Grammy Ballot Burning Questions: Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ye, Zach Bryan

Guess how many submissions Taylor Swift has on the preliminary Grammy ballot? If you know her all too well, you can probably intuit the answer to that one even before we tell you? It’s 13… of course.

But there are many other burning questions about the ballot that has gone out to Recording Academy members where the answers are not so easily guessed, and we’re here to clear up some of those mysteries. The annual intrigue often centers on which categories certain genre-straddling artists ended up submitting their material in… or where that material got shifted sometimes against the artists’ wishes, as we’ve seen already this year with Nicki Minaj very vocally objecting to having “Super Freaky Girl” moved from a rap category to pop.

Is Swift herself back to being a country girl, as far as Grammy submissions are concerned, after years as a pop superstar? What genre, or genres, is Beyoncé’s primary wheelhouse this time around? Or Lizzo? Is Steve Lacy R&B, pop or alternative? Is Zach Bryan country or Americana? Which highly collaborative performer has 20 submissions on the ballot even though his latest album apparently was deemed ineligible? Did Silk Sonic, Drake and the Weeknd really sit the whole thing out? And is Louis C.K. about to piss everyone off again by dominating the comedy field?

Variety has the answers about the nominally secret, 350-page-plus first ballot. It’s being voted on through Oct. 23, with nominations to be announced Nov. 15. Read on for some revelations…

Q: Did Beyoncé enter her “Renaissance” album in the pop or R&B album category?

A: Neither. She submitted it for best dance/electronic music album. Or at least that’s where it landed after the screening committees had their say, but assuming it was entirely her decision, it seems like a smart one — it seems like a sure winner there, while it would face heavier competition in the other fields. And she gets extra points for cred for putting herself in more of an arguably cool, niche genre. But even though “Break My Soul” as a single joins “Renaissance” the album in a dance/electronic category, that doesn’t mean Beyoncé has forsaken seeking nominations in the R&B field. She has 13 possibilities in the running, five of which are in R&B categories. Both “Heated” and “Virgo’s Groove” are up for R&B performance. She also has two candidates in the traditional R&B category, “Plastic Off the Sofa” and “Make Me Say It Again, Girl,” although the latter is an Isley Brothers track that has her doing a featured performance. And yet another song, “Cuff It,” is in the best R&B song category. Meanwhile, “Be Alive,” the Oscar-nominated closing theme from “King Richard,” will contend for best song for visual media. She’s also up for best arrangement for “Virgo’s Groove” and music video for “Be Alive.”

Q: How many of Beyoncé’s 13 submissions would have to be nominated win for her to become the all-time Grammy champion?

A: Here’s the math on her path forward, which looks promising. As Grammy nominations go, she already holds the record for the most of anyone in history, with 79, so whatever she adds to that tally coming up will be just be gravy. When it comes to wins, she already has the most for any female artist, with 28, so ditto on the toppings there. But of course she’d like to be the biggest Grammy winner of all time, gender aside. If she wins three Grammys this year and ups her total to 31, she’ll tie with the late conductor Georg Solti, and if she can win four to get to 32, she’ll have the crown all to herself. Between her 13 shots going into this season, there’s a very decent chance she could come out of this Grammy season the all-time champion even without a win in the top three categories.

Q: Did Taylor Swift submit “Red (Taylor’s Version)” and the songs from it, after previously having refrained from submitting another album in her series of re-recordings, “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”?

A: She did. So what was different this time? Two things: Swift didn’t have a collection of all-new material to compete against the re-record, as she did last time. But more importantly, the “Fearless” redo didn’t have a track one-tenth as major as this one’s “All Too Well (10-Minute Version).” All told, Swift has 13 submissions, which we’re going to guess is not a figure that was arrived at randomly. (The number goes up to 14 if you count a submission for best engineered album, but she’s not the potential nominee on that one.) “All Too Well” will vie for best pop solo performance and best music video as well as record and song of the year — but there are three bonus tracks from the “Red” album that Swift has placed into competition, too. There are two collabs entered for pop duo/group performance: “Nothing New” with Phoebe Bridgers and “The Joker and the Queen” with Ed Sheeran. “I Bet You Think About Me” is up for country solo performance, and the tune itself will compete for best country song. Meanwhile, apart from “Red,” she has the “Where the Crawdads Sing” song “Carolina” in three categories: song written for visual media and American roots performance and song. With “Red” itself, it would have seemed a tossup for country or pop, but it landed in country… which makes sense, since that’s where the original album was nominated, even though she’s contended almost entirely in pop ever since. It stands to reason she has her sights set most on a top category for “All Too Well” — despite her 11 wins including three album of the year awards, she’s never won for record or song.

Q: How many candidates submitted themselves for the inaugural songwriter of the year award?

A: There are 62 entries in the songwriter of the year (non-classical) category. If that seems like a small number, remember that competition for this brand new award is limited only to writers who either are not recording artists or make records more as a sideline to their primary writing identity. But still, now that you mention it… it does seem like a smallish number. Some songwriters may not have had the new honor enter their field of consciousness yet, or may have felt it would be hubris to go up against the biggies. In any case, the list of candidates includes dozens of the figures you’d think it would include, including Julia Michaels, Tobias Jesso Jr., Shane McAnally, Omer Fedi, Ashley Gorley, James Fauntleroy, Ali Tamposi, The-Dream, Sarah Hudson, etc. The list of candidates does include a few figures who have released records in the past few years, including Michaels, Natalie Hemby and Ryan Hurd (who had a top 5 country single last year), but apparently the Academy judged that these artists are still known as writers first and foremost.

Q: Steve Lacy recently topped both the R&B and alternative charts, as well as leading the overall pop chart, aka Hot 100. So did he submit in multiple genre fields?

A: He sure did. Lacy shows up in three different genre divisions — pop, alternative and R&B — all with different songs, as the rules require. Altogether, he has 14 submissions in 10 categories, although four of those are for his featured performance and co-writing on Ravyn Lenae’s “Skin Tight.” His smash “Bad Habit” was entered for pop solo performance as well as general record and song of the year. “Sunshine” (featuring Foushee) is in the running for pop duo/group. “Helmet” is up for alternative music performance. And “Give You the World” is the pick for R&B performance and song. As for where his “Gemini Rights” album finally landed as genre divisions go, not surprisingly, it’s classified as R&B.

Q: Is Zach Bryan, who is one of the big breakouts of the year, country or Americana?

A: Both, per the ballot. He’s seen as a mainstream country artist whose singer-songwriter leanings edge into Americana, and that’s reflected in the submissions. “Something in the Orange” is up for country solo performance and best country song, while “Heavy Eyes” was entered in best Americana performance. As for the album itself, “American Heartbreak” landed in country. Needless to say, for anyone following his trajectory, outside of the genre categories he’ll be a leading candidate for best new artist.

Q: Is Louis C.K. going to make everyone angry by getting nominated for, and maybe winning, best comedy album again?

A: It’s a distinct possibility. Yes, the extremely polarizing comedian, who continues to thrive in many ways despite past sexual misconduct allegations, has submitted his latest album, “Sorry.” He caused quite the stir by winning this past year for “Sincerely Louis C.K.,” and if a plurality of voters didn’t care about the charges then, they may not this year, either, without a runaway candidate to overtake him.

Q: Of all the many genre categories Lizzo has been nominated in before, which did she end up in this time?

A: Pop, and only pop — which is a bit of a surprise, since in the past Lizzo has previously been nominated in pop, urban contemporary, R&B and traditional R&B categories. This cycle, besides entries in the general categories (record, song, album and music video), “About Damn Time” and “Special” are up for pop solo performance and pop vocal album, respectively. She actually has two songs contending for song of the year, with “Break Up Twice” having been submitted along with “About Damn Time.” It’s a puzzle why she doesn’t have some album tracks in the urban or R&B fields as well, since it’s easy to imagine several of the songs being an easy fit there. She has seven submissions in six categories, altogether.

Q: Brandi Carlile balked last year (politely) when her “Right on Time” got shifted, against her wishes, from Americana to pop categories. With so many more songs and a full album eligible this year, did she get put in pop again?

A: No, this year, the Academy screening committee kept her main candidate, “You and Me on the Rock,” in best Americana performance, and likewise, “In These Silent Days” is up for Americana album and not pop album. Since “You and Me…” isn’t necessarily any more or less rootsy than “Right on Time” was, you have to wonder if the committee considered her public statements last year and decided to not go against her wishes a second time in a row. Carlile is also up in another genre category this time, but it’s not pop — she’s in the rock song and performance fields with “Broken Horses.” All in all, Carlile has 16 submissions, although a good number of those are for her work with other artists. She does have two entries in the pop field, actually, but they’re for her collaborations with Lucius and Alicia Keys. She further shares submissions in the general and Americana fields with Allison Russell.

Q: Did Kendrick Lamar go with “The Heart Pt. 5” as his best bet?

A: Yes, although he additionally submitted “Die Hard,” which features Bixst and Amanda Reifer, for best melodic rap performance. Otherwise, it’s “The Heart Pt. 5” in the running for the major general awards as well as rap performance, rap song and music video. Including the submissions in general and rap album categories for the “Mr. Morales & the Big Steppers” album, Lamar submitted in eight categories in all. (Sadly, he did not venture outside the rap category camp to submit “We Cry Together” for best spoken word performance.)

Q: Did Silk Sonic mean it when they said they were sitting it all out this year after sweeping their categories last year?

A: Yes, they weren’t just blowing smoke (out the window) about that. That said, the duo could still produce an RBI for a couple of their creative cohorts. James Fauntleroy is up for songwriter of the year and lists three Silk Sonic songs he co-wrote in his entry. Similarly, Dernst “D’mile” Emileii lists his work on the Silk Sonic album in contending for producer of the year. (Still a mystery: Whether Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak decided to withdraw from the race out of sheer magnanimity, fear of losing to Beyoncé or fear of beating Beyoncé.)

Q: Is the Weeknd continuing to snub the Grammys in return for the awards having snubbed him, as promised?

A: Yes, the Weeknd is still MIA, as he was last year. He shows up only in submissions where he is a featured artist.

Q: How about Drake? Also still boycotting?

A: Yes, still — although, similar to the Weeknd, his name does appear on the ballot as a guest in other artists’ entries, like Future’s “Wait for U” and Young Thug’s “Bubbly,” both being fielded for record of the year, among other categories.

Q: Does the best new artist field stretch to include some artists that are breaking through but have considerable history behind them — namely, Anitta, Måneskin and Steve Lacy?

A: Yes, on two out of those three. Anitta and Måneskin are in the running for new artist, and not for the first time. But Lacy isn’t, even though he’s also just breaking through now in a big way. This is not really a surprise to Grammy-watchers, who knew he’d be out of the mix from already having had a Grammy nomination in the past, in the urban contemporary category. Otherwise, he’d have to be considered a frontrunner in the category. (As seen above, he still has plenty of other shots.)

Q: How many submissions does Ye, aka Kanye West, have on the ballot? And are any of them from “Donda 2,” which got a very odd release through non-conventional channels?

A: Let’s answer the second question first. The only “Donda 2” song up for a nomination is “True Love,” Ye’s beyond-the-grave collaboration with XXXTentacion. But it’s likely in contention because it was commercially released as a single by XXXTentacion’s label and included on that rapper’s posthumous album as well as on Ye’s. Otherwise, there are no “Donda 2” potential noms, either because he didn’t submit them or because the Academy doesn’t consider the infamous Stem player (the device where the album had its exclusive release) a proper means of dissemination. But as for the number of submissions, even without material from a new Ye album being considered… Would you believe 20? That’s mostly due to Ye having lent himself out so frequently for features. However, he is a primary artist on one other potential nominated track, “Life of the Party” — as you may remember, that’s the track that was initially left off the original “Donda” album, with featured artist Andre 3000 then balking at how the track ended up. Eventually it did come out as part of a deluxe “Donda” reissue that came out in the early part of the Grammys’ current eligibility period. Space doesn’t really allow for listing all 20 of the entries Ye is a part of, when he appeared on records by Cardi B, Fivio Foreign and more. But as a songwriter, his name appears as a co-writer on six tracks that have been submitted for best rap song alone. He’s also submitted for producer of the year (non-classical) for Fivio Foreign’s “City of Gods,” Pusha T’s “It’s Almost Dry” and his own “True Love.” (If he fails to win for any of these 20 submissions, can we guess who’ll get blamed?)

Q: Which country smash did Morgan Wallen place his bets on, “You Proof” or “Wasted on You”?

A: “Wasted on You.” “You Proof” may be the more recent of his two post-banishing No. 1 country hits, but “Wasted on You” might be seen as having the advantage because it also penetrated the mainstream top 40 radio chart. It remains to be seen, though, whether he has enough support from the Academy’s country bloc to make it to the finalists’ round or not, despite being the commercial behemoth of the genre. Wallen’s name appears on seven submissions altogether. Besides “Wasted on You” being submitted for record and song of the year, country solo performance and best country song, he is also the featured artist on Ernest’s “Flower Shop,” which is in the mix for country duo/group performance and music video. Additionally, Wallen is one of four writers on Keith Urban’s “Brown Eyes Baby,” which is competing for country song.

Q: Was Nicki Minaj summarily tossed out of rap entirely?

A: No. As Variety previously reported, Minaj still has several songs in contention in rap categories, including a very big hit she had early this year, “Do We Have a Problem?,” as well as a couple of collaborations with Coi Leray and Bleu. But, of course, love the track or hate it, “Super Freaky Girl” is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and that’s the one a screening committee bounced from rap performance to pop. She may be right to contend her odds would have been better with the song in rap than pop, but it would still have faced formidable competition from Kendrick Lamar if it had stayed.

Q: Did Latto’s “Big Energy” get to stay in rap, as Minaj angrily contended?

A: Yes, although it’s worth pointing out it is entered in the melodic rap category, different from the rap performance category, where Minaj was rumored to have entered “Super Freaky Girl” — so there likely never would have been a direct face-off between them. As it stands, both Minaj and Latto do have songs contending against one another in the rap performance category, but in both cases, it is not their biggest hits there. While Minaj has “Do We Have a Problem?” being fielded for rap performance, Latto has “Sunshine” in that category.

Q: What’s the biggest little puzzle amid all these submissions?

A: It might be the question of why Latto submitted a live version of “Big Energy” for record of the year and best melodic rap performance, instead of the studio version. It’s clear-cut that the live version came out during the Grammy eligibility period, whereas the studio version preceded it, a little, as a single. However, “Big Energy” did subsequently appear as a track on Latto’s “777” album, which came out squarely during the appropriate period, so by Grammy rules the hit studio version should have been eligible. Grammy Ballot Burning Questions: Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ye, Zach Bryan

Charles Jones

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