The 56th Grammy Awards aren't until January, but I thought I'd make some early predictions at the contenders for the general field. I've ranked who is likely to get nominated, in my opinion, for the four main categories. Check back on the blog closer to nomination time for my final guesses.
Album of the Year
1. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
What's in its favor: Timberlake is one of the most beloved pop stars of this era and after a long break from music, he delivered an album that not only exceeded expectations, but nearly sold 1 million in its first week.
What might work against it: Not much actually. If there were any backlash against the album, it would have happened already. As of now, 20/20 is about the closest thing to a lock.
2. Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox
What's in its favor: Despite being released early in the eligibility period, having two #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 ("Locked Out Of Heaven" and "When I Was Your Man") has helped keep up its momentum.
What might work against it: While I'm very high on Mars' chances, I won't feel completely confident until his latest single, "Treasure," cracks the top 10.
3. Taylor Swift - Red
What's in its favor: Swift has the kind of starpower that the Grammys love to have on their show. Add to that, 1.23 million sold in her first week, solid reviews and a Record of the Year nod for "We Are Never Getting Back Together," Swift is still one of the most bankable artists around.
What might work against it: Speak Now also sold a million in its first week with decent reviews, but was shut out of the general field.
4. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
What's in its favor: A can't-miss marketing campaign, a potential song of the summer in "Get Lucky" and the long-awaited return of veterans from the now mainstream EDM genre has made this one of the most buzzed about albums of the year.
What might work against it: There has never been an EDM album nominated here before and despite the seemingly universal acclaim, it's very much a polarizing album among fans.
5. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
What's in its favor: Not only has it been one of the better selling hip hop albums of the past year, but it saw the kind of glowing reviews that has it destined to become a part of the canon. If it can close in on platinum status by the time autumn comes around, it has a legit shot.
What might work against it: The album was released so long ago and outside of hip hop circles, Lamar is not yet a true mainstream name.
6. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist
What's in its favor: Their underdog status and pro-gay marriage stance gives them an appeal that even non-hip hop fans can get behind. There's also those two little #1 songs called "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us."
What might work against it: The album itself has not inspired much passion outside of their fanbase. Also, can you imagine the backlash if The Heist got nominated over Kendrick Lamar?
7. Lady Gaga - ARTPOP
What's in its favor: There's no guarantee this album will be released before October (when the eligibility period ends), but it's hard to count out a person who's had their first three releases nominated in this category.
What might work against it: If she doesn't impress in a big way, people will likely move on, if they haven't already.
8. Kanye West - Yeezus
What's in its favor: For better or worse, I'm betting heavy money that this will be one of the most-talked about albums of the year due to the abrasive nature and political content of the few songs that have been made public. Kanye is a big star taking a big risk. If he pulls it off, he's all the better for it.
What might work against it: He seemed like a sure lock two years ago for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which I have my own theory about), so he is not as automatic as he once was despite the merit of his work.
9. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires In The Weekend City
What's in its favor: It seems to be the indie rock album with the best odds of crashing the party as of now. If anything, their story matches up pretty eerily with Arcade Fire, who also won this category three years ago: fast track to stardom with a highly lauded first album, bit of backlash with a comparatively underwhelming second one and reached headliner status with third album debuting at #1 and positive reviews.
What might work against it: There are more viable contenders than usual this year, which has usually helped an indie rock's album chances if the field was weak.
10. Rihanna - Unapologetic
What's in its favor: She's been able to maintain a steady profile with hit singles such as "Diamonds" and "Stay." It's not out of the question that this category would reward an artist just for having a consistent year.
What might work against it: Most of the attention she has received in recent months has not been for her music.
Record of the Year
1. Justin Timberlake-"Suit & Tie"/"Mirrors"
What's in their favor: Both songs have an equal shot of making it. It's not a matter of if he'll be nominated here, but which.
What might work against them: Not much, except that he's had songs before in the past that felt more a part of the culture.
2. Daft Punk feat. Pharrell - "Get Lucky"
What's in its favor: It has the right mix of old school flair and trendiness to cross demographics. The song might also find itself firmly placed in the top 10 for the remainder of the summer.
What might work against it: Not much here either. There would be more skepticism if they weren't veterans.
3. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - "Thrift Shop/"Can't Hold Us"
What's in their favor: "Thrift Shop" came out of nowhere, but the current success of "Can't Hold Us" has established the duo as no flash-in-the-pan act and improves the case for both songs equally.
What might work against them: There's a bit of a novelty factor to "Thrift Shop," which the Grammys tend to stay away from. That could potentially affect how voters view any other songs because of its impact.
4. Bruno Mars - "Locked Out Of Heaven"
What's in its favor: Bruno still has a lot of goodwill left over from two years ago and it doesn't hurt that it's actually a solid tune. I'm assuming this is the song Mars' label will submit here over "When I Was Your Man," since this category tends to favor more uptempo tracks.
What might work against it: The fact that it was released so long ago
5. Pink feat. Nate Ruess - "Just Give Me One Reason"
What's in its favor: Pink, a perennial Grammy favorite, had one of her biggest radio hits with this song and was assisted by a member of fun., the latest Best New Artist winner.
What might work against it: It stands a better chance in Song of the Year and would only crack this category if the field were weak.
6. Icona Pop - "I Love It"
What's in its favor: Its energy is undeniable and it has one of the most recognizable choruses in recent memory to sneak inside the top ten of the Hot 100.
What might work against it: There's not much going on lyrically, so it could be relegated to the pop or dance categories.
7. Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko - "Stay"
What's in its favor: It's Rihanna and it reached the top five. As long as she's relevant, just those credentials alone make it one to keep an eye out for.
What might work against it: If a Rihanna single is going to make the cut, at the least it has to have the same magic and popularity as "We Found Love" and "Only Girl (In The World)," which "Stay" may not be able to match since it has likely gone as far as it can.
8. Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell - "Blurred Lines"
What's in its favor: Along with an untouchable groove borrowed from Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" and the fact that it's still gaining traction, "Blurred Lines" could peak toward the end of the summer, which would keep it relatively fresh in voters' minds.
What might work against it: I'm getting ahead of myself by forecasting a peak that has not happened yet.
9. Taylor Swift - "I Knew You Were Trouble"/"22"
What's in their favor: Again, I think both songs share an equal shot because of the artist association. Swift will always be a part of the Grammy conversation.
What might work against them: Her previous Record of the Year nods came with "You Belong To Me" and "We Are Never Getting Back Together," both of which were a much larger part of the cultural conversation than these two.
10. Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"
What's in its favor: It's pretty much the only serious competition for a token rock song, if there even will be one this year.
What might work against it: They're basically a mainstream rock band in indie clothing. The blue ribbon panel that selects nominees for the four general categories have wised up in recent years and might see them as a step back after making some progress.
Song of the Year
1. Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors"
What's in its favor: Once again, Justin is the frontrunner for all things Grammy this year.
2. Bruno Mars - "When I Was Your Man"
What's in its favor: Much like JT, Bruno is having too good of a year to ignore.
What might work against it: Not a ton, really. I would be surprised if it didn't make it.
3. Pink feat. Nate Ruess - "Just Give Me A Reason"
What's in its favor: This category tends to favor slower, more emotional songs and there are few as popular this year than this one.
What might work against it: Uptempo songs have been crashing the party in recent years, so a ballad is no longer the lock that it used to be.
4. Kacey Musgraves - "Merry Go 'Round"
What's in its favor: Whenever there are relatively few locks in a year, a surprise entry always manages to sneak in. "Merry Go 'Round" provides the country genre with their best shot as far as quality goes.
What might work against it: The song might end up being a victim of timing since momentum has stalled since the album was released to acclaim in the spring.
5. Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko - "Stay"
What's in its favor: As I've stated, slower songs have a history of getting nominated. It's also distinctly minimal when compared to her glossier stuff.
What might work against it: There might be too many slower songs that are strong contenders this year and I don't see this one taking Bruno or Pink's spot.
6. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - "Same Love"
What's in its favor: They could very well choose to submit either of their other two hits, but if "Same Love" continues to grow at radio, it stands a better chance of winning due to its relevant content. The Grammys would also appear progressive by just by nominating it.
What might work against it: It hasn't cracked the top 40 yet, which I feel will be very decisive in whether it's a major competitor or not.
7. Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"
What's in its favor: It's one of the few rock songs to crack rotation at top 40 stations.
What might work against it: Similar to what I said before, the blue ribbon panel may have already moved past their brand of rock.
8. The Band Perry - "Better Dig Two"
What's in its favor: They're a former Best New Artist nominee and they just performed the song at last month's Billboard Music Awards. That shows legs for a song released all the way back in October. Plus, the NARAS could still look respectable by including them here.
What might work against it: They're not quite at superstar status yet, which goes a long way towards a country artist cracking the general field.
9. Daft Punk feat. Pharrell - "Get Lucky"
What's in its favor: In recent years, this category has been sort of a consolation prize for songs and artists that were shut out of Record and Album of the Year (Estelle's "American Boy," Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and Kanye West's "All of the Lights" for his snub of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). The song and Daft Punk themselves have become so popular that no placement at all in the four main categories would be a shocker at this point.
What might work against it: "Get Lucky" is seen as more of a production and recording achievement than for the actual song itself.
10. Emeli Sande - "Next To Me"
What's in its favor: It's currently doing well on radio and she has an international newcomer appeal. It also doesn't hurt that Jay-Z thinks highly of her, which no doubt some in the industry have taken notice of.
What might work against it: Her buzz has mostly just been bubbling and she's not yet a name that everyone recognizes.
Best New Artist
1. Kendrick Lamar
What's in his favor: He has been a mainstay on urban radio for close to a year and that album of his found itself on many 2012 lists.
What might work against him: For some reason, they only want to nominate one hip hop act and it's Macklemore & Ryan Lewis instead.
2. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
What's in their favor: The credentials don't need repeating and if they do, you might want to step out of that cave once in a while.
What might work against them: I really can't think of a scenario where they don't make it, unless the blue ribbon panel is serious about not taking "Thrift Shop" seriously.
3. The Weeknd
What's in his favor: There's a clear lack of indie bands this year that have had enough success to get on the Grammy radar, so he might be the hip choice by default.
What might work against him: Is there anyone outside of the blogosphere that can name one of his songs?
4. Imagine Dragons
What's in their favor: "It's Time" and "Radioactive" have kept them on radio for over a year and the album continues to move units. You can't stay that for too many rock bands nowadays.
What might work against them: That whole mainstream band in indie clothing thing I was getting at earlier.
5. Kacey Musgraves
What's in her favor: It's either her or Florida Georgia Line for the country voting contingent. This award is also viewed as a vote of confidence in an artist's potential and Musgraves seems built to last longer.
What might work against her: She doesn't have a song anywhere as big as "Cruise."
6. Phillip Phillips
What's in his favor: "Home" is one of the most ubiquitous songs of the past year and it's near inescapable whenever you turn on the TV even today.
What might work against him: Nothing that's followed has matched the staying power of "Home."
7. A$AP Rocky
What's in his favor: A supporting slot on Rihanna's tour and a hit in "Fuckin' Problems" has him flirting with the mainstream.
What might work against him: Despite his success, he hasn't done much to show that he has lasting power outside of current trends.
8. Jessie Ware
What's in her favor: She has an undeniable cool factor that would still be accessible in most circles. The album's pretty good too.
What might work against her: Her buzz in the U.S. has yet to reach fever pitch.
9. Florida Georgia Line
What's in their favor: They're responsible for the biggest country crossover hit since Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now."
What might work against them: Not everyone is a fan of that "Cruise" remix with Nelly.
What's in their favor: With their first album on a major label (second overall), their profile has increased tenfold with press seemingly everywhere. Coco O.'s voice is distinct enough to win over new ears.
What might work against them: They might be too hip that few will have heard of them.