Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2015 Grammy Nomination Predictions: Album of the Year & Song of the Year

The nominees for the 57th Grammy Awards will be announced this Friday, Dec. 5, during a concert special airing on CBS. The actual hardware will be handed out on Feb. 8, 2015. Back in May, I took a look at the early contenders in the general field and just yesterday, I gave my final predictions for Record of the Year and Best New Artist. I'll be referring to a few of my choices, so make sure to read that post if you haven't yet. For today, I'm providing a breakdown for Album of the Year and Song of the Year, along with my final guesses as to who will be nominated.

I'll go ahead and get this out the way: Beyoncé. She's an obvious choice. If you've been in a coma or have been stuck in a time travel stasis, I'll briefly list why: the album crashed the iTunes website upon its stealth release, said album was accompanied with music videos for each track (unheard of for an artist of her stature), and it still sold over 800,000 in a shortened sales week without any promotion. And she's also Beyoncé, one of the most adored pop stars in the world and a perennial Grammy favorite. Last year, I had Justin Timberlake pegged as a sure shot, but I didn't take into account that him submitting both 20/20 Experience albums would go against him (I still believe he would've gotten the nod if only Pt. 1 was included). But make no mistake; this is Beyoncé's award to lose.

The rest of the field is more up for grabs, but smart money says to go with Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour. His music is the kind that is endearing across multiple demographics and he has an authentic, soulful voice. While he hasn't had any major solo hits beyond "Stay With Me," his talent is not in doubt and already is a recognized name. That makes him a lock for Best New Artist, but the album itself, while a solid effort, may be deemed too ordinary for a revitalized blue ribbon panel (the secret group of voters that selects nominees for the general field from the top votes) that's trying to show that they can be hip (in the past five years alone, they've nominated Frank Ocean, Jack White, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys and Daft Punk). If their criteria is indeed tougher, In The Lonely Hour could be on the outs, but there are so few albums that have had the same impact both commercially and with critics.

Speaking of tougher, hipper criteria, you can certainly expect to see some critically acclaimed acts here that are foreigners to Top 40 stations, but are still acceptable in the mainstream. The blue ribbon panel has yet to go truly off the radar in rewarding hip acts in Album of the Year, managing to invite only those with a #1 album on the Billboard Top 200 to the party. I think that'll still hold true this year, which leaves us with Arcade Fire's Reflektor, The Black Keys' Turn Blue, Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence and Jack White's Lazaretto as the main contenders. Conceivably, we could see three of those albums, but I predict it'll likely be two. I think that Jack White came back with another strong album and his country ties might help him with the Nashville voting contingent if it becomes apparent there will be no representatives from the genre. While there wasn't as much excitement for his 2nd solo album, White still commands respect and Lazaretto did more good than harm for his career.

On the other end, Turn Blue could be viewed as a step back for The Black Keys after El Camino. While "Fever" did indeed rule rock radio, it didn't have half the impact on the pop culture landscape as "Lonely Boy," so I'm going to rule them out. I think there are few people that would argue that Ultraviolence is a superior album to Reflektor, which is why I'm very bullish on Arcade Fire's chances. Much like Lazaretto, there wasn't as much excitement this time around (it was also released early in the eligibility period), but the campaign for Reflektor has likely increased their mainstream profile with their first Hot 100 single, a concert special on NBC and a successful arena tour.

If we take a look beyond hip artists lacking a #1 album, Beck's Blue Moon and St. Vincent's self-titled album stick out the most. Beck pretty much has elder statesman status at this point and I would think that he doesn't need a chart-topping record to get an AOTY nod. He's gotten some of the best reviews he's had in a while and the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences) could still maintain their cred by letting him in. St. Vincent would be the likeliest to benefit if they wanted some newer blood that's right on the edge of the mainstream. While I strongly feel she's released stronger efforts in the past, there's no denying that her first album under a major label gave her profile a boost.

The biggest contenders on the pop side of things would have to be Ariana Grande's My Everything, Katy Perry's Prism, Ed Sheeran's X, Sia's 1000 Forms Of Fear and the Frozen soundtrack. Out of that group, Sheeran stands the biggest chance to be a nominee because of his past general field nominations coupled along with two top twenty hits in "Sing" and "Don't." While both My Everything and Prism boast multiple hits as well, I wouldn't necessarily call them dominant or as culturally relevant in the same way as recent pop AOTY nominees such as Perry's Teenage Dream, Lady Gaga's The Fame or Rihanna's Loud

The one overriding factor that I can't let go of is that Pharrell Williams has yet to show up in the general field this year, according to how I see it. He'll certainly be part of the conversation, but as I stated in yesterday's post, the studio version of "Happy" was ineligible for submission this year, so he had to go with a live recording of the song, which lowers the probability of a nod. Williams became one of the most recognizable figures in pop culture this year and despite the lack of follow-up singles that made half the impact that "Happy" did, his visibility remained high throughout. It's just very rare for an artist of his stature that's paid their dues and enjoyed the kind of success he's had and not get any love from the general field. He's well-liked enough and "Come Get It Bae" might have just barely gotten enough airplay to let G I R L sneak in for that final slot.

Predictions for Album of the Year:

Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Beyoncé - Beyoncé
Sam Smith - In The Lonely Hour
Jack White - Lazaretto
Pharrell Williams - G I R L

Possible spoilers:
Beck - Blue Moon
Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Frozen Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Ariana Grande - My Everything
Miranda Lambert - Platinum
Ed Sheeran - x
Sia - 1000 Forms Of Fear

Long shots:
Aloe Blacc - Lift Your Spirit
The Avett Brothers - Magpie and the Dandelion
Iggy Azalea - The New Classic
The Black Keys - Turn Blue
Eric Church - The Outsiders
Coldplay - Ghost Stories
Miley Cyrus - Bangerz
Haim - Days Are Gone
Michael Jackson - Xscape
Paul McCartney - New
Katy Perry - Prism
Skrillex - Recess
St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Song of the Year

Although I'm pretty confident in Sia's "Chandelier" getting a Record of the Year nomination, I think her chances are even stronger here, to the point I'm almost willing to give her lock status. Aside from the attention-grabbing video, the song's content about a party girl spiraling has the kind of description and heart that goes over well in the Song of the Year category, which is awarded to the songwriter and not the performer.

Over the past 25 years, only four artists have received nominations in all four genereal categories in one year (fun., Amy Winehouse, India.Arie and Tracy Chapman, although Norah Jones would have qualified if she had songwriting credit on "Don't Know Why"). Based on those examples, an artist would need to feel contemporary enough that they can bring in young fans, but older generations can appreciate their sound. This doesn't happen often, but I think Sam Smith has the appeal to do just that, thus capping his general field acknowledgment with a nomination for "Stay With Me."

If there's one category he might fall short in, it would be Album of the Year since it hasn't been as predictable over the past few years and not as focused on commercial success. His other three nominations might jeopardize his placement in that category since that would put him in rare company. Regardless, I really love him here in Song of the Year.

"Let It Go" is a major threat for Record of the Year, but it's more fitting for Song of the Year since it's a category that doesn't rely on modern trends. I'm still skeptical of the blue ribbon panel letting a song from an animated movie in, but the song was huge enough to gain the attention of those who probably haven't watched a Disney movie since The Lion King.

In recent years, this category has become a bit of a consolation acknowledgment for pop hits or stars that haven't really cut their teeth yet to prevent them from making an impact on what is perceived to be the more important categories of AOTY and ROTY. Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" would be the biggest beneficiary of such thinking due to the song's positive message and would make the NARAS appear progressive.

Based on my assumptions, there is not a single country artist in the general field yet, which rarely happens (only 1998 and 2002 in the past 15 years). I think there has been too much of a precedent set and Nashville will be represented, which is why I'm going with Miranda Lambert's "Automatic." She's one of the genre's biggest stars and the song's theme of simpler times is universal. Lambert will land in either AOTY or here. She makes more sense here.

The generic image that the public has of a singer-songwriter is a man bearing his soul with an acoustic guitar or hunched over a piano. The blue ribbon panel seems to believe that as well since over the past ten years they've made room for Ed Sheeran, Bon Iver, Mumford & Sons, Ray LaMontagne, Jason Mraz, Plain White T's, James Blunt, John Legend and John Mayer. Not to say that they didn't deserve those nominations, but history is on the side of these guys. The two biggest standouts under those qualifications are A Great Big World's "Say Something" and Hozier's "Take Me To Church." Of those two. I favor "Take Me To Church" more because of its striking video, it peaking at just the right time and the song feeling like it has more gravity to it, which would make the blue ribbon panel feel like they're upholding the integrity of the category.

Predictions for Song of the Year:

"Automatic" performed by Miranda Lambert (songwriters: Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert)
"Chandelier" performed by Sia (songwriters: Sia Furler & Jesse Shatkin)
"Let It Go" performed by Idina Menzel (songwriters: Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez)
"Stay With Me" performed by Sam Smith (songwriters: Sam Smith, James Napier & William Phillips)
"Take Me To Church" performed by Hozier (songwriter: Andrew Hozier-Byrne)

Possible spoilers:
Aloe Blacc - "The Man"
Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z - "Drunk In Love"
Lana Del Rey - "West Coast"
A Great Big World - "Say Something"
Ed Sheeran - "Don't"
Meghan Trainor - "All About That Bass"

Long shots:
Beck - "Blue Moon"
Eric Church - "Give Me Back My Hometown"
Coldplay - "A Sky Full Of Stars"
Eminem feat. Rihanna - "The Monster"
Haim - "The Wire"
Hunter Hayes - "Invisible"
MAGIC! - "Rude"
Tove Lo - "Habits (Stay High)"
St. Vincent - "Digital Witness"
Kanye West - "Bound 2"

Make sure to check out my predictions for Record of the Year and Best New Artist.

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