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Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions Original Song

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Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Original Song

Interscope

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Original Song

We’re repeatedly reminded that the Academy’s music branch is supposed to be paying attention to context when selecting their nominees for best song, so that they don’t simply wave five closing-credit ballads through, but actually select songs that function as part of the fabric of the film that surrounds them. All five songs nominated this year represent the sole nods for their respective films, two of which are documentaries and theoretically had favorable odds of at least getting nominated in that category. So concerns for context probably stand for very little, given the Academy’s clear indifference to this group of films. They may as well be voting on which song they most like listening to while frantically typing “g” and “h” playing Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage for the 12th time.

Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Album of the Year

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Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Album of the Year
Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Album of the Year

This is a race more of less between two albums: One great and daring, one mediocre and safe. So if the conversation here was related to an institution with any standard for greatness, this might not be such a tough call, but since this is the Grammys, bastion for all that is “pretty okay,” it’s harder to say who will receive the honor. Beyoncé’s surprise-released set seemingly isn’t all that different a candidate from Frank Ocean’s sinewy nü-R&B effort Channel Orange, which lost in this category a few years ago. But not inconsequentially, Beyoncé did basically reinvent both the roll-out strategy for a pop album and expand its borders into a full-blown multimedia experience, its iTunes drop packaged with a music video for each of its songs. Then again, increased real estate in the pop-culture discourse has its drawbacks, with right-wing talking heads like Mike Huckabee spouting off about her music being “mental poison” because she has the audacity to extend her narrative focus to strippers and backseat boofing.

Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Song of the Year

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Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Song of the Year
Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Song of the Year

Just as the correlation between Record of the Year and Song of the Year—the distinction between which we’re relatively sure even some Grammy voters aren’t entirely clear on—seems to be truly drifting apart, along comes a nearly five-for-five slate. That’s not bad news for orphan Record of the Year nominee Iggy Azalea; last year, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” managed a win in that category without even having been nominated for songwriting. However, it’s not good news for Hozier, whose gutsy-whiny “Take Me to Church” missed out on a bid in the glitzier main drag. You have to go back nearly a decade to find the last time a Song of the Year winner wasn’t also at least nominated in Record of the Year, and even in that case the streak is broken by U2, who were then at the apex of receiving general-field Grammys seemingly out of reflex. And it’s not like Hozier’s going to get a leg up from the voters who are biased toward performers who write their own material. Each of the five nominees this year is performing works that they had some hand in writing.

Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Record of the Year

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Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Record of the Year
Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Record of the Year

The closer this category flirts with mainstream appeal, the closer we are to wholly justifiable nominations for, say, “Turn Down for What.” But as Lil Jon’s DJ Snake and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” are both resolutely not nominated, it’s safe to say the room’s still a little too tightly pursed to see this trophy blowing I-G-G-Y’s way. (Nope, you can’t taste this gold yet.) But for the second year running, there isn’t even a Black Keys-style minor hit or a Bon Iver-style niche cult hit or a Frank Ocean-style critics-only hit in these ranks. Each song cracked the top 25 of Billboard’s year-end singles list (though Sia just by a thread from her thrift-store wig), which makes it a little more difficult than usual to dismiss any candidate for being “too pop,” even though, in Azalea’s case, we still will.

Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Best New Artist

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Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Best New Artist
Grammy 2015 Winner Predictions: Best New Artist

There are a few sure bets in life: rain, taxes, and, until recently, a female artist winning the Grammy for Best New Artist. Just over a decade ago, the resistance to testosterone in this category was so potent that even when Heather Headley, the only female solo act nominated that year, lost her bid, it was to a female-fronted band: Evanescence, who, I’d like to note, we predicted when other outlets were naïvely throwing around names like 50 Cent. There’s no shortage of ladies nominated in 2015, so we’d be remiss not to consider critical darlings like country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark or pop-rock trio Haim. (Iggy Azalea is a non-factor, as far more respected rappers—Kanye West, Nicki Minaj—have lost in this race despite less competition.) And the fact that bands have done surprisingly well in this category of late, with fun., Bon Iver, and Zac Brown Band among recent victors, means Bastille shouldn’t be counted out either, though they lack the commercial and critical clout usually required to win here. Which would make this a tough year to predict if not for a clear frontrunner in U.K. soul singer Sam Smith, whose vulnerable performances, powerhouse vocals, and classic R&B flair put him in the same league as past winners Adele, Amy Winehouse, and John Legend. That he’s nominated for six awards, including the Big Four, makes this as sure a bet as snow in winter.

Listen to Slant‘s 25 Best Singles of 2014

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Listen to Slant’s 25 Best Singles of 2014
Listen to Slant’s 25 Best Singles of 2014

As if taking a cue from Daft Punk’s nothing-but-nostalgic triumph at the Grammy Awards, 2014 was the year of the late arrival. Two years after its release, Disclosure’s “Latch” suddenly and belatedly became a wedding-reception staple. (Though, as Sam Smith could now attest in no less than 35 states in the Union, sometimes the wait’s worth it.) Pharrell Williams’s “Happy,” which first appeared two summers ago in the utterly inconsequential Despicable Me 2, rode a surprise Oscar nomination to rule the charts throughout spring, before ultimately winding up as the year’s preeminent song for everyone to pretend they hated all along. And Taylor Swift finally admitted to being the pop artist the rest of the country-music world already knew she’s been the entire time. Of course, the industry’s default mode remains as ever the hot new preferably young thing. So it’s hardly surprising that, despite Swift’s many magazine covers, Ariana Grande emerged as arguably the most ubiquitous force of perk on the pop charts, her melisma sounding freshly trained like the first-in-class graduate of the Mariah Carey Arpeggio Academy she is. Ultimately, none of these artists came within earshot of making our list, which only goes to show that finding the gems in popular music, the songs with freshness and vitality, is as much a burrower’s game as ever these days. The songs we chose share with Grande that sense of emergence and discovery. Only they’re darker, with a disinclination for showing their faces until you reckon with their imposing talent, or, conversely, zeal for giving listeners uncompromisingly violent sexuality at face value, leaving more dead bodies strewn in their wake. And more references to masturbation.

House Playlist: Sam Smith, Real Connoisseur, Chelsea Wolfe, & Vandetta

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House Playlist: Sam Smith, Real Connoisseur, Chelsea Wolfe, & Vandetta
House Playlist: Sam Smith, Real Connoisseur, Chelsea Wolfe, & Vandetta

Sam Smith, “Safe with Me”: British singer-songwriter Sam Smith’s rich, soulful vocals are pitched up and down, looped, and otherwise beautifully disfigured by producer Two Inch Punch on this track from the up-and-comer’s upcoming EP.