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Grammys: Who Will Win This Year? Predictions From a Six-Time Grammy Winner

How does the process work, anyway?

Malcolm Venable

Taylor Swift's 1989 was the best-selling album of 2014, with more than 3.6 million copies moved. But despite allowing Swift to complete her (seemingly) effortless transition from country singer to pop sensation, it won't be enough to stop hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar from sweeping this year's Grammy Awards, according to an industry expert.

Harvey Mason Jr., a six-time Grammy award-winning songwriter, record producer and film producer, has worked on albums for Elton John, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber and Britney Spears. He was also the music producer for NBC's The Wiz Live! This, he says, is Kendrick's year. The rapper has racked up 11 nominations, putting him just one shy of Michael Jackson's record for the most nominations in one night. (The late singer got 12 nominations for Thriller.)

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So what goes into these nominations anyway? It has nothing to do with fame, album sales, social media followers or, in the case of Lamar, what some consider his snub in 2014 (when even multiple-winner Macklemore suggested he was robbed). The Grammy voting process is pretty rigorous and scientific, with votes from more than 20,000 people - including engineers, writers, artists, musicians and industry insiders - who have the six credits required to cast a ballot. "That balance is how we get such a diverse pool," Mason says. "That's why surprises happen, when you mix longstanding people with newcomers. The academy takes a lot of pride in making sure all genres are represented."

Ahead of Sunday's ceremony, Mason broke down the process - and who/what he thinks are the likely winners in 10 important categories, plus one that he's particularly invested in. (Ed. note: these are Mason's professional predictions, not personal choices.) On to the categories!

*Mason's pick

Record of the Year

"Really Love," D'Angelo and The Vanguard

*"Uptown Funk," Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars

"Thinking Out Loud," Ed Sheeran

"Blank Space," Taylor Swift

"Can't Feel My Face," The Weeknd

This category, Mason says, is about overall production, writing, performance, mixing - you name it. With that in mind, "I have to say "Uptown Funk," Mason says, calling the ubiquitous song "the biggest event record on the list. It carried the year at radio. It was kind of an anthem for summer. It really made an impression. Everybody knows the song."

Album of the Year

Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes

*To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

Traveller, Chris Stapleton

1989, Taylor Swift

Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd

This one is a tough toss-up between Pimp and 1989, Mason says, but he's leaning towards Kendrick -- even though his perceived snub isn't a factor. "That's well-known in the hip-hop community, but in the voting academy we just look at the quality of the music," he says. "[To Pimp a Butterfly] is produced like a classic record - it's really well done and you can tell a lot of care went into that record."

Song of the Year (name listed is performer)

"Alright," Kendrick Lamar

"Blank Space," Taylor Swift

*"Girl Crush," Little Big Town

"See You Again," Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth

"Thinking Out Loud," Ed Sheeran

This award is, as the title indicates, about the quality of the actual songwriting. "I'm going with "Girl Crush" as the upset," Mason says.

Best Pop Solo Performance

"Heartbeat Song," Kelly Clarkson

"Love Me Like You Do," Ellie Goulding

*"Thinking Out Loud," Ed Sheeran

"Blank Space," Taylor Swift

"Can't Feel My Face," The Weeknd

"Either 'Thinking Out Loud' or 'I Can't Feel My Face,'" Mason says. This award is based on delivery, i.e. if the audience is "invested in the song because of the way the artist is delivering it - if they do the best possible job at capturing listeners." He's leaning towards Sheeran.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

"Ship To Wreck," Florence & The Machine

"Sugar," Maroon 5

"Uptown Funk," Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars

*"Bad Blood," Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar

"See You Again," Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth

"I would go with 'See You Again,'" Mason says. "As [a] duo performance you're also looking at interplay with the two artists. The casting between the two, does it work? Did it feel like it flowed? Did you buy into the performance of the duo or group?" For instance, although "Uptown Funk" includes Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars owns it. This one comes down to Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar, Mason says, or Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth. "Both performances were amazing. It's probably Taylor and Kendrick, but Wiz Khalifa could be the upset."

Best Pop Vocal Album

Piece By Piece, Kelly Clarkson

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence & The Machine

Uptown Special, Mark Ronson

*1989, Taylor Swift

Before This World, James Taylor

Taylor Swift, hands down. Here, the category is about every song on the album as part of a whole body of work. "She's had so many songs off that album," Mason says. "Great songwriting, production, singing. It's just an awesome record. If it doesn't win, it's crazy."

Best Rap Performance

"Apparently," J. Cole

"Back To Back," Drake

"Trap Queen," Fetty Wap

*"Alright," Kendrick Lamar

"Truffle Butter," Nicki Minaj feat. Drake, Lil Wayne

"All Day," Kanye West feat. Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and Paul McCartney

This category is unique this year with six nominees; five is the norm, which means there's an exact tie in the mix. As with pop performance, rap performance is about the song being engaging enough to entrance the listener. "That goes to Kendrick," Mason says.

Best Rap Song (name listed is performer)

"All Day," Kanye West feat. Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and Paul McCartney

*"Alright," Kendrick Lamar

"Energy," Drake

*"Glory," Common and John Legend

"Trap Queen," Fetty Wap

"That's a tough one," Mason says. "Glory has legs because of all the visibility from award shows." (The song won several prizes last year, including an Oscar and Golden Globe, but was ineligible for the 2015 Grammys because of an early voting deadline.) It's Kendrick or Common here.

Best Rap Album

2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole

Compton, Dr. Dre

If You're Reading This It's Too Late, Drake

*To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

The Pinkprint, Nicki Minaj

Kendrick again. "You have to listen to all the songs," Mason says. "You consider it one body of work, from production to writing to concept of the record. To me, that album top to bottom is really awesome."

Best New Artist

Courtney Barnett

*James Bay

Sam Hunt

Tori Kelly

*Meghan Trainor

"It feels like Meghan or James Bay has the most buzz," Mason says. "However, Tori is a dark horse. Voters know she is one of the most talented singers to come along in a long time. She hasn't had her huge moment yet musically, so that's working against her, but you never know. I would say, though, it will go to Meghan or James."

And finally...the award Mason is up for, as a producer on Pitch Perfect 2:

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

Empire Season 1, Various

Fifty Shades Of Grey, Various

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, Various

*Pitch Perfect 2, Various

Selma, Various

"I would like the winner to be Pitch Perfect 2 for sure," Mason says, to no one's surprise. "Fifty Shades is a great compilation - I think that'll be the competition." Here, voters are considering how much they've heard of these soundtracks before voting, and unlike Fifty Shades, Pitch Perfect 2 didn't have hit singles. That said, it's still judged as a thematic concept, which makes it a toss-up between the two.

Mason will be at the ceremony, but what happens after the show depends on how Best Compilation Soundtrack shakes out. "I'll be going to after parties, or going home to cry," he says.

Who are your picks to win?

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