Who Will Win: Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer

2018 was the year that Janelle Monáe finally convinced the world that she’s a musical and conceptual force to be reckoned with. Or, to put it simply: She proved her genius beyond a shadow of a doubt. Her preoccupation with otherworldly soundscapes and robotic storylines has been on full display since she entered the game officially, in 2007, with her debut EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase). After more than a decade of pushing forth her own mystifying musical narrative, the rest of the industry—critics and colleagues, alike—opened its proverbial beak to accept Dirty Computer, an undeniably nourishing meal that stood out amongst the myriad of unsatisfying snacks that dropped last year. Monáe’s chance to win Album of the Year has been years in the making.

Who Should Win: Kendrick Lamar and Various Artists, Black Panther: The Album

Black Panther, the movie, was a certified cultural event last year. The star-studded superhero film did multiple things the minute it hit theaters: it showed the strength of the Black dollar, via a robust audience turnout; it centered Black actors and actresses, despite being buoyed by coins that had previously not been invested in POC-led projects; and it gave Black people everywhere a chance to stunt, in terms of fashion and self-confidence.

So, when word got out that Kendrick Lamar would be executive producing the film’s soundtrack, it only made sense that the music helmed by Lamar would securely anchor the movie in its place in cinematic history. And that, it did. Sounds of Wakanda were borrowed and peppered unobtrusively into the album, and the theme of the movie—love, family, and good intentions will always win, despite the opps—was reflected through the music in such a way that one couldn’t listen to the soundtrack without getting an urge to watch the movie, and vice versa. Black Panther: The Album contributed to a massive moment in 2018. If the Academy wants to finally make up for all the years non-white musicians have been locked out of the award ceremony’s most-coveted category, this would be an easy winner.

Dark Horse: Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

While Cardi B’s fans (and detractors) stand by, waiting for her to whip out a sophomore follow-up to her 2018 debut, Cardi is basking in the fact that she has been nominated for five Grammys this year—and four of them are connected to her very own album, Invasion of Privacy. The project was released last April, but Cardi was able to finesse (no pun intended) and extend the album’s relevance throughout the entire year. Through her endlessly hilarious social media presence, polished photos, a whole baby girl with Migos’ Offset, and insane music videos (including one for “Money,” the first single for her aforementioned yet-to-be-announced second album), Cardi has proven that she ain’t no fucking fluke. And she’s here to stay. If Invasion of Privacy wins Album of the Year, it would be an acknowledgment of not just her hard-won talent, but the unprecedented glo-up she’s had in the past 12 months. —Kiana Fitzgerald