The Recording Academy no doubt has oodles of tedium in the works for us at this year's Grammy Awards ceremony. It is, after all, the golden anniversary of the granddaddy of music awards shows. If the show goes on (and as of this post, the WGA has decided not to picket), we can expect even more awkwardly assembled performances and a lot more montages and salutes to the likes of Clive Davis than ever before. (What's unclear is whether or not Miss Amy Winehouse will be on hand to add an even bigger sense of unpredictability to the proceedings.) Economy has never been the Academy's friend, but they've become increasing stingy when it comes to televised categories and a lack of writers might mean more trophies. Either way, we've decided to follow their lead and cherry-pick the categories we predict. Here are the 10 awards we found worth talking about:
RECORD OF THE YEAR
"The Pretender," Foo Fighters
"Umbrella," Rihanna featuring Jay-Z
"What Goes Around…Comes Around," Justin Timberlake
"Rehab," Amy Winehouse(Will Win)
Sal Cinquemani: Is it completely bonkers of me to think the Foo Fighters could benefit from an urban split a la Coldplay or Green Day? And more importantly, is it completely bonkers of me to use the word bonkers? Eric Henderson: Only bonkers in the sense that Amy Winehouse would ever be considered "urban." Jonathan Keefe: Bonkers was far and away the lamest of the Disney Afternoon cartoons, so if for no other reason, I'm inclined to say yes. Possibly the only thing working against the Foo Fighters' anti-urban angle is that "The Pretender" is neither a multi-format hit on par with "Clocks" or "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" nor obvious Grammy-bait like "Not Ready to Make Nice" or that comatose Ray Charles and Norah Jones duet. Eric: It's never wise to bet against the split, but call me optimistic. I'm pretty sure most Grammy voters can even up the score a bit by ditching Beyoncé (for unintentionally referencing her song's disposable nature in the lyrics) and Justin Timberlake (for tardiness) and concentrating their votes on "Umbrella," the most of-the-moment choice. That's not, of course, to say she's got a shot in hell at winning. Jonathan: There's a theory that NARAS hasn't voted for an urban-leaning single in this category because they often lack live instruments. If there's any truth to that, the killer live backing by the DAP Kings might give "Rehab" an edge. It's a tough call, though, because there's no way of knowing how much Wino's attempt to out-train-wreck Britney has alienated conservative older voters.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters These Days, Vince Gill River: The Joni Letters, Herbie Hancock Graduation, Kanye West (Will Win) Back To Black, Amy Winehouse
Sal: Is it completely cynical of me to say that even if Kanye West didn't have this in the bag already, his mom sealed the deal? Jonathan: I'd say Bono sealed the deal when he outright told NARAS to vote for Kanye's next album in his acceptance speech in this category two years ago. Lord knows they'll do anything Bono tells them to do. Eric: Vince Gill's album may just be literally the biggest of the lot (though Kanye's ego certainly makes his album feel like at least a double LP). Amy Winehouse is the only one with anything resembling hipster credibility in this lineup, but who are we kidding? This is the Grammys. With that in mind, I hope with that little piece of my heart that still beats blood instead of irony that Herbie Hancock is the one who steals this award from Kanye. I can't think of a lamer or more opportunistic example of Starbucks one-stop-shopping, but Hancock's musicianship and technical skill are still about the only thing worth celebrating in the context of Grammys, even under middlebrow duress.
SONG OF THE YEAR
"Before He Cheats," Carrie Underwood
"Hey There Delilah," Plain White T's
"Like a Star," Corinne Bailey Rae
"Rehab," Amy Winehouse (Will Win)
"Umbrella," Rihanna featuring Jay-Z
Jonathan: So I guess this is where I'm supposed to make my annual and ultimately incorrect case that the obligatory poorly-written pop-country nominee will win? But I just don't see "Before He Cheats" having much of a chance here if it couldn't land a nomination for Record of the Year, which would've made a hell of a lot more sense. "Umbrella" is the closest this line-up comes to a modern standard based on how frequently it's been covered, but I have a hard time seeing the voters recognizing "ella ella ella eh eh eh" as the stupid-good hook that it is. "Delilah" is just gross, and it seems like the Blue Ribbon Committee are the only people in the world who really like Corinne Bailey Rae. Which leaves "Rehab," the best-written song in the category, which is also about as far removed from the drippy optimism that typically wins. So, basically, I can think of reasons why each of these songs won't win and no reasons why one of them has to. "Like a Star," maybe? In addition to being the most inexplicable nominee, it's the most conservative choice by far. Eric: I haven't gone back to check the stats or anything, but I feel like the one which made the smallest impact on the pop charts is the one that usually wins. That and the notion that Corinne Bailey Rae's star arguably rose thanks to her previous Grammy nods (hello, perceived relevance!) are working in her favor for sure. Sal: I guess I'm going to have to completely disagree with you guys here. I just don't see Corinne Bailey Rae winning this. I don't even know why she was nominated…again. But maybe that means I'm just out of touch with the out-of-touchers.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Amy Winehouse (Will Win)
Eric: Well, this category should be pretty easy to pick. Never bet against the fledgling female soloist…Oh, shit. Jonathan: Nightmare scenario, which I don't think is at all far-fetched: Voters who want to vote for someone legitimately talented (sorry, Paramore!) that they've actually heard of (sorry, Ledisi!) but who are put off by Wino's meltdown defect to Feist, resulting in a split-vote that ends up benefiting those who go for the one act in the group who's been able to move a shit-ton of shit records. Honestly, it's not even a matter of comparing relative degrees of badness, like saying that Ashanti has a marginally better voice than Ciara, and I know that she's a child and all, which makes it mean to say so, but Taylor Swift is just awful:
Sal: God moved to Nashville? That explains a lot. Taylor Swift is like a country version of Avril Lavigne. Jonathan: She can't sing, and the fact that she's a teenager isn't an excuse for the fact that her songs make Jewel sound like Dolly Parton. My only hope is that she turns out like Felicity—once she cuts her mop of curly hair, her audience of teenage girls will realize they didn't like her for the reasons they thought they did and move on to something better. So I'm really hoping that Winehouse hasn't alienated too many people. Sal: Wino doesn't seem to have a firm grip on much these days, but it's pretty safe to say that she snagged this award about a year ago. Eric: She shagged this award last year too. I think Feist has the iPhone demographic locked up, which means she should probably come in fourth.
BEST FEMALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE
"Candyman," Christina Aguilera
"Big Girls Don't Cry," Fergie
"Say It Right," Nelly Furtado
"Rehab," Amy Winehouse (Will Win)
Jonathan:: I think this one is Winehouse's safest bet, and she'd get my vote, though I like both Furtado and Feist's tracks quite a lot too. And even "Candyman" is relatively subdued by Mama Aguilera's throat-shredding standards. Sal: Based solely on the literal interpretation of this category title (which we know is not the way the academy actually votes), I'd give it to Feist. It's certainly not my favorite song of hers, but she displays a nice range and really effective use of different tones throughout. But obviously Amy's "no, no, no" is a refusal that will be hard to refuse. Unless, you know, you're actually Amy Winehouse, and then it's something like "Um, okay, yeah, I guess." Jonathan:: So…same situation as Best New Artist, but with Fergie as the beneficiary this time? It's possible, but "Big Girls Don't Cry" isn't as memorably bad as this:
Sal: All I have to say about that is, thank God for crystal meth. Eric: Maybe they'll vote for the one who exerts the most effort to overcome her lack of talent. Of course, by that reasoning, Fergie would also be a frontrunner for best supporting actress in Planet Terror.
BEST DANCE RECORDING
"Do It Again," The Chemical Brothers
"Love Today," Mika
"Don't Stop the Music," Rihanna (Will Win)
"LoveStoned/I Think She Knows," Justin Timberlake
Sal: This category is filled entirely with squeaky voices and falsetto. I have no idea what that means, but perhaps the most masculine of the bunch will win. So, congratulations…Rihanna? Eric: I'm glad we're covering this category instead of dance album, where a bona fide rock album is apparently competing. As someone whose favorite song to neck-snap to last year was by !!!, and as someone who thinks the average Grammy voter is more likely to get their 4/4 on over in the polka categories, I still say this points to a certain lack of vitality in the scene. Jonathan: I liked Mika a whole lot better when he was stripping off his skin and throwing it at a bunch of rollerskating models. If Basement Jaxx can win a Grammy and LCD Soundsystem can manage a couple of nominations, I think the voters are hip enough to give this to Justice. Who, incidentally, did a great remix of "LoveStoned."
BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCALS
"It's Not Over," Daughtry
"Working Class Hero," Green Day
"If Everyone Cared," Nickelback
"Instant Karma," U2 (Will Win)
"Icky Thump," The White Stripes
Sal: I'd like to think that Green Day and U2 paying homage to John Lennon for Darfur would create a split in favor of the White Stripes, but why do I think Nickelback will benefit most? Jonathan: Nickelback, though, will lose some votes to Jesusy, Bald Nickelback. So there are two sets of split-votes here—Green Day and U2's appeals to Baby Boomers and Don Cheadle, and then Nickelback versus Daughtry. Leaving the only sane choice: the White Stripes. Eric: U2 covers a Beatle and you guys are arguing it's not an instant winner? Jonathan: On principle, yes. But…um…I can't think of a single counter-argument to Eric's point.
Sal: Aside from the fact that Lily Allen's Alright, Still… is possibly my least favorite album of last year, its inclusion in this category is dubious at best. Björk is fast becoming less a problem child than a complete disappointment, so my pick is Neon Bible. If they couldn't beat the White Stripes in this category two years ago, though, can they do it now? Jonathan: Yeah, as far as category fraud goes, Lily Allen is to the Grammys as Casey Affleck is to Oscars. Except that I can see why people like what Affleck did. The Shins should also have been submitted in the Pop field, but it's nice to see them earn some two-albums-overdue recognition. Arcade Fire are no longer as off-the-mainstream-radar as they were when Funeral lost in this category to Get Behind Me Satan two years ago, so I think they're a good bet to take this. Eric: Thanks, Grammys, for reminding me that Björk never won this award in the 1990s...you know, when she deserved to. Considering the timetable most artists are on when they actually do win this award, I wouldn't rule her completely out. Then again, this award hasn't been won by a female (or even a female-fronted group) since Sinead O'Connor won the category's charter award in 1990—not by Björk, not by Tori Amos, not by PJ Harvey, not by Fiona Apple. Some alternative.
BEST RAP/SUNG COLLABORATION
"I Wanna Love You," Akon featuring Snoop Dogg
"Kiss, Kiss," Chris Brown & T-Pain
"Let It Go," Keyshia Cole featuring Missy Elliott & Lil' Kim
"Umbrella," Rihanna featuring Jay-Z (Will Win)
"Good Life," Kanye West featuring T-Pain
Sal: The most obvious pick here ironically has the least collaboration. Rihanna allegedly didn't even know Jay-Z had tacked on his verse to the beginning of the track as a "gift" until the producers played the final product for her. Jonathan: All I ask for is a reaction shot from Beyoncé if they present this one to Rihanna and Jay-Z on the telecast. Eric: Another classic case of the song I like best in multiple categories winning probably its only award of the evening, and doing it in the one category where I actually like other another candidate more. "Umbrella" was one of the only things that kept my ears momentarily away from house and Maurice Ravel in 2007, but I'll still bump it to "Let It Go" long into 2008.
BEST FEMALE COUNTRY VOCAL PERFORMANCE
"Simple Love," Alison Krauss
"Famous in a Small Town," Miranda Lambert
"Nothin' Better To Do," LeAnn Rimes
"Before He Cheats," Carrie Underwood (Will Win)
"Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love," Trisha Yearwood
Sal: Again, if we're talking actual Vocal Performance, Alison Krauss's understated "Simple Love" would be my pick, but LeAnn Rimes obviously tried to swallow the microphone on "Nothin' Better To Do," which also happens to be the best produced track here. Jonathan: I love the idea of you voluntarily listening to five country songs, Sal. But if you were ever going to listen to a set of five, you could do a whole lot worse than this line-up, which is the strongest since at least 1992. Lambert, who should've broken into the boys' club Best Country Album category, is the longest-shot here, but "Gunpowder and Lead," her fastest-rising single to date, will likely put her in good position to win next year. Yearwood would, hands down, be my pick for giving the best vocal performance of the lot, but the single wasn't as big a hit as it deserved to be. Still, she really should have won this category for more than just "How Do I Live." Rimes has come a long way since her version of that same song lost to Yearwood's, but a win with "Nothin' Better to Do," which really is a great single, would be a major upset. That leaves the two frontrunners—Krauss, nominated for yet another reiteration of the kind of lovely, tasteful-to-a-fault performance that she always gives and that NARAS evidently doesn't mind hearing repeatedly, and Underwood, nominated for the biggest hit of the group. It's foolhardy to bet against Krauss at the Grammys—I imagine there are going to be quite a few surprised pop fans when she and Robert Plant beat Beyoncé and Shakira for Pop Collaboration—and the bottom eventually has to fall out of Underwood's lengthy awards-show dominance, but "Before He Cheats" is just too massive not to win. Sal: I wouldn't mind seeing Plant and Krauss take Pop Collaboration for "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)." I caught a glimpse of the video the other night on CMT. And then it was followed by Trace Adkins's "I Got My Game On" and I decided that my tryst with country music would be shorter-lived than a coed's bisexual phase.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.