hip-hop artists in favor of pop singers, and the Best New Artist category is no exception. In the past 20 years, only three rappers have won Best New Artist, with huge artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, and Drake all watching this award slip through their fingers.
While Ice Spice has broken into the pop scene with her feature on Taylor Swift’s “Karma,” she is still a rapper through and through. Following the Grammys’ history of outright negligence of hip-hop’s artistry, things are not looking good for her.
Drawing on patterns once again, the Grammys are far more likely to give 2024’s Best New Artist title to Noah Kahan. This is not to say that Kahan is not deserving of Best New Artist. Apart from his sheer popularity, his ability to bring folk music into the mainstream and twist lyrics to have double, even triple entendres is worthy of being awarded. However, in a year where Ice Spice has completely altered the landscape of hip-hop, establishing herself as the new voice of Gen Z, not honoring her with Best New Artist would be blatantly ignorant of her musical capabilities.
Producer of the Year by Francesca Theofilou and Adora Adeyemi
Prediction: Jack Antonoff
Should Win: Dan Nigro or Metro Boomin
Jack Antonoff has played a pivotal role in shaping the past few years of pop, with influence over many of the 2010s greatest—Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and Taylor Swift, among others. But as we move forward and the fabric of pop inevitably changes with time, Antonoff has been faced with the choice to evolve along with the genre and create something new, or to stand by the synth-and-snare-heavy, overproduced formula that has worked for him for so long. Unfortunately, as evident on Taylor Swift’s Midnights (2022) in particular, Antonoff has chosen the latter, and audiences are tired of this uninspired sound.
Daniel Nigro, on the other hand, has a powerful voice and refreshing sound, and has dedicated his time to the next generation of upcoming pop solo artists. Chappell Roan, Olivia Rodrigo, Conan Gray, and Caroline Polachek have, under Nigro’s guidance, injected some of the fun and spontaneity back into mainstream popular music. Nigro’s production style draws from a variety of influences and core instruments, never following the same formula for success. While he flexes his maximalism on tracks like Polachek’s “Welcome to My Island”—which leans on ’80s dance influences to accompany Polachek’s sirenic vocals—he can also recognize when less is more, stripping down to piano, vocals, and a few flourishes on “Kaleidoscope,” Chappell Roan’s deeply emotional ballad about unrequited queer love. The versatility of his work shines through on Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album, GUTS (2023), where piano ballads accompany ’90s pop-punk and early 2000s scream-along tracks. Nigro varies his use of electronic production elements and sounds, but never overpowers the vocalist. As pop progresses from the subdued Eilish and Bridgers copycat vocalists of the past few years back to singular belters and ingenious lyricists, Nigro’s versatile and innovative production style lends itself well to rising vocal powerhouses that demand attention.
Like Antonoff and Nigro, Metro Boomin has also built his reputation as a producer by frequently collaborating with artists that happen to run in similar circles. His presence in the industry stretches back over a decade; he first worked with rapper Future in 2012 and established long-term relationships with other Atlanta artists soon after, cementing his status as one of the founding fathers of trap when the subgenre first emerged. Ever since, Metro’s gothic production has spread throughout the hip-hop scene, with demand for Metro collaborations only growing. The past year saw him at his most hard-working yet: he had producing credits on almost every major rap album; released his magnum opus Heroes & Villains (2022), a psychedelic-trap Grammy-nominated album; and spearheaded the Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023) soundtrack, bringing artists across the Black diaspora together for an album that perfectly complements the dynamic film. After all these accomplishments, we have to wonder if Metro ever even left the studio. As usual, he managed to score several chart-topping hits in the process, including the sultry R&B track “Creepin’” and the orchestral trap record “Superhero (Heroes & Villains).” Now more than ever, Metro has proven that despite his already lengthy career, he’s far from growing stale and is instead reaching new heights in his artistry.
But given Antonoff’s well-decorated track record with the Recording Academy (marked by a myriad of wins and nominations), the pop veteran is positioned to take home the award for the third year in a row. His frequent collaborators are longtime Grammy favorites, whereas Nigro’s are still relatively new to the scene and Metro’s are often ignored due to the institution’s lack of respect for hip-hop. If the Grammys love the likes of Swift and Del Rey, they likely also love Antonoff because these singer-songwriters and their favorite producer come as a package deal. Despite the stagnation in Antonoff’s production as of late, it’s safe to say the Academy will let him keep his crown, rather than admit that his time on the throne has come to an end.
Pop Solo Performance by Isabel Shepherd
Prediction: “vampire” by Olivia Rodrigo
Should Win: “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish
If there’s one thing the Grammys love, it’s rewarding an artist for sticking to a lane (for better or worse). Miley Cyrus is the only newcomer to the category, and though her bass-forward groove “Flowers” is infectious, its stickiness lacks substance. In a category otherwise stacked with past nominees, Olivia Rodrigo (perhaps surprisingly for Swifties) is the only past winner. Her submission this year, “vampire,” is the vengeful twin of her 2022 mega-hit “drivers license,” which previously earned her the award. On “vampire,” the same earnestly delicate vocals and lilting piano that opened “drivers license” give way to a churning mixture of drums and electric guitar as she rebukes her ex for “bleeding [her] dry like a goddamn vampire.” While it’s not the strongest song on GUTS (2023), “vampire” deserves its nod.
Still, Billie Eilish’s heart-wrenching “What Was I Made For?” is exemplary of the minimalist soundscapes that rocketed her to fame and made her a Grammys darling back in 2020. Since that blow-out year, as she’s received six nominations and five wins, the Recording Academy’s consistent fawning over Eilish has inspired both awe and loathing. Yet despite her abundance of nominations, Eilish has never won for Pop Solo. Like the doll that inspired it, “What Was I Made For?” doesn’t have a hair out of place—it’s a gorgeously composed sucker-punch to the solar plexus and the perfect moment for Eilish to be lauded for her influence on pop.
Best Pop Dance Recording by Rhea Banerjee
Prediction: “Rush” by Troye Sivan
Should Win: “Rush” by Troye Sivan
Best Pop Dance Recording is one of three new categories to be presented at the 2024 Grammys in an effort to recognize and represent a more diverse range of genres, and this year, it is filled with iconic names. All nominees feature addictingly glittery performances that epitomize the pop genre; any one of them would be worthy of this award given their trance-like, egregiously gorgeous sounds. David Guetta is featured twice on two different collaborations: the neon-tinted and sensual “One In a Million” with Bebe Rexha and the flashy, retro-infused “Baby Don’t Hurt Me” with Anne-Marie and Coi Leray. These are two reliable, racy tracks that are certainly a good listen. The third nominee features Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding, who come together in a highly anticipated reunion to create the dreamlike and nostalgic “Miracle.” While these performances are all absolutely amazing, the last two nominees stand out among this competitive crowd: Kylie Minogue with “Padam Padam” and Troye Sivan with his funky song “Rush,” arguably the two most famous Australian artists in the pop scene right now.
Minogue certainly deserves some credit for her sensational single which has quite a catchy hook. Yet, Sivan’s sexy and refreshing outlook on party culture and queer celebration definitely takes the cake. The soundscape of “Rush,” paired with the music video’s bopping, adrenaline-filled choreography, took many by storm during July of 2023. Some would dare call it the song of the summer. It’s heady, giddy, liberating, and intoxicating; the video features dances that encourage people to move and parade in glee. The single led to Sivan’s first two Grammy nominations, but this category is the one he definitely deserves to win. Refreshing the genre with vigor, “Rush” embodies the euphoric nature of all the other nominees, qualifying it as the best pop dance performance of the year.