RECORD OF THE YEAR
“Crazy In Love,” Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z
“Where Is the Love,” The Black Eyed Peas & Justin Timberlake
“Lose Yourself,” Eminem
“Hey Ya!,” OutKast
Will Win: There’s a tremendous amount of love for Coldplay right now (even Timbaland and Timberlake, whose collaboration with The Black Eyed Peas is the dark horse in this category, have publicly praised the U.K. rockers), but with no other major nominations this year, it’s unlikely the band will snag the biggest award of the night. OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” is currently the number one single in the country, but it’s essentially a solo record and Grammy voters might want to award OutKast as a duo (see below). That leaves Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” the biggest single in the category, and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which—even if voters are ready to award the controversial rapper in one of the Big Four—might be a little too old to win both Record and Song of the Year.
Should Win (Eric): Though Beyoncé has shown remarkable legs (her song has too), “Hey Ya!” is another in OutKast’s amazing string of delirious, Paisley Park tributes. What “Let’s Go Crazy” was to Prince, “Hey Ya!” is to André 3000. (Thank God Big Boi kept pace with his own personal “When Doves Cry”: “The Way You Move.”)
Should Win (Sal): It’s no surprise that Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” was shut out of Song of the Year. It’s not so much the songwriting as it is the horn-y Chi-Lites sample and the chemistry between Beyoncé and her not-so-secret beau that made this the song of the summer and, in my opinion, the record of the year.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Under Construction, Missy Elliott
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, OutKast
Justified, Justin Timberlake
Elephant, The White Stripes
Will Win: It’s basically a rule that any album nominated for Album of the Year will most certainly win in its respective genre-specific category. So don’t feel bad for Justin Timberlake, Evanescence, and The White Stripes (who will win for Pop Album, Rock Album and Alternative Album, respectively). Duking it out for Album of the Year honors are Missy Elliott’s Under Construction and OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Missy’s album is older and she might be hurt by flooding the market (This Is Not A Test! was released just this past November), so it’s OutKast’s trophy to lose. If the Southern-fried hip-hop innovators cause a vote-split, though, The White Stripes could cause the upset of the year (and give the Grammys some long overdue indie cred).
Should Win (Eric): Sure it’s got its rough patches (to my ears, no album out of this line-up runs on a full tank for its entire duration), but OutKast’s album is still the most impressive. Pretend the ATLiens just went straight up and gave us the Deluxe Edition, rife with phenomenal B-Sides, outtakes and rarities. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Should Win (Sal): OutKast may get their due this year, but Missy topped herself (certainly an award-worthy feat) with Under Construction, an album that is more consistent (and a helluva lot more fun) than Big Boi and Dre’s ambitious two-fer.
SONG OF THE YEAR
“Beautiful,” Linda Perry, songwriter (Christina Aguilera)
“Dance With My Father,” Richard Marx & Luther Vandross, songwriters (Luther Vandross)
“I’m with You,” Avril Lavigne & The Matrix, songwriters (Avril Lavigne)
“Keep Me in Your Heart,” Jorge Calderón & Warren Zevon, songwriters (Warren Zevon)
“Lose Yourself,” J. Bass, M. Mathers & L. Resto, songwriters (Eminem)
Will Win: While “I’m with You” is far more palatable than Avril Lavigne’s first two singles, academy voters have once again confused The Matrix’s catchy hooks for good songwriting, and they’re unlikely to give Grammy gold to the self-proclaimed “Sid Vicious” of her generation. Christina Aguilera’s durable “Beautiful” certainly earned its spot but it’s a much better record than song, and no one really wants to see Linda Perry up there on the podium on Grammy night, do they? The sympathy vote will probably be spilt between the late Warren Zevon and the ailing Luther Vandross, who could cause a major upset here. Song of the Year is Eminem’s trophy to, uh, lose. “Lose Yourself” won him the Oscar and with its surprisingly positive, life-affirming message, it could be the first rap song to win in this category.
Should Win (Eric): Part of me wants so badly for Richard Marx to ascend to the podium and say, “I guess it’s not ‘too late to say goodbye’!” But nostalgia trips aside, there’s only one choice to be made here: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
Should Win (Sal): History (albeit, white-washed history) in-the-making: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
BEST NEW ARTIST
Fountains of Wayne
Will Win: Voters traditionally award females in this category, but while Heather Headley may have the pipes, she doesn’t have the songwriting skills, the buzz or the sales. Fountains of Wayne and Sean Paul shouldn’t even be here (personal opinions aside, neither act is “new”), so it’s a neck-and-neck race between Evanescence and 50 Cent, with a possible upset by Headley. We give Evanescence the edge. Though a band hasn’t won in this category since 1996 (Hootie and the Blowfish), lead singer Amy Lee may be the closest we get to a new, estrogen-fueled Grammy darling.
Should Win (Eric): 2003 was the year of Justin Timberlake. (Hey, if the Grammys can nominate such established acts as Fountains of Wayne and Sean Paul, and seemingly don’t care about keeping their new artists, y’know…new, why should I?)
Should Win (Sal): None of the above.
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Stripped, Christina Aguilera
Brainwashed, George Harrison
Bare, Annie Lennox
Motown, Michael McDonald
Justified, Justin Timberlake
Will Win: Xtina won Best New Artist two years ago because Grammy voters recognized her potential. Her sophomore effort, Stripped, doesn’t live up to that promise and will have a hard time beating her fellow former-Mouseketeer and tourmate Justin Timberlake, who’s got an Album of the Year nod under his sparkling, Jacko-style belt. The rest of the nominees don’t stand a chance against Justin’s Justified: George Harrison is nobody’s favorite Beatle, even dead; the Annie Lennox revival, though good, arrived with too little fanfare; and Michael McDonald—well, it’s just an honor to be nominated at all.
Should Win (Eric): Neither overly sentimental, suffused with cheap junior-high affirmations of self-worth, or a solo comeback from Hell (unless you wanna be a jerk about it), Justin Timberlake was the sickeningly across-the-board popular success you just couldn’t hate even after trying for months and months not to wipe a tear away during “Rock Your Body” or touch yourself to “Cry Me A River.”
Should Win (Sal): It’s becoming more and more clear that Justin Timberlake is just beginning to show us what he’s capable of as a singer, performer and songwriter. Consider Justified his Off The Wall.
BEST DANCE RECORDING
“Love One Another,” Cher
“Easy,” Groove Armada
“Die Another Day,” Madonna
“Come Into My World,” Kylie Minogue
Will Win: Cher’s sole Grammy win came courtesy of her biggest hit, “Believe,” in 2000, so “Love One Another,” a cover song that flew under the radar, is unlikely to score her another win in this category. Not to mention, there are two other dance divas to be reckoned with: the recently resurrected Kylie Minogue, and Madonna, whose Bond theme “Die Another Day,” though it’s the biggest hit here, is as equally loathed as it is loved and didn’t even manage to score a nomination for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture. Last year, Dirty Vegas won for their Mitsubishi song “Days Go By,” but Télépopmusik, whose “Breathe” is this year’s car commercial theme of choice, lacks the crossover appeal that made Dirty Vegas a household name (for a minute). “Breathe” would be the edgiest pick, but Kylie could take this one home simply because she was overlooked last year for her infectious comeback single, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”
Should Win (Eric): Another year, another dance category that’s acting like dance music exists solely for the benefit of Madison Avenue (Télépopmusik for Mitsubishi, Kylie Minogue for Bally’s, and Groove Armada for Mitsubishi, Mercedes and Ringtones). What do Masters at Work have to do to get nominated in this category? (They’re in the remix ghetto, but not for their gorgeous take on Nina Simone’s “See-Line Woman.”) Despite being only about the 72nd best dance track of the Grammy year (make that 83rd, if Basement Jaxx were eligible), Kylie’s “Come Into My World” is the pick of this sellout lot.
Should Win (Sal): Madonna injected the Bond franchise with some much needed umpf, and “Die Another Day,” though derivative of her previous work with “Music” producer Mirwais, is still more rewarding and forward-thinking than any other Bond theme in recent memory.
BEST ROCK SONG
“Bring Me to Life,” David Hodges, Amy Lee & Ben Moody, songwriters (Evanescence Featuring Paul McCoy)
“Calling All Angels,” Charlie Colin, Pat Monahan, Jimmy Stafford & Scott Underwood, songwriters (Train)
“Disorder in the House,” Jorge Calderón & Warren Zevon, songwriters (Warren Zevon & Bruce Springsteen)
“Seven Nation Army,” Jack White, songwriter (The White Stripes)
“Someday,” Chad Kroeger, Mike Kroeger, Ryan Peake & Ryan Vikedal, songwriters (Nickelback)
Will Win: It’s going to be difficult (but not impossible) for the academy to pass up an opportunity to award a dead guy and the Boss with one trophy, even if Bruce Springsteen didn’t actually co-write “Disorder in the House.” Train has no chance here, and Evanescence will be awarded elsewhere, so look for this to be one of multiple wins for The White Stripes on Grammy night.
Should Win (Eric): “Disorder in the House” is unfortunately not the best song on Zevon’s album. I’m no White Stripes disciple, but “Seven Nation Army” is a new standard. If Frank Sinatra were still alive, he’d be covering it in 30 years.
Should Win (Sal): The White Stripes’s progressive “Seven Nation Army.”
BEST ROCK ALBUM
One By One, Foo Fighters
More Than You Think You Are, Matchbox Twenty
The Long Road, Nickelback
Will Win: Probably the most significant thing to be gleaned from this category is the absence of Warren Zevon’s album, which, up until the morning nominations were announced, was considered a likely front-runner for the Best Album award. Obviously the Grammys aren’t in a sentimental way this year, which might have repercussions in other categories. Matchbox Twenty’s boring “No, John Mayer! I’m Dave Matthews’ biggest fan!” album adds nothing to their already bankrupt legacy. And the Nickelback nod feels like a defensive “Hey, we weren’t all wrong about them last year, dammit” move on NARAS’ part. Though Audioslave is the critical fave, Evanescence has the sales, the nominations, and that certain Celine-esque je ne sans quoi that seals their victory here.
Should Win (Eric): Take away the three groups that take the cock out of rock (but, in the case of Rob Thomas, keep every last drop of cocky) and you’re left with only Foo Fighters (who are in severe danger of becoming lost in Californication) and Audioslave.
Should Win (Sal): Foo Fighters or Audioslave. Any band made up of members from some of the best bands of the early 90s gets my vote.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Fight Test, The Flaming Lips
Hail to the Thief, Radiohead
( ), Sigur Rós
Elephant, The White Stripes
Fever To Tell, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Will Win: Only one of these five is also nominated for Album of the Year. (Sense a pattern yet?) But that’s not the only thing tipping the scales toward a White Stripes win here. Most Grammy voters usually struggle to know who any of the nominees in this category are, hence its propensity to reward the usual suspects time and time again—in other words, Radiohead has to be nipping at Jack and Meg’s heels. But 528 magazine covers ensure that even the stodgiest of voters probably perpetuated the “Are they married or siblings?” bullshit at some point this year. The other three candidates will just have to settle for the rabid worship of their Grammy-hatin’ fanbases. (In particular, don’t expect the Flaming Lips to win for an EP spin-off of the LP that failed to win in this category last year.)
Should Win (Eric): This category’s mostly about giving the Grammys a chance to pretend to be hip and edgy, right? It is in this frame of snark that I bestow my vote upon the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, not because I think they’re the best, but because they’re still on the cusp between being vanguard and crossing over. Plus the Radiohead and Sigur Rós albums left me wishing it was 2000 again. (And I’m still convinced The White Stripes won’t look so great in 10 years.)
Should Win (Sal): What is “Alternative Music” anymore? Maybe this category should be called “Good Rock Album.” Anyone but the Flaming Lips.
BEST R&B SONG
“Comin’ from Where I’m From,” Mark Batson & Anthony Hamilton, songwriters (Anthony Hamilton)
“Crazy In Love,” Shawn Carter, Rich Harrison, Beyoncé Knowles & Eugene Record, songwriters (Beyoncé Featuring Jay-Z)
“Dance with My Father,” Richard Marx & Luther Vandross, songwriters (Luther Vandross)
“Danger,” Erykah Badu, J. Poyser, B.R. Smith & R.C. Williams, songwriters (Erykah Badu)
“Rock Wit U (Awww Baby),” A. Douglas, I. Lorenzo & A. Parker, songwriters (Ashanti)
Will Win: The only thing self-congratulatory Grammy voters get off on more than awarding dead musicians is awarding musicians who’ve had a brush with death and survived. Add to that a song title like “Dance with My Father” and you couldn’t get more of a lock. Here’s hoping Luther actually makes it to the ceremony so everyone can give him a standing ovation and praise the fact that they’ve once again awarded circumstance over substance.
Should Win (Eric): As far as songwriting goes, the very real success of “Crazy in Love” is much more to the credit of the Chi-Lites than to Knowles and Carter. Erykah Badu’s “Danger” is a great original that only sounds like a great old sample.
Should Win (Sal): Erykah Badu’s “Danger,” or, dare I say it, Ashanti’s slinky “Rock Wit U (Awww Baby),” which evokes both Janet’s sexy peak and her PR-challenged brother’s similarly titled disco ballad.
BEST R&B ALBUM
Worldwide Underground, Erykah Badu
Bittersweet, Blu Cantrell
So Damn Happy, Aretha Franklin
Body Kiss, The Isley Brothers Featuring Ronald Isley aka Mr. Biggs
Dance With My Father, Luther Vandross
Will Win: See previous category.
Should Win (Eric): Only on a Luther Vandross album could Busta Rhymes sound so utterly vanilla. Luther has my sympathies, but surely not my ears. I know Erykah would categorize her brand of soul music as ancient, but I don’t know what she’s doing here with the dormant royalty of R&B. (As an aside, I don’t even know why Blu Cantrell is nominated for a Grammy period.)
Should Win (Sal): If I was forced to choose by gunpoint, then I’d have to say Badu’s not-so great, not-so-brief EP, but since I’m not, then I won’t. But I think I just did.
BEST CONTEMPORARY R&B ALBUM
Chapter II, Ashanti
Dangerously In Love, Beyoncé
Love & Life, Mary J. Blige
Comin’ from Where I’m From, Anthony Hamilton
Chocolate Factory, R. Kelly
Will Win: Who doesn’t hate Ashanti? So, despite the Grammy’s very Emmy-like habit of repeatedly awarding the same old suspects, count her out. And, strong sales aside, R. Kelly’s two biggest achievements of the year were rhyming “freakin’” with “weeken’” and, for a brief shining moment, out-perving kindred soul Michael Jackson. If Beyoncé is undeniably in front here, it’s not so much because she’s the nomination leader (though that doesn’t hurt), nor is it because no one notices how patchy her album really is, but rather because the critical acclaim factor is split between the so-called Queen of Hip-Hop/Soul and this year’s Stevie Wonder wannabe, Anthony Hamilton.
Should Win (Eric): R. Kelly, for stepping with a full-grown woman of adult-sized thighs in the whitest-R&B-video-of-the-year. Um, just kidding. Anthony Hamilton is following a bit too closely in D’Angelo’s footsteps, and I have no love for Ashanti, which leaves Beyoncé and Mary. Everything Blige has done since Mary has disappointed (it’s safe to say “All That I Can Say” will never ever be topped), but even sub-par Mary is more consistent than top-notch Beyoncé, and the push-pull dynamic on Love & Life between neo-soul and up-to-the-second hip-hop trends makes for some interestingly conflicted tracks (“Willing & Waiting,” “Press On”).
Should Win (Sal): Mary’s reunion with P. Diddy was good, but not great. This one is Beyoncé’s, who proved there’s strength in more than just numbers. Beyoncé is allowed more room to experiment vocally on Dangerously In Love, exploring softer registers and lathering on the coquettish persona that was only hinted at in her work with Destiny’s Child.
BEST RAP/SUNG COLLABORATION
“Crazy In Love,” Beyoncé f. Jay-Z
“Where Is the Love,” Black Eyed Peas f. Justin Timberlake
“Luv U Better,” LL Cool J f. Marc Dorsey
“Frontin’,” Pharrell Williams f. Jay-Z
“Beautiful,” Snoop Dogg f. Pharrell and Uncle Charlie Wilson
Will Win: The Neptunes will split their votes here, and LL Cool J will suffer from the “Didn’t we just give him a Grammy in, like, 1989?” curse. So the category will likely boil down to the two Record of the Year contenders. Considering we’re predicting Beyoncé’s “Crazy” to prevail in the bigger contest, it would seem foolish to assume it would lose further down. But it’s worth noting that since the category is supposedly awarding the track that best melds belting with flow, and though Jay-Z’s “I do not sing low, I swing low” is the best meta-critique of the entire faux-genre, Grammy voters might still regard his guest appearance as a gimmick. In contrast, the Black Eyed Peas’ genre blend might be regarded as a “purer” representation of the genre. Of course, anyone expecting the average voter to put this much genre-defining consideration into such a new and throwaway category is kidding themselves.
Should Win (Eric): Y’know, up until just about two or three weeks ago, I might have gone with “Frontin’” except it wore out its welcome rather severely. It’s probably worth considering that Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love” was the only song I consistently liked throughout the year.
Should Win (Sal): Beyoncé’s ubiquitous “Crazy In Love.”
BEST RAP SONG
“Beautiful,” Calvin Broadus, Chad Hugo & Pharrell Williams, songwriters (Snoop Dogg Featuring Pharrell & Uncle Charlie Wilson)
“Excuse Me Miss,” Shawn Carter, Chad Hugo & Pharrell Williams, songwriters (Jay-Z Featuring Pharrell Williams)
“In Da Club,” M. Elizondo, C. Jackson & A. Young, songwriters (50 Cent)
“Lose Yourself,” J. Bass, M. Mathers & L. Resto, songwriters (Eminem)
“Work It,” Missy Elliott & Tim Mosley, songwriters (Missy Elliott)
Will Win: Once again, Chad and Pharrell will be victims of their own success (not to mention that neither Snoop’s “Beautiful” nor Jay-Z’s “Excuse Me Miss” represents The Neptunes’ best work this year). Both “In Da Club” and “Work It” would’ve been in the Record of the Year line-up, if the Pazz & Jop-pers had any say in the matter, and though versatile and fun-loving Missy might have an edge on 50 (what with his exit-wound scars spooking the older Grammy voters), she’s also unquestionably going to win the Best Female Rap Performance trophy in a cakewalk. All signs are pointing to another in a long string of wins for new Grammy prom queen Eminem for finally going all soft and fuzzy on us. Oh, he vomits he’s so nervous, how cute!
Should Win (Eric): I’m sure Grammy voters will neglect to realize it, but flipping lyrics, substituting elephant FX for profanity, and managing to finesse atonality out of the near-absence of a melody pegs “Work It” architects Missy Elliot and Timbaland as songwriters of a genuinely unique talent.
Should Win (Sal): What he said.
BEST RAP ALBUM
Under Construction, Missy Elliott
Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent
The Blueprint-The Gift & the Curse, Jay-Z
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, OutKast
Phrenology, The Roots
Will Win: This is probably the single most competitive category of this year’s awards. Missy and OutKast will duke it out as the requisite heavyweights, (with OutKast the frontrunner for Album of the Year, there’s speculation that Missy could get a sympathy boost here), and add to that Fiddy’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, the best-selling album of 2003. The Roots will lose much of the rockist minority bloc to OutKast and Missy, and Grammy voters will undoubtedly wait until next year to give Jay-Z his final bow for The Black Album. We’ll play it safe, because the Grammys do. OutKast by a single “x.”
Should Win (Eric): I probably prefer Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, but I really have to give some respect to The Roots, whose album was enjoyably scattershot even if it sacrificed the clarity and balance of Things Fall Apart. At any rate, “Water” is by far the best thing they’ve ever done.
Should Win (Sal): Missy Elliott might just be the most inventive lyricist in hip-hop today and Timbaland might just be the most imaginative beatmaster around. And for a woman who’s largely viewed as a singles artist, Under Construction is a surprisingly cohesive homage to old-school rap’s simpler days.
BEST SONG WRITTEN FOR A MOTION PICTURE
“Act a Fool” (2 Fast 2 Furious) – Christopher Bridges & Keith McMasters, songwriters (Ludacris)
“The Hands That Built America” (Gangs of New York) – U2, songwriters (U2)
“I Move On” (Chicago) – Fred Ebb & John Kander, songwriters (Catherine Zeta-Jones & Renée Zellweger)
“Lose Yourself” (8 Mile) – J. Bass, M. Mathers & L. Resto, songwriters (Eminem)
“A Mighty Wind” (A Mighty Wind) – Guest, Levy & McKean, songwriters (The Folksmen, Mitch & Mickey, & The New Main Street Singers)
Will Win: It’s Oscar redux, which leaves Ludacris and the Mighty Wind bunch out of the running. Though everyone fully expected the Oscar to go to U2, Barbra Streisand had an onstage orgasm over Eminem’s surprise victory. If there’s an awards-giving group with even less edgy musical taste than NARAS, it would have to be the Oscars. So there’s probably no reason to think that Eminem won’t win this award with what could be considered a home-field advantage. Still, if there’s a musical act out there today that’s even more Grammy-friendly and even more on home turf than Eminem, it’s U2. (Now just watch the two split the “cool” vote and see the trophy end up in Chicago’s camp.)
Should Win (Eric): Jeez, if your going to pick a song from A Mighty Wind to listen to outside the context of the film, wouldn’t it make sense to pick the only one that has even the tiniest shred of emotional honesty (“A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow”)? Ludacris’ tune, like so many a soundtrack cut from a loose cannon artist, captures none of his unique energy. “The Hands That Built America” sounds like it’s a b-side from U2’s latest album even before 9/11. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” really is the best song in the category.
Should Win (Sal): The only redeemable thing about 8 Mile: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
BEST SHORT FORM MUSIC VIDEO
“Hurt,” Johnny Cash – Mark Romanek, video director; Aris McGarry, video producer
“The Scientist,” Coldplay – Jamie Thraves, video director; Sally Llewellyn, video producer
“Die Another Day,” Madonna – Mats Lindberg, Pontus Lowenheilm & Ole Sanders, video directors; Jim Bouvet & Verenne Ferrari, video producers
“Concrete Angel,” Martina McBride – Robert Deaton & George Flanigen, video directors; Steve Lamar, video producer
“Hey Ya!,” OutKast – Bryan Barber, video director; William Green, video producer
Will Win: With all of the sentiment if now contains, Johnny Cash’s album should’ve been a front-runner for the top Grammy categories. Unfortunately, it was a September buzzer-beater and got submitted for consideration last year, long before it took off on Cash’s angel wings. So, with no other opportunities to give the Man in Black his final bow, Cash’s “Hurt” looks like a slam dunk. Having Mark Romanek as its director is just insurance.
Should Win (Eric): I’ve asked any number of straight, twentysomething males to explain to me the appeal of “Hurt.” It doesn’t take them too long to succumb to the Rolling Stone brand of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame necro-mythologizing. Not to mention the callowness of the symbolic passing of the torch between liking the supposedly junior high puerility of Nine Inch Nails and “maturing” into the “higher level” of “understanding” Johnny Cash. Pffft! Sure, it’s well-directed (like most of Romanek’s work), but it frankly takes every indulgence of its source song at face value (again, like most of Romanek’s work). Instead, I’ll opt for the unsentimental, unfettered genius of OutKast’s André, reveling in a new stardom that can’t be contained in just one body.
Should Win (Sal): Both Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and Coldplay’s “The Scientist” are highly overrated—at best, they’re poignant and derivative, respectively. Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” though interesting, is bogged down by three directors and gratuitous, lightning-quick editing (where’s David Fincher when you need him?), and Martina McBride’s “Concrete Angel” might just be the worst video of the year, if not ever (it’s like a socially-conscious pat on the back directed by a couple of M. Night Shyamalan wannabes). That leaves OutKast’s “Hey Ya!,” a fun, retro, Polaroid-shakin’ good time.
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR
Nigel Godrich (Radiohead)
Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (Mya, Aretha Franklin, Kelly Price, Heather Headley, Beyoncé)
The Matrix (Hilary Duff, Liz Phair)
The Neptunes (Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, themselves)
Will Win: The Matrix, eh? Cute. No, really. Über-perennials Jam & Lewis and Nigel Godrich could get nominated even if the only artists they worked with all year were Candlebox and K.C. and Jo-Jo (even respectively!), and neither of them broke any new ground. So this category is a two-way race between the self-producing hip-hop overachievers OutKast (who have a higher marquee value right now) or The Neptunes. Now, historically speaking, producers whose work is more or less limited to their own product don’t usually win in this category, which gives The Neptunes a leg up. Plus, even though they really had “their year” last year, that’s probably all the more reason for the perpetually behind-the-curve NARAS to give them the trophy.
Should Win (Eric): The Neptunes, if for no other reason than because they produced the sexiest King Kong groove of ’03: Busta Rhymes’ “Light Ya Ass on Fire.”
Should Win (Sal): OutKast. Of the other deserving nominees, the Neptunes’ ubiquity is beginning to equal homogeneity and Nigel Godrich should have been recognized last year for Beck’s mesmerizing Sea Change.