Eric Henderson: This lineup lacks a Social Network to really make the Oscar comparison complete. There's nothing here that matches that movie's perfect storm of manufactured zeitgeist, seamless production values, and the sense that it utterly alienates the majority of its respective voting body. (That will probably happen with Kanye next year.) Lady Antebellum is, like The King's Speech, a too-good-to-be-true candidate, so it would be hard to bet against it. However, of the other three blockbuster duets, only Jay-Z and Alicia Keys represent a true gravitas double-bill. And it's almost old enough news now to be palatable to Grammy voters.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
SC: I see this as a three-way race between the sorta-veteran, whose sorta-comeback is the biggest seller here; the biggest cultural phenomenon since Madonna, whose EP could benefit from its parent album being nominated here last year; and the safe pop-country act, whose album is the second-biggest seller here and could follow in Taylor Swift's mediocre steps up to the podium. Given that Arcade Fire hasn't even scanned half a million copies, I think it's too dark of a horse here, and the last (only?) time a “rap” album won in this category was OutKast in 2004, and that's because there wasn't a default snoozer in the bunch. If I actually cared, this category would make me lose sleep. We should probably just put “Won't Win” next to Katy Perry and call it a day. Discuss.
EH: Lady Gaga has about as much chance to win as Beck did with Midnite Vultures. As Missy Elliot did with Under Construction. As Lil Wayne did with Tha Carter III. As Gnarls Barkley did with St. Elsewhere. As Green Day did with American Idiot. Sometimes the planets align in favor of the critical favorite (Lauryn Hill springs to mind), but usually not when there's a crowd-pleasing country-pop-tinged analog easy-listener with outsized sales to fall back on.
JK: The only thing that explains the runaway popularity of Lady Antebellum's album is the fact that the trio is dressed like the cast of Twilight on the cover. I don't feel nearly as strongly, either for or against, the Eminem, Gaga, or Arcade Fire albums, so that just leaves Rocket Tits. Even though I genuinely believe that the one and only thing she's good at is making an attention-whoring, hateful goddamn spectacle of herself, I could at least respect the sheer sack that it would take for NARAS to stand up and proclaim Teenage Dream their Album of the Year. Which, obviously, means that won't happen.
SONG OF THE YEAR
“Beg Steal or Borrow,” Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs (WILL WIN)
“Fuck You!,” Cee-Lo Green
“The House That Built Me,” Miranda Lambert
“Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem featuring Rihanna
“Need You Now,” Lady Antebellum
JK: Oh, good. The part of our annual Grammy predictions when I get to overthink who'll win Song of the Year. So, “The House That Built Me,” which probably should win on merit as though that ever matters, siphons off enough country bloc votes from “Need You Now,” while “Fuck You!” and “Love the Way You Lie” split the urban vote, clearing the way for Ray LaMontagne's Starbucks single to win. Now, please feel free to disregard every bit of that.
SC: I'm with you on LaMontagne for the upset. But if “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” could win in this category last year (which Eric and I both predicted, by the way), then I think Cee-Lo's got a shot. The song's double nomination in the main categories means its f-bomb isn't really a obstacle. That said, there's no getting around the popularity of “Need You Now.”
EH: I'm with Sal on how Cee-Lo could technically win this category, but I'm still having trouble imagining one uncharacteristically strut-giddy contest result allowing for a new dawn in this category. I'm sorry, but this is the category of “Dance with My Father,” “Don't Know Why,” “Daughters,” and more U2 wins than losses. Not the category where “Oh shit, she's a gold digger” is followed by “Just thought you should know, nigga.” Grammys love it in this category when only one person penned the song, so LaMontagne is looking golden.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Florence and the Machine (WILL WIN)
Mumford & Sons
SC: Florence Welch and her apparatus were practically designed for this category. That this is her sole nomination is due to eligibility reasons, so her only real competition, Mumford & Sons, is probably going home empty-handed.
JK: If Grammy-winner Barack Obama's approval ratings were higher, his support of Esperanza Spalding might carry more weight in this race. But the category's not-at-all illustrious history does suggest that this is Flo's to lose.
EH: Part of me wants to suggest Bieber could take this. I'm not going to tell you which part of me wants that. So, yeah, let's just say Florence is the favorite.
BEST FEMALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE
“King of Anything,” Sara Bareilles
“Halo (Live),” Beyoncé
“Chasing Pirates,” Norah Jones
“Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga (WILL WIN)
“Teenage Dream,” Katy Perry
JK: So, Sara Bareilles scored a second hit? Really? Right about now, Vanessa Carlton is probably wondering where it all went wrong. Gaga will most likely take this as a consolation prize for what some have called a snub in the general field, but doesn't it just seem like the kind of embarrassing thing the Grammys are known for to give Beyoncé an award for some random-ass live version of the same song she won for a year ago?
SC: I think that only happens when the studio version fails to get nominated the year before. This one is clearly Gaga's prize. I hope she wears pants.
EH: God, only Beyoncé can get a make-up nomination after actually winning the year before. If she wields that sort of cachet, maybe she can actually score an unprecedented win twice in a row. If anyone's beating Gaga here, it's not Katy Perry (who will suffer her third loss in as many years in this category), it's Norah Jones.
BEST DANCE RECORDING
“In for the Kill,” La Roux
“Dance in the Dark,” Lady Gaga (WILL WIN)
“Only Girl (In the World),” Rihanna
“Dancing on My Own,” Robyn
SC: The question here is whether the academy prefers to dance in the dark or on their own.
EH: Or if they prefer to not dance at all. In which case, La Roux's academic “Devo-tions” and Goldfrapp jumping like Van Halen are probably both still in the conversation. I like Robyn's “Dance” better than Gaga's, so I guess the latter is probably going to win.
JK: God, it's so much harder to pick this category when there's more than one song with the word “dance” right there in the title to tell the old people who to vote for. I suppose Gaga takes this one for a combination of that reason and the greater name recognition.
JK: It's stupid to bet against the albums nominated for Album of the Year in their respective genre fields, but the Black Keys actually pulled quite a few nominations this year and wouldn't be a surprising or undeserved winner. But I'll stick to precedent here and leave my wishful thinking for Best Country Album, in hopes that Miranda Lambert or Jamey Johnson upset Lady A.
SC: I wouldn't count out the Black Keys, but yeah, Arcade Fire will take this.
EH: Band of Horses should be threatening to topple Antebellum's chances in Best Country Album, not coming in fifth place here (which they—famous last words—almost surely will).
BEST URBAN/ALTERNATIVE PERFORMANCE
“Little One,” Bilal
“Fuck You!,” Cee-Lo Green (WILL WIN)
“Orion,” Carolyn Malachi
“Tightrope,” Janelle Monáe featuring Big Boi
“Still,” Eric Roberson
SC: Janelle Monáe was nominated in this category last year, so if voters decide to send Cee-Lo home empty-handed for his dirty mouth, second time could be the charm.
EH: Neither have much in the way of competition. Not a slight on the other nominees' level of quality, but their relative obscurity. Otherwise, Malachi's slow-rolling, octave-leaping weirdness and Roberson's inverted harmonies would get deeper consideration. (Bilal's contribution can settle for resembling what I wish Prince's latter-day ballads sounded more like.) But “Tightrope” may be the least adventurous, catchiest thing from Monáe's album, which should be enough to nudge it beyond the Record of the Year elephant in the room.
JK: Gnarls Barkley is a proven Grammy commodity, which Janelle is not, so I think that, along with the Record and Song nominations, gives Cee-Lo the edge here.
SC: Raymond v. Raymond v. Monáe. Sadly, Janelle's lack of nominations in the general field probably means all the critical buzz might not translate to any wins on Grammy night, but I'm still holding out hope.
JK: I suppose it makes as much sense for Monáe's album to be recognized as an R&B album as it would for it to be nominated anywhere else, and, at least against this lineup, she actually has a good shot at winning, especially as the only woman nominated in a category that, at least lately, has been dominated by women.
EH: Insert obligatory pouting on behalf of Erykah Badu here.
BEST IMPROVISED JAZZ SOLO
“Solar,” Alan Broadbent
“A Change Is Gonna Come,” Herbie Hancock
“Body and Soul,” Keith Jarrett
“Lonely Woman,” Hank Jones (WILL WIN)
“Van Gogh,” Wynton Marsalis
JK: I am honestly stunned that Papa Knowles didn't find something from Beyoncé's live recordings to submit here. He's really slacking.
SC: How do you do know he didn't? She probably saw the word “solo” and exclaimed, “Daddy, get me that!” I'm giving Eric the last word on this one.
EH: Herbie Hancock? Can't imagine him ever winning a Grammy. Okay, those sour grapes aside, there's a lot of comfort to be found in these nominees. Four of the five are pianists, which is heartening, and they are all incredibly relaxed, confident, and professional. (Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis still strikes me as more academic than intuitive, and he's not helped by his album's conceit, to tour an art museum through jazz.) Are any of them working at the very top of their game? Maybe not, but there's so much personality and clean musicianship here, no nits need be picked. The late Hank Jones is the sentimental favorite, and his brief work on “Lonely Woman” is a lovely coda to a legendary career.