We felt pretty good about our Grammy Award winner predictions last year. After the televised ceremony, however, we started to ask ourselves, “Where did we go wrong?” If memory serves, only about half of our predictions were correct, but that wasn’t the problem—50% ain’t too shabby. More perturbing was the fact that only a handful of the categories we chose to predict (specifically, the Big Four) were actually presented live on the show. For those of us who are still interested in the craft of song and the art of the album, Best Song and Best Album for each respective genre are the most important categories. To producers of the Grammy telecast, it’s those pesky, ambiguous “Performance” categories, which are invariably bestowed upon the artist who just performed 30 seconds before. Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). Why not Best Performance by a Drummer In a Country Song by a Duo or Group with Vocal? It’s nice to recognize individual performances, but the main performance categories are consistently stuffed with repeats. In the age of iPod, these categories seem to represent the ongoing distillation of what was once considered art. The death of the tangible single has led to the end of the distinction between “the song” and “the album.” After all, what is Confessions if not a collection of individual songs, written and produced by 21 different producers, shuffled together like the “urban” playlist on your little brother’s iPod? As a result, albums like Green Day’s American Idiot, Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, and Brian Wilson’s Smile have truly earned their spots (and, hopefully, their victories) in the little categories you probably won’t see on TV on February 13th.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
“Let’s Get It Started,” The Black Eyed Peas
“Here We Go Again,” Ray Charles & Norah Jones (Will Win)
“American Idiot,” Green Day
“Heaven,” Los Lonely Boys
“Yeah!,” Usher featuring Lil Jon & Ludacris
Eric Henderson: I think the title of the Ray Charles/Norah Jones collaboration is appropriate here. Another year, another award for multimedia synchronicity over artistic merit.
Sal Cinquemani: As overplayed as the song was, and as much as I can’t stand Usher, it’s going to be hard not to give this one to “Yeah!” It was the most played song of 2004.
EH: Yeah, but I’m having visions of Norah Jones winning some 70 odd trophies two years back, and Santana doing the same a few years prior to that. Grammy voters can’t resist a sweep, and if the Black Eyed Peas cut into the Usher votes, I can’t imagine why the single with by far the least radio spins might not end up with an inexplicable, Steely Dan-style win here.
SC: I don’t see the, ahem, White Eyed Peas cutting into Usher’s votes. Green Day is definitely more worthy in the album category, but this could be the academy’s opportunity to award the band.
EH: Provided they want to. The Grammys have always been a little red state, musically speaking. Who’s to say they might not have crossed over politically?
SC: I’d venture to say that a good chunk of the 48.5% of the country who voted for John Kerry work in the music biz.
EH: Vote or Die.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Genius Loves Company, Ray Charles & Various Artists (Will Win)
American Idiot, Green Day
The Diary of Alicia Keys, Alicia Keys
The College Dropout, Kanye West
SC: This is Ray Charles and Company’s to lose. Not only will it fulfill the sentimental vote, but it will pack the stage with Grammy faves like Norah Jones and Bonnie Raitt. The academy won’t be able to resist.
EH: If every producer credited with working on Confessions actually voted for it, it would win in a landslide. But if last year’s 1-for-4 hip-hop showing in the top categories taught us anything, it’s that the average Grammy voter still takes his coffee with cream, thanks.
SC: Hmmm, well Usher isn’t hip-hop and Ray Charles is black, so…
EH: If you can name me five urban radio stations playing Charles’s duet with Norah Jones, or give me the racial demographic of Genius Loves Company’s target (i.e. Starbucks) audience, I’ll gladly stand corrected.
SC: Well, by now Green Day is being perceived as a “veteran” act and their American Idiot is one of the most acclaimed albums of the year and it’s currently got the most momentum of all the nominees. I would be pleasantly surprised to see them upset. My gut is telling me they’re gonna snag it from the dead blind guy but we’ll have to wait and see. They are, after all, the minority in this category.
EH: And in the nation…
SONG OF THE YEAR
“Daughters,” John Mayer
“If I Ain’t Got You,” Alicia Keys
“Jesus Walks,” Kanye West
“Live Like You Were Dying,” Tim McGraw (Will Win)
“The Reason,” Hoobastank
SC: John Mayer’s “Daughters” came out of nowhere this year.
EH: Which is where it shall return. This category probably boils down to a two-way contest between Alicia attempting to have sex with her 88 keys and Tim McGraw hurting so good over the death of his father. Guess which image Grammy voters probably feel safer envisioning?
SC: I prefer the image of Kanye West going home empty-handed so he can go cry about it publicly.
EH: I hate to say it, since I used to call her Alicia “Please,” but I’d give her the trophy in this sorry lot.
SC: Agreed. I really liked “Jesus Walks” but then I realized it was about Christ and not a miraculously cured Puerto Rican paraplegic.
BEST NEW ARTIST
Los Lonely Boys
Gretchen Wilson (Will Win)
SC: Grammy history would have us believe that a lady will take Best New Artist home this year (it was telling that Amy Lee of Evanescence accepted the award by herself in 2004). Country bad girl Gretchen Wilson’s got it in the bag…unless Kanye West bucks the trend, that is.
EH: Well, Kanye does have the most nominations.
SC: Yes, but…vagina!
EH: In that case, maybe Maroon 5 is the frontrunner here.
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Genius Loves Company, Ray Charles & Various Artists (Will Win)
Feels Like Home, Norah Jones
Afterglow, Sarah McLachlan
Mind, Body & Soul, Joss Stone
Brian Wilson Presents Smile, Brian Wilson
SC: I was surprised Brian Wilson didn’t get an Album of the Year nod, which makes a win here less likely. Ditto for Norah Jones. Perhaps voters are finally realizing how overrated the girl is. Another one for the late Ray.
EH: Wow, am I out of the loop. I had no idea that Sarah McLachlan had released another album.
SC: Yes, and most of us fell asleep while listening to it. I do dig that “Stupid” song and the accompanying through-the-ages “Walking On Broken Glass”-style video though.
EH: I fell asleep one song in on Norah Jones’s first album and haven’t managed to wake up to her since. It makes me nervous driving around knowing that her aural Valium is being transmitted on Lite-FM stations nationwide.
BEST DANCE RECORDING
“Good Luck,” Basement Jaxx featuring Lisa Kekaula (Will Win)
“Get Yourself High,” The Chemical Brothers
“Slow,” Kylie Minogue
“Comfortably Numb,” Scissor Sisters
“Toxic,” Britney Spears
EH: Why is the Franz Ferdinand single (easily more danceable than rockable) not in this category? Oh, that’s right. Because the Grammys hold dance music at arm’s length, awarding it while holding their collective nose.
SC: Ditto for the Killers’s “Somebody Told Me.” And the Scissor Sisters were nominated for the wrong song.
EH: Considering I prefer their trashy downtempo faux-schmaltz (“Mary”), I’d say they were nominated in the wrong category. And it took the Grammy dance branch long enough to get wise to Basement Jaxx and the Chemical Brothers. Unfortunately, the latter act seems to be well past their shelf date. “Good Luck,” on the other hand, is a fantastic, chugging single that shoves Britney’s sex-pixie ditty and the Scissor Sisters’s queer-as-milquetoast shtick face down in the dirt.
SC: The only thing more popular than hating on Britney is hating on Britney while dancing shirtless to “Toxic.” Will that be enough to score her a Grammy? I’m not sure the world is ready for that.
EH: I guess the big sea change in this category is that “Toxic” is probably the first Britney single that was, if anything, as big a hit critically as it was commercially. I’m not saying that the Grammy voters give two shits about critical acclaim (which is even harder to summarize in the world of music than it is in movies), except that I think they do more so in categories they don’t care about.
SC: Well, it should be noted that Kylie Minogue beat both Cher and Madonna last year, so kicking Britney butt shouldn’t be too difficult. I mean, the girl hasn’t even won a VMA.
BEST ELECTRONIC/DANCE ALBUM
Kish Kash, Basement Jaxx (Will Win)
Legion of Boom, The Crystal Method
Creamfields, Paul Oakenfold
Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, The Prodigy
Reflections, Paul Van Dyk
EH: Look, I appreciate the effort to tart up the dance category with a new award, but if this truly represents the best for the genre in LP format, then please spare us the favor, Grammy.
SC: Granny? Oh, I didn’t realize you were here, Grandma Henderson.
Grandma Henderson: Any category that makes room for both Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk is to be held in contempt. The best we can all hope for is that the two far-too-tasteful DJs cancel each other out and make way for a Kish Kash win.
SC: Do they really need to make room for Kish Kash? I would have thought it was a lock. Too bad Björk stopped making electronic music. This should have been hers.
EH: I’d dance to “Triumph of a Heart” before the other four nominees in this category, and you know you would too. Otherwise, it is pretty telling that the Jaxx are the only act in this category also nominated in the other dance category. The Brixton duo should take this in a cakewalk, unless we’re underestimating the appeal of Oakenfold.
SC: Or cake. The Jaxx also have a nomination in the remix field. Oakey doesn’t.