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. For today's post, I'll examine the races for Record and Best New Artist while tackling Album and Song of the year tomorrow.
Record of the Year
Just to clarify for those reading tomorrow's post as well, Record of the Year goes to the artist, producers and engineers who worked on the actual recording while Song of the Year goes to the songwriters who crafted the lyrics and melodies. Since this category tends to lean towards big hits and big artists, it never hurts to look at what and who was popular this year. By far, the track that had the most weeks at #1 was Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" with Pharrell & T.I. It defined the summer and fits in the same mold of respectable mega smashes such as Usher's "Yeah!", Adele's "Rolling In The Deep" and Gotye & Kimbra's "Somebody I Used To Know" in that ordinary consumers could perceive them as more than just soulless pre-manufactured pop hits. Despite the Marvin Gaye issues and Miley episode at the VMAs, I still like the chances of "Blurred Lines."
Justin Timberlake will likely have a lot of momentum this year for his return with The 20/20 Experience, which should carry over into ROTY with "Mirrors." He's one of the most adored pop stars we have and I think it would count as a huge shock if he didn't get in here.
Another artist who will also likely carry some goodwill for a great year is Bruno Mars. He has been a mainstay on the charts for about a year now, which helps the chances of "Locked Out Of Heaven," a song that was released closer to the beginning of this year's eligibility period than any of the other main contenders.
Mars was nominated in Record of the Year previously for "Grenade," another song that hit its stride right as the eligibility period started in October 2010, which meant that he was among the finalists for the 2012 Grammys. I found "Locked Out Of Heaven" to be catchier and felt that as the lead single from a sophomore album, it solidified Mars as an artist with staying potential.
As I stated before, this category is mostly for big hits, but has sometimes rewarded artists that had a great album or became successful within their genre. The past two years alone have broken tradition with nods for Mumford & Sons, "The Cave," Bon Iver's "Holocene," The Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" and Frank Ocean's "Thinkin Bout You," none of which placed inside the top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100. The one common trait between the four of those songs was that the artists were favorites of critics and the tracks gained enough buzz so that the artist and their albums had at least one tune that the general public could identify them with. Looking at the field this year, the two songs that fit that criteria the best are "Swimming Pools (Drank)" by Kendrick Lamar and "Diane Young" by Vampire Weekend. In a weaker year, I think either one of those tracks would have been able to sneak in, but the ROTY field is as crowded as it has been in recent memory, so much so that there are enough critical darlings with monster tracks to reward.
When I think of songs with critical and commercial success, the three that come to mind are Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," Lorde's "Royals" and to a lesser extent, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop." While people generally like Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," I don't think they're seen as critics' darlings and judging from the past few years, the blue ribbon panel that chooses the nominees in the general field would know the difference between an indie band with commercial appeal and a commercial band using indie sounds. Imagine Dragons fall in to the latter category, but if the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) is desperate to have a rock song in this category, "Radioactive" would be it.
As far as "Get Lucky" is concerned, it's one of the most ubiquitous songs of the year and played a key part in the soundtrack for the summer. The story surrounding Daft Punk itself is pretty great, slowly rising from underground cult heroes to massive airplay at top 40 stations. "Get Lucky" is one of those songs that's hard to hate and it's difficult to see it not in the running as one of the best recordings of the year.
If the NARAS is still looking to maintain their balance of credibility and popularity with the general field nominations, I think "Royals" makes more sense than "Thrift Shop." "Royals" did have a lengthy run at #1 on both Billboard's Alternative and Rock songs charts. Other songs in recent memory that have done the same include "Somebody I Used To Know" and fun.'s "We Are Young." Imagine Dragons has accomplished the same feat as well and holds the best shot for a traditional rock band to land a nod, but it has been 30 years since Record of the Year did not feature a female vocalist among its nominees. None of the efforts by Pink, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus or Rihanna are comparable to the success of Lorde's debut single. "Royals" is too big to ignore, has a hip factor, peaked at the right time and could be a worthy substitute to satisfy the rock voting contingent of the NARAS.
Predictions for Record of the Year:
Daft Punk feat. Pharrell - "Get Lucky"
Lorde - "Royals"
Bruno Mars - "Locked Out Of Heaven"
Robin Thicke feat. Pharrrell & T.I. - "Blurred Lines"
Justin Timberlake - "Mirrors"
Possible spoilers: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - "Thrift Shop"; Imagine Dragons - "Radioactive"; Pink feat. Nate Ruess - "Just Give Me A Reason"; Kendrick Lamar - "Swimming Pools (Drank)"; Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball"; Katy Perry - "Roar"
Long shots: Taylor Swift - "I Knew You Were Trouble"; Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc - "Wake Me Up"; Drake - "Started From The Bottom"; Rihanna feat. Mikky Ekko - "Stay"; Vampire Weekend - "Diane Young"; Jay-Z feat. Justin Timberlake - "Holy Grail"; Florida Georgia Line - "Cruise"
Best New Artist
With the exception of Lady Gaga (who was ineligible for Best New Artist at the 2010 Grammys because she won Best Dance Recording the year before The Fame came out), every artist who has released at least two #1 singles from a debut album during an eligibility period has been nominated for Best New Artist. That list includes The Four Seasons, The Beatles, Men At Work, Rick Astley, Milli Vanilli, Puff Daddy, 50 Cent and Bruno Mars. That's over fifty years of history in favor of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who went to #1 twice with "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us."
If they're getting in, I'm just about positive Kendrick Lamar will get a slot here as well. Can you imagine the backlash and outrage that would come against the NARAS if Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (a white hip hop artist) got in, but not Kendrick (a black hip hop artist)? I hate to pull the elitist card, but is there anyone that seriously thinks that Kendrick is the inferior hip hop artist or that The Heist was a better album than good kid, m.A.A.d. city? Both albums went platinum and Lamar gained a big boost in mainstream buzz with his verse on Big Sean's "Control." It would be hard to justify his omission and I honestly believe that the blue ribbon panel has been making sincere attempts to avoid controversy and make the Grammys more credible. There is always the chance that Kendrick gets in and not Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but with the factoid I just mentioned above, I'm choosing not to bet against history.
Eight of the last nine years have seen a country artist get a nod in Best New Artist. I think the Nashville community has already warmed up to Kacey Musgraves, judging by the CMA nominations and her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park getting raves from rock critics. Florida Georgia Line may have had the bigger hit with "Cruise," but I think Musgraves has a wider appeal.
Lorde also seems like another logical choice since "Royals" was so big, but there's that fear of rewarding someone who has such a big hit the first time out and may never come out with another one again. Luckily for Lorde, Pure Heroine, was solid enough to avoid any question marks around her for the time being and there are a clear lack of indie acts with mainstream recognition this year.
Not to say that there isn't room enough for one wildcard pick in Best New Artist. Rock is looking to be sorely underrepresented in the general field this year and the blue ribbon panel may get antsy enough to stick Imagine Dragons here, even though they don't fit with the current re-branding of the Grammys. I wouldn't be surprised if they were able to sneak in at least one general field category and if it were going to be anywhere, there's an opening here.
The category of Best New Artist has tried to pride itself on being one with integrity in recent years. There will of course be the mandatory hitmakers, but at least one or two artists who have the perception of "legitimate talent" usually get in. From that pile, I think Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sande, Ariana Grande, Haim, Laura Mvula, Valerie June, The Weeknd and Gary Clark Jr. have the most appeal for the Grammy crowd. The act that's most likely to benefit from the NARAS' recent focus on indie would be The Weeknd, even though he's an R&B act. Indie blogs and publications were among the first to champion him and I could see some support from any hip hop and R&B lovers on the blue ribbon panel as well. All that aside, I think Gary Clark Jr. will probably sneak in since if Kendrick and Lorde are already locks, there's no need to strive any harder to prove how hip the Grammys have become. There's an authenticity to Clark Jr. because of his musicianship, which also suggests longevity and he provides the best chance for the Grammys to bring guitars into the mix for the general field.
Predictions for Best New Artist:
Gary Clark Jr.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Possible spoilers: Imagine Dragons, The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran, Florida Georgia Line, Emeli Sande
Long shots: Ariana Grande, Haim, Valerie June, Laura Mvula, The Neighborhood, Zedd, Capital Cities, A$AP Rocky, Tame Impala, James Blake, Disclosure, Jessie Ware, Icona Pop, Of Monsters and Men
Come back tomorrow for my guesses on the nominees for Album of the Year and Song of the Year.