RECORD OF THE YEAR
"Be Without You," Mary J. Blige
"You're Beautiful," James Blunt
"Not Ready To Make Nice," Dixie Chicks
"Crazy," Gnarls Barkley (Will Win)
"Put Your Records On," Corinne Bailey Rae
Sal Cinquemani: Is there a general consensus in the industry that Mary J. Blige is owed something?
Jonathan Keefe: As though performing on the American Idol finale with that kid People profiled for getting dental veneers (Elliott, lest any of the "Yaminions" send me hate-mail) isn't its own reward.
Eric Henderson: It plays out like so many other music stories: she starts getting props just for hanging around long enough for her music to be vapid and middlebrow.
Sal: "Crazy" is getting lots of AC attention, which means it's reached critical mass-acceptance in the heartland. It's crossed over in a big way.
Eric: Yeah, with the Closet Freak himself singing falsetto and Danger Mouse producing, "Crazy" is simultaneously as cutting edge and as Downy soft as you want it to be. Demographically speaking, it's practically schizo in its appeal. Dixie Chicks are the only potential spoilers, if momentum snowballs their way.
Jonathan: "Crazy" does what "Hey Ya!," "Crazy In Love," and "Work It" before it couldn't, becoming the first crossover pop single that owes a substantial debt to hip-hop to win Record of the Year. Had anything Timbaland produced been nominated, there would've been another one of the vote-splits that have allowed "Clocks," "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," and that comatose Ray Charles/Norah Jones duet to win the last three years. This time, it's the limp AC tracks—which fully covers both Blige and Dixie Chicks, conveniently enough—that split the votes, to the benefit of what happens to be the best "record" of the lot.
Eric: Did they nominate this instantly forgettable Corinne Bailey Rae tune because it validates the category's title, when it would make more sense today to switch it to "Single of the Year" or "Track of the Year"?
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
(Will Win)Taking The Long Way, Dixie Chicks (Will Win)
St. Elsewhere, Gnarls Barkley
Continuum, John Mayer
Stadium Arcadium, Red Hot Chili Peppers
FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake
Sal: Justin's album is the biggest seller here but a sexybacklash—and the fact that the academy hasn't awarded a pop album in this category in a decade—could spoil things for him. He himself said the Chili Peppers will win but I don't see that happening. Chicks with Dix, on the other hand, showed a different (that is, non-narcotic) kind of perseverance and survival, and while they haven't been around as long as Anthony Kiedis's West Coast band, Texas might be ripe for a comeback after everything Bush has done for its image. Now that America has come to its senses perhaps they should re-title this category We're Sorry, You Were Right All Along And Now Here's A Grammy.
Eric: Mary J. Blige is still scowling, somewhere. The only one I can see snatching it away from the Chicks is John Mayer, who seems to win almost every time he gets nominated. "Waiting On The World To Change" might pick up a few anti-Bush votes for those who prefer passive-aggressive political statements.
Jonathan: The easy answer is that the two urban-pop albums by Robin Gibb and Gnarls Barkley (both of which would be deserving winners, incidentally) cancel each other out, as do the dull VH1 rock albums by Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mayer, thereby keeping any one album from acting as a spoiler to The Dixie Chicks' frontrunner status. The more accurate answer is that a vote for The Dixie Chicks is a vote for NARAS themselves, since The Dixie Chicks haven't shut up (and sung) in the last year about wanting anything other than to be validated by openly left-leaning music industry veterans who only like country music when it doesn't sound a damn thing like country music at all because they're better people than those who do like country music. Begging this exact demographic for their approval didn't work for Kanye West last year, but his album wasn't as airquotes important as Taking the Long Way and the election results hadn't yet confirmed that it's safe to give major awards to liberals again.
SONG OF THE YEAR
"Be Without You," Mary J. Blige
"Jesus, Take The Wheel," Carrie Underwood
"Not Ready To Make Nice," Dixie Chicks
"Put Your Records On," Corinne Bailey Rae
"You're Beautiful," James Blunt (Will Win)
Sal: You've got red-state country (Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take The Wheel") vs. blue-state country (Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready To Make Nice"). It's like the '04 election all over again.
Eric: Unless Dixie Chicks win, in which case it's the '06 election all over again.
Sal: People seem to love Mary's single, but a win for that song would be a real slap in the face to Mariah and "We Belong Together," without which "Be Without You" wouldn't be.
Jonathan: True, but does NARAS really feel so bad about slapping Mariah around? But, like Mariah last year, I think Blige will be shut out of the General Field awards.
Eric: The only one I can rule out is Carrie Underwood's, since she had no hand in writing the song. Otherwise, "You're Beautiful" seems like it has the "tomorrow's lounge lizard standards" vibe that seems to win this category so often.
Jonathan: It's impossible to imagine any jazz singers trying to croon "Not Ready to Make Nice" 10 years from now. Add that to the fact that this category hasn't gone to a "country" song since 1982 and has gone to a woman just twice in the last 10 years (Shawn Colvin in 1997 and Alicia Keys in 2001, as Norah Jones didn't write "Don't Know Why"), and Blunt has to be considered the slight favorite.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Corinne Bailey Rae
Carrie Underwood (Will Win)
Sal: I'm a little baffled by Imogen Heap's inclusion here. She's been around since the late '90s, released an album with her band Frou Frou in 2002, and her latest solo record came out during last year's Grammy eligibility period. Still, she probably deserves to win in this lot.
Eric: Not only that, but Carrie Underwood won American Idol the season before last. But it's all part and parcel of the category that, in awards show terms, has about as much relevance as winning Miss Golden Globe.
Jonathan: Underwood is the most likely of the five to maintain a lengthy career, but that doesn't mean she's given any real clues to this point as to the type of "artist" she is beyond "one who can sell 5 million albums that she had a minimal amount of creative input in crafting." Even though part of me thinks that they might as well just give the Grammy to Simon Cowell for recognizing exactly how marketable Underwood is, I still think she'll take this one. Imogen Heap can take consolation in being able to do this.
Sal: Let's see how a Grammy nomination and inevitable mainstream attention will ruin that kind of talent.
BEST FEMALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE
"Ain't No Other Man," Christina Aguilera (Will Win)
"Unwritten," Natasha Bedingfield
"You Can Close Your Eyes," Sheryl Crow
"Stupid Girls," Pink
"Black Horse And The Cherry Tree," KT Tunstall
Eric: You can close your eyes and still know that Sheryl Crow will be nominated in this category from now until she decides to have a Nelly Furtado makeover.
Jonathan: She's definitely replaced Bonnie Raitt as the perennial fifth nominee here, getting in for something that was heard by the exact number of people needed to get her on the shortlist and leaving the rest of us to wonder how that manages to be a bigger number than the total of people who voted for Madonna.
Sal: For the same reason Cee-Lo and Dangermouse will go home with enough Grammy gold for both their mantles, dark horse KT Tunstall could secure a surprise win. Tunstall's music has been a fixture on AC radio (and half a dozen TV shows) since the ailing Virgin Records started pushing the Scottish singer-songwriter down our throats a year ago. She's nothing special and she's got no other nominations (not even a Best New Artist nod, despite being one of the nominee announcers), but her only real competition, Christina Aguilera, hasn't exactly blown up the charts.
Jonathan: I'd go with "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree" here if not for the fact that Corinne Bailey Rae took all three of the General Field nominations that I thought Tunstall would receive. I wouldn't be surprised were she to win (and she'd be my close-second choice, behind Pink), but I think Aguilera is the safer bet, since she's the only one who also landed a nomination for Best Pop Album. Listening to "Ain't No Other Man," though, you can actually hear her vocal cords turning into scar tissue.
Sal: "Ain't No Other Man" is the obvious choice for those who interpret the vocal performance categories literally (i.e. the loudest vocals), but Pink delivered a scathing, sneer of a performance with "Stupid Girls." She should win solely for "My only concern: Will it fuck up my hair?!"
Eric: I sort of dig the utter transparency of Natasha Bedingfield's nomination for one of the most generically pop songs in years. It harkens back to the days of Natalie Imbruglia and…well, Christina Aguilera's first few nominations. The song appropriately stresses a book with nothing yet written in it. The performance is so utterly invisible I doubt even Pink would bother taking aim. It's pop that takes no chances, makes no gains, and dissolves on contact. I don't know that enough people appreciate how hard it is to hate a single that barely exists.
Sal: Hey, easy there, Eric. I know the fine lady who wrote that song. She had one of the most unrealized pop careers in the early '90s, which I guess is better than being a one-hit wonder. Right, Natasha?
BEST MALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE
"You're Beautiful," James Blunt (Will Win)
"Save Room," John Legend
"Waiting On The World To Change," John Mayer
"Jenny Wren," Paul McCartney
"Bad Day," Daniel Powter
Sal: This category could go in several directions: James Blunt had Grammy stamped on his ass even before "You're Beautiful" started getting play in the U.S.; John Mayer is a perennial favorite (he's been nominated and won twice in this category); Sir Paul McCartney's been nominated four times here but has never won; and, though it makes our stomachs turn (and hopefully the academy's as well), "Bad Day" is the biggest hit of the bunch.
Eric: A vote for "Bad Day" (i.e. "Love Theme from United 93") is essentially a vote for American Idol. And, Kelly Clarkson aside, Grammy has shown admirable resistance to the juggernaut.
Jonathan: This one's tough to call—there's a solid case for each of the nominees, with the possible exception of Legend, actually winning. The category often favors a veteran artist when there's more than one radio hit in the running, and, unlike some of the recent wins by Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, and Sting, McCartney's "Jenny Wren" would make a fine choice. Despite the fact that Mayer has won this category on his last two nominations, it just seems like Blunt is supposed to win. But that was also our rationale in picking Gwen Stefani last year.
BEST POP PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCALS
"My Humps," The Black Eyed Peas
"I Will Follow You Into The Dark," Death Cab For Cutie
"Over My Head (Cable Car)," The Fray (Will Win)
"Is It Any Wonder?," Keane
"Stickwitu," The Pussycat Dolls
Eric: The Pussycat Dolls were nominated for the only song in which they don't sound like wind-up toys, which should work against them. When people want to jack off to pop, they usually prefer the robotic to the clingy.
Jonathan: I call bullshit on the Pussycat Dolls' nomination on the grounds that only one member of the "Duo or Group" was anywhere near the studio when the song was recorded.
Eric: Didn't "My Humps" get a nomination last year?
Sal: "My Humps" gets a nomination every year. Best Novelty Butt Song.
Eric: I love that category. Diana Krall is a shoo-in.
Jonathan: I found Black-Eyed Peas' "Let's Get Retarded" truly offensive until "My Humps" came along to recast it as Will-dot-I-dot-Am and Stacy's personal anthem of self-empowerment. Mercifully, "My Humps" is too divisive to win this. Keane would be the best choice, but it'll go to The Fray. And I'd love to know how NARAS decided that one of their two soundalike singles is "Pop" and one is "Rock."
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Back To Basics, Christina Aguilera
Back To Bedlam, James Blunt
The River In Reverse, Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint
Continuum, John Mayer
FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake (Will Win)
Eric: The Pop Album category has the consistency of Cream of Wheat. Sometimes they go with lumpy, stalwart mandarins of the music industry (i.e. the James Taylor route), and other times they opt for the smoothest, ooziest choice in the line-up.
Jonathan: No artist has won this category more than once, which could hurt Timberlake if the Academy actually looks up their own voting trends online. Breakaway proved that an album can win here over two Album Of The Year nominees, but neither Blunt nor Aguilera have the combo of sales figures and general feelings of goodwill that gave Clarkson the win last year, so it's hard to see either of them pulling an upset. Since the Costello/Toussaint album really isn't all that great, and Mayer has another, more interesting album nominated for Best Rock Album, it looks like Grammy will, quite rightly, give it up to Omeletteville.
BEST DANCE RECORDING
"Suffer Well," Depeche Mode
"Ooh La La," Goldfrapp
"Get Together," Madonna
"I'm With Stupid," Pet Shop Boys
"SexyBack," Justin Timberlake & Timbaland (Will Win)
Sal: Warner Bros. submitted Madonna's "Hung Up" for Female Pop Vocal Performance instead of Best Dance Recording, the same course of action that landed Kylie Minogue's "Come Into My World" a nomination—and a win—here instead of the more popular "Can't Get You Out Of My Head." It wasn't such a long shot considering many thought "Hung Up" was a viable Record Of The Year contender, but "Get Together" is unlikely to beat "SexyBack," the obligatory ass song of the year.
Eric: I agree, "SexyBack" is the assiest song of the bunch. By that, I mean it's the best. Considering Goldfrapp's catchy appropriation of Blondie's "Call Me" got nominated, I'm a little disappointed Rihanna's full-on theft (glamorous, Bonnie and Clyde-style theft) of "Tainted Love" didn't manage to knock off either Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys.
Jonathan: The point in Hard Candy when I realized it was complete and utter bullshit is when Kitty Pryde snarls, "I fucking hate Goldfrapp," at an incapacitated Patrick Wilson, completely missing the point of how well Goldfrapp do their denial-of-genuine-emotion thing. It's a waste of energy to hate ice, especially if you need it to numb someone's balls later.
BEST DANCE/ELECTRONIC ALBUM
Confessions On A Dance Floor, Madonna (Will Win)
A Lively Mind, Oakenfold
Fundamental, Pet Shop Boys
The Garden, Zero 7
Sal: I can't believe Oakenfold got a dance album nod. It's a fucking rock album…and a bad one. I couldn't even bring myself to review it.
Jonathan: Tai sings! Because someone, this one time, told her she sounds like Pink! She does that same soul-killing giggle in the song that she does in all of her soul-killing rom-coms!
Eric: Is Zero 7 dance? I thought they were indie-pop or something.
Sal: The name of category is Electronic/Dance.
Eric: That distinction throws me, especially when paired with Best Dance Recording, which is explicitly "dance."
Sal: A.K.A. Novelty Butt Song. Madonna should be redeemed here. Warner Bros. wisely submitted Confessions in this category instead of the more competitive Pop Vocal Album.
Jonathan: Since the dance categories' short history shows that NARAS has absolutely no idea what the hell they're voting for, the simple fact that Madonna's album has the word "dance" right there in the title should be enough to win. Which, since The Knife and Vitalic weren't on the radar, I'm fine with, though I wouldn't have voted for "Get Together" in the previous category.
Eric: I actually hope Zero 7 wins here. Not necessarily because it's my favorite album of this group (though it is), but because as long as they insist on "legitimizing" this category by not limiting themselves to dance music alone, I want them to select winners that best reflect their distaste for the genre. There's not a four-to-the-floor moment in The Garden, and I think they want it that way.
BEST ROCK SONG
"Chasing Cars," Snow Patrol (Will Win)
"Dani California," Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Lookin' For A Leader," Neil Young
"Someday Baby," Bob Dylan
"When You Were Young," The Killers
Sal: I think Tom Petty should win a Grammy for "Dani California."
Eric: I'm hoping Brian Setzer gets his due for "Someday Baby."
Sal: But you know I'd stunt for The Killers, if only for that one lyric about Jesus talking like a gentleman. Anything but Neil Young's "Lookin' For A Leader," thanks.
Jonathan: I've already stated my take on the Dylan v. Flowers throwdown, but I don't think either will win here—"Chasing Cars" has been all over the radio for the duration of the voting period.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, Arctic Monkeys
At War With The Mystics, The Flaming Lips
St. Elsewhere, Gnarls Barkley (Will Win)
Show Your Bones, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Eraser, Thom Yorke
Sal: The Arctic Monkeys' album is my favorite of the bunch. Yeah Yeah Yeahs' album disappointed me, not because it was deemed a shot at the mainstream, but because it did so half-assed.
Eric: The Arctic Monkeys look the best. Still, I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that it took a not-particularly-beloved album that devoted over seven minutes of running time to what the band called "The Sound Of Failure" for me to start really digging The Flaming Lips. So, naturally, it's by far the lowest ranking album over at the Jackin' Pop poll. Maybe if TV On The Radio had managed to sneak in here, I could've gone with the critical mass.
Jonathan: In the past few years, I would've gladly replaced the general Album Of The Year line-up with the one NARAS came up with for this category. Not so, this year. Yorke's album grew on me over the course of the year, while YYY's cooled a bit. The Flaming Lips' album isn't as bad as the reviews made it out to be, but it's a definite step down from their previous two outings. And I like both of Franz Ferdinand's albums, which lost in this category, a whole lot better than the Arctic Monkeys' good but wildly overhyped debut. Which leaves Gnarls Barkley. I don't really agree with the genre placement, but it's the best album of the lot, and it's rare for an Album Of The Year nominee to lose here.
BEST FEMALE R&B VOCAL PERFORMANCE
"Ring The Alarm," Beyoncé
"Be Without You," Mary J. Blige (Will Win)
"Don't Forget About Us," Mariah Carey
"Day Dreaming," Natalie Cole
"I Am Not My Hair," India.Arie
Eric: I know the video shouldn't have any pull in deciding the winner here, but if Beyoncé had brought anything resembling the histrionics she demonstrated in "Ring The Alarm" to Dreamgirls—aside from the fact that it would drastically alter her character—people would be going "Jennifer who?" Mary J. Blige may write in about 24 point on her laptop, but Beyoncé's the one who delivers in all caps. Thankfully, she's not doing it in a love ballad for a change.
Sal:It's the best vocal performance here, without a doubt. And I'm basing that solely on the bridge. And the chinchilla coats. I'm leaving the disembodied "I Am Not My Hair" jokes to you, Eric.
Eric: India.Arie is not her hair. She's not the average girl from your video. She spends an awful lot of time not being things.
Jonathan: I'm usually in the booster club at The Mary J. Blige School Of Losing One's Shit In Lieu Of Proper Singing, but, yeah, "Ring The Alarm" one-ups her on that on front.
Sal: Who's going to win, Mary's copy of "We Belong Together" or Mariah's?
Jonathan: Mary will still win because she's overdue, but I do wonder if we're underestimating Natalie Cole.
BEST MALE R&B VOCAL PERFORMANCE
"Heaven," John Legend
"So Sick," Ne-Yo
"Black Sweat," Prince
"I Call It Love," Lionel Richie
"Got You Home," Luther Vandross (Will Win)
Sal: Singing from the grave never lost anyone a Grammy, and the academy loves them some Luther, but I was pretty impressed with Prince's performance on "Black Sweat." It's the first Prince song I've liked in years and he is, after all, a living legend. Unlike John Legend, who, despite his name and song title, is neither a legend nor dead yet. Oh, whatever, they should just give it to Lionel Richie because I'm sure Nicole will be dead soon and that counts, right? Besides, "I Call It Love" and Ne-Yo's "So Sick" are basically the same song anyway. A win for one is a score for both.
Jonathan: I do hope Prince gets to accept one of Justin Timberlake's awards, since I doubt he's going to win any of his own.
Eric: I hope Prince kicks Justin's ass for his short joke at the Golden Globes...I mean, provided he can reach Justin's ass.
BEST RAP/SUNG COLLABORATION
"Smack That," Akon Featuring Eminem
"Deja vu," Beyoncé Featuring Jay-Z
"Shake That," Eminem Featuring Nate Dogg
"Unpredictable," Jamie Foxx Featuring Ludacris
"My Love," Justin Timberlake Featuring T.I. (Will Win)
Sal: I know there's a "Shake That"/"Smack That"/"Deja Vu" joke in my head somewhere but it's being smothered to death by the perpetual inanity of this category.
Eric: I don't know about you two, but this is my favorite category. I get my conversation-ending epigrams from it every year. If only they had managed to make room for "Jiggle Dat," "Sniff It," "Twerk Out," and "Fuck Me," I'd be set until 2010.
Jonathan: I will never in my life come up with anything better than "Twerk Out."
BEST RAP ALBUM
Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, Lupe Fiasco
Release Therapy, Ludacris (Will Win)
In My Mind, Pharrell
Game Theory, The Roots
Jonathan: I know it wasn't a good year for popular rap, but Pharrell? Honestly?
Sal: Pharrell's album was practically unlistenable—save for that track featuring Gwen, and only because the fact that she agreed to such a degrading, monotonous cameo was downright mesmerizing.
Jonathan: This one's tough because three big name acts (Eminem, OutKast, and Kanye West) have won the last seven years with albums worthy of the praise. This year, Luda's the biggest name by a pretty substantial margin, but (and this could be my residual disgust for anything even tangentially connected to Crash rearing its head) his album isn't even close to the quality of Game Theory or Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, which probably would've made my year-end Top 10 had I not picked it up just a few days before we published our lists. Lupe Fiasco's nominations were a pleasant surprise, so it's possible that he could win, but T.I.'s King has the best balance of commercial impact and critical support that's required to win this category.
Sal: I love how it was Jonathan, and not Eric, who managed to work a jab at Crash into our Grammy predictions.
Jonathan: I figured Eric had sent his invisibility cloak to the dry-cleaners.
Eric: I'm saving up for this year's Oscar predictions. That said, Ludacris will win this one in a country-fried chicken-n-beer.
BEST COUNTRY SONG
"Every Mile A Memory," Dierks Bentley
"I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today," Gretchen Wilson
"Jesus, Take The Wheel," Carrie Underwood (Will Win)
"Like Red On A Rose," Alan Jackson
"What Hurts The Most," Rascal Flatts
Eric: Country music, I don't feel like loving you today. Someone else take the wheel.
Jonathan: That "Not Ready To Make Nice" was left out here has some pundits setting up camp on the grassy knoll, worried that bloc voting in Nashville will keep the Dixie Chicks from winning in the Country field. This ignores both that the country music industry flat-out doesn't care what the Grammys do since they already have two awards shows to honor the Nashville boys club, and that the Grammys are not a figure skating competition. "I Don't Feel Like Loving You Today" is easily the best-written song of the nominees, but it's hard to tell, thanks to Wilson, whose performance of the ballad is so affected that she might as well be singing in a British accent. Matraca Berg has been one of the best singer-songwriters in Nashville for some two decades now, and a win here would be some long-overdue recognition. Which means, obviously, that she has the longest of the long-shots to win against Song of the Year nominee "Jesus, Take The Wheel," which is one deus ex machina away from being a song about criminal charges for child endangerment and vehicular manslaughter.
BEST COUNTRY ALBUM
Taking The Long Way, Dixie Chicks (Will Win)
Like Red On A Rose, Alan Jackson
The Road To Here, Little Big Town
You Don't Know Me: The Songs Of Cindy Walker, Willie Nelson
Your Man, Josh Turner
Jonathan: One super important thing I ignored in making my prediction for this category last year is that, when it comes to the Grammys, you never bet against Alison Krauss. That she produced Jackson's well-reviewed Like Red On A Rose could position that album as the only possible spoiler in this category (she produced Nickel Creek's Grammy-winning This Side, so there's precedent). Thing is, Jackson's album of stylish adult pop has alienated his fanbase almost as much as the Dixie Chicks have theirs. He'd still be a deserving winner—as would Willie Nelson, nominated for one of the few things he's done in the last five years that doesn't actively undermine his status as a genre legend. Turner could upset Vince Gill in the Male Vocal Performance category, but there's not much to his album beyond its two hit singles. Little Big Town's singles are pretty great, but the album nomination is a stretch. Not that any of this matters. The Dixie Chicks won this award months before their album was even released.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.