Sal Cinquemani: Yeah, my sister loves that KoL song. She asked for their CD for Christmas…then again, she also asked for Beyoncé's, so maybe Taylor Swift can pull this one off? The bluffin' muffin deserves this one though.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Jonathan: And now, a retelling of a recent conversation between two teenage girls and an older, wiser relative who gets owned:
Me: Taylor Swift is completely tone-deaf.
My 17-year-old Cousin: Oh my God, no she isn't. She's a great singer and how would you know anyway?
Me: Because I have ears and over a decade of music training? And so do you, so you really ought to know better.
My 17-year-old Cousin: Whatever. She wrote the music, so she would know better than you what notes she's supposed to hit.
Me: But writing music means writing actual musical notes, which she doesn't actually hit when she sings.
My 17-year-old Cousin: Well, she's made a ton of money singing her songs and is more famous than you'll ever be.
Me: Yes, but I'm also not trying to be famous for doing something that I'm actively bad at. And it's not like selling four million albums or winning a Grammy legitimizes anything.
My 15-year-old Cousin: Oh my God, both of you shut up. Taylor Swift looks like a possum.
Sal: I think Swift will take this one, not because teenagers like her and she's sold more records than anyone else in the last two years, but because of Kanye West. And I hope to God the show's producers are smart enough to have a camera planted in that asshole's face when they announce her name.
Eric: It's not that I'm disagreeing with you guys. Taylor Swift is the presumptive frontrunner in this and most other categories. But to hand our prediction over to her without a qualm is to ignore the history of this category throughout the aughts. Out of last 10 AOTYs, at least six were arguably carried to their win out of respect to career longevity. I shudder to think that some voters may consider the BEPs a veteran act by this point. But remember when I sort of knew that Herbie Hancock was going to steal Kanye's latest stab at the award? This year, I sort of know that Dave Matthews Band are going to snatch the trophy from Kanye's latest victim. All's I'm saying is, it's a seemingly superfluous, non-zeitgeisty nomination for a generally respected traditional-style group of well-rounded musicians up against four “hip” pop acts that probably lip sync most of the time. We've been here before.
SONG OF THE YEAR
“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga
“Pretty Wings,” Maxwell
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Beyoncé
“Use Somebody,” Kings of Leon
“You Belong with Me,” Taylor Swift (Will Win)
Eric: Well here's an anomaly: a Song of the Year slate with a pulse. Call me quixotic, but I see this as a race between the two Record of the Year also-rans. While I imagine some voters will have a hard time untangling the fiercely braded pop hooks of “Single Ladies,” a juggernaut like that can't just be ignored in the general fields, and this is its only shot. That said, if the R&B voting bloc can get their pretty ducks in a row, Maxwell's stately, classically structured ballad ought to pull this off. Whatever wins, we can all breathe easier knowing there's at least one category in which the BEPs were deemed unsuitable to compete.
Sal: This category always surprises me, mainly because I don't think I understand how/why people vote for things. My money's on Beyoncé, because it seems like the least logical choice for a songwriting award.
Jonathan: The drippiest ballad almost always wins here, which would favor Maxwell (though his ballad is actually one of the better songs of this type to be nodded here in a minute), but I wonder if he's still a bit too far out of the realm of mainstream pop to pull off the win. I seriously doubt “I'll get him hot/Show him what I got” is going to win much favor, and “Use Somebody” is even less of a song. “Single Ladies” really ought to win something, and it has the best-written hook here, but it's Swift's songwriting that is supposedly her primary selling point. “You Belong with Me” isn't her best-written song by a long shot, but it's hard to fault its construction.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Zac Brown Band
Keri Hilson (Will Win)
The Ting Tings
Jonathan: Das Racist. The Dead Weather. Melinda Doolittle. The Duke & the King. Fever Ray. Melanie Fiona. Hockey. Japandroids. Kid Cudi. Little Boots. Major Lazer. Ida Maria. Monsters of Folk. Now, was that really so hard? Because Jesus. MGMT is making the best music, but Keri Hilson has the “vagina = win” factor for this category, and Zac Brown Band is the only one I can see being on the mainstream radar at all in five years' time.
Sal: You forgot Gaga. If not for those pesky rules, the Grammy telecast would be a far more interesting show—at least for the few seconds she'd be at the podium. Keri Hilson is a hook girl. She's Ashanti with a pen, not Lauryn Hill. But I suppose her songwriting credits will bolster her support among industry types. And I think MGMT has a good shot.
Eric: The Ting Tings could take it, since their “nothing new to see here” appearance on last week's SNL makes it all too clear they're already living up to the legendary Best New Artist curse.
BEST POP PERFORMANCE BY A DUO OR GROUP WITH VOCALS
“I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas (Will Win)
“We Weren't Born to Follow,” Bon Jovi
“Never Say Never,” The Fray
“Sara Smile,” Daryl Hall & John Oates
Eric: “Never Say Never” is the song that scores the highest on the patented Coldplay's Sliding Scale of “Very Special Episode” Suitability. Unfortunately, the Black Eyed Peas could launch a legitimate counterattack with their song's impending deployment in dozens and dozens of future movie trailers.
Jonathan: Useless pop-country singer Jimmy Wayne released a cover of “Sara Smile” featuring Hall & Oates as a single last year, but he isn't credited on the nomination here, so I honestly have no idea where that one came from or why more people voted for that than for the Ting Tings, and it wouldn't surprise me if it actually won. But if the Black Eyed Peas could win this category for “My Humps,” it's hard to imagine them losing here.
BEST DANCE RECORDING
“Boom Boom Pow,” The Black Eyed Peas
“When Love Takes Over,” David Guetta & Kelly Rowland
“Poker Face,” Lady Gaga (Will Win)
“Womanizer,” Britney Spears
Jonathan: After four years of writing these Grammy previews, I have run out of ways to say how much I hate the Black Eyed Peas. This sad-ass lineup is Gaga's best chance to win something.
Sal: Hmmm, Gaga's going to get some fierce competition from Guetta and Rowland. And someone like Britney—or God forbid, BEPs—could benefit from that battle. But you're probably right, this is Gaga's to lose and it's unlikely she will.
Eric: Is it up to me to make the obligatory mention of Madonna's chances? Well, I won't. The song is a non-starter and she hasn't won this category since “Ray of Light” 11 years ago. I'd like to see Britney Spears's relentlessly stutter-prone chorus get the trophy here, but Gaga is this year's undeniable dance-club darling. Though it's only been one year since Gaga lost to an eight-year-old Daft Punk song, I think this time Grammy might just catch on in a relatively timely manner.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, David Byrne & Brian Eno
The Open Door, Death Cab for Cutie
Sounds of the Universe, Depeche Mode
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Phoenix
It's Blitz!, Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Will Win)
Jonathan: Phoenix would be as close as the Grammys could come to a hip choice, even if their Strokes-but-French-and-banging-Sofia-Coppola shtick wears thin after a couple of tracks. Yeah Yeah Yeahs should take this, but the Byrne and Eno album is solid, and NARAS does like to reward veterans at the expense of more relevant acts.
Sal: Yeah, but do they usually do that in this particular category? Unless you consider the White Stripes veterans.
Eric: If Grammy voters settled this category like they have been settling AOTY as of late, then I'd put a check mark next to Depeche Mode and move on. But I think voters probably recognize Yeah Yeah Yeahs as overdue here.
BEST FEMALE R&B VOCAL PERFORMANCE
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Beyoncé (Will Win)
“It Kills Me,” Melanie Fiona
“That Was Then,” Lalah Hathaway
“Goin' Through Changes,” Ledisi
“Lions, Tigers and Bears,” Jazmine Sullivan
Jonathan: This isn't a such a bad slate of nominees, though I think it's indicative of how Mary J. Blige's influence has shifted the emphasis on vocal performances away from real technical skill toward pushing every note to 11. To that end, Fiona's performance goes off the rails in the most dramatic fashion and trumps the pleasant but dull cuts by Ledisi and Hathaway, either of whom should have been replaced by Melinda Doolittle. Beyoncé is the only one of the five not to have noticeable problems with pitch, and she and Sullivan both bring actual presence to their performances. Sullivan will get her due someday, but there's no way “Single Ladies” doesn't win.
Sal: If not for Beyoncé, Jazmine Sullivan would take this one.
Eric: Yeah, any other year and it might be worth discussing the showdown between Fiona's dutifully unhinged vocal acrobatics, Sullivan's compellingly genre-vague work (and chance to make good on that unsuccessful Best New Artist bid), and Hathaway's husky contralto. But sorry ladies, it's “Ladies.” Better luck next year against Sade.
BEST RAP/SUNG COLLABORATION
“Ego,” Beyoncé featuring Kanye West
“Knock You Down,” Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo
“Run This Town,” Jay-Z featuring Rihanna and Kanye West
“I'm on a Boat,” The Lonely Island featuring T-Pain
“Dead and Gone,” T.I. featuring Justin Timberlake (Will Win)
Jonathan: It isn't so much that “I'm on a Boat” is Lonely Island's best song (though “I've got a nautical-themed Pashmina Afghan” is by far the most genius line in any nominated song anywhere on the ballot), but I'm still surprised that NARAS actually voted for it when there had to be at least three other Kanye cuts on the ballot.
Eric: I'm not really partial to the novelty song in this category, but only because Beyoncé and Kanye's track is just as hysterical, and walks a finer line between self-parody and self-deification. It walk like this.
BEST AMERICANA ALBUM
Together Through Life, Bob Dylan (Will Win)
Electric Dirt, Levon Helm
Willie and the Wheel, Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel
Wilco (The Album), Wilco
Little Honey, Lucinda Williams
Eric: Americana, as I've come to know the term recently, is country music that's safe for hipsters who still hoard their issues of No Depression to listen to. But who ever said hipsters were wrong, especially in any year where Taylor Swift is still categorized as a country musician? Wilco has my vote, but given my listener's demographic, I imagine that puts them dead last here.
Jonathan: The entire Country Field is a wasteland this year, so NARAS decided to create an Americana Album category so that there are now two categories (Best Contemporary Folk Album being the other) where the country albums they don't have the balls to nominate for Best Country Album can go to die. I don't understand why Wilco is here while Neko Case is in the other alt-country ghetto or why Dylan and Williams's albums aren't considered Contemporary Folk after they've both had that category on lock for the last decade. The Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel album is terrific and would be my choice, though I like Wilco's record well enough and what I've heard of Levon Helm's latest. Willie and the Wheel has a shot at this because they're all multiple Grammy winners, but it's foolhardy to bet against Dylan.