The Biggest Night in Music
It was the year of the new artist: music fans and radio programmers welcomed more first-time hit makers to the mainstream scene in 2012 than in any other year in recent memory. Unsurprisingly, the 55th annual crop of Grammy hopefuls is strongly indicative of the public's "in-with-the-new" attitude. The Lumineers, Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen, Hunter Hayes, Ed Sheeran, and Frank Ocean are among the new artists enjoying their first taste of Grammy excitement, and not just in the Best New Artist category. Acoustic-indie-rockers-turned-electronic-pop-sensations Fun (stylized "Fun.") are the biggest success story here. While their debut album garnered little attention, their follow-up, “Some Nights,” has them competing for six awards, while Jeff Bhasker is up for Producer of the Year for his work on the album.
Looking at the nominations, it would also seem that 2012 was the year of the male artist. Women continue to dominate pop radio, but men swept both Album of the Year (for the first time since 2001) and Best New Artist (excluding Brittany Howard, the lead singer of Alabama Shakes), marking the most androcentric Grammy season in our lifetimes.
I should probably address the fact that there's a vast audience of music fans out there who think that "Music's Biggest Night" is hardly the all-important night it markets itself as. In 1991, when Sinead O'Connor refused to accept her award for Best Alternative Album, she wrote to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Science (who give the awards), saying, "They acknowledge mostly the commercial side of art. They respect mostly material gain, since that is the main reason for their existence." Twenty years later, her words still ring true for many fans.
I'll admit I understand that. The Grammy Awards, as much as they claim to be about honoring the best in the recording industry, will always be more about selling music than anything else. They've made their share of credibility-damaging mistakes, like nominating Beyoncé's "Halo (Live)" for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2010, the year after the studio version won the exact same award. But for entertainment value, the Grammys are hard to beat. The televised ceremony consistently draws elaborate and thrilling big-name performances, and there's a certain element of guilty pleasure in seeing some of your favorites get glammed up to accept their awards.
With that said, here are my takes on the major categories:
Best New Artist:
Nominees: Alabama Shakes, Fun, Hunter Hayes, The Lumineers, Frank Ocean
Should Win: This award belongs to Fun. “Some Nights” may be the alt-pop group’s second album, but it's the one that took their listenership from the thousands to the millions and established them as an act that's going to be setting the pace for years to come.
Will Win: Frank Ocean and Fun. are the only real competitors here. They have the advantage of being among the most-nominated acts this year, alongside Kanye West, Mumford & Sons, Jay-Z, and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who each have six nominations. Ocean and Fun. are also in competition for Album of the Year, and while there's a chance that voters may want to split the love between the two acts in these categories, it's more likely that Ocean's buzz has worn off to the point that he won't be winning either award. I predict that Fun. will take home the Best New Artist trophy.
Snubs: Emeli Sandé and Lana Del Rey put out the best debut albums of the year, and would have been great choices to offer some gender balance to the category. Monsters & Men could easily replace The Lumineers, and, for all their success, One Direction would have been a worthy inclusion. Kendrick Lamar would have made up for the noticeable absence of rap in this category.
Record of the Year:
Nominees: "Lonely Boy" (The Black Keys), "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (Kelly Clarkson), "We Are Young" (Fun ft. Janelle Monae), "Somebody That I Used to Know" (Gotye ft. Kimbra), "Thinkin Bout You" (Frank Ocean), "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (Taylor Swift).
This award, which is given to the best recording of a single song in the eligibility period, is awarded to the performing artist and producers, while Song of the Year is given to songwriters based on the actual composition.
Should Win: This category ignored a lot of the year's most deserving hits in favor of some odd choices (read: Taylor Swift), but of the choices here, it's all about We Are Young.
Will Win: As the biggest hit of the year (by far, actually), and having garnered massive attention across genres, "Somebody That I Used to Know" was an early favorite in this category. As Fun's momentum continues to build, they just may have pulled ahead here. Advantage We Are Young.
Snubs: Too many to count. Florence + The Machine's "Shake It Out" is absent here, as are Mumford & Son's "I Will Wait" and Rihanna's "We Found Love," which should have taken the mainstream pop slot that the enjoyable-but-vapid "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is inexplicably filling. Either Of Monsters and Men's "Little Talks" or The Lumineers' "Hey Ho" should have been honored, while the flawless production of Jay-Z & Kanye West's "Niggas in Paris" was conspicuously ignored.
Song of the Year:
Nominees: "The A Team" (Ed Sheeran), "Adorn" (Miguel Pimentel), "Call Me Maybe" (Tavish Crow, Carly Rae Jepsen, Josh Ramsay), "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (Jörgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin, Ali Tamposi), "We Are Young" (Jack Antonoff, Jeff Bhasker, Andrew Dost, Nate Ruess)
Should Win: It would be fun for the Grammys to stand up for their right to love hook-laden pop music and hand this off to "Call Me Maybe," but I'm a sucker for a sweep, so I want "We Are Young" to take this award home, too. Talk about a song that never gets old.
Will Win: Whenever possible, the Grammy voters get a kick out of giving Record and Song of the Year to the same song. They've done it two years in a row, and this year doesn't feel like an exception. An early congratulations to "We Are Young."
Album of the Year:
This award is considered the most important, and is given last. All performers (including featured artists), producers, engineers, and mixers involved are awarded the honor.
Nominees: El Camino (The Black Keys), Some Nights (Fun), Babel (Mumford & Sons), Channel Orange (Frank Ocean), Blunderbuss (Jack White).
Should Win: Are you sensing a pattern here? Some Nights was one of the best of the year, and the Grammys have an opportunity to help ensure that this group has the moment to stay around for a while.
Will Win: Frank Ocean's early buzz is long gone, so this award will probably be going to Babel, at least partially as an apology for ignoring their debut, Sigh No More. It wasn't the best album of the year by a long shot, but its massive sales and the almost unanimous goodwill toward the band will give them a leg up over the competition.
Snubs: Ceremonials by Florence + The Machine, Stronger by Kelly Clarkson, and The Idler Wheel... by Fiona Apple would all have fit right in. Fortunately, each was nominated in its respective genre-specific category.
Best Pop Solo Performance: "Set Fire to the Rain (Live)" - Adele
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: "We Are Young" - Fun ft. Janelle Monae
Best Pop Vocal Album: Some Nights - Fun
Best Dance Recording: "Don't You Worry Child" - Swedish House Mafia ft. John Martin
Best Dance/Electronica Album: Album Title Goes Here -Deadmau5
Best Rock Performance - "We Take Care of Our Own" - Bruce Springsteen
Best Rock Song - "Lonely Boy" - Black Keys
Best Rock Album - El Camino - Black Keys
Best Alternative Album - The Idler Wheel... - Fiona Apple
Best R&B Performance - "Climax" - Usher
Best Rap Performance - "Niggas in Paris" - Jay-Z & Kanye West
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration - "Talk That Talk" - Rihanna ft. Jay-Z
Best Rap Album - Take Care - Drake
Best Country Song - "Springsteen" - Eric Church
Best Country Duo/Group Performance - "Pontoon" - Little Big Town
Best Country Solo Performance - "Blown Away" - Carrie Underwood
Best Country Album - Uncaged - Zac Brown Band
Best Americana Album - Babel - Mumford & Sons
Best Spoken Word Album - American Grown - Michelle Obama
Best Musical Theater Album - Once: A New Musical
Best Song Written for Visual Media - "Safe & Sound" - Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams
Best Recording Package - Biophilia - Bjork
Producer of the Year - Markus Dravs (Mylo Xyloto, Babel)