Monday, December 01, 2014

2015 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Record of the Year & Best New Artist

Nominations for the the 57th Annual Grammy Awards will be announced this Friday, Dec. 5, on a live concert special airing on CBS. The award ceremony itself will be taking place on Feb. 8th, 2015. Back in May, I took an early look at possible contenders in the Big Four categories, but these predictions right here before you are definite and I'm ready to commit to them. I think. For this post, I'll be taking guesses for Record of the Year and Best New Artist and come back tomorrow when I'll examine the field for Album of the Year and Song of the Year.

Record of the Year

As always, I like to start off with my locks. Despite what I consider a pretty lackluster year as far as the quality of top 40 hits are concerned (2013 alone gave us "Royals," "Get Lucky," and "Wrecking Ball" just to name a few), there are always definite contenders. I'm a bit shakier this year than most, but overall, I feel like Beyoncé will be the one to beat this night. While "Drunk In Love" featuring Jay-Z was not the monstrous, axis-shifting hit like some of her other past general field nominations ("Crazy In Love," "Irreplaceable," "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"), it had a two-month stay within the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 and could certainly be classified as one of the most meme-worthy songs of the year.

I really like Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" in this category as well. I'm a bit confused as to why the Darkchild version with Mary J. Blige was submitted instead of just the solo version since the song is already well-liked enough in its original incarnation. The only theory I have is that Smith's people might view Beyoncé as the biggest threat and deduced that Blige's inclusion might help be able to draw away some votes from the R&B voting contingent or probably those who would love to see Mary J. Blige rewarded in the general field after a 22-year career. There's also the risk that some voters might just be plain puzzled at having to vote for only a version with Blige, which is just a small portion of why I feel shaky about this year. Nonetheless, with or without Blige's vocals, it's still a very heartfelt song with a lot of emotional power behind it.

If you're wondering why I have yet to mention an obvious contender such as Pharrell Williams' "Happy," it's because the version that we all know and love is ineligible this year. Due to Williams' win for Producer of the Year at the previous ceremony and "Happy" being listed among his credits (it was originally in Despicable Me 2), it cannot be nominated ever again. His record company decided to submit a live version of "Happy" in order to capitalize on the astronomical success of the song, but I get the feeling that they won't have much luck since live recordings don't really get nominated for ROTY. John Legend's "All Of Me" is in the same boat, but only because the album that it was on was nominated for Best R&B album last year, which would also disqualify any tracks on there from future nominations as well. Bastille is also submitting a live version of "Pompeii" due to the studio version being released outside of the eligibility calendar. If "Pompeii" had qualified, it would have made the ROTY picture less murky. Since "Happy" cast such a spell over America, it might actually be hard for the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) to overlook it. Like I said, I've got a very shaky feeling about Record of the Year in 2015.

Even if the studio version of "Happy" were in the picture, I still would have pegged Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" to get a nod. She's arguably the biggest pop star in America and the only artist that can be counted on to regularly sell one million units of an album in its first week. She has maintained all of the goodwill she's built over the years with a catchy single in "Shake It Off," which found her no longer flirting with pop, but diving head first and paddling further away from the steady shores of country which she's called home since her debut. This departure may cost her sway with the country contingent in the blue ribbon panel (the secret group of NARAS members that decide general field nominees from the top votes), but I'd like to think that she's reached a new stratosphere and may no longer need those votes to make a case for her.

Out of all of the general field categories (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year Best New Artist), this is the one that rewards commercial success more than the others. Since Record of the Year is given to the artist, producer and engineer (Song of the Year goes to the songwriter), more emphasis is put on the impact a track has made with equal consideration to the quality. There are a few strong pop contenders such as Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" with Charli XCX and Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass," but the blue ribbon panel has been reluctant to acknowledge big hits by artists that have the perception of a short shelf life. This does not coincide with my own beliefs in how to determine an artist's longevity, but looking at the past nominees who were snubbed (Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" are just a few that come to mind), there is a certain hesitance to place artists with a big song out of the gates if it appears too fluffy or lacking in substance. There's an entire rockist/patriarchal conversation that could be had here, but I would just like to point out a possible pattern I see, is all. I think this would also remove MAGIC!'s "Rude" from the conversation, and not just because I'm a huge opponent of the song itself.

If we're looking at pop hits by artists with perceived or established longevity, there's a great case to be made for Ariana Grande's "Problem" with Iggy Azalea and Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" with Juicy J. It is undeniable Grande has the pipes that could lead to a long career and Perry always seems to sneak into the general field when least expected (Album of the Year nod for Teenage Dream and for "Roar" last ceremony in Song of the Year), but I would be shocked if Sia's "Chandelier" didn't get in before any of those two. Its lyrical content actually makes it a stronger bet for Song of the Year, but as I said before, this is a category that considers impact into its calculations as well. Few videos were as talked about or parodied as much as "Chandelier" and in essence, it still became an event song without ever reaching #1 on the Hot 100. While this is her first big solo hit, Sia has made plenty of contributions to successful songs both as a writer and/or as a featured vocalist. That credibility along with a massive song in her pocket gives me confidence in her earning a slot here.

I'm actually pretty keen on Ed Sheeran's "Don't" as a ROTY nominee, but I'm not sure if it peaked at the right time while voting was going on. Since this is a category based on name recognition, you have to take a very long look at Idina Menzel's version of "Let It Go" since it was one of the most recognized songs of the year, but there's a chance the blue ribbon panel thinks including it might affect their credibility. On paper, I think it has a great shot.

Based on what I believe to be nominated, I can't let go of the feeling that a rock song is going to get in. With the assumed inclusion of "Drunk In Love" and "Stay With Me," part of me thinks the blue ribbon panel does not want to tip the category too heavily in favor of R&B and soul, especially if there aren't any other no-brainer contenders. By that logic, Aloe Blacc's "The Man" and Michael Jackson's Love Never Felt So Good" featuring Justin Timberlake would be excluded, although I like MJ's chances the most to sneak in because of the starpower included, the posthumous story involved and it's the kind of return to basics that earned him demigod status.

On the hip hop side of things, Eminem doesn't have the same kind of buzz surrounding him when "Love The Way You Lie" was given a nod a few years back, so I'll have to pass on "The Monster" (and also because I think it's an inferior song). I'm also sure Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" might be in the conversation, but it's content and music video is probably too racy for general field consideration.

If we're looking at viable contenders from the rock genre, here's who we have left: Arctic Monkeys' "Do I Wanna Know," The Black Keys' "Fever," Coldplay's "A Sky Full Of Stars" and Paramore's "Ain't It Fun." If you think I'm crazy for stating that "Do I Wanna Know" has a legitimate shot at crashing one of the night's biggest categories, just hear me out. Billboard's Alternative Songs chart has been a sneaky way of figuring out which songs the rock voting contingent in the blue ribbon panel will lean towards. Past ROTY nominees that have spent 11 weeks or more at #1 include Foo Fighters' "The Pretender," Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams (winner)," Nickelback's "How You Remind Me," Imagine Dragon's "Radioactive," Gotye's Somebody I Used To Know" featuring Kimbra (winner) and The Black Keys' "Lonely Boy." While "Do I Wanna Know" only spent 10 weeks at #1, it has the longest stay on that chart out of any of the songs I just mentioned (58 total), which means that due to its ubiquity in rock circles, it could have possibly gotten a lot of support from NARAS voters to place it among the top 20 for consideration among the blue ribbon panel. By that same measure, The Black Keys stand just as strong a chance because they're more established in the eyes of American audiences, but "Fever" doesn't have the same kind of magic that "Do I Wanna Know" does, or "Lonely Boy," for that matter.

Coldplay is still technically a rock band, but "A Sky Full Of Stars" is too much of an EDM excursion to merit heavy consideration from the rock contingent. I also don't think anyone views Coldplay as hip any more. I've wrestled with this a thousand times over, but based on my tea leaves, "Ain't It Fun" seems like the logical choice. Paramore is a past Best New Artist nominee and much like Arctic Monkeys, had their biggest hit in 2014 after several years in the business. As I've hammered home many times throughout, this is a category based on popularity. "Ain't It Fun" peaked at #10 and got radio play across multiple formats. If "Do I Wanna Know" had been associated with a universally acclaimed album, it would stand a better chance, but I have to go with the song that would be most recognizable across a diverse group of voters and that would be "Ain't It Fun."

Predictions for Record of the Year:

Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z - "Drunk In Love"
Paramore - "Ain't It Fun"
Sia - "Chandelier"
Sam Smith feat. Mary J. Blige - "Stay With Me" (Darkchild Version)
Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"

Possible spoilers:
Aloe Blacc - "The Man"
Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX - "Fancy"
The Black Keys - "Fever"
Coldplay - "A Sky Full Of Stars"
Hozier - "Take Me To Church"
Michael Jackson feat. Justin Timberlake - "Love Never Felt So Good"
Idina Menzel - "Let It Go"
Katy Perry feat. Juicy J - "Dark Horse"
Ed Sheeran - "Don't"

Long shots:
Arctic Monkeys - "Do I Wanna Know"
Lana Del Rey - "West Coast"
Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea - "Problem"
A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera - "Say Something"
Kendrick Lamar - "i"
MAGIC! - "Rude"
Nicki Minaj - "Anaconda"
Tove Lo - "Habits (Stay High)"
Meghan Trainor - "All About That Bass"

Best New Artist

While I'm not quite as shaky here as I am in Record of the Year, I have more doubts than usual this year. This category over the past few years has proven it's not as susceptible to the charms of mainstream success like others in the general field. While commercial performance will always be a factor in any Grammy category, we've seen nominations for comparatively left-field artists such as James Blake, Esperanza Spalding, MGMT and Skrillex since 2010. It's no longer a matter of if an artist that exists outside of the mainstream radar will get nominated, but how many.

I think the only person with Billboard success that's a safe bet at getting here is Sam Smith. Not only did he have one of the biggest hits of the summer in "Stay With Me," but has also found popularity for guest appearances on hits with Naughty Boy and Disclosure. Plus, his singing ability is not in question and that usually puts the blue ribbon panel at ease when deciding nominees.

On paper, I really like the chances of Iggy Azalea here based solely on her commercial success. Aside from "Fancy's" seven week stay at #1 over the summer, she managed a rare feat by etching three top ten singles in one week ("Fancy," "Black Widow" and Ariana Grande's "Problem). What this did was make sure that Iggy was a part of the cultural conversation for the year, regardless of how one might feel about an Australian adopting a fake Southern accent when she raps.

There's usually a country artist that gets nominated here (nine of the past ten years have seen a representative from the genre), but I'm skeptical of a nod here. The Country Music Association Awards have been a terrific barometer of who the consensus choice among the Nashville voting contigent is. For instance, of those past nine BNA nominees, seven have won the Best New Artist/Horizon Award at the CMAs. If we take a closer look at those remaining two nominees, Sugarland and Zac Brown Band lost to artists that were arguably more popular than them and also would have been ineligible under Grammy rules for BNA (Dierks Bentley and Darius Rucker, respectively). When I look at this year's winner, Brett Eldredge, his crossover credentials are minimal at best and he would likely be ineligible since his debut album has been out since 2012.

With a quick glance at the other nominees, Cole Swindell and Brandy Clark stand out. If either one of them had won, I'd consider them a lock, but for the fact that they couldn't best an artist who has little to no recognition outside of the country world, the likelihood of them landing a nod on a bigger stage is very low. Swindell's album did debut at #3 and provided two top ten songs on the Hot Country chart, so he does fit the criteria of what it would it take for a country artist to land here. Clark has the critical acclaim and some choice songwriting credits (Miranda Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart," The Band Perry's "Better Dig Two," Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow"), so she's a very viable contender, but it's just really difficult to see who would be the consensus pick.

It's also difficult to see who would be a unanimous choice for the hip slot. It could go in several different directions, but I like Disclosure because of their increasing mainstream profile. They scored a top ten hit in "Latch" with another likely BNA nominee, they've worked with Mary J. Blige and out of all the possible EDM contenders, their sound would likely be among the most accessible and least generic.

I also think there's a lot of appeal in a nomination for Haim, whose debut album Days Are Gone ended up on a ton of year-end lists for 2013. Their music is very appealing, even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel and they have been embraced by various indie/hip channels. If the blue ribbon panel wants to reward something more challenging, FKA twigs would be next in line, but I doubt she's gathered enough mainstream clout to nab a spot here, despite nonstop press and dating Twilight star Robert Pattinson. Her LP1 album is a near lock to land in the top ten of the annual Pazz & Jop poll (a yearly list compiled by the Village Voice that surveys music critics across America for their top ten albums and singles), and I'm not sure she has enough awareness outside of the internet. Although, if she did get enough votes to be considered for BNA consideration, her music videos alone could possibly convince those on the blue ribbon panel that are either on the fence or unfamiliar with her. That's a testament to how distinct of an artist she is.

The strongest contenders from the worlds of R&B and hip hop would have to be Jhené Aiko, Aloe Blacc and Childish Gambino. Out of those three, I'm willing to go with Aloe Blacc, but not by much. After two albums released on underground hip hop label Stones Throw, he ascended to the mainstream a year ago with his appearance on the Avicii worldwide smash "Wake Me Up", then had a top ten hit this year with "The Man," which has gone double platinum. I also imagine that "The Man's" placement in those Beats by Dre commercials didn't hurt either. There hasn't been nearly as much excitement surrounding his latest album, Lift Your Spirit, which explains the lack of confidence I have.

I honestly like the chances of Aiko and Childish Gambino a lot, probably the former more though. They both have radio hits to their name, but Aiko released her album at just the right time right before the eligibility deadline to positive reviews and I could see a stronger case being made more for her with the R&B and hip hop voting contingents than it would for Aloe Blacc or Gambino. Ultimately, I think that Aloe has the sales and cross-format appeal on his side.

Predictions for Best New Artist:

Aloe Blacc
Iggy Azalea
Sam Smith

Possible spoilers:
Jhené Aiko
Childish Gambino
Brandy Clark
Fitz & The Tantrums
FKA twigs
Cole Swindell

Long shots:
5 Seconds Of Summer
Martin Garrix
A Great Big World
Vance Joy
Tove Lo
Liv Warfield

Don't forget to check out my predictions for Album of the Year and Song of the Year tomorrow.

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