Fair warning: if you’re inclined to gamble on the Grammy Awards, read no further.
Be smart about the odds, anyway, and consider before you lay down any serious money that this critic’s history of predicting Grammy victories is one of near-total failure.
Who knows, though? This could be the year. Although, really, the only safe bets for the 58th Grammy Awards — going down Monday evening from the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast live on CBS and City-TV starting at 8 p.m. — are that LL Cool J will be a leaden host for the fifth year in a row, the recently departed David Bowie and Glenn Frey will receive a lot of love and Toronto pop fans will have much to cheer for with hometown chart-toppers the Weeknd and Drake up for, respectively, seven and five awards apiece.
Here’s how the major categories and a couple of other interesting races could shake down on the big night.
Album of the year
Nominees: Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes; To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar; Traveller, Chris Stapleton; 1989, Taylor Swift; Beauty Behind the Madness, the Weeknd.
Who will win: Alabama Shakes. This award has a tendency to skew “rock,” which might give Alabama Shakes’ sophomore psych-soul opus the edge over million-seller Swift and hip-hop golden boy Lamar, the band’s only major contenders.
Who should win: Kendrick Lamar. To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t necessarily the most listenable on this list, but its grandiose cinematic ambitions and scorching social commentary are in a league of their own.
The dark horse: Taylor Swift. She hasn’t taken Album of the Year since Fearless won in 2010, and 1989 did move a mountain of copies while also being an airtight pop product.
Record of the year
Nominees: “Really Love,” D’Angelo and the Vanguard; “Uptown Funk,” Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars; “Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran; “Blank Space,” Taylor Swift; “Can’t Feel My Face,” the Weeknd.
Who will win: The Weeknd. “Can’t Feel My Face” is still utterly inescapable everywhere.
Who should win: The Weeknd. “Uptown Funk” is as ubiquitous as “Can’t Feel My Face” and its major competition here, but it wears out its welcome a lot quicker.
The dark horse: Taylor Swift. “Blank Space” might not be 1989’s strongest single, but it’s a get-in-your-head anthem whether you want it to get in your head or not.
Song of the year
Nominees: “Alright,” Kendrick Lamar; “Blank Space,” Taylor Swift; “Girl Crush,” Little Big Town; “See You Again,” Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth; “Thinking Out Loud,” Ed Sheeran.
Who will win: Taylor Swift. This one is about the song, and “Blank Space” is an undeniable feat of pop songcraft.
Who should win: Kendrick Lamar. Exactly the sort of tune America needs to hear right now, but might not be “song”-y enough to sway voters over more obvious pop fare.
The dark horse: Little Big Town. An achy-breaky country ballad with just the right whiff of lesbian erotica to make it seem “edgy.” It isn’t.
Best new artist
Nominees: Courtney Barnett; James Bay; Sam Hunt; Tori Kelly; Meghan Trainor.
Who will win: Meghan Trainor. “All About That Bass” was nominated twice last year so clearly the Grammys have a soft spot if they’re sneaking her in as a “new artist” one year later.
Who should win: Courtney Barnett. Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit was one of the most acclaimed albums of 2015, hands down, but Barnett is likely too smart, too sardonic and too singularly eccentric — not to mention too Australian — to curry favour with a critical mass of Recording Academy voters.
The dark horse: Courtney Barnett. One must have faith, because the other options are freakin’ terrible.
Best pop vocal album
Nominees: Piece by Piece, Kelly Clarkson; How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence & the Machine; Uptown Special, Mark Ronson; 1989, Taylor Swift; Before This World, James Taylor.
Who will win: Taylor Swift. This seems a lock, since 1989 was a self-conscious superstar pure-pop reinvention that pretty much everyone can agree on a bit.
Who should win: Taylor Swift. See above.
The dark horse: James Taylor. He’s there, right? A 20-per-cent chance is better than no chance at all.
Best rap album
Nominees: 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole; Compton, Dr. Dre; If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake; To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar; The Pinkprint, Nicki Minaj.
Who will win? Kendrick Lamar. All of these are strong records, but To Pimp a Butterfly is a proper album album that’s also sufficiently stylistically omnivorous to rope in non-hip-hop fans. Plus, there’s no white dude like Macklemore or Eminem to steal this trophy away from more deserving folks this year.
Who should win? Lamar. Compton was as dense and as epic (and also featured the blistering microphone talents of one Kendrick Lamar) as To Pimp a Butterfly, but Kendrick is definitely the populist hip-hop voice of the moment.
The dark horse: Drake. He’s won this category before (for Take Care in 2013) and he was also one of the only people besides Taylor Swift to sell a million records last year — with a fairly challenging and confrontational album, to boot.