Sunday, February 13, 2011

Grammys 2011 Preview

I really wanted to go much more in depth with these this year, but, of course, life stepped in the way, so I'm having to give the abridged version of this. I also will not be live-blogging tonight's ceremony, but I should be on Facebook/Twitter, so be sure to follow and join the conversation, and tomorrow I'll throw up a list of winners and my reactions to what went down.

My vote for the Grammy is in bold. My prediction for who will actually win is underlined.

RECORD OF THE YEAR
"Need You Now," Lady Antebellum
"Empire State of Mind," Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
"Fuck You," Cee-Lo Green
"Love the Way You Lie," Eminem featuring Rihanna
"Nothin' On You," B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars

No rap song has ever won record of the year, but that will most likely change this year, since Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" was not only a radio smash but also a critical favorite. However, my vote goes the giddy, profane pop masterpiece that Cee-Lo created, which was more than just a popular viral video: it was legitimately fun. And if you liked the kind-of-drab "Need You Now," check out the brilliant cover that Darius Rucker did with British songbird Adele: its worth hearing.



ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The Suburbs, Arcade Fire
Recovery, Eminem
The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga
Need You Now, Lady Antebellum
Teenage Dream, Katy Perry


Honestly, Katy Perry should be happy that she was even nominated, since most people were surprised that she managed to sneak in. Need You Now, in my opinion, represents everything that's wrong with modern country music: its artistically safe, bland, and boring, designed purely for commercial success without any real "country" to it. The Suburbs is a terrific album, and I'm glad that the Arcade Fire are getting recognition, even if the hipsters all hate them now for "selling out" (i.e., finding mainstream popularity despite not changing their sound from their phenomenal debut, but that doesn't matter because now more than a handful of people know them, so they have to be terrible). I prefer The Fame Monster for this win, since its perfect Gaga, showcasing her talents as a songwriter/vocalist without out awful filler songs like "Boys, Boys, Boys," "Paper Gangsta," or worst of all, "Brown Eyes." But the Grammy will most likely go to Eminem for his best album to date (I like The Marshall Mathers LP as much as anyone else, but man, that's a disturbing album that you really have to be in a certain mood to listen to), and if the win keeps him off drugs for good, then we're all winners.

SONG OF THE YEAR
"Beg Steal or Borrow," Ray LaMontagne
"Fuck You," Cee-Lo Green
"The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert
"Love the Way You Lie," Eminem featuring Rihanna
"Need You Now," Lady Antebellum

The difference between Song of the Year and Record of the Year is that the former is for songwriting, while the latter is for performance and production. That being said, I still prefer Cee-Lo here, because it really is witty and clever. But I suspect that this will also probably go to Eminem, though I wouldn't count out Lambert or Lady Antebellum: country usually does well here, and both are sturdy examples of songwriting (I'd prefer, if it is one of them, Lambert's sweet ode to growing up to win over Lady Antebellum's ode to the booty call).

BEST NEW ARTIST
Justin Bieber
Drake
Florence + the Machine
Mumford and Sons
Esperanza Spalding


Because the Grammy voters are not made up of 15-year-old girls, I highly doubt that they've caught Bieber Fever and will give him this prize. Mumford and Sons put out a stellar debut, capturing atmospheric Appalachian sounds perfectly despite being a British band. Esperanza Spalding is a jazz savant, being only 20 when she became a professor at the Berklee School of Music (yes, you read that correctly). I was floored by the magnificence of Florence + the Machine's debut, Lungs; seriously, if you haven't heard this whole album yet, do it ASAP. But I suspect Drake will take home this prize, given his prolific output that's been very well-received.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
My World 2.0, Justin Bieber
I Dreamed a Dream, Susan Boyle
The Fame Monster, Lady Gaga
Teenage Dream, Katy Perry
Battle Studies, John Mayer

One day maybe I'll write more extensively on the phenomenon that is Justin Bieber, and while his album has only a slim chance at winning, I will say this for him: underneath his studio-tailored exterior, the kid does indeed have potential (just listen to "U Smile," the standout track that proves he could become a great singer once his voice matures). Susan Boyle already has an incredible voice, but that doesn't excuse this dreadfully boring album from using dull arrangements that sound the same on EVERY SINGLE TRACK. I like Mayer a lot, and he brings more of his guitar virtuoso to his latest album, but I'm waiting for the day when he just lets go and rocks out hard. But in the battle of the bubblegum, I suspect Lady Gaga will deservingly win out over Katy Perry.

BEST ROCK ALBUM
Emotion & Commotion, Jeff Beck
The Resistance, Muse
Backspacer, Pearl Jam
Mojo, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Le Noise, Neil Young


I'm all for Muse winning this one, despite being the one modern act among a category full of legendary rockers. That's not to say I didn't like the rambling roadhouse rock of Tom Petty, or the classic-lite sound of Pearl Jam, or Neil Young's reverb-heavy experiment with electronic manipulation (I actually wasn't too fond of Beck's tame album). But Muse made a truly terrific album that capitalized on all of their strengths, casting them as a kind of paranoid hybrid of Queen and New Order. However, the Grammys do love their legends, which is why I think the iconic Young will take home this year's prize.

BEST ALTERNATIVE ALBUM
The Suburbs, Arcade Fire
Infinite Arms, Band of Horses
Brothers, The Black Keys
Broken Bells, Broken Bells
Contra, Vampire Weekend

Band of Horses made an intriguing album of Northwest alterna-folk, but it lacked a certain vitality. The Black Keys, on the other hand, made an great album that established them as the new face of blues-inspired garage rock, filling the void that the recently broken-up White Stripes have left. Broken Bells, a combination of The Shins' James Mercer and Gnarls Barkley producer Danger Mouse, made an album that's just as awesome as the duo promised to be. And though I loved The Suburbs and have been a long-time Arcade Fire fan (and I know they'll win this category), I really fell for Vampire Weekend this year, and would love to see them win a very deserving Grammy.

BEST CONTEMPORARY R&B ALBUM
Graffiti, Chris Brown
Untitled, R. Kelly
Transition, Ryan Leslie
The Archandroid, Janelle Monae
Raymond V. Raymond, Usher


Let's pretend for a moment that perennial douchebag Chris Brown's oft-insulting album didn't actually get a nomination and say nothing further about it. R. Kelly unleashed more of his pervy sex ballads, some of which worked, more of which did not. Leslie created an interesting, if unmemorable, album of spacey R&B that warrants at least a few good tracks. And Usher, who seems most likely to spoil here, gave us an album that straddles his old career as R&B heart-throb and his new career as dance-pop party master. But I believe everyone should listen to Monae's undeniable masterpiece, an album that never settles on a single genre and delivers some truly amazing music. If you haven't heart it yet, do yourself a big favor and check it out.

BEST RAP ALBUM
The Adventures of Bobby Ray, B.o.B.
Thank Me Later, Drake
Recovery, Eminem
The Blueprint 3, Jay-Z
How I Got Over, The Roots

All of these albums are fantastic, from B.o.B.'s stellar debut that casts him as the next Andre 3000 (a title he could very much live up to) to The Roots' slice of live-band political rap to Drake's surprisingly introspective debut, an unconventional rap album if there ever was one. Of course, there's no way Eminem won't win this one, but my vote goes to Hova, who crafted a wonderful album that stands as a reminder of how good the legend still is after all these years.

BEST COUNTRY ALBUM
Up on the Ridge, Dierks Bentley
You Get What You Give, Zac Brown Band
The Guitar Song, Jamey Johnson
Need You Now, Lady Antebellum
Revolution, Miranda Lambert


I'm not much of a country music fan, but when I do listen to it, I expect it to be, well, country, the music that Johnny Cash and Hank Williams fashioned, not what Shania Twain and Faith Hill co-opted into mainstream pop or those chest-thumping anthems about bars, cars, and chicks. That's why I was less than impressed by Lady Antebellum's album, even though its destined to win. Lambert is quite the spitfire, though, and she could very easily pull the upset. Last year's Best New Artist winners the Zac Brown Band bring another collection of jam-band country-rock, a style that suits their easy-breezy tone, though this album lacks anything as immediately endearing as "Free." Jamey Johnson bravely carries on the outlaw-country tradition on his sprawling album, a terrific collection of great country. But my vote goes to the bluegrass-infused covers album by Dierks Bentley, partly because I have a very special fondness for bluegrass music, and partly because hearing a banjo-and-mandolin cover of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" is truly something to behold.

So who are your picks?

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