Four anonymous pros give EW a peek at their secret ballots

Every year, EW gathers industry insiders to share — in exchange for anonymity — their unfiltered opinions about who should take home the golden gramophones when the Grammys air. For 2018, we asked an in-demand songwriter who writes for A-list talent; an acclaimed producer whose work has been inescapable in recent years; a Grammy-winning country whiz; and a masterful studio guru who’s engineered records for countless superstars to make their picks for Sunday’s show, which airs at 7:30 p.m. on CBS. Read on for their thoughts on nine of the essential Grammy categories.

Album of the Year

The Nominees: “Awaken, My Love!” (Childish Gambino), 4:44 (JAY-Z), DAMN. (Kendrick Lamar), Melodrama (Lorde), 24K Magic (Bruno Mars)

The Songwriter: JAY-Z. My favorite thing in music is honesty, and the level of honesty he showed on 4:44 is unbelievable.
The Producer:
Kendrick Lamar should win for DAMN. He’s one of my favorite artists. It’s amazing how he’s able to change. I like what he talks about. I always like his tracks. I love his voice.
The Country Whiz:
It’s Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic for me. We had a big party [recently] and the housewives and kids, we were all like, “Put on Bruno!” He goes across genres and demographics. And for those of us who grew up with Michael Jackson, it’s so nostalgic.
The Studio Guru:
First of all, JAY-Z shouldn’t be here — only half the world heard 4:44 because it was only available on Tidal! Kendrick Lamar had the strongest album of them all. I’m voting for Kendrick.

Record of the Year

The Nominees: “Redbone” (Childish Gambino); “Despacito” (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber); “The Story of O.J.” (JAY-Z); “HUMBLE.” (Kendrick Lamar); “24K Magic” (Bruno Mars)

The Songwriter: “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar. It really has some s— to say, but Record of the Year [recognizes] production, and the production on it is pretty groundbreaking, too.
The Producer:
“Redbone” by Childish Gambino is such an oddball track that was on the radio, and I love those oddball tracks that get on there. My heart is with “Redbone,” but “Despacito” probably deserves it too.
The Country Whiz:
This one feels like [Kendrick Lamar]’s “HUMBLE.” When you watch the world around you right now, we have no patience with each other, everyone’s always fighting, we’re not being respectful. We needed to hear something like this this year.
The Studio Guru:
Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” will probably take it. That’s going to appeal to more people. A lot of times [in the Recording Academy] it’s the older generation that votes — that’s how Adele beat Beyoncé last year when Beyoncé clearly had a stronger album.

Song of the Year

The Nominees: “Despacito” (performer: Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber; songwriters: Ramón Ayala, Justin Bieber, Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton); “4:44” (performer: JAY-Z; songwriters: Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson), “Issues” (performer: Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid; songwriters: Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury & Khalid Robinson); “That’s What I Like” (performer: Bruno Mars; songwriters: Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip)

The Songwriter: “Issues.” Julia Michaels’ talent is through the roof. And to see her have her moment in the sun is beautiful.
The Producer: The one song that I ended up singing the most when it wasn’t on the radio and got stuck in my head was Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like.” It’s nice to have something that’s fun and makes you feel good.
The Country Whiz: I’m in love with “1-800-273-8255” by Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khalid. My youngest kid played this for me in the car, and I just bawled.
The Studio Guru: “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber. Although half of it’s in Spanish, it’s just strong, catchy writing.

Best New Artist

The Nominees: Alessia Cara, Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert, Julia Michaels, SZA

The Songwriter: SZA. Her point of view and perspective are really refreshing. And to have her and Julia, these two brilliant young women, nominated in the same year is a great sign for what’s to come, especially with everything that’s happening in the world.
The Producer:
Julia Michaels is so talented from a songwriting standpoint — I bring that into the equation. Her voice is so different and cool. You can hear from her lyrics who she is and whatever struggles she might have. It’s all there in her songs.
The Country Whiz:
I love Khalid and I love Julia Michaels, but I think there’s so much depth in Alessia Cara’s songs. She’s so smart and so aware.
The Studio Guru:
SZA. She’s awesome. And SZA probably had the biggest year. I don’t know why Alessia Cara is even in it. I mean, seriously, that one big hit single of hers was, like, three years ago!

Best Alternative Music Album

The Nominees: Everything Now (Arcade Fire), Humanz (Gorillaz), American Dream (LCD Soundsystem), Pure Comedy (Father John Misty), Sleep Well Beast (The National)

The Songwriter: There’s a lot of old men in this category. There’s no one new and exciting in there. Can I pass? [Laughs]
The Producer:
This was probably the hardest one for me. I don’t even know what’s alternative anymore! The LCD Soundsystem album sounded really cool, but I lean toward Gorillaz’s Humanz. I liked the variety, and the features were really cool.
The Country Whiz:
I don’t know any of these people — am I being helpful at all? [Laughs] I know Father John Misty from friends, but I didn’t vote in this category.
The Studio Guru:
The Gorillaz album is dope. But Arcade Fire will probably take it for [Everything Now], just like they took Album of the Year a few years ago.

Best Pop Vocal Album

The Nominees: Kaleidoscope EP (Coldplay), Lust for Life (Lana Del Rey), Rainbow (Kesha), Evolve (Imagine Dragons), Joanne (Lady Gaga), ÷ (Ed Sheeran)

The Songwriter: Kesha’s Rainbow deserves as much recognition as it could possibly get. No matter what genre she does, it’s all Kesha all day. That says a lot about what a real-deal artist she is. She should get all the awards. We should just rename the Grammys the Kesha Awards.
The Producer: I’m going with Lana Del Rey, just because I love Lana Del Rey. She really sticks to her aesthetic and who she is [on Lust for Life]. She always delivers.
The Country Whiz: This was the year that I fell in love with Lady Gaga. But Ed Sheeran kills me. He’s so honest — most people wouldn’t admit to the things he sings about! And we don’t even pay attention to that anymore. We’re so used to it.
The Studio Guru: Whenever I think pop vocals, I think Imagine Dragons — nah, I’m kidding! Kesha is super talented and has awesome songs, but I don’t think she’ll get recognized. So much of it is just a name game, sadly. It’ll probably be Lady Gaga or Ed Sheeran.

Best Rock Album

The Nominees: Emperor of Sand (Mastodon), Hardwired…to Self-Destruct (Metallica), The Stories We Tell Ourselves (Nothing More), Villains (Queens of the Stone Age), A Deeper Understanding (The War on Drugs)

The Songwriter: Metallica. I mean, it’s Metallica! But the rock and alternative [categories] desperately need some saving.
The Producer:
The War on Drugs album A Deeper Understanding is so beautiful. It’s not the hardest-rocking album per se, but they’re a great band. I like the mood of the record. They captured something special.
The Country Whiz:
Metallica. The fact that they’re still doing this and are still relevant, it’s amazing. There’s not many who can do that.
The Studio Guru:
I voted for the War on Drugs. It’s a fantastic record, but it’s probably going to be between Metallica or Queens of the Stone Age. People thought Metallica’s [Hardwired…to Self-Destruct] was a strong return for them.

Best Rap Album

The Songwriter: I’ll go with Kendrick Lamar. [DAMN.] is a masterpiece. I already gave JAY-Z love in the Album of the Year category, so we can shine some light on Kendrick here. F— it! We might as well spread the love.
The Producer:
Kendrick again on this one. He’s my favorite rap artist, and I love the album.
The Country Whiz:
The JAY-Z album fits in a lot with what we’re saying — the social awareness — but I’d go with Kendrick.
The Studio Guru:
Kendrick needs to take this. He should be getting Album of the Year. That’s where the politics will get involved, but 55-year-old dudes might be up on Kendrick. His jazzier record [To Pimp a Butterfly] was a big influence on Bowie’s last record [Blackstar].

Best Country Album

The Songwriter: I’m a huge Little Big Town fan. They pick amazing songs and sing them beautifully. Their career has such a cool arc: They started off as a guilty pleasure and became legitimate—which means they were probably legitimate the whole time; we were just assholes.
The Producer:
The Little Big Town album The Breaker. It reminds me almost of the War on Drugs album — it has this beautiful, ambient sort of thing. Something about it really sounds beautiful.
The Country Whiz:
Thomas Rhett really nailed it on Life Changes. There’s so much great writing and so much consistency, and yet it moves around so much! And, like, 14 songs? For there to be so many songs where you’re like, “Have you heard this yet?” — that’s hard!
The Studio Guru:
I would say Chris Stapleton’s From a Room: Volume 1. He’s the most well-rounded out of all of them.

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