NEW YORK -- When the Grammys decided to extend the nominees in the top four categories from five to eight, they didn't consider how much harder it would make our lives as credible prediction experts.
So we have to dig even deeper than we've done in the past as we ponder, think (and guess) who will walk away as winners at the 2019 Grammys, airing live Sunday from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
One thing that's helping us — looking to the past. Rap has never had success in the major categories, and we don't think that's changed.
Here's a look at the acts AP Music Writers Mesfin Fekadu and Nekesa Mumbi Moody think will be victorious Sunday.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: "Invasion of Privacy," Cardi B; "By the Way, I Forgive You," Brandi Carlile; "Scorpion," Drake; "H.E.R.," H.E.R.; "Beerbongs & Bentleys," Post Malone; "Dirty Computer," Janelle Monae; "Golden Hour," Kacey Musgraves; "Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired By," Kendrick Lamar.
FEKADU: I literally fell asleep reading ALL OF THOSE ALBUM TITLES. You can't even fit all these names in a single tweet! But on a serious note, Kacey Musgraves' beautiful and striking album will win here. Part of my reasoning comes from there being four rap-based albums in the mix, along with two R&B ones, and they'll all share too many votes to win. The race is between Brandi Carlile, whose album is also excellent, and Musgraves, who had more buzz this year, won honors at country awards shows and reached audiences outside of the country world with her pop-leaning album. "Golden Hour" will win in the final Grammy hour.
MOODY: Hello! Monae is also in contention here! But, I agree that Kacey Musgraves is the favorite here. She blends country, roots, and is singer-songwriter with a strong feminist perspective. And you know who else that description fits? Carlile, who has been in the game for a lot longer and has toiled outside the spotlight for years. For some reason, my gut tells me this will finally be the year she's rewarded.
RECORD OF THE YEAR: "I Like It," Cardi B, Bad Bunny and J Balvin; "The Joke," Brandi Carlile; "This Is America," Childish Gambino; "God's Plan," Drake; "Shallow," Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper; "All the Stars," Kendrick Lamar and SZA; "Rockstar," Post Malone and 21 Savage; "The Middle," Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey.
MOODY: There are genuine massive smashes here that became part of the soundtrack of 2018, but the song that probably best summed up the twisted political and social mood of the year was Childish Gambino's "This is America." The video was a jaw-dropping, social media moment, and it was a critical favorite (unlike, say, "Rockstar"). Look for Grammy voters to make a statement, and also try to seem edgy, by picking Gambino.
FEKADU: Your logic sounds perfect. I think "Shallow," ''The Joke" and "The Middle" are also strong contenders. But it's hard to think of Bradley Cooper winning record of the year, and I still think Brandi's song is too unknown. I'm going with "The Middle," which could get votes from the pop, dance and country music voters. Plus, it topped Billboard's dance/electronic songs chart for a record 33 weeks!
SONG OF THE YEAR (songwriter's award): "Boo'd Up," Ella Mai, DJ Mustard, Larrance Dopson and Joelle James; "In My Blood," Shawn Mendes, Teddy Geiger, Scott Harris and Geoffrey Warburton; "The Joke," Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb, Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth; "This Is America," Childish Gambino and Ludwig Goransson; "God's Plan," Drake, Noah "40" Shebib, Boi-1Da, Daveon Jackson, Brock Korsan and Ron LaTour; "Shallow," Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt; "All the Stars," Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Al Shuckburgh, Mark Spears and Anthony Tiffith; "The Middle," Zedd, Grey, Sarah Aarons, Jordan K. Johnson, Stefan Johnson and Marcus Lomax.
FEKADU: Let's start with what songs definitely won't win: "Boo'd Up," ''In My Blood" and "All the Stars." And since this is an award honoring songwriting, we can probably eliminate "The Middle," ''This Is America" and "God's Plan." That leaves us with Carlile's "The Joke" and Gaga's "Shallow," which won the Golden Globe, will win the Oscar as well as a major Grammy, too.
MOODY: Hmmm ... I kind of feel "In My Blood" has a strong chance, especially since veteran Teddy Geiger is in the mix. But I agree, it won't take it, nor will "This Is America" — the Grammy voters tend to split song and album honors these days. And since this is a songwriter's award, while I think everyone is impressed by the story of "A Star Is Born," they'll give it to three songwriters who work magic together on the regular — Carlile, Cobb and the Hanseroth brothers for "The Joke."
BEST NEW ARTIST: Chloe x Halle; Luke Combs; Greta Van Fleet; H.E.R.; Dua Lipa; Margo Price; Bebe Rexha; Jorja Smith.
MOODY: H.E.R. didn't have the chart success of a Bebe Rexha, Dua Lipa or Luke Combs, but here's why I think she has an edge to win this one: First, she's nominated in the album of the year category, which makes me think the voters must be incredibly in awe of her already. Plus, she's a multi-instrumentalist (check her out on guitar), a singer-songwriter and has been in the industry since she was a child. She may not have mainstream appeal, but she appeals to industry voters, and I think that will get her this Grammy trophy.
FEKADU: It's great to see six women nominated here, but Luke Combs dominated the country music charts and streaming platforms with his debut album. He wins here.
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM: "Camila," Camila Cabello; "Meaning of Life," Kelly Clarkson; "Sweetener," Ariana Grande; "Shawn Mendes," Shawn Mendes; "Beautiful Trauma," Pink; "Reputation," Taylor Swift.
FEKADU: Camila and Shawn's inclusion here probably already feel like a win, and it should because they won't actually win. While Pink and Kelly are Grammy favorites, these albums were less impressive than their previous releases, so let's disregard them, too. Taylor was snubbed in album of the year despite selling more than 1 million copies in a week and launching multiple hits. This category is the only one she's nominated for, and the Recording Academy will make up for things when she takes the prize home, though Ariana is providing stiff competition.
MOODY: Swift should have been in the main album of the year competition and was robbed of her chance at a third trophy in that category! She'll win, but here's why she won't be picking up that award in person.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM: "Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino," Arctic Monkeys; "Colors," Beck; "Utopia," Bjork; "American Utopia," David Byrne; "Masseduction," St. Vincent.
MOODY: I think Grammy voters just see the word "Beck" and check whatever box his name is listed next to.
FEKADU: St. Vincent won this award four years ago and she'll win again with her critical darling of an album that made several best-of lists in 2017, including mine.
BEST R&B SONG (songwriter's award): "Boo'd Up," Ella Mai, DJ Mustard, Larrance Dopson and Joelle James; "Come Through and Chill," Miguel, J. Cole and Salaam Remi; "Feels Like Summer," Childish Gambino and Ludwig Goransson; "Focus," H.E.R., Darhyl Camper Jr. and Justin Love; "Long As I Live," Toni Braxton, Antonio Dixon and Paul Boutin.
FEKADU: Because of Childish Gambino's popularity, part of me feels like he could win here. But then who really remembers "Feels Like Summer"? Exactly. The real competition is between breakthrough singers Ella Mai and H.E.R. And since "Boo'd Up" was the song of the summer and reached No. 5 on the Hot 100 — where H.E.R.'s "Focus" peaked at No. 100 — I think the British singer will be listening to her to heart go ba-dum boo'd up when she wins Sunday.
MOODY: Who remembers a lot of the winners of this category in recent years? Sure fire hits have surely won but so have songs that landed with a soft thump on the charts — and Mesfin, I DO REMEMBER "Feels Like Summer." It was a success, and more importantly, it came from Childish! Grammy voters love this dude, and he's a multi-hyphenate entertainer and one of the coolest kids in the category, so ... the Grammy goes to Mr. Gambino.
BEST RAP ALBUM: "Invasion of Privacy," Cardi B; "Swimming," Mac Miller; "Victory Lap," Nipsey Hussle; "Daytona," Pusha T; "Astroworld," Travis Scott.
MOODY: Lauryn Hill was part of the Fugees when they won this more than two decades ago, but a solo female act has never won in this category. That will change when Cardi B takes the trophy — brace yourself for Nicki Minaj screams, somewhere out there.
FEKADU: Everyone is so lucky the Grammys booted Drake from this category because we know he would have easily won here, okurrrrrr! But congrats are in order to Cardi B, who will win her first Grammy on Sunday. And lest you forgot, Nicki has never won a Grammy, or had a song hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 (Cardi's had three No.1s). Just some fun facts.
BEST COUNTRY SOLO PERFORMANCE: "Wouldn't It Be Great?," Loretta Lynn; "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," Maren Morris; "Butterflies," Kacey Musgraves; "Millionaire," Chris Stapleton; "Parallel Line," Keith Urban.
FEKADU: "Now you're lifting me up, instead of holding me down/Stealing my heart instead of stealing my crown." Yeah, Kacey, you win.
MOODY: I would normally say Kacey but I just don't see how you have Loretta Lynn in this category and she LOSES.