Although Grammy nominations won't be announced until December and the ceremony itself doesn't take place until February 2015, it's always fun to take an early look at the current standings of who's likely to get nominated. At this point we're already 3/4 of the way through the eligibility period, so we have possibly already heard most of the nominees, but there is still a lot of time left, so don't take these predictions as definite. Once it gets closer to nomination time, I'll post my final guesses, so make sure to check back for that. For this post, I'm only examining the general field categories: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Here are the current contenders for the 57th Grammy Awards, as I see it.
Album of the Year
1. Beyoncé - Beyoncé
What's in its favor: The world was turned upside down when Bey released her fifth album unannounced without any promotion and a music video created for each track. It became one of the biggest musical events of the decade. It also doesn't hurt that sales have been robust and it got not only some of the best reviews of her career, but for the year in general.
What might work against it: Albums by superstars in this category tend to have more than one big hit. So far it's only been "Drunk In Love."
2. Pharrell Williams - G I R L
What's in its favor: The momentum from all the goodwill he received during the summer of 2013 has carried over thanks to a little song called "Happy." The album has also been well-received by critics and yet to fall below #20 of the Billboard Top 200 nearly three months after its release.
What might work against it: Unless the critical reception has been absolutely astronomical, nominees here don't make it off the basis of just one song. Its chances hinge mainly on the chart performance of new single "Come Get It Bae" at this point.
3. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
What's in its favor: I've talked before about how the Grammys are trying to slowly regain credibility by rewarding acts that are seen as hip and purveyors of quality music. Arcade Fire has one of the strongest combinations of hip and mainstream going for them, which will continue to make them perennial contenders in AOTY. Reflektor was highly lauded upon release and in case you forgot, they actually beat out Eminem and Lady Gaga in this category a few years ago.
What might work against: The Suburbs, their past AOTY winner, was released during the summer and the surprise at its #1 debut shot them up in the eyes of the mainstream. By the time the eligibility period concluded at the end of September, the album was still relatively fresh. Reflektor was practically released at the beginning of the eligibility period, so there's a strong case it might already be forgotten.
4. The Black Keys - Turn Blue
What's in its favor: If there's a worthy rock album within sniffing distance of this category, it'll likely get in. The Black Keys have been on the mainstream radar now for about four years and the album just debuted at #1. They've also been nominated here before with El Camino.
What might work against it: The success of their two previous albums at the Grammys, Brothers and El Camino, were bolstered by radio hits such as "Tighten Up" and "Lonely Boy." It's too early to tell if their current single, "Fever," will reach those same heights, but it is almost certainly a necessity for it to do terrific in order for them to get a second nomination in this category.
5. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2
What's in its favor: When sales AND critical acclaim have been on his side, it usually ends in a nod here for him.
What might work against it: Although "The Monster" reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the singles from MMLP2 have not garnered the same amount of adoration as efforts such as Recovery, The Eminem Show and the first Marshall Mathers LP. This album is also lacking the same kind of strong background story that drove Recovery and its comeback narrative to making Eminem a sentimental favorite.
6. Coldplay - Ghost Stories
What's in its favor: They're one of the biggest rock bands in the world and a summer release for one of their albums could help them stay in the memories of NARAS voters. Ghost Stories is also well on its way to having the highest sales week of the year and they currently have three singles inside the top 30. The Avicii-produced "A Sky Full Of Stars" has the potential to grow more throughout the summer and keep the spotlight on the band.
What might work against it: They don't really fit in with the new wave of hip bands the Grammys have been gravitating towards in recent years and critical reaction towards the LP has been lukewarm.
7. Katy Perry - Prism
What's in its favor: Any single she releases has a legitimate shot at reaching #1. If there are multiple smashes from the same album, this category tends to reward it based on its success instead of its merit. "Birthday" is single no. 4 and stands to do well over the summer due to its breezy nature.
What might work against it: Although "Roar" and "Dark Horse" have reached the summit of the Hot 100, they lack the same magic as the singles from Teenage Dream, a previous AOTY nominee.
8. Frozen: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
What's in its favor: It spent 13 non-consecutive weeks at #1, the most since Adele's 21. "Let It Go" and the movie itself is near-universally loved.
What might work against it: It's still very much considered material for children and the general public would probably not be familiar with any other songs from the soundtrack, more than half of which are instrumentals.
9. Miley Cyrus - Bangerz
What's in its favor: She's one of the most-talked about figures in music right now and she released a solid album in Bangerz, much to the surprise of many.
What might work against it: Much of the conversation revolving around Cyrus has not been positive and she hasn't had a major hit since "Wrecking Ball," which is considered forever ago in pop measurements.
10. Beck - Morning Phase
What's in its favor: Twenty years after the release of his breakthrough album, Mellow Gold, he's now seen as an an elder statesmen of rock. Couple that with some of the best reviews of the year (the best he's had since 2002's Sea Change), and he could very well win over the rock voting contingent of the NARAS. Don't forget that he's also a two-time nominee in this category for Odelay and Midnite Vultures.
What might work against it: The rock field looks to be crowded this year and there is no song that the general public strongly identifies with. There's also the chance that Jack White's Lazaretto could make more of an impact and leapfrog over Morning Phase for votes.
Record of the Year
1. Pharrell Williams - "Happy"
What's in its favor: It's the viral song of the year. Even your parents know how the chorus goes, along with your nieces and nephews.
What might work against it: It was submitted but not nominated last year for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media since it did originate from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. I'm not too clear on the rules for submitting the same song two years in a row in different categories, but that would be its only setback at this point.
2. Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z - "Drunk In Love"
What's in its favor: Being the biggest hit on one of the most talked-about albums of the year bodes very well. It's also been one of the most meme-worthy songs in some time, which only increased its visibility.
What might work against it: Honestly, there's not much going against it aside from the fact that it was released in December, but even Bruno Mars got into Record of the Year with an early release for "Locked Out Of Heaven."
3. Bastille - "Pompeii"
What's in its favor: It's been a hit at alternative rock stations and peaked at #5 on the Hot 100. This will likely be the best shot for the rock members on the blue ribbon panel (the committee that decides general field nominees from the top 20 vote-getters) to make a case for their genre to be recognized.
What might work against it: Despite all of its success, it doesn't have the ubiquitous aura that most nominees in ROTY have.
4. Michael Jackson feat. Justin Timberlake - "Love Never Felt So Good"
What's in its favor: The addition of Timberlake gives the track a contemporary feel and a nomination for the deceased King of Pop could boost ratings and draw viewers who are curious to see Jackson get a posthumous win. The song itself is the best reminder in nearly two decades as to why he was loved so much and it will likely gain more traction as summer rolls on.
What might work against it: Giving the nod to an artist that's no longer with us may be seen as a step back for the NARAS. If the past few years have taught me anything, rewarding older or decased acts is a stigma that they're trying to shake.
5. Aloe Blacc - "The Man"
What's in its favor: It's one of the more inspirational songs of the year and his voice is pretty recognizeable at this point. He also fits very neatly into three criteria that the Grammys tend to salivate over: songwriter, soulful voice and newcomer.
What might work against it: It could have really used a stay within the top 5. He'll need a strong push for Best New Artist from his record label to make up for the tepid reception to the album.
6. Eminem feat. Rihanna - "The Monster"
What's in its favor: Two of the biggest pop icons in the world teamed up for a #1 single. This category leans more towards starpower than any of the others in the general field and that's a big bonus for this track.
What might work against it: I'm not sold on the song and it hasn't had nearly half the pop culture impact of their previous collaboration, "Love The Way You Lie," which was also nominated for ROTY.
7. Katy Perry feat. Juicy J - "Dark Horse"
What's in its favor: She's one of the biggest pop stars in America and any excuse to add some wattage to the telecast will be highly considered.
What might work against it: As I mentioned before, this track doesn't have quite the same magic as what one would have found on Teenage Dream and its success feels more out of habit because of who sings it instead of a genuine love for the track.
8. Idina Menzel - "Let It Go"
What's in its favor: The song remained popular well into the spring despite Frozen hitting theaters in November. If it didn't belong to an animated movie and was approached objectively, its chances would look amazing on paper.
What might work against it: It belongs to an animated movie, which drives down the hip factor. There is a precedent for songs from animated films landing in this category ("Beauty & The Beast" from Beauty & The Beast and "A Whole New World" from Aladdin), but that was twenty years ago and none have accomplished that feat since.
9. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX - "Fancy"
What's in its favor: It has a decent shot at being the song of the summer if it continues its march towards #1. Being crowned the song of the summer automatically puts a track in the conversation for ROTY.
What might work against it: While the song itself is enjoyable, it has yet to crossover into that place where people who don't pay attention to music can no longer ignore it ("Call Me Maybe," "Blurred Lines," "I Got A Feeling," etc.). The content of "Fancy" isn't strong enough to make an impact solely on its own.
10. Sia - "Chandelier"
What's in its favor: That chorus is pretty explosive and voters will likely already be familiar with her songwriting credits for superstars such as Rihanna, Katy Perry and Beyoncé. With an attention-grabbing video, it has the potential to go viral and find an audience outside of radio in the coming months.
What might work against it: I am getting ahead of myself since it currently sits at #62 and it's too early to predict where it will peak. Plus, there might be some that think the song sounds too much like Rihanna.
Song of the Year
1. Aloe Blacc - "The Man"
What's in its favor: As I mentioned before, there's an uplifting theme here in a category where content is deemed more valuable and its use in the Beats by Dre ads might have been some of the most memorable commercials for that product.
What might work against it: If the NARAS bends the rules to include John Legend's "All Of Me" (it was released in August 2013), then "The Man" could be the odd R&B song out.
2. Lorde - "Team"
What's in its favor: She's shaken any doubts of her being a one-hit wonder, so it wouldn't look too bad if she made it back to general field.
What might work against it: Lorde won this award last year for "Royals" and it might be too soon to put her back in for a song that didn't have as much impact.
3. Bastille - "Pompeii"
What's in its favor: Any big hit on rock radio will always merit consideration in the top four categories.
What might work against it: The song is probably seen as more of an achievement in production than songwriting.
4. Pharrell Williams - "Happy"
What's in its favor: It's far and away the biggest track of the year.
What might work against it: Since this is a category that rewards songs based on the strength of its composition, the main knock against "Happy" would be that it gets repetitive towards the end.
5. Eminem - "Headlights"
What's in its favor: It's a touching song that deals with the turbulent relationship between Eminem and his mother, a topic that dominated the first half of his career. The introspection here will be viewed as as sign of personal and artistic growth. It was also a great marketing move to have the video released on Mother's Day.
What might work against it: Hip hop is always a tricky sell in this category and a nomination usually depends on the strength of the chorus and melody. Unfortunately, "Headlights" doesn't measure up to past nominees like Kanye West's "All Of The Lights" and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Same Love" in that regard.
6. Idina Menzel - "Let It Go"
What's in its favor: The popularity of the song has lent itself to countless covers and parodies, which at its core, a good song should inspire.
What might work against it: Pretty hard to escape the fact that it's from an animated film, which means that some folks won't take it seriously.
7. Beyoncé - "XO"/"Pretty Hurts"
What's in its favor: Whichever song her label submits, there's going to be a big promotional push behind it. Despite not being a smash on the charts, "XO" will still be generally remembered as an enjoyable song. "Pretty Hurts" is the more recent of the two and will be fresh in voters' minds.
What might work against it: "XO" was expected to be a major crossover hit, but it didn't happen and it's too early to tell how "Pretty Hurts" will connect with the public.
8. Michael Jackson - "Love Never Felt So Good"
What's in its favor: Once again, the curiosity of a posthumous win would be an intriguing storyline.
What might work against it: The song was written 30 years ago and a nomination in this category could cause controversy.
9. Sam Smith - "Stay With Me"
What's in its favor: Big vocals and sensitivity are like catnip for Song of the Year. Additionally, he's British, which ups his Grammy appeal (ex. Adele, Amy Winehouse, Ed Sheeran, Corinne Bailey Rae and so on).
What might work against it: Aside from a highly lauded appearance on Saturday Night Live, no one really knows who he is right now.
10. Beck - "Blue Moon"
What's in its favor: As it stands, I don't see any true locks in this category. Whenever that's happened, a surprise entry in the field usually manages to sneak in. A SOTY nomination would be the perfect consolation prize for recognition in the general categories after releasing a great album.
What might work against it: With everything being so wide open right now, he's far from the only wildcard choice and he could just as easy be replaced in the running.
Best New Artist
1. Aloe Blacc
What's in his favor: His profile got a big boost after appearing on Avicii's "Wake Me Up" last year and he followed it up with one of the year's most accessible hits in "The Man."
What might work against him: There isn't nearly as much enthusiasm surrounding his album.
2. Sam Smith
What's in his favor: He's a new face with a soulful voice. Somebody has to tide the public over till Adele returns, right? He's also been on hit records by Naughty Boy and Disclosure, so it will be tough to ignore him for much longer.
What might work against him: The hype surrounding his debut album, In The Lonely Hour, may backfire quickly if it doesn't meet industry expectations.
3. Iggy Azalea
What's in her favor: She'll be dominating the airwaves this summer with "Fancy" and on Ariana Grande's "Problem."
What might work against her: She's Australian but raps with a Dirty South accent. It may be hard to take her seriously.
4. Blood Orange
What's in his favor: Dev Hynes is one of the go-to producers of the moment and a nod here gives the category some indie cred.
What might work against him: Although Cupid Deluxe was the second album under the Blood Orange name, Hynes has been releasing music through a few other names since 2007, so he could be viewed as too experienced for BNA.
5. Schoolboy Q
What's in his favor: He's the strongest hip hop candidate after Iggy Azalea, Oxymoron has been touted as one of the better release in the genre so far this year and his association with Kendrick Lamar and TDE ups his hip quotient.
What might work against him: An indie rock artist can crack the final five without having a crossover hit. Historically, hip hop doesn't have that same luxury in Best New Artist.
6. The Head and The Heart
What's in their favor: Their album debuted at #10 and they're still a go-to band for song placements in television shows. Folk rock as a trend is still fairly strong.
What might work against them: If an indie rock act doesn't have a crossover hit, the album needs to at least have been a fixture on the upper reaches of year-end lists. Let's Be Still was well-liked, but not enough to overcome the lack of a moderate hit.
7. Sky Ferreira
What's in her favor: Night Time, My Time got rave reviews across the board when it was released. She's been pegged as one to watch in the music industry for a few years now.
What might work against her: Without any big songs for the casual listener to identify her with, she's mostly known as the woman with the nude album cover and a drug possession charge.
8. Lykke Li
What's in her favor: She's long been a critics' favorite and this might finally be her shot to get a nod in this category after years of building her fanbase.
What might work against her: While I Never Learn still got good reviews, the consensus is that it doesn't match up to her past work and that could cause her to fall below the Grammy radar.
9. Danny Brown
What's in his favor: His eccentric style has made him accessible for those that don't consider hip hop a primary genre to listen to. He might also benefit from exposure due to the latest Google Play ads.
What might work against him: While the Grammys continue to strive for credibility, they have yet to nominate an underground hip hop artist.
10. Jhené Aiko
What's in her favor: The Sail Out EP debuted within the top 10 and even had a minor hit in "The Worst." Along with legendary producer No I.D. in her corner and a few of her famous friends, the full-length debut could make quite the splash upon arrival.
What might work against her: She has to duke it out with Aloe Blacc for the R&B vote.