I don’t know why it is that I spend time every year thinking about who will win at the Grammy Awards. They never get anything right, and mostly provide an excuse for industry insiders to congratulate each other. Even last year, when they showed signs of something resembling relevance by nominating Lil Wayne and Radiohead in the top categories, they ultimately fell back on the safest choice imaginable (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Starbucks favorite Raising Sand). But no matter how little stock we should realistically put into these things, they never fail as conversation starters, and it’s endlessly fun to try to predict the exact ways in which the voters will get it wrong. This year, the major subplot is Kanye West’s unofficial blacklisting, a precaution taken to prevent any “I’mma Let You Finish” moments–in other words, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences are doing everything in their power to ensure that, unlike the VMA’s, everybody will forget about the Grammys in two days. This will probably result in a very good night for Taylor Swift and a disappointing one for anybody who’s expecting to have stuff to talk about the next day. But for what it’s worth, here are a few of my predictions for some of the major categories.
Nominees: Beyonce – “Halo”; Black Eyed Peas – “I Gotta Feeling”; Kings of Leon – “Use Somebody”; Lady GaGa – “Poker Face”; Taylor Swift – “You Belong With Me”
This is all Kanye’s fault. The Grammys love to make political statements with certain awards, but only when the public is already on their side. Remember when the Dixie Chicks ran the table in 2007? The voters would never have dared give them the big awards when the backlash about Natalie Maines’ Bush-bashing comments from the rest of the country-music world was in full force. But once Dubya’s approval rating was safely in the mid-20s? No problem. That’s why Taylor Swift is going to clean up at the Grammys this year. The list of nominees for all of the big categories is fairly weak this year anyway, with Lady GaGa being clearly deserving, but the voters will be hard-pressed to pass up the public goodwill that will come with rewarding the sweet and innocent 19-year-old country singer that big bully Kanye embarrassed at the VMAs. Great job, Yeezy.
Should Win: Lady GaGa
Will Win: Taylor Swift
Nominees: Beyonce – I Am…Sasha Fierce; Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D.; Lady GaGa – The Fame; Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King; Taylor Swift – Fearless
The DMB nomination has to be a makeup gift to fans for the Grammy producers forgetting to put the group’s sax player, LeRoi Moore, in the “In Memoriam” section of the 2009 show. That’s the only way I could explain Big Whiskey as the token safe, inoffensive rock choice. I was mildly shocked not to see U2 or Springsteen get the nod. Maybe the voters figured that would be too predictable–although when Dave Matthews is your definition of a curveball, you’re not exactly on the cutting edge of current musical trends. Normally DMB would be the favorites to win this one, because the Grammys have a tendency to give this award to the album by an established name that nobody actually listened to when it was released (see also: Herbie Hancock, Robert Plant/Alison Krauss). If only Taylor Swift had been allowed to give her VMA acceptance speech in peace.
Should Win: Lady GaGa
Will Win: Taylor Swift
Nominees: Beyonce – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”; Kings of Leon – “Use Somebody”; Lady GaGa – “Poker Face”; Maxwell – “Pretty Wings”; Taylor Swift – “You Belong With Me”
I have this weird fantasy that Beyonce and Taylor Swift will share one of the major awards, causing Kanye’s head to explode. If I had to put money on his reaction, I’d have to guess that he would break into the Staples Center and declare that Maxwell was robbed. Or, more likely he’d just voice his displeasure at the decision in a caps-locked blog post, which would be more practical but also have less of a chance of deciding next year’s Billboard Music Awards the way the VMAs are deciding this year’s Grammys.
Should Win: Lady GaGa
Will Win: Taylor Swift
Nominees: Zac Brown Band, Keri Hilson, MGMT, Silversun Pickups, The Ting Tings
So Lady GaGa isn’t allowed to be considered for this category because she had a single nominated last year, but Silversun Pickups are when their most well-known song, the one that’s been featured in Guitar Hero, is on an album that was released in 2006? Not sure how that one works. Regardless, this award belongs to MGMT.
Should Win: MGMT
Will Win: MGMT
Nominees: Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D.; Colbie Callait – Breakthrough; Kelly Clarkson – All I Ever Wanted; The Fray – The Fray; Pink – Funhouse
These are all pretty safe choices. Pink always does well at awards shows, Kelly Clarkson is arguably the most successful American Idol winner of all time (only Carrie Underwood can even be included in that discussion), the Fray are popular with people who watch Grey’s Anatomy, and Colbie Callait is popular with people who find Jack Johnson too hard-edged. But there’s no competition here–the Black Eyed Peas take over the world for an entire summer every two years, and this summer was no different. Everybody was just as annoyed by “I Gotta Feeling” and “Boom Boom Pow” as they were by “My Humps,” “Where is the Love,” and “Let’s Get it Started.” Which means there’s no way Fergie, Will.i.am, and company don’t win this.
Should Win: Kelly Clarkson
Will Win: Black Eyed Peas
Nominees: The Crystal Method – Divided by Night; David Guetta – One Love; Lady GaGa – The Fame; LMFAO – Party Rock; Pet Shop Boys – Yes
Naming five nominees for this one is nothing more than a formality. Lady GaGa is weird, talented, and ubiquitous enough to have a very real chance of being the new Madonna, and that’s not an exaggeration. She should by all rights be sweeping the big three, but those hopes were, ironically enough, dashed by her would-be tour partner. Give yourself a hand, Kanye.
Should Win: Lady GaGa
Will Win: Lady GaGa
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance
Nominees: Bob Dylan – “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'”; John Fogerty – “Change in the Weather”; Prince – “Dreamer”; Bruce Springsteen – “Working on a Dream”; Neil Young – “Fork in the Road”
Yup, nobody under 50 in this category. If the Grammy voters want to know why nobody takes them seriously, it’s stuff like this. This is conservative even by their standards. Even someone like John Mayer would at least give the illusion that they were trying to stay current. Neil Young’s electric car concept album is represented on here? Really? I’d be shocked if Springsteen doesn’t walk away with this one. Being discovered by a rock critic who later becomes your manager has its advantages when it comes to these things.
Should Win: Dylan
Will Win: Springsteen
Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal
Nominees: Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood – “Can’t Find My Way Home”; Coldplay – “Life in Technicolor II”; Green Day – “21 Guns”; Kings of Leon – “Use Somebody”; U2 – “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”
Four of these are reasonable (if extremely predictable) choices given the voters’ tendencies, and I wouldn’t hate to see any of them win. But they’ve already tipped their hand by including a live version by of a song originally released in 1969. There’s no reason Clapton and Winwood should be nominated unless they’re going to win. Otherwise, why not give the fifth spot to Phoenix or something?
Should Win: Coldplay
Will Win: Clapton/Winwood
Nominees: Green Day – “21 Guns”; Kings of Leon – “Use Somebody”; Pearl Jam – “The Fixer”; Bruce Springsteen – “Working on a Dream”; U2 – “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”
Rock Grammys 101 right here. A couple of Rolling Stone-friendly legends, a couple of ’90s vets, and one very safe current choice. “The Fixer” is the best song of the five, but nobody’s actually cared about Pearl Jam for at least a decade. The Boss adds yet another trophy to his collection.
Should Win: Pearl Jam
Will Win: Springsteen
Nominees: AC/DC – Black Ice; Eric Clapton & Steve Winwwod – Live From Madison Square Garden; Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown; Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King; U2 – No Line on the Horizon
Absolutely shocked that Springsteen isn’t nominated here. My guess is that the voters know that they are contractually obligated to give this award to the “rock” representative on the Album of the Year list (meaning that Kanye’s transgressions won’t force Dave to go home empty-handed), but they are also contractually obligated to give Bruce any award he’s nominated for, so they just decided to cut their losses and spread the love a little bit. Again, Dave Matthews is their idea of “diversifying.”
Should Win: Green Day
Will Win: DMB
Nominees: David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today; Death Cab for Cutie – The Open Door; Depeche Mode – Sounds of the Universe; Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
I’m a little bit surprised that the two albums from 2009 most frequently acclaimed by websites like this one, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, were passed over. I guess an EP of Death Cab B-sides was more deserving (another notable omission: The Dead Weather’s Horehound–Jack White usually gets a reasonable amount of Grammy love). They could do worse than to give it to any of these five, but the two clear favorites are French garage-rockers Phoenix and New York art-punks Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The “Should Win” and “Will Win” selections below are essentially interchangeable.
Should Win: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Will Win: Phoenix
Nominees: Drake – “Best I Ever Had”; Eminem – “Beautiful”; Jay-Z – “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”; Kid Cudi – “Day N’ Nite”; Mos Def – “Casa Bey”
Mainstream hip-hop has been in somewhat of a holding pattern for the last several years. It’s nice to see Mos Def get love, but the rest of these are pretty underwhelming. Jay-Z or Eminem will probably win–at this point, they’re the U2 and Bruce Springsteen of the rap categories.
Should Win: “Casa Bey”
Will Win: “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”
Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group
Nominees: Beastie Boys & Nas – “Too Many Rappers”; Eminem, Dr. Dre & 50 Cent – “Crack a Bottle”; Fabolous & Jay-Z – “Money Goes, Honey Stay”; Kid Cudi, Kanye West & Common – “Make Her Say”; Kanye West & Young Jeezy – “Amazing”
See above–Eminem’s got this. What, did you think they were going to give it to Kanye?
Should Win: “Amazing”
Will Win: “Crack a Bottle”
Nominees: Beyonce & Kanye West – “Ego”; Keri Hilson, Kanye West & Ne-Yo – “Knock You Down”; Jay-Z, Kanye West & Rihanna – “Run This Town”; The Lonely Island & T-Pain – “I’m On a Boat”; T.I. & Justin Timberlake – “Dead and Gone”
I’m not gonna lie, a victory for “I’m On a Boat” in this category would almost absolve the Grammys of all Jethro Tull-over-Metallica-related crimes of decades past. This is one of those awards that inexplicably gets presented during the live telecast even though it’s about the 40th-most significant Grammy. Maybe they’ve been setting up an Andy Samberg/T-Pain joint acceptance speech since this category was created. Keep your eye on this one–odds are it’ll be the only award Kanye West wins. Given the circumstances behind Kanye’s exile from this year’s show, a win for “Ego” is almost worth hoping for, on the off chance that Taylor Swift rushes the stage to declare that T.I. and Justin Timberlake created one of the best rap/sung collaboration of all time. “Run This Town” is the safe bet, because the Grammys like Jay and Rihanna more than they hate Kanye.
Should Win: “I’m On a Boat”
Will Win: “Run This Town”
Nominees: Drake – “Best I Ever Had”; Jay-Z – “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”; Jay-Z, Kanye West & Rihanna – “Run This Town”; Kid Cudi – “Day N’ Nite”; T.I. & Justin Timberlake – “Dead and Gone”
This slate makes me wish the Grammys would be more like the Oscars and wait until the end of the calendar year to release the nominations. Jay-Z had released two singles from Blueprint 3 before the August 31 cutoff date, but the album itself didn’t come out until early September, which means it will inevitably get the U2 treatment and be nominated in a bunch of categories two years in a row. Blueprint 3 is one of Jay’s weakest albums and doesn’t even deserve to get nominated in a bunch of categories one year. Regardless, “D.O.A.” and “Run This Town” will split the Hov vote, clearing the way for Jimmy from DeGrassi: The Next Generation to take this one.
Should Win: “Day N’ Nite”
Will Win: “Best I Ever Had”
Nominees: Common – Universal Mind Control; Eminem – “Relapse”; Flo-Rida – R.O.O.T.S.; Mos Def – The Ecstatic; Q-Tip – The Renaissance
This is really bad. I guess the voters thought that nominating Common would give them underground cred, and maybe it would have in 1995. But Common now has Coke commercials and a Jonas Brothers collaboration under his belt, so I guess Universal Mind Control is a perfect fit for a Grammy-nominated album. Eminem wins this one as a lifetime-achievement award.
Should Win: Mos Def
Will Win: Eminem
Nominees: Bob Dylan – Together Through Life; Levon Helm – Electric Dirt; Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel – Willie & The Wheel; Wilco – Wilco (The Album); Lucinda Williams – Little Honey
It’s a little bit odd that the voters stuck Dylan and Wilco into this little-talked-about category. Wouldn’t have made more sense to put Dylan up for Best Rock Album instead of the Clapton/Winwood live album and Wilco up for Best Alternative Album instead of the Death Cab outtakes EP? That way, they wouldn’t have to snub their beloved Lucinda Williams here.
Should Win: Bob Dylan
Will Win: Wilco