Tuesday, December 03, 2013

2014 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Album of the Year & Song of the Year

The nominations for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards will be announced this Friday, Dec. 6, on a live concert special airing on CBS. The award ceremony itself will take place on Jan. 26, 2014. As usual, I will try my hand at predicting who will get nominated in the four general field categories: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist. Today, I'll take a look at Album and Song of the Year. I already made predictions for ROTY and Best New Artist yesterday.

Album of the Year

The conversation for the 2014 Grammys ends and begins with Justin Timberlake. Not only has he been nominated in this category twice before, but he also brings that magical combination that the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) loves to acknowledge: popularity and respect (i.e., Adele, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill). Submitting both of his albums as one shouldn't hurt his chances, even if Part 2 was seen as a creative disappointment. As of right now, The 20/20 Experience is in the lead to win this whole thing.

By that same logic, I also like the chances for Bruno Mars' Unorthodox Jukebox. I think he's one of the few current pop superstars where the music is strictly the main attraction concerning them. Image and headlines have played such a small role in his success, which is something the Grammys will likely take notice of. Having him here won't tarnish the respectability of the category.

In that same vein, Taylor Swift's Red, with the best first week sales in a decade, also seems likely to get a nomination. The difference between her latest one and Speak Now—which did not get an Album of the Year nod despite gaudy first week numbers as well—is that there are more songs that the general public can identify with.
As big as "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" eventually was, it had been released late in the eligibility period and still managed to get a Record of the Year nomination. Songs in that category usually need months in order to prove their case, but a crossover hit from a superstar like Swift was practically all that was needed and enough to show that she's still loved. In addition, crossover hits in "22" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" just might have solidified her place. It also helps that she's gotten mostly positive reviews for Red, which help maintains the credibility of AOTY.

Speaking of credibility, I think the Grammys and the blue ribbon panel that selects the general field nominees have tried to make a difference in how the awards are perceived. Not to take anything away from their talent and their accomplishments—both of which are plentiful—but the back-to-back Album of the Year wins for Herbie Hancock and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss only reinforced the notion of how out-of-step the NARAS was with the times.

Those wins could have been seen as shocking, but anyone who had been paying attention would have easily referred you to when Steely Dan beat out Eminem in 2001 or a posthumous Ray Charles win in 2005 over Green Day's American Idiot and Kanye West's The College Dropout, two of this generation's most influential albums. In the midst of rewarding veteran acts for lesser efforts in an attempt to make up for shunning them in their prime, the AOTY category inspired more apathy than justification with music fans who managed to keep up with current trends. Starting with Arcade Fire's win for The Suburbs in 2011, the NARAS has attempted to show that they actually are down with the kids, by handing out general field nominations to Mumford & Sons, Bon Iver, Frank Ocean and The Black Keys. Aside from Ocean (who got great reviews from rock critics), those artists are at the forefront of the new "indie" wave that has surpassed traditional rockers (think Foo Fighters, Green Day, etc.) in buzz and coolness. While they have a ways to go match some of the commercial heights of those bands, it's not uncommon to see a band that was a Pitchfork favorite five or more years ago have an album debut at #1 on the Billboard Top 200.

With regards to the indie world, Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires In The City is the most likely to benefit. They've had some of the best reviews of the year and are bonafide festival headliners. I wouldn't be surprised if Phoenix or David Bowie got a nod here as well either, just to appear hip. There is usually one rock act in AOTY, but the rest of the field may be too crowded just to accommodate a genre that didn't have that strong of a year.

If the blue ribbon panel is looking for albums with widespread recognition that would still establish cred, what could possibly be hipper than giving that a slot to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories? Sure, they've won Grammys before in the past and even performed at the 2008 ceremony with Kanye West, but for most of their careers, they virtually existed outside of the mainstream and were an indie-approved EDM act, a genre that has exploded on the charts and the festival scene in a huge way over the past few years. Alternative rock stations and MTV did support Daft Punk when they first appeared, so there is the long shot that whoever champions rock music on the blue ribbon panel would support a placement for them. Also, it's hard to argue with a #1 debut, one of the savviest marketing campaigns ever for an album, near universal acclaim from critics and an old school leader from a burgeoning genre.

When a year has reached a limit on popular and respectable contenders, the NARAS usually looks at who was the best in their genre, which as of right now leaves hip hop and R&B without a candidate. There were buzzworthy albums by Kanye West, Jay-Z and Drake, but the hip hop conversation this year will likely boil down between Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. It's hard to argue against an album that has two #1 singles such as The Heist, but it may not cut it as hip hop's representative. The pop credentials for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are enough to get them in here and could possibly replace Daft Punk or Taylor Swift, but without a strong showing at hip hop and R&B radio stations (neither "Thrift Shop" or "Can't Hold Us" cracked the top 30 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Airplay chart), I think that makes them iffy. They're a very talented duo, but I'm leaning more towards Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city for the fact that the Grammys want to appear cool and they've been reluctant to acknowledge acts that have gained fame outside of the record label system. By past AOTY standards, The Heist would still be a perfect nominee, but the mainstream success of Kendrick is something to definitely consider. Along, with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Lamar is one of the few new hip hop artists in recent years to have their debut album go platinum (that's Drake and Nicki Minaj territory, to add some perspective). What this means is that he's known outside of hip hop as well (the press from the "Control" verse didn't hurt either) and that makes him a viable choice. It's true Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are known outside of hip hop to a much larger extent, but good kid was blessed with some of the best reviews of not only 2012, but the decade. Few albums could bring as much cred to Album of the Year than this one.

Predictions for Album of the Year:

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox
Taylor Swift - Red
Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

Possible spoilers: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist; Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires In The City; Drake - Nothing Was The Same; Jay-Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail; Kanye West - Yeezus; David Bowie - The Next Day
Long shots: Lorde - Pure Heroine; Phoenix - Bankrupt!; The Civil Wars - The Civil Wars; Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady; Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park; Elton John - The Diving Board

Song of the Year

If you've been keeping up, you already know that Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors" will probably get a nod here too.

Since there isn't as much attention focused on commercial success in this category, you have to examine songs that were received warmly, even if they performed moderately. Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go 'Round" fits that mold, even if it didn't chart as high as most country songs that land here. The Band Perry's "Better Dig Two" and The Civil Wars' "The One That Got Away" also have some slight crossover appeal, but there's a likely consensus from country voters that this is one of the genre's best shot to get in the general field and the song itself has an intimate feel, which might win over the blue ribbon panel.

With the way things are stacking up in my world, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis will likely not get in for Record or Album of the Year. If that indeed holds up, I think a nod for the topical "Same Love" will be their reward for a big year. This category has been kind of a consolation prize in recent years for songs that seemed liked a lock for Record of the Year (think Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and Estelle's "American Boy") or an artist that seemed destined for Album of the Year (Kanye with "All Of The Lights" from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). There are a number of possibilities that could see Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" or Bruno Mars' "Locked Out Of Heaven" surprisingly placed here if "Thrift Shop" does indeed get a ROTY placement.

I also like the chances of Lorde's "Royals" since it will likely keep the category from being too sappy. I have her pegged as a Record of the Year nominee, but if she doesn't get in there, she's even more of a lock here. Due to the popularity and likability of the song, I think she lands in both categories though.

There can't be too many big hits here, so that likely leaves Pink's "Just Give Me A Reason" and Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" on the bench. It's hard to believe that Pink has never been nominated in the general field and I'm pretty sure that conversation did come up at least once while discussing general nominations. She's been a non-stop hit factory for well over a decade and went to #1 again this year. You have to ask how much longer will she be shut out? If Cyrus hadn't gained so much attention outside of the recording booth as a punchline, the chances for "Wrecking Ball" would have shot up. Although Song of the Year goes to the actual songwriters (Miley does not have writing credit), "Wrecking Ball" might be the victim of some residual damage.

If the recent history of Song of the Year shows anything, there must be at least one nominee from the hip hop/R&B world or least from an artist whose career started with support from those radio stations. Only once in the past twenty years has there not been a representative from hip hop and R&B (2003 was the last time this happened). As terrific as I think Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home" is, what will hurts its chances here are that the lyrics for two verses are exactly the same. You also have to mention Kanye West with "Black Skinhead," but there's the chance it didn't get enough votes to merit consideration. Once again, I have to look at Kendrick Lamar. "Swimming Pools (Drank)" cracked the top 20 on the Hot 100 and just like Lorde, I like his chances even more here if he's shut out of another category that's seen as a bigger prize, Album of the Year.

Tradition also holds that a rock track gets in here, but trying to squeeze in something like Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" (more American dubstep than actual rock) or Vampire Weekend's "Diane Young" (not popular enough) may look too desperate in a year like this.

Predictions for Song of the Year:

Kendrick Lamar - "Swimming Pools (Drank)"
Lorde - "Royals"
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - "Same Love"
Kacey Musgraves - "Merry Go 'Round"
Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors"

Possible spoilers: The Band Perry - "Better Dig Two"; Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball"; Pink - "Just Give Me A Reason"; Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"; Passenger - "Let Her Go"; The Civil Wars - "The One That Got Away"; Drake - "Hold On, We're Going Home"; Emeli Sandé - "Next To Me"; Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko - "Stay"; Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran - "Everything Has Changed"
Long shots: Taylor Swift - "I Knew You Were Trouble"; Bruno Mars - "Locked Out Of Heaven"; Daft Punk feat. Pharrell - "Get Lucky"; Kanye West - "Black Skinhead"; Adele - "Skyfall"; Mariah Carey feat. Miguel - "#beautiful"; Paul McCartney - "New"; Robin Thicke feat. Pharrell & T.I. - "Blurred Lines"; Ed Sheeran - "Lego House"; Lana Del Rey - "Summertime Sadness"

To see my predictions for Record of the Year and Best New Artist, click here.

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