The Grammys are a headscratcher every year, but this year’s crop of Album Of The Year nominees seems especially befuddling. Three of the choices were released waaaay back in October 2012. We get it, you have to have cutoff dates for this sort of thing but, damn, that’s like two music industry half-lives ago! One of the albums is a throwback to the decades when the music industry was an unstoppable force and thus it sounded purposely cheesy and self-indulgent. And one nominee sold a paltry 68,000 units its first week, received middling reviews and quite frankly has no business being here, no matter how many times that one song is played at your local supermarket.
And that’s before you factor in all the worthy albums that could’ve taken that spot (sorry, Kanye West, Lorde, Justin Timberlake, HAIM, Drake, etc.) So what in the hell are we to make of the biggest category for this year’s Grammy Awards? We’re not entirely sure, but below we’ve tried to predict who will win.
THOUGHTS ON THE NOMINEES: It’s basically the too-big-to-fails (Daft Punk, Taylor) against the little-engines-that-could (K-Dot, Macklemore, Sara). And within that battle, there’s a radio rap vs. “real” rap face-off. The interesting thing about the Kendrick-Macklemore competition is that both albums are the product of artists who stuck to their own script and refused to cave in to industry demands, resulting in a couple of the year’s most self-assured and consistent offerings. If either were to win, it would be a watershed Grammy moment: the Academy’s first time awarding the night’s top honor to a straight-up, non-crossover rap album (previously, Lauryn Hill‘s solo debut and Outkast‘s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won Album Of The Year, but both were a hybrid of pop, rap and R&B).
But that storyline could be buried beneath the juggernaut that is Red, which had the biggest sales debut of any album since Eminem‘s The Eminem Show in 2002. What’s interesting is that the album’s selling point was its blatant appropriation of glossy, big-tent pop sounds, marking Swift’s artistic evolution, when usually the evolution works in the reverse — more accessible to more difficult (see: Yeezus). Even if this were a sellout move on Taylor’s part (but, like, you can’t really sell out after already having a million-selling week), it’s not like the Grammy cabal would care. After all, Santana‘s radio-kowtowing orgy Supernatural won Album Of The Year and Creed have a Grammy to their name, so yeah.
On a related note, you have Daft Punk, who proved this year that if you have enough money and talented friends, you can create the best-sounding record of the year. It’s the Yankees of the Grammys this year: sure, the French duo’s deep pockets allowed them to call in some of their favorite musicians to help out. But even if you bought the best players, they’re still the best players. Also, if there’s one thing the Grammys love, it’s when old white dudes give in to their masturbatory studio indulgences, and RAM is one orgasmic exploration of the studio space (and actual space).
The thing that unites the four above-mentioned nominees is that their releases were all culturally relevant and depicted a different slice of the zeitgeist. The biggest contribution Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest gave to the pop music discussion in 2013 was… it had one song that Katy Perry ripped off. I’m not trying to insult Bareilles, she made a solid album. It’s just utterly insignificant, and by no means defines the year.
WHO WILL WIN: Since it’s such a jumble of nominees this year, it’s also tough to pick a winner. You could make a case for any of them (except The Blessed Unrest). Red has the numbers. Random Access Memories has the cultural cachet. GKMC was the most critically acclaimed album of the bunch. And The Heist has the grassroots rise and, well, sure seems like any easy way for the Grammys to embrace hip-hop without, ya know, really embracing hip-hop.
I think it comes down to Daft Punk and Taylor, though, because the Grammys are the music establishment, and these two huge acts both benefit and benefit from whatever shred of life remains in the music-industrial complex.
So, then, since the eight previous Album Of The Year winners performed at the ceremony, and Swift isn’t on the roster this year, I’m going with the pattern and predicting Daft Punk will take home the top prize. [Ed note: As our intrepid commenters pointed out below, Swift is performing this year. I even wrote our post announcing her addition to the show. So yes, I am an idiot. But I still think Daft Punk will win — they soundtracked much of 2013 and the Academy is very stingy with repeat AOTY winners. Still have no idea how they'll give an acceptance speech, though.]
WHO SHOULD WIN: [Biting my tongue so that I won't type Yeezus] Taylor Swift’s Red crushed the competition and it ably pulled off a sonic evolution. So a second Album Of The Year win for Swift would be hard to argue with.
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