Last year I made the mistake of second-guessing the Academy’s recent trend of awarding the biggest selling album in this category, giving the edge to the Black Keys’ El Camino, which had been outsold by Mumford & Sons’ Babel by only half a million copies. Mumford’s (both initially and in retrospect, obvious) win, however, makes predicting this year’s victor all the trickier. Justin Timberlake, whose The 20/20 Experience was 2013’s top seller (even before the second volume’s scanned an additional 800K copies), failed to snag a nomination here, which leaves Taylor Swift’s Red as the category’s big kahuna. Trouble is, it’s unlikely NARAS will be so quick to award the country-pop ingénue with the top prize twice in four years. The last artist to pull off a double win was Paul Simon way back in 1987, and he had to wait more than a decade for the honor. [NOTE: As “lazarus” points out in the comments below, the last act to win two Album of the Year awards was actually U2 in 2006, and the gap was even longer than Simon’s.]
That’s not to say Swift couldn’t pull it off, but if a sales runner-up were going to successfully pull off a heist, this would be a good year. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are poised to have a great night on Sunday, with Best New Artist and Song of the Year both within reach, and Album of the Year would look mighty fine alongside those two trophies. But a male hip-hop act has only won in this category once before and, well, Macklemore and Lewis are no Big Boi and André 3000. So that leaves Daft Punk, whose Random Access Memories has both the critical and commercial clout to hack the votes. And with guest appearances by disco pioneers Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers, not to mention contemporary stars like Pharrell, RAM feels a hell of lot like the kind of veteran collaboration album NARAS loves to reward in this category.
Will Win: Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Could Win: Taylor Swift, Red or Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist
Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City