Unlike the rest of the mainstream fields, the R&B field have five categories instead of four. Similar to rock, it has a category for best performance, for a sub-genre performance (traditional R&B), songwriters’ award and two other categories for albums (R&B and urban contemporary).
Just like the category for Best Alternative Music Album, the Urban Contemporary Album is also hard to define. The Academy defines it as an award “for artists whose music includes the more contemporary elements of R&B and may incorporate production elements found in urban pop, urban Euro-pop, urban rock, and urban alternative”. In colloquial terms thisis what we know as PBR&B or alternative R&B. However it is up to the Academy to determine who competes here. For example Rihanna’s albums were previously submitted to pop but her 2012 release Unapologetic competed and won this award.
This year’s nominees in the R&B field are a combination of emerging artists, contemporary R&B stars, rappers and veterans. The Weeknd and Jazmine Sullivan lead the field with three nods each.
Let’s now take a look at the odds for each category
Best R&B Performance
- The Weeknd — “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)”
- Andra Day — “Rise Up”
- Jeremih ft. J. Cole — “Planes”
- Tamar Braxton — “If I Don’t Have You”
- Hiatus Kaiyote — “Breathing Underwater”
The Weeknd’s chances in the other fields he’s nominated for are not the best but in R&B, he is king. There are at least two awards the Canadian artist is taking for sure and Best R&B Performance is one of them. He virtually has no competition here and the song “Earned It” has another two nominations for R&B Song and Song for Visual Media and is also up for an Oscar.
The only other artist who can take this award is Andra Day. Her music falls within the jazzy tunes that the Academy loves, she is set to perform in the ceremony and is also up for R&B Album.
The not-so-R&B song in contention here “Planes” by singer Jeremih and rapper J Cole. The only R&B/hip-hop collaboration to have won this award so far was that from Beyoncé and Jay Z last year. Chances that another collaboration wins here are not that high unless it involves superstars.
The last two nominees Australian group Hiatus Kayiote and singer Tamar Braxton are the only former nominees. However their presence here was somewhat of a surprise and their chances of winning are very slim considering the overwhelming support that both The Weeknd and Andra Day had this year.
Best Traditional R&B Performance: I don’t know much about this sub-genre but based on history, Lalah Hathaway is the surest bet as she’s been winning GRAMMYs for the last two years.
Best R&B Song
- “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” — Ahmad Balshe, Stephan Moccio, Jason Quenneville & The Weeknd (The Weeknd)
- “Really Love” — D’Angelo & Kendra Foster (D’Angelo & The Vanguard)
- “Coffee” — Brook Davis & Miguel (Miguel)
- “Let It Burn” — Kenny B. Edmonds, Jazmine Sullivan & Dwane M. Weir II (Jazmine Sullivan)
- “Shame” — Warryn Campbell, Tyrese & DJ Rogers Jr (Tyrese)
This category is really hard to predict mainly because the list of winners include urban contemporary hits, hip-hop collaborations, and traditional R&B songs. Also winning in a performance category not always translate into a victory for the R&B songwriters’ award.
I’d say The Weeknd has the edge here but while he is the absolute favourite for R&B performance, he’s got stiffer competition here.
The Weeknd’s biggest rival is D’Angelo for the Record of the Year (ROTY)-nominated song “Really Love”. R&B songs rarely win in the general field but they sure take this award, as was the case for ‘We Belong Together” (2006), “Be Without You” (2007) or “Adorn” (2013). However “Really Love” is not up for Song of the Year, therefore it is not enough to call it a definite winner.
Also running for R&B song is “Coffee” by Miguel, who won this award in 2013. He is one of only two former winner in this year’s line-up. The other being Babyface as the co-writer for Jazmine Sullivan’s “Let It Burn”. Babyface has won this award twice back in the 90s.
The last contender is Tyrese for the critically-acclaimed “Shame”. The L.A. singer has had multiple vocal performance nominations but this his first time for a songwriters’ award
Best R&B Album
- D’Angelo & The Vanguard — Black Messiah
- Jazmine Sullivan — Reality Show
- Andra Day — Cheers to the Fall
- Leon Bridges — Coming Home
- Charlie Wilson — Forever Charlie
This category is intended for R&B albums that are more traditional and “less electronic”, once again you need to be a music expert to understand this. While none of the nominees here are “electronic”, none of them sound very “traditional R&B”. All these albums have elements of rock, jazz, soul, funk and blues.
The absolute front-runner is D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah. A socially-charged “neo-soul” record that was snubbed for Album of the Year (AOTY). Furthermore, the three albums from D’Angelo had been nominated here and he even won the award back in 2001 for Voodoo.
The runner-up here is Jazmine Sullivan for Reality Show, an album that also landed in many “best of the year” lists. This is Sullivan’s first nomination in this category but she is also the most nominated artist in the field alongside The Weekend.
The rest of the nominees have much lesser chances. Both Andra Day and Leon Bridges are newcomers who failed to get a place in the Best New Artist line-up. Lastly we have Charlie Wilson. The only veteran in contention, but they never take the prize when there are younger and more acclaimed artists around.
Best Urban Contemporary Album
- The Weeknd — Beauty Behind the Madness
- Miguel — Wildheart
- The Internet — Ego Death
- Lianne Las Havas — Blood
- Kehlani — You Should Be Here
This is another complex category as I explained before. The interesting thing about is that it always features names that are unknown outside of the R&B/hip-hop circle, but ultimately it is the most mainstream act who gets the award. The list of winners includes international superstars like Rihanna and Pharrell Williams.
That being said it is impossible to imagine a scenario where The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness doesn’t win. It is an AOTY-nominee, in fact the only representative of the R&B field and it was also one of the best-selling albums of the year with and a production team that includes industry heavyweights like Max Martin and Kanye West.
Only in an alternate reality the other four nominees could win. However, the albums from Miguel, Lianne Las Havas, and The Internet were among the most acclaimed records of the year. I have no idea who Kehlani is (and is already too late to check).
What do you think? What the winners from the R&B field would look like?