NARAS’s manifesto says the Academy will choose Record of the Year based on artistry alone, “without regard to sales or chart position.” This promise gets easier to keep as the Grammys get older: This year, all five contenders are commercial smashes, and, perhaps equally important, all five singles are equally at home on pop radio and hipster-party playlists. Predicting this category with any certainty would be simply insincere, especially if, say, voters decide to award Daft Punk’s banner year here and not in Album of the Year. Bruno Mars has the Super Bowl halftime show, Robin Thicke still has that suit with the slimming vertical pinstripes, and Pharrell—nominated twice here, for his work with Thicke and Daft Punk—has already enjoyed a hell of a Grammy season while the rest of us were still putting our socks on.
But for Record of the Year, our money is on Lorde’s “Royals.” Slant’s Kevin Liedel has characterized the singer’s debut, Pure Heroine, as “nihilist pop,” and the infectious “Royals” offers a cynical view of industry mechanisms behind recording stardom, even as it ensures Lorde’s own status in the pop firmament. The ostensible edge and palpable pop appeal of “Royals” render it irresistible Grammy bait, while the 17-year-old New Zealand native’s own glimmering youth, which animates her precociously intelligent pop, is another distinction that might well hold weight with NARAS members. Lorde’s message, meanwhile, is a rich and topical comment on the millennial ethos, an anthem for youth life in the 21st-century American recession. She and her crew may never be royals, but the pop scepter isn’t too far beyond her reach. Besides, should the gramophone elude her grasp, “Royals” has already established that Lorde doesn’t really give a fuck about golden idols.
Will Win: Lorde, “Royals”
Could Win: Pretty much anything else
Should Win: Daft Punk featuring Pharrell, “Get Lucky”