ALBUM OF THE YEAR
"Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends," Coldplay
"Tha Carter III," Lil Wayne
"Year of the Gentleman," Ne-Yo
X - "Raising Sand," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
"In Rainbows," Radiohead
RECORD OF THE YEAR
(Award to the Recording Artist)
"Chasing Pavements," Adele
X - "Viva La Vida," Coldplay
"Bleeding Love," Leona Lewis
"Paper Planes," M.I.A
"Please Read the Letter," Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
SONG OF THE YEAR
(Award to the Songwriter)
"American Boy," (Estelle Featuring Kanye West) William Adams, Keith Harris, Josh Lopez, Caleb Speir, John Stephens, Estelle Swaray & Kanye West, songwriters
"Chasing Pavements" (Adele) Adele Adkins & Eg White, songwriters
"I'm Yours" (Jason Mraz) Jason Mraz, songwriter
"Love Song" (Sara Bareilles) Sara Bareilles, songwriter
X - "Viva La Vida" (Coldplay) Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion & Chris Martin, songwriters
The only suspense in the top Grammy races is which awards will be doled out to Coldplay and which ones to the duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Will Plant-Krauss claim best album, as seems logical, leaving the prize for best record to Coldplay? Or the other way around? Or will one team sweep both races?
Remember back in 2002 when virtually all Grammy pundits thought Alicia Keys would win best record for "Fallin' "? It was widely expected that she'd also win best song too. The two awards agree about 60% of the time. If those two Grammy categories split, pundits figured that Alicia Keys at least would keep best record and U2 would siphon off the song victory for "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," which was Bono's lament over the death of his pal Michael Hutchence, late lead singer of INXS.
The latter tune wasn't up for best record, though. A different U2 tune was — "Walk On," which was about Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, but it was widely adopted as an inspiring anthem of endurance after the Sept. 11 attack by terrorists on the World Trade Center.
What happened? A weird Grammy flip-flop. Alicia Keys won best song, but not record! That was odd. While the tune was admired for its writing, it was revered for its performance, so that didn't add up. U2 won best record for "Walk On." Nobody saw that coming.
Veterans tend to win the album award (Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Steely Dan in recent years), so it's believed that Plant's team takes that this year. But Plant-Krauss could pull off a sweep like the Dixie Chicks did in 2007. Sweeps are common at showbiz awards. Or at least a mini-sweep might happen here. Plant and Krauss are nominated for best record, but not song. (Does Coldplay get that as consolation?) The last time a veteran chap was teamed up with a pretty young thrush in the record and song categories, he won — quite recently: Ray Charles with Norah Jones. (He won both, she claimed just the record prize.) It's possible that Coldplay could sweep all three, but unlikely. Plant-Krauss will take record or album. Probably album.
Coldplay is guaranteed the best song award. No rival is strong enough to beat the hipsters there. It's just a question of whether the Brit band is strong enough to claim best record too. Indeed, it proved to be four years ago when Coldplay's "Clocks" took that Grammy crown.
Since "Viva La Vida" was such a super-hit and "Please Read the Letter" was not, that suggests Coldplay will claim best record and song, leaving the album prize to Plant-Krauss. That prediction all falls into place nicely according to past voting patterns.
What about all of those other Grammy nominees, you ask? Well, to be quite frank about it, most are there because of political correctness. A Secret Committee of "music experts" is assembled by the Recording Academy every year to listen to the 20 entries of music that get the most votes for best record, song, album and new artist (Grammy's top four awards — together they're known as the General Field) from the whole membership. The committee likes to add lots of hip-hop that doesn't have a prayer to win. Rap's never won best record or song and only once took best album: "Speakerboxxx: The Love Below." OutKast had to win that year or else the whole music industry would've burnt down the normally fuddy-duddy academy.
Most pundits (who forgot about the fuddy-duddy issue) predicted "Late Registration" would win best album in 2006, but, come on, Kanye West was too creepy and in-your-face for the geezer Grammy voters, which swallowed OutKast when they had to because the duo was cool in a slick establishment way, not wacky like Kanye.
Therefore, when you are looking over the top races, nix all of the hip-hoppers from your predix. Grammy voters think they already gave at the office.
Radiohead was placed here by the Secret Committee as a matter of conscience (it's a sainted band in the rock world now) and balance of music sound. No chance to win. Leona Lewis is the sexy R&B diva du jour, but she's not in the same heavyweight league as Alicia Keys or Norah Jones. So forget it. Adele is even more lightweight — she just had a nifty video and great exposure on "Saturday Night Live." Voters may give her best new artist as a consolation prize.
Just because cool, edgy music acts are nominated in these races, don't make the mistake of thinking that they must therefore have broad support across the Recording Academy. Most of those nominees are put on the list by the Secret Committee so that the Grammys look cool, not because they're serious contenders to win.
And also they're placed there so that Tony Bennett doesn't land another top nom -- and win. The academy was so embarrassed by Bennett's best-album victory for "MTV Unplugged" in 1995 that it whipped up these Secret Committees to clean up the ballots in the future, make them look presentable, boot off any fuddy-duddies who might win before the ballots are handed off to the full academy membership for voting. When trying to predict who'll win in these top four races, you can usually throw out window dressing like Radiohead and Ne-Yo and whittle down the contenders to just a few who have a real shot.
When you go through that process of elimination in the General Field this year, you end up with Coldplay and Plant-Krauss. That's how we know they're the front-runners.
Photo credits: Top left, Capitol; top right, Rounder; middle left, ATO Records; middle right, Def Jam