The Grammy Awards shocked the public last year by giving Album of the Year to Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, which spawned not only widespread confusion from the public (searching “who is arcade fire” on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the ceremony provided comedy for days), but countless think-pieces on blogs like this one about the Grammys’ sudden hipness.
All of that goes out the window this year. The nominees for the major awards are as safe as you could ever imagine they’d be, and the announced performances aren’t much better. There are a few reliable names slated to appear (Adele should kill, and Bruce Springsteen will use the aftermath of Arcade Fire’s victory to premiere his new single, which sounds an awful lot like Arcade Fire). But many of the big names are being shoehorned into disjointed collaborations. This is a tradition that has produced some of the most memorable Grammy performances (Eminem and Elton John, Kanye West and Daft Punk, Gorillaz and Madonna, Moby and Jill Scott), but none of this year’s offerings feel organic on paper. A “celebration of electronic music” featuring Deadmau5, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and David Guetta is fine, throwing the Foo Fighters in too? Is there any way that won’t be terrible? Ditto the Beach Boys, Foster the People, and Maroon 5—it’s bad enough that Mick co-signed “Moves Like Jagger.” Does Brian Wilson have to also?
But of course, we’ll all watch it, and get way too worked up about the winners. And speaking of which:
Record of the Year
Nominees: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”; Bon Iver, “Holocene”; Bruno Mars, “Grenade”; Mumford & Sons, “The Cave”; Katy Perry, “Firework”
Should Win: “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s not just that the rest of these are pretty whatever—Adele’s song is legitimately great.
Will Win: “Rolling in the Deep” is this year’s “Hey Ya!” It’s inconceivable that any of these nominees could beat it.
Album of the Year
Nominees: Adele, 21; Foo Fighters, Wasting Light; Bruno Mars, Doo Wops & Hooligans; Lady Gaga, Born This Way; Rihanna, LOUD
Should Win: Gaga, but I’m not thrilled about that pick. Give the Grammys credit at least for avoiding the most obvious, played-out narrative they could have possibly pushed with this category. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Taylor Swift’s Speak Now were both released late enough in 2010 to be in the window of eligibility for the 2012 ceremony. Nominating both would have been the easiest way to generate ratings and buzz. So while Dark Twisted Fantasy is head and shoulders above any album on this list (or any of the last several years’ nominees, for that matter), I’ll take Kanye getting snubbed and avoiding warmed-over VMA drama over his getting nominated with that baggage.
Will Win: Adele. Because obviously.
Song of the Year
Nominees: Kanye West, “All of the Lights”; Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”; Mumford & Sons, “The Cave”; Bon Iver, “Holocene”; Bruno Mars, “Grenade”
Should Win: “All of the Lights,” Kanye’s only nod in the big three categories.
Will Win: “Rolling in the Deep” is such a sure thing here that nominating anything else is superfluous.
Best New Artist
Nominees: Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Skrillex, Bon Iver, The Band Perry
Should Win: Bon Iver, which is stupid because he’s been not only active but also pretty damn critically acclaimed since 2008. But quibbling with the Grammys’ definition of “Best New Artist” is pointless—everyone knows it really means “Best Artist We’ve Heard Of for the First Time This Year.” These nominees are so dire that I can’t even bring myself to make a case for any of the others.
Will Win: The Band Perry. Country acts have a way of winning this award.
Best Rock Album
Nominees: Foo Fighters, Wasting Light; Wilco, The Whole Love; Jeff Beck, Rock & Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul); Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown; Red Hot Chili Peppers, I’m With You
Should Win: Wilco, who honestly could have had a shot at being a sleeper Album of the Year nominee if the Grammys hadn’t decided they’d used up their adventurousness quota for the decade by giving last year’s top award to Arcade Fire. The Foo Fighters being the token rock nominee is sort of baffling—the Chili Peppers haven’t put out an album in longer and Kings of Leon have more name ID in Middle America. Wasting Light is a good record, just like every other Foo Fighters record, but whose favorite album was it? Whose favorite band is the Foo Fighters? They’re the definition of a band everyone likes but nobody loves.
Will Win: Jeff Beck, because this is the Grammys and they’re legally required to give at least one relatively major award per year to a dinosaur.
Best Rock Song
Nominees: Mumford & Sons, “The Cave”; The Decemberists, “Down by the Water”; Radiohead, “Lotus Flower”; Coldplay, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”; Foo Fighters, “Walk”
Should Win: Radiohead, easily. However you felt about The King of Limbs (and my “Should Win” for Best Alternative Album below might be pretty unpopular with a large part of this site’s readership), “Lotus Flower” is one of their all-time great songs, and one of Thom Yorke’s all-time great vocal performances.
Will Win: Coldplay. They’re performing with Rihanna and they’re not nominated for anything else of consequence.
Best Alternative Album
Nominees: Radiohead, The King of Limbs; Foster the People, Torches; Bon Iver, Bon Iver, Bon Iver; Death Cab for Cutie, Codes & Keys; My Morning Jacket, Circuital
Should Win: Radiohead. For whatever reason, people decided The King of Limbs wasn’t good, seemingly because they were expecting it to be followed up by a Part 2 that the band gave no indication existed. I don’t get it, but I also don’t get Bon Iver.
Will Win: Foster the People. Bon Iver would be a lock for this one at the very least, except he and the Grammys aren’t exactly on great terms lately. So it’ll go to the album with “Pumped Up Kicks.” And then Foster the People will be nominated for Best New Artist next year. Because this is the Grammys.
Best Rap Album
Nominees: Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday; Kanye West & Jay-Z, Watch the Throne; Lupe Fiasco, Lasers; Lil Wayne, Tha Carter IV
Should Win: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, by such an absurd margin that any discussion is pointless.
Will Win: Watch the Throne, which would actually be a bigger slap in the face to Kanye than Fantasy’s Album of the Year snub. Not that Watch the Throne isn’t a fine album, and it’s exponentially better than any of the other nominees (Lasers being mentioned in the same sentence as “best” anything should be an arrestable offense), but the other disc up for the award with Kanye’s name on it is a pantheon album. It would be a little like giving an award to Planet Waves if Blood on the Tracks was one of the other nominees.
Best Rap Song
Nominees: Kanye West, “All of the Lights”; Wiz Khalifa, “Black and Yellow”; Kanye West & Jay-Z, “Otis”; Lupe Fiasco, “The Show Goes On”; Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, “Look at Me Now”; Dr. Dre featuring Eminem and Skylar Grey, “I Need a Doctor”
Should Win: “Otis,” because there’s a greater-than-zero chance the acceptance speech would feature cameos from Aziz Ansari and/or Blue Ivy Carter.
Will Win: “The Show Goes On.” Lasers is one of the worst albums of all time, but it’s awful in exactly the sort of way that Grammy winners are. They won’t pass Kanye over twice for Best Rap Album, but “The Show Goes On” was used as SportsCenter bumper music for too many months not to take home some hardware.
Best Rap-Sung Collaboration
Nominees: Beyoncé featuring Andre 3000, “Party”; DJ Khaled featuring Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne, “I’m On One”; Dr. Dre featuring Eminem and Skylar Grey, “I Need a Doctor”; Kanye West featuring Rihanna, Kid Cudi, and Fergie, “All of the Lights”; Nicki Minaj featuring Drake, “What’s My Name”; Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, “Look at Me Now”
Should Win: “All of the Lights,” but not nominating The Lonely Island and Michael Bolton’s “Jack Sparrow” is unforgivable.
Will Win: “I Need a Doctor,” because the Grammy voters like to pretend that a) Dr. Dre is still relevant outside of producing overpriced headphones, and b) that Detox is ever coming out.