Much is known about Sunday’s 59th Annual Grammy Awards, from select confirmed performers – Adele, Metallica, Maren Morris and A Tribe Called Quest, to name just a few – to the fact that James Corden will take over hosting duties for the first time. But there are still plenty of major question marks heading into the big night. Read on for a rundown of some of the most pivotal, from whether Kanye will turn up to how the night’s presenters and performers will use the platform to sound off on America’s 45th president.
Both are nominated for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Commercially, they were neck and neck in both album sales and streams last year (though Adele's 25 came out in 2015). Johnny Avello – the odds-maker at Wynn Las Vegas who has been predicting Grammy night for years – sees Beyoncé taking home Album of the Year ("It appeals to a broader audience"), and Adele's "Hello" beating "Formation" to win the other categories. "About half the time, the Song of the Year harmonizes with Record of the Year and wins both," says Avello.
The Grammys have a long history of musical tributes, but producers don't want this year to feel like a funeral. They're making hard decisions about who to honor after the deaths of Prince, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, George Michael and more. "You've got a lot of people incredibly excited about being nominated," Ehrlich says. "I don't want to deny them by devoting a third of the show to people who've passed away."
The Grammys will be the first major awards show after President Trump's January 20th inauguration, which struggled to book artists other than the Rockettes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Beyoncé, who received nine nominations, campaigned for Hillary Clinton; Adele, who's up for five awards, told fans at a concert not to vote for Trump. And the show has a political history: Pharrell, Beyoncé and Common spoke out in 2015 against police killings of African-Americans, while Kendrick Lamar opened his "The Blacker the Berry" performance last year in chains, commenting on the discriminatory U.S. prison system. "I don't think artists are really looking to hold back with that," says Bob McLynn, manager of Sia, Panic! At the Disco and Weezer, all up for awards this year. "I expect plenty of political jibes."
West has been critical of the Grammys in the past, but the ceremony might host his first public appearance since a November hospital stay – and a controversial December audience with Donald Trump. "We're talking to him through his representatives," says Ehrlich.
Last spring, Chance signed a petition for the Grammys to change the rules and allow digital-only releases, after years of online-mixtape snubs for Future and others; a month later, the Grammys changed the rules to allow what Portnow calls "non-traditional" releases. Chance praised the decision via Twitter as a "victory." Says Portnow: "We wanted to make sure somebody wasn't disenfranchised or excluded just because of the technicality of a distribution format."
Americana outsider Sturgill Simpson is the dark horse in the Album of the Year category, squaring off against four stadium-packing pop acts. But he has a shot: The award has gone to left-field picks like Beck and Arcade Fire in recent years. Some insiders are skeptical. "You could split the other votes every which way, and they'll still end up with more votes than him," says one. "Even Beck was a known quantity."
Ocean neglected to submit his critical hit Blonde for consideration, calling the nominating process "dated" and noting that only a handful of black artists have won Album of the Year in his lifetime. "I'd rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment," he said. One voter sees the point: "They do a reasonable job, but they're not as forward-looking as they'd like to think they are."
Somehow Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth squeaked into the Album of the Year category, while Bowie's critically acclaimed swan song isn't up for top song or album. The Grammy voter who spoke with Rolling Stone suggests the Academy's screening committee pushed Bowie's recognition into other categories – he's nominated for three rock awards and might have seemed out of place in top nominations among Justin Bieber, Drake, Adele and Beyoncé. "They might be like, 'Well, Bowie's covered,'" the voter says. "There's a lot of finessing." Although Portnow insists the shutout at the top "wasn't a snub," some fans believe Blackstar deserved better. "It is surprising," says Matt Schultz, frontman for Best Rock Album–nominated Cage the Elephant. "It should most definitely be Record of the Year."
The Grammy stage has a way of turning hit artists into pop superstars, like Lady Gaga in 2010 or Destiny's Child in 2001. Morris, the country singer nominated for Best New Artist, has the history for the job: A decade ago, she was one of 46 high school students invited to "Grammy Camp," a music-business primer for precocious performers. Still, Portnow won't make any predictions: "It's sort of like being asked which one of your kids do you like the best," he says.