Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Grammy Nomination Predictions for 2009

It's time once again to predict who will get nominated in the general categories for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards. Nominations will be announced Wednesday night, Dec. 3 in a one-hour special on CBS.

Album of the Year

The two strongest contenders to land a nod in this category are both past Grammy winners. Coldplay's "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends." is tailor made for a nomination here. They're one of the biggest bands in the world not named U2. The album was both a commercial and critical success and it shows the band tinkering with their formula while still making solid music.

No serious Grammy discussion cannot include Alicia Keys. As I Am has the same traits that makes Viva La Vida such a strong possibility. Keys is one of the most beloved artists in the industry. The album was another smash hit that found the artist playing around with their signature sound without losing fans. Add to the fact that both of her previous studio albums have landed nods in this category and you really can't get closer to a lock.

The Album of the Year category has been pretty fair in that there are usually various genres represented, but sometimes one genre will sneak in with two albums (think Alicia Keys and Usher in 2005, Missy Elliott and Outkast in 2004). I think that Alicia Keys will be sole representative for all things urban this year, but there are still several strong contenders.

Mary J. Blige's Growing Pains was another solid release, and with the Record and Song of the Year nods for "Be Without You" two years ago, it shows that the NARAS is not afraid to let Mary mix it up in the major categories, but if The Breakthrough couldn't land an AOTY nod, I doubt that Growing Pains will, but it should definitely do well in the R&B categories. I also have to give consideration to Erykah Badu's New Amerykah: Part 1 (4th World War), seeing as how she is one of our most respected artists and a multiple Grammy winner. New Amerykah did well with the critics and delivered one of the year's most eye-catching videos in "Honey", but mainstream buzz on the album as a whole has died down since its release.

Another critics' darling and previous AOTY nominee that has to get a little consideration as well is Gnarls Barkley. While they're one of the hippest acts around, The Odd Couple didn't boast a "Crazy"-size hit, which severely hurts its chances. I'm also inclined to think that Chris Brown's Exclusive has a strong shot since it has spawned a good deal of hit singles and Brown is a previous Best New Artist nominee, but I think he's going to need more serious content before he can land in this category, a la Usher's Confessions. And although I don't like its chances, I have to mention Lil' Wayne's The Carter III since it's the biggest album of the year, but most hip hop nominees in this category tend to be less hardcore (Kanye West, Outkast). If there was one single released with a theme that general voters could latch on to (think something serious like Eminem's "Lose Yourself" or Kanye Wests's "Jesus Walks"), The Carter III would have a better chance, but as it stands, its appeal lies mostly with the youth. The biggest threat to join As I Am as a represensative of the urban genres is Estelle's Shine, but I think more of the talk surrounding her has been about "American Boy" and not the album itself, which is solid in its own right.

On the rock side, things are looking pretty weak. It's a pretty mixed bag with very few standouts, but if anything, the rock voting contigent in the academy has really showed up in the past few years, netting nods for Foo Fighters, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers and even a win for U2, so I expect to see at least one rock artist nominated here. Radiohead made a lot of noise last year by independently releasing In Rainbows digitally at a pay what you want rate. The resulting hype earned In Rainbows a #1 debut when it received its physical retail release months later. Radiohead are two-time AOTY nominees, but that was during a time where the hype machine was in full effect. OK Computer was hailed as one of the greatest albums of the 90's and thus, the follow-up, Kid A became one of the most anticipated albums in history and did not fail to deliver. While Radiohead is still beloved by many, the hype surrounding In Rainbows is nowhere near the pandemonium during the OK Computer/Kid A era and the last challenging album to be nominated in this category was, well, Kid A back in 2001. Kid Rock's Rock N' Roll Jesus is a contender mainly due to the fact its still charting a year after its release, but aside from his seasonal hit, "All Summer Long", it would be difficult to find supporters for this album. While Kid Rock is a previous Best New Artist nominee, Rock N' Roll Jesus is lacking the mutiple hit singles needed for an album that is not universally loved to place in this category. Sheryl Crow is a former AOTY nominee and Detours received some of her best reviews in years. She also has an inspiring story that makes it easy to root for her and it all adds up to a very strong possibility she could get a nod here, so I wouldn't be surprised at all to see her name among the final five, but my gut tells me otherwise.

A recent trend in this category has been the coronation of rock acts from the 90's who are still relevant today. Foo Fighters, the Chili Peppers and Green Day are all products of MTV's Silver Age who have aged nicely and continue to receive attention. One act that fits the criteria is Weezer. Over the years, they've become one of mainstream rock's most reliable acts and enjoyed one of the biggests hits of their career with the lead single from their latest self-titled album, "Pork and Beans". On paper, it may seem that Weezer is a lock for this category, but the only thing that's missing is the commerical success of the previous rock nominees in this category. The album has yet to go gold and has quickly faded from memory since the summer. So that leaves us with one other artist: Metallica. Death Magnetic made Metallica's commercial prowess hard to ignore and if it's anything that the NARAS loves is someone that's still going strong. While Metallica has previously been relegated to the metal and hard rock categories, they released one of the biggest mainstream rock albums of the year, regardless of subgenres. Metallica has plenty of Grammy hardware, which suggests they're a favorite and when you add Rick Rubin's name to the production credits, it automatically brings prestige and attention to the album. After the disappointing St. Anger, Death Magnetic was hailed as a return to form by fans and critics and it currently stands as the strongest entry from a veteran rock band this year, which would leave the contigent of rock voters to finally take a chance on Metallica and let them graduate to Album of the Year.

The pop side of things lends its own list of possible nominees as well. While Blackout wasn't the full blown comeback that everyone hoped it to be, it was without a doubt Britney Spears' most introspective and well-received album of her career. If it had released a few more hit singles, I would consider it a lock, but it will have to rely solely on how sympathetic voters are to Spears and the merit of the album itself. Madonna's Hard Candy was another solid effort, but she's released stronger work in the past. I also can't talk Grammy without mentioning Celine Dion's Taking Chances. She is a previous AOTY winner, and Taking Chances marks her return to recording. Songwriting contributions from Dave Stewart of Eurhythmics, Linda Perry and Ne-Yo will help to garner some attention, but the album as a whole is lacking a big single like "Because You Loved Me" or "It's All Coming Back To Me Now", which propelled Falling Into You to a win back in 1997.

There is also the possibility of a mini-UK invasion with Leona Lewis' Spirit, Duffy's Rockferry and Adele's 19. Aside from "Bleeding Love", there hasn't been a lot of attention surrounding Spirit, even though it has sold well. The AOTY category has shown a strong preference towards quality over the past few years and there just isn't enough love for the album. Adele has an outside shot at getting nods in all four general categories, but the album has faded slowly since its debut. The old school soul flavor of the album will catch the ears of voters, but the question is has it reached enough people to create a passionate fanbase. Out of the UK sirens, Duffy stands the strongest chance of getting a nod here, due to its commercial and critical success, but it's lacking one big money song that was ubiquitous across America and the overall attention may not be enough.

Vince Gill's surprise nomination last year shows that the Nashville contigent cannot be denied. These Days gathered little to no mainstream attention, but with an all-star guest list, it worked its way into this category. Country music stands another good chance at landing a nod here. One of the more obvious choices is Carrie Underwood's Carnival Ride. She is one of the biggest stars in music, period and her latest album sticks close to the sweet polished country pop that won her Best New Artist in 2007. While the album has done well, the lack of a "Before He Cheats"-sized single may relegate it to just the country categories and past country nominees have either been mega-sellers or artistic statements. The Vince Gill nod proved that there is still a lot of love for the elder statesmen of country, which means that George Strait's Troubador stands a good chance. Lady Antebellum's debut was one of the bigger success stories in the country world this year, but voters might want to go with someone more established. Which leaves us with Sugarland's Love On The Inside. It's another album that finds the artist experimenting with their sound and has a few hit singles. Oddly enough, "Stay" wasn't one of them, but it could very well help them. Since "Stay" would have been a lock for Song of the Year had it been eligible, the added attention Sugarland received from its success could benefit them in this category. It's also helpful that out of all the eligible country albums for this year's ceremony, Love On The Inside has the highest position on the Billboard Top 200 and was in the the top 20 as recently as a few weeks ago.

Next up is the "old fogey" slot, which is seemingly set aside most years for artists with 25-plus years in the business. Brian Wilson's That Lucky Old Sun was a strong effort, but if Smile couldn't get a nomination a few years back, I don't see one happening here. Randy Newman brings instant name recognition, and while although Harps And Angels was well-reviewed, there has been no significant buzz surrounding the album and Newman is not that high up in the rock canon to get major attention for a simple solid album. Van Morrison's Keep It Simple was another solid release, but it lacks buzz as well. The Eagles' Long Road To Eden already sells itself. The first studio album in decades by one of the greatest selling bands of all-time. A number one debut. Previous AOTY nominee. The only thing that might hinder the album's chances in this category is the fact that the only way you could get it was by walking into a Wal-Mart.

According to my count, that leaves two major contenders left, both with very convincing arguments: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss and Al Green. Depending how voters want to define Plant & Krauss' Raising Sand, that album could very well take up the country vote and replace Sugarland as the Nashville representative. Or if voters are deciding based on nostalgia, it will have to duke it out for votes with The Eagles and Al Green. One thing that it does have over The Eagles is the amount of positive critical reception. Raising Sand was one of the most well-reviewed albums of 2007 and boasts the kind of pedigree that is tintillating to Grammy voters. Not to mention that T-Bone Burnett, a previous winner in this category with the O Brother, Where Are Thou? soundtrack, is the producer. Al Green's Lay It Down has a lot going for it as well. Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson and James Poyser helmed the boards for this album and it features a return to Al Green's classic sound of the 70's. The album also features Grammy favorites John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae. One trend that never gets old in this category is when a veteran artist collaborates with other Grammy favorites (see: Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company, Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters). The album is also likely to land on a lot of year end lists, but the big difference between Lay It Down and the other collaboration albums I mentioned is the star power. Genius Loves Company and River featured a Murderer's Row of legends and superstars, while Lay It Down only has Anthony Hamilton, Bailey Rae and Legend on the album. If it had featured a few more collaborations, I would have called it a sure shot, but I'm going to go with Raising Sand due to its high quality and that Plant and Krauss are likely to draw a bulk of voters looking to support their respective genres.

Record of the Year

As always, this category provides a wealth of contenders. I'm going to go right ahead and lock up a slot for Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love. She's a new face with a powerful voice and one of the biggest hits of the year. I'll be shocked if she doesn't get it. I'm also feeling strong about Coldplay's "Viva La Vida". It reached number one on the Hot 100 and it wasn't hurting from exposure due to the iPod ad. I'll also give Estelle's "American Boy" my lock of approval. She's another fresh face—at least in the States, with a hugely popular song. Having Kanye West do a guest rap on the song helps a lot, I'm pretty sure.

Another song that I feel strongly about is Duffy's "Mercy". She's gotten a lot of attention and is being touted as this year's Amy Winehouse. While "Mercy" didn't reach the heights of "Rehab", it was still a popular enough song and she is likely to see a lot of nominations in other categories as well.

After that, it gets pretty tough to call. I really want to say that M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" will get a nod since I love the song so much and it did so well over the summer, but this category usually features more straightforward songs. While I do think "Paper Planes" will get a few nods, I just don't see it any of the general categories, as much as it pains me to say it. More possible contenders are Kid Rock's "All Summer Long", Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl", Madonna's "4 Minutes", Lil' Wayne's "Lollipop", and Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body", but I think they lack the general support to make it in this category and will probably do well in their respective genres. Out of that short list, the one to watch might be Kid Rock since it got heavy airplay on multiple radio formats and could surprisingly land a nod.

It's also hard to count out Rihanna who had two top ten singles this year in "Take A Bow" and "Disturbia", but neither one comes close to the magic of "Umbrella" or touched the national conscious the way it did. Alicia Keys' "No One" was the biggest hit from As I Am, but since it was eligible last year, it leaves "Like You'll Never See Me Again" as her best shot in this category, but I think it has a better chance in Song of the Year. Most of the songs that are nominated for Record of the Year are inescapable, and it just doesn't fit the criteria.

My dark horse pick for a lot of the general categories is Adele. While her contemporaries outsold her, "Chasing Pavements" is such a strong song that it could get over whatever commercial shortcomings it has and shock everyone. Chris Brown also has a trifecta of singles which could easily work their way into this category as well. "With You", "Forever" and "No Air" with Jordin Sparks were huge hits and enjoyed the kind of success that's usually expected from Usher. With Exclusive doing so well, this has been Chris Brown's year and if he were to get a nod in one of the general categories, Record of the Year would be the one. OneRepublic's "Apologize" would have been a lock, but it just missed the deadline by a few weeks, but the rules were apparently bent to include Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" in Song of the Year for 2008, but who knows.

There's usually one recent song that gets a nod in this category. Of recent hits, Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" and Pink's "So What" are definite contenders. Any hit by Kanye is a serious contender and "Love Lockdown" marks new emotional territory for one of the world's biggest stars. The song definitely has its supporters, but I just can't see anything so minimal getting a ROTY nod, especially since the Estelle song might get a nod and some voters may not want to reward him twice in the same category. "So What" is an insanely catchy song with substance and Pink continues to earn respect as her career goes on. Its one of her biggest hits to date and one of the few number one songs this year that has a serious shot, so it's hard for me to deny it.

Best New Artist

Leona Lewis is the obvious choice to land in the final five and I don't see why not. I also think Duffy and Estelle stand equal shots as well. The Best New Artist category has become increasingly difficult to predict over the past couple of years aside from a few locks. The nominations of lesser known acts like Imogen Heap and Ledisi has widened the playing field to include a ton of indie acts. Some of those include She & Him, MGMT, Santogold, and Lykke Li. All of them received a significant amount of buzz and if Imogen Heap can come out of nowhere and land a nod, anything is possible. I believe the strongest threats from the indie world to breakthrough are The Ting Tings and Vampire Weekend. The Ting Tings are another iPod supported act and were also Video of the Year nominees at this year's VMA's, so there is definitely some awareness there. Vampire Weekend were at once the most loved and hated band in the blogosphere at multiple times through the year, but the resulting album is solid and pleasant enough to get some support.

The mainstream has its fair share of contenders as well. Flo Rida had arguably the biggest hit of the year in "Low", but that's pretty much been his only claim to fame. Lil' Mama had a few modest hits and she is definitely talented, but she's eligible for this award in a year when "Lip Gloss" isn't, which leaves the chance of her going unnoticed even higher. I can't quite count out Jordin Sparks though. Even though her album has performed lower than expected for an American Idol champ, her singles have received significant airplay and it's hard to take her fully out of the equation. Jazmine Sullivan is also worthy of a nod here, but the album may have been released too close to the end of the eligibility deadline for her to make any kind of an impact. I do think Adele has a good chance at getting a nomination here as well, but it all depends on how passionate the voters are about her album. OneRepublic has to receive some consideration as well, if only for "Apologize", but I've already seemed to have forgotten about them since that song faded. The two most viable mainstream contenders left are Katy Perry and Jennifer Hudson. Katy Perry has all the commercial accolades in the world behind her, but her album has received a mixed response. The J-Hud love movement could very well continue here and the NARAS might feel obligated to give her a nod here since she finally released her debut and it performed well. While the Hudson album has been considered a solid work, neither it or Perry's One Of The Boys inspires rabid devotion, so I think it's going to come down to who has the biggest success on Billboard. Ever hear of a little song called "I Kissed A Girl"? That right along with her other top 5 hit, "Hot N Cold" makes Katy Perry my choice.

To round out my picks, I'm going with Lady Antebellum. They were one of the bigger stories in country this year and would be the sole artist of choice that the country contigent could vote for.

Song Of The Year

Like I say every year, I'm usually crap when it comes to picking this category, but I'll soldier on and give it a shot anyway. I feel pretty safe going with Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" again here. While I'm at it, I'll go with Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" as well. Alicia Keys' "Like You'll Never See Me Again" is also sticking out to me as well. It's the type of emotional composition that usually gets nominated here and Ms. Keys will always come up in the discussion with this category.

Once again, I have to give some consideration to Adele's "Chasing Pavements". Had it been a bigger hit, there would be no doubt in my mind it would be a lock here, but there really hasn't been much talk or buzz to suggest that she has nominations in the general categories coming her way. Duffy's "Mercy" could potentially to get a nod here, but I'm just not seeing it since it's very rare for songs that sexually charged to get a Song of the Year nomination. It's more Record of the Year material.

As far as country candidates go, The Eagles' "Busy Being Fabulous" may have the strongest chance and there really isn't anything I can come up to counter why they won't get a nod here except that I'm not too fond of the song. Carrie Underwood also released "All-American Girl" and "So Small", but neither come close to the success of "Before He Cheats" or "Jesus, Take The Wheel". By default, I'm going with Sugarland's "All I Want To Do" since I think they're going to get a lot of love overall from the NARAS. In the back of my head, I keep thinking that Chris Brown has a couple of good chances at this category. "With You" and his collaboration with Jordin Sparks, "No Air". While "With You" was the bigger hit, I'm going with "No Air" since it's a duet, it's my personal favorite of the two and it doesn't use the word "boo".

This is how I see the nomination tally breaking down.

Coldplay - 7
Estelle - 6
Duffy - 5
Alicia Keys - 5
Leona Lewis - 5
Sugarland - 5


  1. It will be interesting to see if In Rainbows is rewarded by the same music industry Radiohead was widely seen to be giving the finger to. I think it's a definite possibility -- the band still carries a lot of favor in the industry and IR was more acclaimed than the previous two records -- but with Viva la Vida being a good bet for Album nom, the Academy will want more diversity in the category. I still think it stands a good shot at inclusion but it's far from a sure thing and an extreme longshot for a win there. Of course it will at least get one or two nods in lesser categories.

  2. Yeah, sadly, even though Radiohead has gotten a lot of attention, I don't think it's neccessarily the good kind. I see a definite Best Alternative/Music Album nomination, but the days of them landing a Best Album nod are gone until they can crank out a top 40 single.