The 2019 Billboard Music Awards

Every year that I’ve written about the billboard awards, I reference that they’re different from other awards shows, because of the means of their selection. Once I even skipped the awards completely in order to write about the performances. That was a good idea, and one I may revisit down the line, but the performances this year include Madonna, so that’s not going to happen this year.

This year I’m trying to prognosticate, for two reasons 1) this awards show’s recipients are determined algorithmically, even if the algorithm is crazy and opaque and 2) I run out of things to say about some of these people every year, and it’s worth doing something a little different with this incoherent, endless awards show.

It’s also got a couple of other things going for it (at the risk of reducing this list to a bunch of bullet points). The first is that the decision-making process of who gets these awards is, according to the Billboard folks, made with formulas and whatnot, even though (as I’ll mention many times) the set of things that goes directly into the formulas and whatnot isn’t always apparent. The other is that, as I mention basically every time I try to guess at something, I’m a bad foreteller of this sort of thing generally, and furthermore, I have a specifically really-bad sense of what is and is not popular, and how popular popular things actually are.

So this will be a useful case study for how bad I actually am at seeing the future! Here we go!

Top Gospel Song

The faith-music categories are the ones where my knee-jerk “Which one seems biggest?” question-answering here are both the easiest and the most fraught: I do not know anything about this music at all, and I don’t have much ability to appreciate it, so if something penetrates my veil of ignorance, it’s probably a big deal and is probably the winner, at least in respect to Billboard magazine.

WHO WILL WIN: Tori Kelly, “Never Alone” (f Kirk Franklin)

Top Christian Song

Same deal down here, except I can kind of get behind gospel as a form, because enough of it has moved me that I feel I have some ability, no matter how stunted. CCM is just not my thing.

WHO WILL WIN: Lauren Daigle, “You Say”

Top Dance/Electronic Song

Actually, to continue on in this vein, the nice thing about the way the categories are laid out here are, at least for the first five or so, in basically ascending order of how familiar I am with the music as it exists, so I feel smarter as I go along. That’s nice.

WHO WILL WIN: Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey, “The Middle”

Top Latin Song

Of course, in this particular one, my feelings about the music are basically moot, as shown here, where the worst song wins. Although I do kind of like the part where Selena Gomez goes “RRRRRRUMBA”. That’s pretty good.

WHO WILL WIN: DJ Snake, “Taki Taki” (f Selena Gomez, Ozuna & Cardi B)

Top Rock Song

So one of the things that merely trying to guess at which of these things will win offers me is an opportunity to absolutely not think of any of these songs in terms of their quality, which is awesome because they all suck real bad.

WHO WILL WIN: Imagine Dragons, “Whatever it Takes”

Top Country Song

This one is tough. I feel like “Meant to Be” was really everywhere for the first half of the eligibility period here, but the second half has very much belonged to “Tequila”. So I’m going to go with “Tequila” for recency, but it really could go either way.

WHO WILL WIN: Dan + Shay, “Tequila”

Top Rap Song

It brings me joy to state that my usual concern with Drake songs is moot here, as “In My Feelings” was a huge hit, but didn’t achieve the same sort of cultural/my unwilling headspace penetration as “I Like It”

WHO WILL WIN: Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin, “I Like It”

Top R&B Song

This one’s almost as tricky as the rock one, as a couple of these seem to really stand out, but despite being particularly into R&B, I have basically no exposure to R&B radio, and I don’t stream it except purposefully 1, so I’m a little at sea. I think it’s the Ella Mai song, though, as that’s the one I’ve heard the most while never actually playing it.

WHO WILL WIN: Ella Mai, “Boo’d Up”

Top Collaboration

God, “Psycho” was everywhere, wasn’t it? It’s weird that I’ve forgotten about it except that 1) I don’t like Post Malone and 2) I don’t like Travis Scott and 3) I don’t like “Psycho”. What a blessed, short period of time it was in which I permitted myself to forget that it existed.

WHO WILL WIN: Post Malone, “Psycho” (f Travis Scott)

Top Radio Song

I only hear the radio incidentally, but every time I heard one (in a store or at the gym or in a passing car or whatever) for like months, there was a fifty/fifty shot at hearing “The Middle”. So I guess it’s got to be that one.

WHO WILL WIN: Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey “The Middle”

Top Selling Song

This is one, then, that seems to require some brain juice to figure out, because merely trying to gauge the popularity of something by its saturation isn’t going to work when someone is making the directed, conscious decision to actually purchase it. My inclination is to say that it’s “Shallow” that is most-purchased 2 and therefore top-selling, but this also may include factors I don’t know. It’s my best guess, anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga, “Shallow”

Top Streaming Song (Audio)

This is almost always Drake, although I do wonder if XXXTentacion’s death got him up there. I know that he was removed from a bunch of playlists, and that Drake was popular enough that his picture was fraudulently applied to playlists on which he did not technically appear 3, but also all of this was right before/right at the beginning of the period of eligibility for all this, so who even knows? In terms of specific songs, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was XXXTentacion, whose song title seems to quote Donald Trump, thus reinforcing that there are like zero reasons to have liked XXXTentacion.

WHO WILL WIN: XXXTentacion, “SAD!”

Top Hot 100 Song

I feel that “Girls Like You” is due for one of these, and that maybe this is the reason why Billboard is so weird about telling people how they land at these decisions, so that they can fudge numbers around if they have to, for variety’s sake 4. So, because I believe this is likely, and because this seems like a good place to do it, I think Maroon 5 is going to get this one.

WHO WILL WIN: Maroon 5, “Girls Like You” (f Cardi B)

Top Gospel Album

Can we, as a culture, really afford not to reward Snoop Dogg for his gospel album? I say we cannot.

WHO WILL WIN: Snoop Dogg & Various Artists, Snoop Dogg Presents the Bible of Love

Top Christian Album

See above w/r/t my opinion here, and also ask me in person sometime about how board-shorted megachurches like Hillsong are Christian Scientology.

WHO WILL WIN: Lauren Daigle, “Look Up Child”

Top Dance/Electronic Album

Every year I see a category like this and I wonder who’s listening to these entire albums. Like, who is hearing these singles and thinking “I definitely need more of this?” Not dance music generally, I listen to plenty of that in many forms, but these specific albums? It’s one area where my usual ability to allow people to just have their tastes and not have to explain them fails me. Who is buying a Kygo record? Who is pulling up an entire Major Lazer album up on Apple Music and playing it through? If you are one of these people, feel free to let me know.

WHO WILL WIN: Probably The Chainsmokers, if only because even though they’re world-class awful, I can kind of imagine listening to an entire album after hearing one of their singles, I guess. This is probably my worst, most-unfounded prediction. Or, at least, this is the first of my terrible, unfounded predictions that may turn out to be the worst one.

Top Latin Album

At least we’re back into music I can understand. Kind of.

WHO WILL WIN: J. Balvin, “Vibras”

Top Rock Album

I do not admire much about the Dave Matthews Band, but I can sort of appreciate that their fanbase is big enough to get them on this list of nominations, even for a record I had literally zero awareness of, many years past the time when they were huge. Good job, DMB fans. Now shut up about your stupid band.

WHO WILL WIN: Imagine Dragons, Origins. I mean, I admire that the Dave People got the album up there, but I still don’t think it was in the same league, bigness-wise.

Top Country Album

One of the reasons that I chose to do this this way, as stated above, instead my usual decisions about which is the best is that I can say something different in some of these categories where it’s just hte same four people over and over again. It helps, but man, there are even fewer ways to say “Dan + Shay have a bunch of hits and they all come from one album, so that one”. I guess that’s the only time I’ve said that. I sighed anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: Dan + Shay, Dan + Shay

Top Rap Album

So it’s definitely the record-breaking Scorpion, which frees me to make the following observation: on Billboard’s website, they put album titles in quotation marks, instead of italicizing them, or even underlining them, as one would before italics were trivially easy to land on. This drives me crazy, and if anyone knows enough about the history of Billboard to inform me as to how their house style landed on “everything in quotation marks,” I would appreciate being educated in this regard.

WHO WILL WIN: Drake, Scorpion

Top R&B Album

Aw, hell, maybe this is the one XXXTentacion would get. I think it’s still Khalid, but this is harder than I thought it would be.

WHO WILL WIN: Khalid, American Teen

Top Soundtrack

So year-in and year-out one of the things that people can’t seem to stop loving is soundtracks, which actually makes this more difficult. Albums are a rare beast in the listening environment – lots of people don’t actually listen to them. So trying to evaluate which of these will have streamed/sold more copies than others is kind of hard. It’s probably A Star is Born, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also Bohemian Rhapsody.

WHO WILL WIN: A Star is Born

Top Billboard 200 Album

I think it’s probably still Scorpion, even though it should be Invasion of Privacy. I’m inspired by this to see if there’s any way to examine singles-listening vs. album-listening business in 2019. I suspect that there is not, as if there were it would be touted, and we wouldn’t have the tortuous, ridiculous “album-equivalent streams” business, and it wouldn’t be so easy to game the tallies by releasing albums with a billion tracks on them. But I don’t know for sure.

WHO WILL WIN: Drake, Scorpion

Top Gospel Artist

Again, it’s got to be Kirk Franklin, right?

WHO WILL WIN: Kirk Franklin

Top Christian Artist

Since I’m just going to type “Lauren Daigle” after the colon here, I’ll use this space to say that the artist categories are the things I was thinking of when I decided to try to predict this tuff. Singles are easy – you hear them or you don’t. Albums are a little trickier, if only because you can try to aggregate how much the singles come together and apply it, but the acknowledgment should be made that people listen to albums and individual songs differently and for different reasons, even at the casual “just plug it in and go” level. Artist, though, that’s a pretty tough thing to figure out, and could very well involve parts of the catalog that aren’t directly under the umbrella of the current release window, which is interesting, if nothing else. Anyway, I don’t know anything about any of these people, so on to the scheduled proclamation.

WHO WILL WIN: Lauren Daigle

Top Dance/Electronic Artist

See, this is what I mean: I think it’s probably Marshmello, who has been responsible for/collaborative in many things that I have heard a bunch, even if they didn’t rise to the individual heights of some of the other people in this category, who are further nominated in other categories. So I think it’s Marshmello, despite him not having the same level of “hit” as, say, The Chainsmokers.

WHO WILL WIN: Marshmello

Top Latin Artist

The “artist” categories are probably also where they take into account features, which makes this more likely to be J Balvin than anything else.


Top Rock Tour

I think the only one that came through Cleveland was U2? This is a bad thing to base this on as 1) I have no idea if I’m right or not and 2) that probably doesn’t mean anything. But that’s what I have to go on here.

WHO WILL WIN: U2, although possibly also Elton John

Top Rock Artist

I will confess to not making purely prognosticatory gestures here – I’m sure that Panic! At the Disco is going to win one of these things, and they are the worst of the bands here by a significant measure. So I’m going to say this is probably Queen and hope that I’m right, because I flatly refuse to acknowledge the continued existence of Panic! At the Disco.


Top Country Tour

The tour categories leave me hamstrung, because even when I listen to the act in question 5, it’s not anything I go out of my way to see live, or even make any real attempt to notice. Like, never. So I guess it’s probably Shania Twain, because the nostalgia circuit is big money.

WHO WILL WIN: Shania Twain

Top Country Duo/Group

Poor Old Dominion. Are they here because Billboard has to nominate three people? I bet that’s why. Awww.

WHO WILL WIN: Dan + Shay

Top Country Female Artist

This one pretty much has to be Maren Morris, unless the Billboard folks somehow take into account critical acclaim and previous awards granted, in which case it would go to Kacey Musgraves. But they probably don’t, so it probably won’t.

WHO WILL WIN: Maren Morris

Top Country Male Artist

Given that it takes a pretty hard familiarity to even tell these people apart 6, I would wager that someone has gone to see one of these people thinking it was the other. That probably muddies the water somewhat, but I suppose it’s impossible for Billboard to have an “intent” metric. Ah, well.

WHO WILL WIN: Jason Aldean

Top Country Artist

So earlier I proposed that the artist categories included features for people that have feature credits. I don’t suppose that it matters to the artist in question if their most recent chart-topping dominance was as the result of a feature (i.e. Florida Georgia Line during the period of eligibility), but I myself think that it should matter. That said, much like with the Maroon 5 decision above, I feel that it’s likely that Billboard will see fit to honor Florida Georgia Line somehow, and that Bebe Rexha will probably be in attendance since she comes to seemingly every single awards show, so it’ll probably be them.

WHO WILL WIN: Florida Georgia Line

Top Rap Tour

There are some of these that are pretty open-and-shut, and thus don’t require much by way of commentary.

WHO WILL WIN: Beyonce & Jay-Z

Top Rap Female Artist

There are many ways in which the Cardi v. Nicki feud comes down in Nicki’s favor. Nearly all of the ways, in fact. Except this one, the measure of raw sales and popularity over the course of the last year or so.


Top Rap Male Artist

I actually find it hard to register the relative popularity of Drake vs. Post Malone. Part of the reason that I used to enjoy Drake’s music 7, and Post Malone is the most famous avatar of an idiom (the post-Young Thug post-soundcloud post-mumblecore emo-semi-rap thing that has taken over the radio) that I find literally impossible to enjoy. I have no idea why it’s happening or what people see in it. So it might be Post Malone, I guess, but I genuinely don’t really know.

WHO WILL WIN: Post Malone

Top Rap Artist

This one is made easier by the ubiquity of the music of Cardi B, so I don’t even have to try to engage with Post Malone. Yay for not having to engage with Post Malone!


Top R&B Tour

There are some of these that are pretty open-and-shut, and thus don’t require much by way of commentary.

WHO WILL WIN: Beyonce & Jay-Z

Top R&B Female Artist

I feel like someone is trying super-hard to make H.E.R. happen. I mean, I like the music just fine, such as it is, but I also feel a real marketing-push aspect of this whole thing that I think is kind of weird 8. Anyway, she didn’t sell as much or do as much as Ella Mai, so that’s probably where it goes.


Top R&B Male Artist

It’s pretty much got to be Khalid.


Top R&B Artist

You know, Khalid is in the video for that one Ella Mai song. He’s not, like, pointed out or anything, and I don’t think he has anything to do with the song. I find that charming, although I don’t necessarily know why. Anyway, it’s probably Khalid again. That dude moved units.


Top Touring Artist

There are some of these that are pretty open-and-shut, and thus don’t require much by way of commentary.

WHO WILL WIN: Beyonce & Jay-Z

Top Social Artist

I say the same thing every year, in every awards show with this category, and it is still basically the only thing that I will say: BTS’s social media fanbase created the BTS phenomenon basically in and of itself, and that is impressive 9.


Top Radio Songs Artist

Oof. How the hell does anybody know what’s on the radio?

WHO WILL WIN: Ariana Grande, since I hear her most of the times I’m near a radio.

Top Song Sales Artist

Actually buying songs skews older, and Lady Gaga’s fanbase skews older, so my (admittedly very basic) calculus suggests that this one is Lady Gaga’s to go home with.


Top Streaming Songs Artist

I’m pretty sure it’s still Drake. Somehow, here in the darkest timeline, it’s still fucking Drake.


Top Hot 100 Artist

So the Hot 100 is for the performance of individual songs, which implies to me that the things that are taken into account related to the chart performance of every song that an artist has had hit the Hot 100 in the period of eligibility. That means it’s probably Cardi B, but it also makes this a real hair-splitter when taken against the “top song” categories and the “top artist” categories which, between the two of them, are probably measuring the same thing. I am left with the belief that Billboard somehow thinks it is more important to give away as many trophies as possible. This is a silly enough position that I find it entertaining. They should advertise this! “We gave away over three actual tons of hardware at the last awards ceremony!” It would be great.


Top Billboard 200 Artist

This one is for albums in the same sense as the Hot 100 one is for songs. It seems to make more sense, I suppose, but since each artist here only has one album in the eligibility period 10, I’m unsure why it has the same utility, which makes it actually make less sense, except if you subscribe to my “as many trophies as possible” theory.


Top Duo/Group

I don’t know anything about BTS’s sales figures or chart performance, which is interesting. I presume it matters, but they’re in this category and not any of the other ones, which seems to imply to me that there is a part of the decision-making algorithm that I just don’t know about. Nevertheless, they’re here, and not anywhere else, so the two options are that there is some sort of nebulous factor to this category that means they’re definitely going to win, or they’re just nominated so they’ll show up. Either way, it seems like they could win.


Top Female Artist

Halsey is in a similar boat to BTS, although in her case I come down more on the side of just getting her to show up to the thing. The same here is also true of Taylor Swift who had very little chart presence (relative to other periods in Taylor Swift’s career), but she’s announced some thing (or will have announced it later on the day this posted, if you’re reading it right away), and the Billboard awards might be an opportunity to promote whatever that is. Anyway, it’s probably Cardi B again, but the top artist categories are obviously a clearinghouse for getting names on the docket.


Top Male Artist

Maybe they can dump BTS, Taylor Swift, Halsey and Ed Sheeran into the “Top Artist Who Didn’t Actually Do Much But We Probably Owe Something To Anyway” category. That would give them another trophy to hand out! They love handing out trophies!

WHO WILL WIN: Post Malone

Billboard Chart Achievement Award

I have no idea what this means, unless it’s a “Miscellaneous” category, which would really give the lie to all the other explanations for all the other categories that don’t make any sense I’ve been forced to come up with. I will genuinely assume that this is here to catch anyone who didn’t, algorithmically, manage to qualify for any of the other awards in this here competition, but whom they wanted to present a trophy to anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: Dua Lipa, for reasons I’ll outline below.

Top New Artist

So the winner is probably Ella Mai, who had a giant hit and stuff. It might be Dua Lipa, but that’s why I think Dua Lipa wins the “miscellaneous” category above, since she’s only this and the previous category, and manged to have a whole slew of relatively-minor hits. That’s my prediction.


Top Artist

I feel like Ariana Grande is kind of being shorted here. In my predictions, I mean, not in the awards show. She’s probably due more of these than I think she is, because her singing voice induces panic in me and I can’t stand hearing it. So I’ll say she deserves this one, even though it’s probably the worst prediction I’m making, mainly because going back and reconsidering all of these to figure out which ones would be different if I didn’t actively choose to avoid this music at basically all costs seems like a lot of unpleasant work. I guess I can’t not bring my tastes to bear somewhat.

WHO WILL WIN: Ariana Grande

  1. that is to say, I play songs on both Spotify and YouTube, but I do so by choosing which songs, and very rarely let Spotify tell me what to listen to next. 
  2. although the Billboard people are cagey about that being the only requirement, which is why I’m not just going and looking at sales figures, although I did do so. 
  3. a tactic also used by Marvel comics with Wolverine in the nineties. 
  4. I mean, Cardi B is still on it, but hey, at least they’d get to say another name I guess. 
  5. which, in this category, isn’t any of them, but it applies to the other tour categories. 
  6. Except visually, I guess – they don’t look much like each other 
  7. or, stated more accurately, I do enjoy some of the music that Drake made previously 
  8. the word count of this thing is already pretty high, so I won’t take the opportunity to go into the situation of things being marketed and all that except to say that, yeah, I know that all of this is here because of and for the purpose of marketing, but it becomes apparent when the attempt to make the thing big so oustrips the bigness of the thing, and leave it at that. 
  9. it also gives support to the idea that ground-level support is still the best way to do things, and that it can still create a genuine phenomenon when it’s engaged, a thing that the record-selling industry manages to miss at pretty much every turn. 
  10. and I would imagine that circumstances that are otherwise are pretty dang rare 

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