The nominations for the 55th Grammy Awards will be announced Dec. 3rd. As always, I'm here to take a guess at who will make it.
The past few years have seen general field nominations for indie rock acts Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons. These acknowledgments show an increasing awareness of current trends by the NARAS' blue ribbon panel, which is a secret committee that selects the nominees for Best New Artist, Album, Record and Song of the Year. Before, it only seemed that Radiohead was capable of breaking through the "smart rock" mold and sitting at the table with the rest of the big boys, mainly due to universal critical acclaim and name recognition. With record sales not even close to the same level they were ten years ago, the Grammys have seemingly looked beyond the old standard for commercial success and have started heavily factoring buzz and quality into who should be rewarded. How else to explain the nomination of Bon Iver's "Holocene" in Record of the Year—a song that didn't even crack the Billboard Hot 100—in a category usually reserved for only the biggest mainstream hits?
The NARAS has taken their fair share of shots for years over not nominating acts that don't reflect the cutting edge of music and the past two years suggest that the days of honoring veterans whose best work is behind them may be done. Still, no one should start celebrating just yet: the NARAS did everything they could to make sure the victory for Adele's 21 did not come tainted in Album of the Year by snubbiing Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the clear cut critical favorite of that period. They still want people to watch, but to raise as few objections as possible. Without a behemoth such as 21 to vote for, this year's nominees may be a bit more centered between critical acclaim and mainstream success.
Album of the Year
The first week sales of Mumford & Sons' Babel prove that there is still some juice left in rock music on the Billboard charts. The band is already on the radar of the NARAS, being previous nominees in Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. They're popular, but they're also respected, which makes them an easy lock for this category.
I also like Frank Ocean's Channel Orange to be nominated as well, since his story made headlines, but the album also turned out to be one of the year's best. Its sales numbers aren't as gaudy as past R&B/hip hop nominees, but the critical buzz will be too hard to ignore. Since this category will likely only allow one underselling critical favorite, if at all, this lessens the chances for Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel..., another strong contender to land on a lot of publications' top ten lists this year.
Back in the summer, I had The Black Keys' El Camino pegged as the frontrunner for this category. As of right now, I think they're the third most likely to be nominated, due to the credibility that they bring, a hit song in "Lonely Boy" and their previous Grammy wins—which came over more established acts such as Muse, Kings of Leon and Arcade Fire. It's not often that two rock acts are nominated in Album of the Year, which may be the main thing going against El Camino, but there aren't many albums in the rest of the field that has its credentials.
In the past three years, acts such as The Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry and Rihanna have been nominated here, based not on the quality of their albums, but for the success of the singles. All three albums boasted at least two massive hits and their inclusion seemed geared towards making sure younger audiences had at least one act they recognized. Basically, two ubiquitous songs or more will get you in, regardless of how mediocre the album is. Maroon 5's Overexposed fits this better than any of the other contenders, with "Payphone" peaking at #2 and "One More Night" just finishing up a nine week run at #1. In my opinion, I feel that the singles from the three pop acts I just mentioned were much stronger than what Maroon 5 has had to offer, which would be the main knock that I have against them, but that may not matter since pop contenders for Album of the Year require at least one unabashed mainstream hit. Rihanna's Talk That Talk comes the closest to playing spoiler, but the singles weren't as loved as Loud's. Justin Bieber's Believe would also qualify under these guidelines, but no one takes him seriously enough yet.
The only artists I feel confident in at this point are Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean and just slightly, The Black Keys. This usually leaves room for at least one surprise, so bear with me as I look at the different scenarios:
As I mentioned before I think the blue ribbon panel has started to move away from rewarding veterans, but if there's a question mark surrounding a slot or two, anything is possible. Out of the strongest contenders, there's Lionel Richie's Tuskegee, Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball and The Beach Boys' That's Why God Made The Radio. The one that scares me the most is The Beach Boys since they've never been nominated in the general field and this might be the last time Brian Wilson records with them. Oddly enough, Lionel Richie is country music's best shot at getting a nod here, but I highly doubt that the newly enlightened blue ribbon panel of the past couple years will reward an artist for re-recording their old hits.
The formula for this category is a murky combination of name recognition, commercial achievement, critical success and multiple hit singles. Out of that haze, the last major album that appears to be a contender is Drake's Take Care, whose chances I would feel more confident in if Frank Ocean hadn't already sewn up the R&B/hip hop slot. There's also the possibility that Take Care could be nominated here and Frank Ocean is relegated to the other general categories, but his story is too groundbreaking to ignore and Drake would probably have the tougher road to climb in Record or Song of the Year. A hip hop album usually has to be an event album to be nominated here, but Drake has maintained a steady presence in spite of lacking the attention of a Recovery or The Carter III. I'm still going with it since the only alternatives would be something a little too surprising that no one would see coming, such as The Beach Boys, Fiona Apple, Jack White's Blunderbuss or Robert Glasper Experiment's Black Radio.
Album of the Year
The Black Keys - El Camino
Drake - Take Care
Maroon 5 - Overexposed
Mumford & Sons - Babel
Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
Possible spoilers: The Beach Boys-That's Why God Made The Radio, Gotye-Making Mirrors, fun.-Some Nights, Lionel Richie-Tuskegee; Rihanna-Talk That Talk
Long shots: Fiona Apple-The Idler Wheel..., Coldplay-Mylo Xyloto, Jack White-Blunderbuss, Robert Glasper Experiment-Black Radio, Norah Jones-Little Broken Hearts, Pink-The Truth About Love, Florence + The Machine-Ceremonials, Nicki Minaj-Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, No Doubt-Push and Shove, Bruce Springsteen-Wrecking Ball, Esperanza Spalding-Radio Music Society
Record of the Year
When I think of this category, three songs immediately come to mind: fun.'s "We Are Young" featuring Janelle Monae, Gotye's "Somebody I Used to Know" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." It would be difficult to find a 2012 song as strongly embraced and widely known than either one of those, except for maybe PSY's "Gangnam Style," whose novelty status severely hurts it in this category. Together, they combined for a total of 23 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and defined the year. "Somebody I Used To Know" is pretty much a lock and I would give a secondary, hesitant one to "We Are Young," if only because the NARAS went with lesser-known records from Mumford & Sons and Bon Iver over Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" last year. Unlike that song, "We Are Young" actually reached #1, so I'm leaning towards it getting a nod here for the time being.
I'm somewhat shaky on the status of "Call Me Maybe" because it might be viewed as lightweight compared to what it may be nominated against, but then I have to remember how organic its success was and how few have objected to its charms.
There's also a chance that we could see either The Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" and Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" crash the party as well. This category has a history of acknowledging commercial success, so I find it difficult to believe that those tracks could replace fun. and Carly Rae Jepsen. I'm inclined to say that "Lonely Boy" has the best shot since it's the song the public is most familiar with and "I Will Wait" did not have the time that "The Cave" did in order to build its momentum. In a weaker year, perhaps, but I'm putting my money on the likeability of the 23 Week Trio.
If there will be a critical fave, it will more than likely be Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' Bout You," which he has performed every where from the Saturday Night Live to the VMAs and once again because he was one of the biggest music stories of the year.
By my predictions so far, we would have four first-time nominees. This category has at least one nominee who has been previously nominated in one of the big four categories. That would of course open things up to Mumford & Sons, but then the category would skew heavily towards rock, which goes against the pattern here. I'm thinking more along the lines of either Maroon 5's "Payphone" or Adele's "Set Fire To The Rain." I feel strongly that Maroon 5 will get general field love somewhere, but I think they have a better chance at sneaking into Album of the Year. If anything, the top ten placement of Adele's latest single, "Skyfall," proves that the public has yet to tire of her and an inclusion for "Set Fire To The Rain" may be seen as an award for 21 having endured so long and to have at least one big time familiar name.
Record of the Year
Adele - Set Fire To The Rain (Live)
Fun. - We Are Young
Gotye feat. Kimbra - Somebody I Used To Know
Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe
Frank Ocean - Thinkin' About You
Possible spoilers: The Black Keys-Lonely Boy, Kelly Clarkson-Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You), Drake feat. Rihanna-Take Care Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa-Payphone, Mumford & Sons-I Will Wait, Katy Perry-Wide Awake
Long shots: The Beach Boys-That's Why God Made The Radio, Florence + The Machine-Shake It Out, Jay-Z & Kanye West-N----- In Paris, M83-Midnight City, Taylor Swift-We Are Never Getting Back Together,
Song of the Year
Gotye's "Somebody I Used To Know" was not submitted here by his label, which makes a category as subjective as this even more difficult to predict. What was once seen as a place for songs with a slower tempo and emotional lyrics has now been invaded by dance floor starters such as "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)," "All Of The Lights," "Poker Face" and "American Boy." Depending on how serious the NARAS takes Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me Maybe" could find its way here, but I think some of the aforementioned songs such as "We Are Young," "I Will Wait," and "Thinkin' Bout You" carry more weight lyrically.
If a veteran is going to land a nomination this year in the general field, it'll likely be in this category. The strongest contenders are once again Bruce Springsteen ("We Take Care Of Our Own") and The Beach Boys ("That's Why God Made The Radio").
With less focus being paid to sales in Song of the Year, I also like the chances of The Black Keys' "Lonely Boy," since they've been poised to crash the general field for a while. Like I said, this category has a history of favoring slower tempos, which is why I think either The Lumineers' "Ho Hey" or Phillip Phillips' "Home" could play spoiler, but they're both too similar in style to "I Will Wait" and that would indicate a lack of diversity, which the NARAS has tried to stray from. Taylor Swift's collaboration with The Civil Wars, "Safe & Sound," also has a typical Song of the Year of the feel, but I'm not sure it garnered enough votes to be on the blue ribbon panel's radar. Another strong contender from the country world is Miranda Lambert's "Over You," but for me it lacks the magic of "The House That Built Me," which was nominated here a few years back.
The most appealing candidate for that final slot would be Katy Perry's "Wide Awake" in my eyes. If Mumford & Sons and Frank Ocean are both nominated, the credibility for this year's group is solidified, so that would leave space open for one big mainstream hit by a pop star to keep things interesting.
Song of the Year
The Black Keys - Lonely Boy
fun. feat. Janelle Monae - We Are Young
Mumford and Sons - I Will Wait
Frank Ocean - Thinkin Bout You
Katy Perry - Wide Awake
Possible spoilers: The Beach Boys-That's Why God Made The Radio, Carly Rae Jespen, Call Me Maybe, Miranda Lambert-Over You, The Lumineers - Ho Hey, Phillip Phillips - Home, Bruce Springsteen-We Take Care Of Our Own, Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars-Safe And Sound
Long shots: Eric Church- Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson-Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You),
Long shots: Of Monsters And Men-Little Talks, Maroon 5-Payphone, Jason Mraz-I Won't Give Up, Bruno Mars-It Will Rain, Jack White-Love Interruption
Best New Artist
Gotye was not submitted here either, so let's just get scratch him right off. I think that move favors Frank Ocean heavily, who is the clear frontrunner for BNA as of right now.
I would be surprised if fun. wasn't nominated, since reception towards the album has been agreeable. There might be the inclination to go with something hipper by the blue ribbon panel, but acts such as The xx or Santigold are lacking a money song that they can be easily identified with.
If that's the case, Carly Rae Jepsen should be a lock since she has one of the most identifiable songs of the year, but without a solid hit to follow-up "Call Me Maybe," the song may officially be bigger than her and her durability in the industry may be questioned.
What might also hurt Jepsen's chances is that I think One Direction is likelier to grab a BNA nod and I have a hard time picturing two flat-out pop acts here. One Direction not only has two large hits in "What Makes You Beautiful" and "Live While We're Young," but their debut album was one of the year's biggest sellers. Their teenybopper status will be tough to ignore when their overall impact is taken into account.
It may seem like I'm down on Jepsen's chances, but I just feel there's too much in her way for this category. One other obstacle is Ellie Goulding, who's another pop artist. She's had the benefit of having two years to build buzz, which resulted in a #2 placement of "Lights" on the Hot 100 after over 30 weeks on the charts. Furthermore, he second album was released this year and gave credence to the idea that she may not be a one-off sensation. That would be a total of two pop acts in Best New Artist, which sounds contradictory to what I just wrote, but she has bit of internet cred from being on the festival circuit and her slow climb into the top ten makes her appear authentic.
The only other commercial options are 2 Chainz, Hunter Hayes and Jessie J, but neither of them were huge to the point that they couldn't be ignored. What that means is that we could have a surprise this year in this category, more so than the the rest of the general field. A lack of commercial options will leave the door open (ask Esperanza Spalding, Imogen Heap and Ledisi). I'd like Miguel's chances if Frank Ocean weren't a sureshot and I'm not quite sold on Emeli Sande, who fits the prototypical idea of a Best New Artist nominee (female, unoffensive, writes own material, British), but I don't think she's distinct enough when the buzz is removed. I also think Lana Del Rey still hasn't recovered from the bad buzz of her Saturday Night Live performance and will be shut out of the general categories.
I could see an act like Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers or Alabama Shakes making it. Although the Hot 100 success of The Lumineers' "Ho Hey" gives it a huge advantage (it currently stands at #7), the vocal power of Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard might be able to incite enough passion among some members of the blue ribbon panel to overlook the lack of a big radio hit.
***EDITED on 12/04/2012: Just discovered that Gotye was in fact submitted under Best New Artist. Here is my updated look.***
Best New Artist
Possible spoilers: 2 Chainz, Alabama Shakes, Childish Gambino, Hunter Hayes, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Lumineers, Miguel, Of Monsters and Men, Lana Del Rey, Emeli Sande
Long shots: Azealia Banks, Alex Clare, Gary Clark Jr., Imagine Dragons, Karmin, Michael Kiwanuka, Mac Miller, Kip Moore Santigold, Ed Sheeran, Elle Varner, The xx