RECORD OF THE YEAR
"We Belong Together," Mariah Carey
"Feel Good Inc.," Gorillaz featuring De La Soul
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Green Day (Will Win)
"Hollaback Girl," Gwen Stefani
"Gold Digger," Kanye West
Sal Cinquemani: "We Belong Together" earned its title long before this year's nominations were even announced. I hesitate to say that it "deserves" to win (it's in surprisingly worthy company), but unless voters decide to deny Mariah Carey a general field category (and they might), this trophy is Mimi's to lose…emphasis on the lose. Being the sole rock entry in this category helped Coldplay's "Clocks" win two years ago but it didn't do much for Green Day's "American Idiot" last year. The less politically divisive "Boulevard," on the other hand, is the kind of sweeping rock ballad the academy likes to get behind. It would be an opportunity to bestow a major award on the band after they went home with only one trophy last winter.
Eric Henderson: The Grammys had a few opportunities to award Green Day last year, but you could hardly blame the voters for jumping into Ray Charles's time machine in order to avoid actually coping with the outcome of the presidential election. If Kanye "black people" West's anti-Bush tirade is still ringing in the ears of voters, it's only because it was the most conspicuous reflection of political discontent in a year when music seemed ready to declare tomorrow another day, a day in which you wish your girlfriend was hot like me. Kanye's impromptu Howard Beale moment could ironically help give Green Day's more carefully considered political messages a leg up on the four-way splitting and, more specifically, the still-looming ghost of Charles reincarnated by Jamie Foxx in the single by…Kanye West. Oh, what a twisted web Grammy weaves. Of course, if Mariah wins (like she probably will), it'll be bubble-headed business as usual.
Jonathan Keefe: If Mariah does take this one, it'll be because Gorillaz have enough appeal with the "rock" voters to siphon off enough of Green Day's support, not because NARAS is suddenly feeling recalcitrant for having rewarded Mariah with a scant two trophies over the course of her career and not because they're at all inclined to assume that the year's biggest radio hit is also the year's best single (right, Usher and Beyoncé?). Still, the line-up is just too similar to 2003's, with four nominees culled from the increasingly blurred line between pop and hip-hop squaring off against one Hot AC ballad, not to think that "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" will prevail.
Ed Gonzalez: Given the conspicuous Bush bashing that goes on at Slant, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the White House is spying on us right now. If NARAS voters feel their own boulevard of dreams is being similarly tapped, I'm sure they'll want to rally behind Green Day.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The Emancipation of Mimi, Mariah Carey
Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Paul McCartney
Love. Angel. Music. Baby. , Gwen Stefani
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2
Late Registration, Kanye West (Will Win)
SC: Not only is Mariah's The Emancipation of Mimi the biggest-selling album in this category, it was the biggest-selling album of 2005, and sales can often equal votes come Grammy night. That said, she'll have to beat the old-fart factor (Paul McCartney) and Kanye's critical favor (while I'd love to see voters punish him for his ego, I'm not holding my breath). Perennial favorites U2 haven't won in this category since The Joshua Tree and if they couldn't score for the dreadful, middle-of-the-road All That You Can't Leave Behind, I don't see them doing it for the marginally better How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
EG: Kanye West…because NARAS doesn't want to give him, or his savior Jesus, the impression they hate black people.
EH: Kanye's sophomore album lacked that "dig me!" self-aggrandizement that made The College Dropout the album you hated to love last year. And, "Gold Digger" aside, Late Registration also lacked that LP's string of smash hits (so far, anyway). But the "hit machine" electorate is split down the middle between Mimi (the year's biggest hits) and Hollaback (the most enduring). And between McCartney and U2, Grammy's fogey contingent will still be scratching their asses trying to decide long after the ballots are due. The only question mark on the category is whether West's acceptance speech will be on CBS's trigger-happy time delay.
JK: By shooting his mouth off about how he's the most deserving nominee because he worked harder—since he actually sat in on McCartney's and Stefani's recording sessions and all—and by saying that he actively wants to win Album Of The Year, Kanye probably did enough to secure this win, drawing attention to himself while more or less giving NARAS a handjob. Not even his ego can compare to their bloated sense of self-importance: They'll vote for whoever goes on record to state that he thinks the Grammys really do matter. Well played, Kanye. Well played.
SONG OF THE YEAR
"Bless the Broken Road," Rascal Flatts (Will Win)
"Devils & Dust," Bruce Springsteen
"Ordinary People," John Legend
"Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," U2
"We Belong Together," Mariah Carey
SC: Mariah Carey is second only to Aretha Franklin in total Grammy nominations for female artists, and yet the woman has only won two—and that was 15 years ago. Lambs everywhere can rejoice in the fact that she's sure to add a few to her tally in '06…this just won't be one of them. If senile voters confuse "Bless The Broken Road" with "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" then it's a lock.
EH: Springsteen and U2—earnest and earnester—could easily cut into Flatts's tally. Which can only help John Legend, whose tunes have that sort of self-evident "writerliness" that should appeal to R&B-devoted voters who can't quite feel out a strong melody in Carey's minimalist song.
EG: It warms my heart that Bruce Springsteen seems to have finally passed his "We Are The World" kidney stone. "Devils & Dust" is the best song here, but its fire-and-brimstone imagery isn't going to be an easy sell with Rascal Flatts's more amiable "Driving Miss Daisy Theme" in contention.
JK: Since "schmaltz" routinely trumps "songcraft" in this category, "Bless The Broken Road" will win for being the most obvious wedding song on the list.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Fall Out Boy
John Legend (Will Win)
SC: The last time a solo male won Best New Artist was also the same year Mariah Carey last won a Grammy (1991), which bodes well for John Legend, who is in a three-way tie with none other than Mariah and mentor Kanye West for the artist with the most nominations this year. Sadly, The Killers peaked too late to compete with the likes of Kanye and Gretchen Wilson last year and they're ineligible this year, and for that Keane and Fall Out Boy can thank them. Don't count out Sugarland though—this is fast-becoming Grammy's most surprising category and the Atlanta trio, who've got two #2 country hits under their belts, are probably hoping to break their runner-up status with a win on Grammy night.
EH: Shouldn't Mimi be in this category? Ordinary money is on Legend, but after last year's win for Maroon 5, rock-oriented guy groups aren't hopelessly out of contention for the BNA trophy. Fall Out Boy aren't as ubiquitous as Adam Levine's back-up models (nor are they as droolworthy), but if enough grizzled, senile execs let their grandnieces and nephews fill out their ballots, it'll put them into serious contention.
JK: It would be easier to take Sugarland, who have the best balance of commercial and critical stats of the five nominees, as a serious threat here if they'd managed to score any of the nominations they were expected to earn in the Country field. Since they were completely shut out, it's clear that their support isn't strong enough to pull an upset in one of the major categories. Fall Out Boy doesn't have the VH1 heavy rotation that Maroon 5 used to their advantage last year, and if Coldplay didn't score any nominations in the General Field, there's no reason to think that the Coldplay-lite of Keane will manage to win. Ciara's other nominations are all for her collaborations with Missy Elliott, and, of course, there's the fact that the girl just can't sing. The category's history notwithstanding, this one's Legend's in a walk.
EG: If Keane kidnaps a little girl in one of their songs and takes her to Port Authority, I want them to win.
BEST FEMALE POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE
"It's Like That," Mariah Carey
"Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson
"Good Is Good," Sheryl Crow
"I Will Not Be Broken," Bonnie Raitt
"Hollaback Girl," Gwen Stefani (Will Win)
EH: I seem to remember once upon a time Bonnie Raitt being the go-to girl whenever the pop categories threatened to get too pop. And if "Hollaback Girl" is as much a frontrunner as we all know it is, that could spur whatever reactionary machinery kicked in when Raitt defeated Paula Abdul ("Straight Up") and, ahem, Mariah Carey ("Emotions") into action. Kelly Clarkson's ubiquitous pop-rock bonbon would be the logical compromise, but I wonder whether there aren't some voters who still feel a little conflicted about throwing trophies toward American Idol winners. Especially considering that the recent Season 5 premiere reacquainted us with the show's tin-eared initial hook.
SC: I was surprised to see Clarkson missing from some of the bigger categories this year, so maybe there isn't as much love for her among the academy as I suspected there would be. Still, if this award is indeed given for the best vocal performance then "Since U Been Gone" will be hard to beat. Mariah was nominated for the wrong song and, while Grammy voters love them some Sheryl Crow, the lovely "Good Is Good" might be a little too subtle a performance for even the most discerning academy member. Clarkson's only competition is "Hollaback": the academy clearly views Gwen Stefani as more of an "artist" than Clarkson (see Album and Record Of The Year nods) and she's already won two pop performance awards with No Doubt.
EG: I like Gwen Stefani but hate "Hollaback Girl," and "It's Like That" only makes me think of Mariah's dirty panties. American Idol won't mean a damn since most people see the show as a trip to Crystal Lake, with Simon Cowell as its Jason and Clarkson as the only survivor to have ever gotten out with her dignity (and possibly even her virginity) in tact. (Props to Crow, though, for a memorable, albeit distant, second-place finish.)
JK: What's tricky about this category is that there's no way to predict how the voters are going to interpret the word "vocal" in any given year. Technically, it's only in the category name because what's nominated has to include vocals on at least 51% of its running time, but there are always people who argue that it should go to the performance with the best vocal technique. Because the best possible way to increase the Grammys' credibility is by getting bogged down in a semantics debate. That might hurt Stefani here, since "Hollaback Girl" is already a divisive single, and most of its proponents would likely admit that what works about it doesn't hinge on her vocal performance. So the question is whether or not that will play enough of a role to allow either Clarkson or Crow to win. Crow generally fares better in the Rock field, and her album hasn't sold particularly well, but she does have the "They're selling it at Starbucks" appeal that has worked for Norah Jones, Coldplay, and Ray Charles. Clarkson can take consolation in the fact that "Since U Been Gone" seems poised to win Pazz & Jop, since the Grammys do have that air of would-be "legitimacy" that makes it hard to see them going for an American Idol, however deserving she might be. Heart says Clarkson, but brain says that Stefani's too popular not to win anything, and this one's her best shot.