To overanalyze the Grammys is to legitimize them, and we wouldn’t want to do a crazy thing like that, now would we? OK, fine – maybe that’s being a little too churlish. If the Grammys are about as relevant a musical barometer as, well, any other play-it-safe awards pageant out there, they may yet make some good choices with this year’s slate of nominees.
To overanalyze the Grammys is to legitimize them, and we wouldn’t want to do a crazy thing like that, now would we? OK, fine – maybe that’s being a little too churlish. If the Grammys are about as relevant a musical barometer as, well, any other play-it-safe awards pageant out there, they may yet make some good choices with this year’s slate of nominees. And as always, the show is worth watching – maybe DVR-ing; OK, skimming – on the chance you get one of those top-of-the-line performances or live collaborations the Grammys are still capable of giving us.
For now, six categories worth watching:
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Beyonce, “I Am ... Sasha Fierce”; Black Eyed Peas, “The E.N.D.”; Lady Gaga, “The Fame”; Dave Matthews Band, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”; Taylor Swift, “Fearless.”
The Black Eyes Peas have been a lot better, and so have Dave Matthews Band, though it’d be nice to see them cop this in tribute to late saxophonist LeRoi Moore. Beyonce is always a threat, but this’ll come down to just how racy the voters are feeling. Do they go with the sensational, starpower-so-bright-it’ll-burn-your-retinas Lady Gaga, or the clean, easy, agreeable and definitely deserving Swift. As always, the Grammys voting bloc ends up conservative, so anticipate a Swift crowning. And Not that Ms. Swift isn’t darling and wonderful, but “Fearless” won’t be remembered as the pop milestone “The Fame” will.
Will win: Swift
Should win: Gaga
Shouldn’t be here: Black Eyed Peas
SONG OF THE YEAR
Beyonce, “Halo”; Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”; Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”; Lady Gaga, “Poker Face”; Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”
I’d honestly be happy with any of these except the excruciatingly dopey “I Gotta Feeling”; Gaga and Swift are forces of nature, Beyonce soars, and the Kings add a much-needed dose of shaggy rock ’n’ roll to this crop. My gut says Swift makes it a two-fer; Gaga’s “Poker Face” doesn’t seem as consequential as, say, “Bad Romance,” and Beyonce will be more of a threat in this category behind a terrific vocal performance. But don’t be surprised if the smash “Use Somebody” – so damn catchy, even if I agree that the Kings’ former edge has been significantly filed down – sneaks in at the last minute.
Will win: Swift
Should win: Kings of Leon
Shouldn’t be here: Black Eyed Peas
BEST NEW ARTIST
Zac Brown Band, Silversun Pickups, Keri Hilson, MGMT, The Ting Tings
I still don’t understand why Lady Gaga can’t get into this category, but MGMT can with a two-year-old album and Silversun Pickups have been around for years. But this is the Grammys, so let’s dispense with logic.
I like Silversun Pickups fine, and The Ting Tings are zippy, but there are more deserving artists that deserve their spots. Zac Brown is an impressive story: here’s a guy who worked his rear end off with 300 dates a year, spreading the word bit by bit, and an embodiment of dude charm with an old school country streak in his lightweight roots-rock.
He might be enough to take this in another year, but he’s up against MGMT, the NYC duo that has a great psychedelic synth pop groove and a reputation for A-level live performance working for it. Will that be enough to help them overtake Keri Hilson, so well-liked in the establishment, moving in circles that include Kanye West and Lil Wayne, and – sweet! – a meaty songwriter, to boot? That’s a no.
Will win: Hilson
Should win: MGMT
Shouldn’t be here: Silversun Pickups
BEST ROCK ALBUM
AC/DC, “Black Ice”; Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, “Live From Madison Square Garden”; Green Day, “21st Century Breakdown”; Dave Matthews Band, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”; U2, “No Line on the Horizon“
All right, an actual race that could go any number of directions! It’s amazing to think that if AC/DC wins – AC/DC, synonymous with all that’s righteous, excessive and great about rock – it’ll be considered a major upset. Let’s go out on a limb and bank on that happening: U2’s “Horizon” was just good enough, but not great in that triumphant, “yeah U2!” sense of the word, DMB’s “GrooGrux King” had its moments but the group’s best songwriting is years behind it; and Green Day won four years ago for “American Idiot,” a stronger album.
AC/DC is beloved, so really, the only surprise here would be a Clapton/Winwood victory. Let’s see if Angus and Co. can pull it out.
Will win: AC/DC (no guts, no glory!)
Should win: U2
Shouldn’t be here: Fun as it is, the Clapton/Winwood.
BEST ALTERNATIVE ALBUM
David Byrne and Brian Eno, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today”; Death Cab For Cutie, “The Open Door”; Depeche Mode, “Sounds of the Universe”; Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It’s Blitz!”
Criticizing what gets included in this category and how – that old saw “what does it mean to be alternative” – is an annual exercise in shooting fish in a barrel. Still, an odd and eclectic slate, and a mix of old hands and young Turks. Bank on the old hands: Byrne and Eno are beloved by the veteran voters, and the album was indeed a sonic delight. Anyone who listens to Phoenix, however, becomes all shiny and happy: the French group’s super-infectious pop was a revelation.
Will win: Byrne and Eno
Should win: Phoenix
Shouldn’t be here: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who are a lot better than this
BEST RAP SONG
Drake, “Best I Ever Had”; Kid Cudi, “Day ‘N’ Nite”; T.I. and Justin Timberlake, “Dead and Gone”; Jay-Z, “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)”; Rihanna, Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Run This Town”
Hmmm. The sharp and sensuous Drake has a groundswell of critical support and was perhaps rap’s breakout artist of 2009. He’d be a good choice. But so would Kid Cudi, one of the most original and curious rappers to emerge in years, full of weird soundscapes and strangely haunting introspection. Rihanna and her cohorts – and not exactly obscure cohorts – are the easy mark, though. After the year she had, with the sad and sketchy circumstances around her relationship with Chris Brown, to roar back with an album and a batch of new tunes as ferocious as these? “Run This Town” isn’t the best of her new crop, but it’s enough.
Will win: Rihanna
Should win: Kid Cudi
Shouldn’t be here: T.I./Timberlake
The Patriot Ledger