Starting tomorrow, The House will predict the winners in all four General Field categories of the 55th Annual Grammy Awards, airing February 10th on CBS. To start things off, here are our thoughts on some of the smaller categories, most of which you probably won’t see televised Sunday night in order to make room for countless performances and seemingly arbitrary duets between artists who have no business sharing a stage, let alone a microphone.
Best Pop Solo Performance: Unlike the Academy Awards, the Grammys are now living in a post-gender world. Both male and female artists can be nominated in the same genre categories, which means, duh, that women dominate Best Pop Solo Performance. This one is Record of the Year nominee Kelly Clarkson’s to lose, but the only thing NARAS loves more than giving Grammys to Adele, is giving Grammys to live renditions of songs whose studio versions are ineligible, so don’t be surprised if the soon-to-be Oscar winner beats out Clarkson’s “Stronger” to land her ninth Grammy for “Set Fire to the Rain (Live).” Sal Cinquemani
Best Pop Vocal Album: The old maxim that “might equals right” seems appropriate when considering Grammy voters’ preferences in the Best Pop Vocal Album category, which has long been a repository of radio-friendly personas with thundering and often overbearing pipes. Sorely missed among this year’s nominees are Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan and newcomer Jessie Ware, two British artists whose exquisite, understated work on The Haunted Man and Devotion has quite literally been drowned out by the Kelly Clarksons and Pinks of the world, a missed opportunity for the Academy to spotlight artists whose nomination isn’t predicated on sheer volume and popularity. The safe bet this year is the sole Album of the Year nominee, Fun’s Some Nights. Kevin Liedel
Best Dance Recording: I mean, it’s not like they nominated Rebecca Black, right? Given that Grammy’s vice president is on the record saying this category means nothing to him, the only two takeaways surrounding Al Walser’s clearly bought-and-paid-for nomination are that it exposes EDM for the check-cashing Monster Energy Drink nightmare the genre always was, and that Walser stole a slot that clearly deserved to go to Sweet Brown’s “Get Me a Cold Pop (Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Dat).” If Walser’s checkbook is still open, he could pull off the win. But if the number of YouTube cover versions are any indication, this award is Swedish House Mafia’s. Eric Henderson
Best Rock Performance: Taking this category at its word, the golden gramophone should go to the gut-bustingest nominee. This year, that would be The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy,” a glory of a song built on tommy-gun drums and the sawed-off attack of singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach. But there’s a strong argument to be made on behalf of Alabama Shakes: Though at times more gospel than rock, Brittany Howard’s vocal dynamism on “Hold On” gets you where you live in a different but no less immediate sense than “Lonely Boy.” If we factor in sales, the Keys take this one, but the Mumfords could always make a sneak attack based on their current darling-status. And remember: Handing a Grammy to Bruce Springsteen isn’t exactly a difficult procedure. Ted Scheinman
Best Alternative Music Album: In what world does the Southern Gothic warbling of Tom Waits belong in the same category as M83’s shoegazing stadium anthems? Here, apparently. No other category screams Miscellaneous Shit the Academy Doesn’t Know What to Do With quite like Best Alternative Music Album, a nebulous designation where innovative artists tend to get shoehorned. Hence we see Waits, M83, Björk, and Gotye standing uncomfortably together with likely winner Fiona Apple like some haphazard criminal lineup. It’s further evidence that expanding this category (just as pop, rock, and other genres have) is long overdue. Liedel
Best R&B Performance: A histrionic Estelle acquits herself nicely from the concept of unqualified happiness, which should appeal to Mary J. Blige fans everywhere, and freshman Luke James’s early-and-often falsetto yelps would give Felix Baumgartner vertigo. But this category is unquestionably coming down to the two performances that wetly whisper seductive nothings in listeners’ ears (and, incidentally, the two performances that landed in place and show in this year’s Pazz & Jop singles poll). If Usher’s tantric quiet storm “Climax” represents not only his best, but also his most mature performance yet, even he’s no match for Miguel, who imbues his Midnight Love update “Adorn” with prowling, stately chivalry. Henderson
Best Americana Album: Responding 15 years too late to the phenomenon known as “alt-country,” the NARAS cleaved “Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album” into two separate categories in 2009. In the three years since, the Academy has favored hoarier acts with Americana honors: Levon Helm beat out Wilco in 2010, only to duplicate his success two years later. (In between, Mavis Staples won for the Jeff Tweedy-produced You Are Not Alone.) Based on this admittedly slender bit of historical precedent, the smart cash is on Bonnie Raitt over her younger, if no less banjo-devoted, competitors. Slipstream is rock-solid Raitt, even if there isn’t an original to be found on the album (I’ll take her covers of Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwright, and Gerry Rafferty over the Mumfords’ maudlin mandolins any day). But the category, for all its retrospective energy, is still in its infancy, so don’t be surprised should the academy fall for the semi-hip rusticity of Mumford & Sons or the Avett Brothers. Raitt’s is the better album, while the Lumineers, a newer and more imaginative act than the Mumfords or Avetts, deserve the silver. Scheinman