2021 Best Rock Album Grammy Nominees:
• A Hero’s Death, Fontaines D.C.
• Kiwanuka, Michael Kiwanuka
• Daylight, Grace Potter
• Sound & Fury, Sturgill Simpson
• The New Abnormal, The Strokes
The 2021 Best Rock Album nominees are a strange group that includes an acclaimed band that has never been nominated for a Grammy before, an Irish post-punk band with little name recognition in the U.S., and three acts known for blending other genres (country, Americana, R&B) into their rock music.
For several years now, as we noted in our Best Alternative Album prediction, most of the year’s best rock albums end up getting nominated in the Alternative category. That means that Best Rock Album is typically a collection of oddball leftovers. And that is very much the case for the 2021 Grammys.
Let’s start with the Strokes’ The New Abnormal, which has appeared on many critics’ year-end lists. The NYC band was famously part of the garage rock revival in the early ’00s, but unlike their peers in that scene, they’ve been able to stay relevant two decades later.
Their latest album maintains the spunky energy of their earlier work while adding poppy synths and polished production from Rick Rubin, helping them garner acclaim from both rock critics and pop artists like Billie Eilish. So why aren’t the Strokes runaway favorites in this category? It’s because this is the first Grammy nod of their entire careers.
The Recording Academy has never been all that enamored with the Strokes, so it’s hard to gauge how much support they’ll have in the final vote. It was a smart move by the Strokes’ team to submit them for Best Rock Album, since they might not have gotten nominated at all in the more competitive Best Alternative Album category.
Sturgill Simpson, meanwhile, has Academy support out the wazoo. His past three albums have all been nominated for Grammys, all in different genres. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music earned him a nod for Best Americana Album, while A Sailor’s Guide to Earth won in 2017 for Best Country Album.
Simpson has been a genre-hopping artist over the years, and his latest, Sound & Fury, fully lives up to its name. It’s a hard-rocking album full of electric guitar solos. The question is whether Rock voters in the Academy will embrace him as much as Country voters did.
Grace Potter is another artist who’s been nominated in the Country field in the past and is well-known for her collaborations with Kenny Chesney. This year, she’s up for two Rock awards for her album Daylight. She could be a dark horse in this category.
We’ve been in love with Michael Kiwanuka’s work for several years, but the soulful rocker never scored a Grammy nod until his self-titled album this year. He just won the Mercury Prize, a critics’ award for UK artists. But he’s probably not enough of a household name in this country to prevail in this category.
The same holds true for the Irish band Fontaines D.C., who are unexpected nominees here. Neither the album A Hero’s Death nor any of its songs had much commercial impact in the U.S., although they did earn strong reviews from Pitchfork and other outlets. For them, the nomination is the reward.
Best Rock Album Prediction
This is a fascinating three-way race. Simpson has had the most Grammy success in the past and should be the favorite. But his past wins were in other genres, so will he have enough support from Rock voters to win here? That’s the biggest question surrounding this category.
Potter is also well-liked and respected, and as the only female she has the demographic advantage. Like it or not, that can’t be overlooked. Any time there’s a Grammy category featuring only one male or one female nominee out of five, that person has a chance, given the predictable voting habits of Academy members.
And then there are the Strokes, who would win this award going away if only rock critics could vote. Though they’ve never been nominated for a Grammy, Julian Casablancas and company have gotten so much critical acclaim this year that they may have enough momentum to win the award.
Our Best Rock Album prediction is an extremely tight race in which Simpson prevails over the Strokes, with Potter running in third.
2021 Grammy Awards: Best Rock Album Prediction
Deserves to win: The New Abnormal, The Strokes
Will win: Sound & Fury, Sturgill Simpson
Should have been nominated: Imploding the Mirage, The Killers
See also our complete list of 2021 Grammy predictions.