Some people, Dave Karger and Tom O’Neil come immediately to mind, have established entire careers predicting the Oscars. Because it’s a miniature industry, the Oscars are the easiest awards show to predict; the far less organized (and prestigious) major awards—the Emmys and the Grammys—are a lot tougher to handicap. However, that has never stopped me from making a valiant and often humiliating effort. So, to kick off my ever-delayed 2008 wrap-up (which, at this rate, should actually wrap up some time in July), here are my semi-informed (hey, I’ve intently followed the Grammys for twenty years), totally under-the-wire (this will be irrelevant in 24 hours) thoughts on eight key races: the big four, Alternative, Producer and two more that caught my ever vigilant eye. In other words, they looked intriguing, though not intriguing enough to actually be presented on the show, I’m sure.
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR (NON-CLASSICAL)
An arbitrary list as usual, as none of these guys had particularly fantastic 2008 track records. Johnny K is your average corporate-rock knob twiddler, responsible for making Staind and 3 Doors Down sound even more sterile. Wins for Godrich or Danger Mouse would be as retroactive as Al Pacino’s Oscar, as neither had a remarkable 2008: Godrich did In Rainbows and little else, and Danger Mouse spent Modern Guilt and The Odd Couple on autopilot, leaving Beck and Cee-Lo to upstage him. Rubin helped Metallica return to relevance (less so for Weezer and Jakob Dylan). But, on the strength of “American Boy” and (let’s admit it) his incessant, occasionally holographic Obama campaigning, will.i.am will claim this one. Of these five, his profile was the highest in 2008, and that’s usually enough to snatch the Producer of the Year Grammy.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
Beck, Modern Guilt
Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs
Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple
My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges
Radiohead, In Rainbows
This category is growing as superfluous as the “alternative” genre distinction itself. Three of these five nominees have won this award before (would be four, if voters still had the audacity to classify Coldplay as “alternative”). The other two are well-established AAA stalwarts who’ve been soundtracking your last five years’ worth of Barnes and Noble purchases. New acts, the kind this category was theoretically established to award, were shafted altogether: Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, MGMT, even critical darlings TV on the Radio. But then again, Paul McCartney was a former nominee here. But all the bitching and moaning and Vampire Weekend shuns won’t change one incontrovertible fact: Radiohead will win this, thus tying the record the White Stripes set last year for most Alternative Music Grammys (three a piece).
BEST DANCE RECORDING
Daft Punk, “Harder Better Faster Stronger (Live)”
Hot Chip, “Ready for the Floor”
Lady Gaga and Colby O’Donis, “Just Dance”
Madonna, “Give It 2 Me”
Sam Sparro, “Black & Gold”
I’d rather waste this space pondering the absence of, say, “Time to Pretend” or “Paper Planes” or, hell, even a Santogold song. Or how, unsurprising given its voting demographic, electronic music still baffles NARAS into triviality, if not cowering marginalization. Or the utter insufficiency of Grammy’s genre distinctions in such a cluttered, fractured musical landscape. But I’ll just break this down into two groups: three songs people heard, and three they didn’t. The latter include that Daft Punk leftover, that Hot Chip yawner (who dances to that other than overly self-aware hipsters?), and that Sam Sparro Eurowhatever (a hit everywhere but the U.S., it seems). Voters will recognize Madonna’s name more than the song, but that still could be enough to push her over Lady Gaga and Rihanna, both of whom are viewed as vocally limited, producer controlled puppets who will never thrive long enough to be true artists like Madonna. Rihanna could upset, but in a scary category, familiarity trumps innovation (not that any of these nominees offer it in the first place).
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
Sheryl Crow, Detours
Eagles, Long Road Out of Eden
Leona Lewis, Spirit
James Taylor, Covers
What kind of bubble must you live in for this to be pop music in 2008?!? No Miley, no Jonas, not even Adele. The Eagles have had nothing to offer but overpriced concerts and half-baked sanctimony since the 1970’s, and James Taylor didn’t even have anything to offer then. And Sheryl Crow, well, she falls further into 70’s-obsessed fogeyism with each subsequent album, but at least she’s a decade ahead of Duffy. Leona Lewis is the only one of these five who makes music as though the 21st Century is actually happening, and whatever issues I may have with her, she deserves to slay this competition. But Grammy voters love young people who remind them of something older than Mariah, so Duffy could be a formidable challenger. As could Crow, who is a nine-time Grammy winner. But Leona Lewis’s biggest threat (I can’t believe I’m typing this) but may be the Eagles, as more people will be outraged over their comeback’s omission from the major categories than Lewis’s Best New Artist shun (see below). As much as I’m pulling for Lewis, if only for a symbolic victory in a vein-poppingly outrageous category, my crystal ball sees the firm of Henley, Frey, Walsh & Schmitt claiming this one.
BEST NEW ARTIST
The Jonas Brothers
Well, this category loves to reward photogenic young ladies with powerhouse voices: Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Carrie Underwood. With that trend, this year’s breakthrough chanteuse Leona Lewis has it all sewn up. Oh wait…she’s not even nominated?!? Well, now who the fuck’s gonna win? A still kind of obscure R&B singer? A nifty but unremarkable country outfit? A fucking teeny bopper band? Of course not. The award will go to one of the two British ladies who sing like Dusty Springfield. One is (by most accounts) hotter and therefore automatically less authentic than the other, and thus Adele, the only one of these five nominated in any of the other big categories, will take this one home.
SONG OF THE YEAR
“American Boy” (William Adams, Keith Harris, Josh Lopez, Caleb Spier, John Stephens, Estelle Swaray & Kanye West)
“Chasing Pavements” (Adele Adkins & Eg White)
“I’m Yours” (Jason Mraz)
“Love Song” (Sara Bareilles)
“Vida La Vida” (Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion & Chris Martin)
A no-brainer, right? A deliriously catchy, dancefloor-filling pulse-racer that subtly comments on globalization and the Americanized/consumerized world (i.e. “American Boy”) is naturally the Song of the Year. And “Rehab” won this last year, suggesting that Grammy voters are finally acknowledging that danceable songs can be deep too. Too often though, this category prefers to reward cute over deep. “Love Song” is a halfway decent, almost clever metacritique of record-biz politics, but “I’m Yours,” a reprehensible little hackysacking serenade fooling gullible listeners into buying it as an affecting love song, is bound to overshadow it. It’s exactly the kind of superficial tripe that this category would’ve awarded twenty years ago, and its mere nomination suggests how little has changed. “Daughters,” a similarly pandering exercise in cynically cheap sentiment, won here in 2004, so don’t discount “Yours” if voters’ weakness for tiresome soft-rock gets the best of them. But Adele and Coldplay have both broader support and wider credibility in the music industry than Mraz ever will, so barring an injustice on par with suspending habeas corpus (i.e. a Mraz win), this looks to be a battle of the British ballads, with the more sonically complex one likely to be stepped over by the more portentously over-the-top one. “Pavements” looks to be a by-the-nose victor in the closest of the Big Four races.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
Adele, “Chasing Pavements”
Coldplay, “Viva la Vida”
Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love”
M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Please Read the Letter”
This is the toughest Record of the Year battle in recent memory, as all five nominees are conceivable winners. And none is a clear front-runner: only two are competing for Song of the Year, and only two are from Album of the Year contenders. “Bleeding Love” is the biggest hit, “Paper Planes” the hip critical fave: either could be a dark horse, despite their absence from other major categories. (And whatever the chronological discrepancies, not as glaring once you consider the Grammy eligibility period, “Paper Planes” deserves to win.) Both Krauss and Coldplay are Grammy darlings acknowledged here for “risky” ventures: collaborating with a rock legend and creating a miniature symphony, respectively. In light of that, a competently sung, well-written ballad from a woman with some aesthetic (and no physical) resemblance to last year’s winner pales. Can Coldplay’s sturdy walls of sound collapse atop the Plant-Krauss bandwagon? Probably not, as anyone over forty (and many under) seems legally obligated to like the Plant-Krauss album. Thus, much like when Ray Charles & Norah Jones won here in 2004, look for the least-well-known record to be the Record of the Year.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Coldplay, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
Lil’ Wayne, Tha Carter III
Ne-Yo, Year of the Gentleman
Radiohead, In Rainbows
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raising Sand
In contrast to Record and Song of the Year, this one is all too obvious. Lil’ Wayne and Ne-Yo will split the “urban” vote probably along generational lines, Radiohead and Coldplay will split the sophisticated Anglophile vote under much the same divides, and the rest of the ballots will rally around the merging of two styles, two genres, two legends: one already showered with over twenty Grammys, the other long denied Grammy love despite a legendary forty-year career. Simply put, this award is Raising Sand’s to lose, and barring an unlikely last-minute Coldplay sweep, it probably won’t.
Other predictions: the Miley Cyrus & Taylor Swift duet will inspire impure thoughts among millions of American males, and perhaps snag another handful of Perverted Justice arrests. The very-pregnant M.I.A. will look useless and submissive as she repeats the same line a thousand times during the “Swagga Like Us” performance. And the In Memoriam segment will omit a couple underrated luminaries—my best guesses are Robert Hazard, Mikey Dread and Norman Whitfield. What I cannot yet predict is whether I’ll attempt, for shiggles and the entertainment/contempt of anyone who’s found this vapid pocket of cyberspace, to liveblog the ceremony. Depends how tired/bored I am tomorrow night. I will at least be back on here to bitch about how terribly wrong the above predictions proved, as I do every year, in whatever format I’m blogging.