We all know that Adele is going to sweep the Grammys on Feb. 12. She's nominated for six awards, and has a good chance of winning them all. That would enable her to tie Beyonce's record for most Grammys won in one night by a female artist and Eric Clapton's record for most Grammys won in one night by a British artist.
Adele is heading into Grammy night with the same combination of blockbuster sales, critical acclaim and industry respect that has fueled previous Grammy sweeps by such artists as Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. (I wrote a blog last week about previous Grammy sweeps. If you missed it, here's a link.)
So does this mean that Grammy night is going to be completely devoid of suspense? No. There are 72 categories in which Adele isn't nominated, and which, as a result, remain competitive. Here are 12 that you should keep your eye on. They're listed in the order that they appear on the ballot.
1. Best New Artist. Will Grammy voters' inclination to vote for female solo artists in this category outweigh their tendency to vote against rap artists in this and other "General Field" categories? If it does, Nicki Minaj will win.
Female solo artists have won in this category in 13 of the last 20 years. But only one rap act, Arrested Development, has won, and that was way back in 1993. (Lauryn Hill won in 1999, but her album was slotted in R&B rather than rap. That indicates that the academy saw her on the R&B side of hip-hop, rather than the rap side.)
Grammy voters' antipathy for rap kept Drake from winning last year. The winner was classical artist Esperanza Spalding, who 99% of the TV audience had probably never heard of before (and probably hasn't heard from since.) Such top rap stars as Puff Daddy, 50 Cent and Kanye West have also been nominated in this category, only to come up short on Grammy night.
Minaj's chief rivals are country sibling trio The Band Perry (which won New Artist of the Year at the Country Music Assn. Awards) and alternative band Bon Iver. (The panelists who determine the final nominations in the top categories put the band's "Holocene" in the finals for Record and Song of the Year). The other nominees are hot dance producer/DJ Skrillex and rapper J. Cole.
My call: Despite the academy's aversion to rap, I think Minaj will win.
2. Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Can a song that peaked at #87 on the Hot 100 ("Body And Soul" by Tony Bennett & Amy Winehouse) beat a song that spent four weeks at #1 ("Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera)?
The Grammys love Bennett, who is headed for a record-extending 11th win in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album with Duets II. And he won Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals five years ago for "For Once In My Life," a collabo with Stevie Wonder. Plus, most voters were aware that "Body And Soul" was Winehouse's last recording before she died in July. But "Jagger" was a stone smash. Both Maroon 5 and Aguilera are past Grammy winners for Best New Artist. And both of their careers are on an upswing as a result of the hit TV show The Voice.
The other nominees in the category are Coldplay's "Paradise," Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and the Black Keys' "Dearest," a track from the Various Artists album Rave On Buddy Holly.
My call: It's going to be tight between those two collabos, but I'm going with "Moves Like Jagger."
3. Best Dance Recording. Barbra Streisand will almost certainly lose in the Traditional Pop category (yet again), but will "Barbra Streisand" win in the Dance category?
The loopy song by Duck Sauce was a dance smash (and a moderate pop crossover success) last year. Its main rivals are Skrillex's "Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites" and "Sunshine" by David Guetta & Avicii. The other nominees are Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend," Swedish House Mafia's "Save The World" and "Raise Your Weapon" by Deadmau5 & Greta Svabo Bech.
My call: "Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites" is the title song of Skrillex's hot-selling EP, which is also a finalist for Best Dance/Electronica Album. I think he'll take it.
4. Best Rock Performance. Will Grammy voters finally show a little love to Mumford & Sons?
The English group was nominated for Best New Artist last year, but lost to the aforementioned Esperanza Spalding. But the band's performance on the show (in a segment with Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers) gave them a bigger post-show sales spike than any of the winners. Grammy panelists put "The Cave" in the finals for Record and Song of the Year, but it will almost certainly lose in those categories to Adele's "Rolling In The Deep." But it has two more chances to win: here and for Best Rock Song. (The nominees are the same in the two categories.)
Mumford & Sons' chief rivals are Coldplay's "Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall," Radiohead's "Lotus Flower" and Foo Fighters' "Walk." The Decemberists' "Down By The Water" rounds out the field.
My call: I think Grammy voters will seize this chance to make it up to Mumford & Sons.
5. Best Rock Album. Will Foo Fighters win for a record-extending fourth time in this category?
The group has won Best New Artist three times, which is more than any other act in the category's 17-year history. The Foos are back in the finals with Wasting Light, which in April became the band's first #1 album.
The band's competition includes Red Hot Chili Peppers' I'm With You (they previously won in this category) and Wilco's The Whole Love (they previously won for Best Alternative Music Album). The other nominees are Jeff Beck's Rock'N'Roll Party Honoring Les Paul and Kings Of Leon's Come Around Sundown.
My call: Look for Foo Fighters to win again. Butch Vig, who produced the album, is up for Producer of the Year (which shows that the album is on the Grammy radar).
6. Best Alternative Music Album. Will Radiohead leave the White Stripes in the dust?
Radiohead has won three times in this category, which puts the band in a tie with the White Stripes for the most wins by any act in the category's 21-year history. Radiohead is vying for a tie-breaking fourth win for its latest album The King Of Limbs.
The band's stiffest competition comes from Bon Iver's Bon Iver and Foster The People's Torches. The other finalists are Death Cab for Cutie's Codes And Keys and My Morning Jacket's Circuital.
My call: I think Radiohead will do it again. "Lotus Flower" is up for three awards: Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Short Form Music Video.
7. Best R&B Album. Will Chris Brown finally take home his first Grammy?
Brown lost Best New Artist to Carrie Underwood five years ago, and has lost every other time he's been nominated. His chances of ever winning a Grammy seemed to be shot three years ago after his heavily-publicized assault of ex-girlfriend Rihanna. But his album F.A.M.E. was a hit, especially with his core R&B fans.
The competition in this category isn't terribly strong, either. Brown's chief rival is probably Ledisi's Pieces Of Me. (She lost Best New Artist the year after Brown did.) The other contenders are El DeBarge's Second Chance, R. Kelly's Love Letter and Kelly Price's Kelly.
My call: I think Brown will win.
8. Best Rap Album. Will Nicki Minaj become the first female rapper ever to win in this category? (Even Missy Elliott came up short nine years ago when Under Construction lost to OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.)
Minaj's Pink Friday is facing Watch The Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West (each of whom has previously won in this category); a second West album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Factory; Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV (he's also a past winner in this category) and Lupe Fiasco's Lasers. (Notably, all five of these albums reached #1 on The Billboard 200.)
My call: You go, girl. I think Minaj will win.
9. Best Country Album. Will Grammy voters follow the lead of voters at the Country Music Assn. Awards, who gave their Album of the Year prize to Jason Aldean's My Kinda Party over Taylor Swift's Speak Now?
Both artists are nominated for Best Country Solo Performance: Aldean with "Dirt Road Anthem" and Swift with "Mean." Aldean is also nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Don't You Wanna Stay," his collabo with Kelly Clarkson. Swift's "Mean" is also nominated for Best Country Song.
The other nominees are Lady Antebellum's Own The Night and George Strait's Here For A Good Time (both acts are former winners in this category), Blake Shelton's Red River Blue and Eric Church's Chief.
My call: I've gone back and forth on this one, but I'm thinking Swift will win. Aldean's album sold more copies in 2011 than any other country album, but Swift's album is ahead in total sales (both albums came out in late 2010) by a wide margin.
10. Best Bluegrass Album. Will the versatile Steve Martin win his second Grammy in this category, matching the two awards he won for Best Comedy Album in the 1970s?
Martin and his backing group, The Steep Canyon Rangers, are nominated for Red Bird Alert. Martin won in this category two years ago for his first bluegrass album, The Crow: New Songs For The Five-String Banjo. (He won Best Comedy Album for 1977's Let's Get Small and 1978's A Wild And Crazy Guy.)
Martin faces Alison Krauss & Union Station's Paper Airplane, Jim Lauderdale's Reason And Rhyme: Bluegrass Songs By Robert Hunter & Jim Lauderdale, The Del McCoury Band's Old Memories: The Songs Of Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley's A Mother's Prayer and Chris Thile & Michael Daves' Sleep With One Eye Open.
My call: Alison Krauss & Union Station has won 13 Grammys. Krauss has won 13 more on her own. And Paper Airplane is nominated for Best Engineered Album, Non Classical. Sorry, Steve.
11. Best Spoken Word Album. Will everybody's favorite 90-year old, Betty White, win a Grammy to go along with her five Emmys?
White is nominated for the audio book version of her latest memoir, If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't). Her chief rival is Tina Fey's Bossypants. (White defeated Fey for an Emmy in 2010, when both were nominated for hosting different episodes of Saturday Night Live.)
The other nominees are Val Kilmer & the cast of The Mark Of Zorro, Don Donohue & Various Artists for Shakespeare's Hamlet, and the Various Artists album Fab Fan Memories—The Beatles Bond.
(Incidentally, White would not be the oldest Grammy winner. Blues musician Pinetop Perkins was 97 when he won his second Grammy. Comedian George Burns was 95 when he won his first.)
My call: It's going to be tight between TV's two funny ladies. Who'll take it? Who doesn't love Betty White?
12. Best Album Notes. Will Neil Diamond win a Grammy for writing the liner notes to his album The Bang Years 1966-1968? This would be Diamond's first Grammy in 38 years. Diamond's only previous Grammy is for his score to the 1973 box-office bomb Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Seven artists have won Grammys for writing liner notes for their own albums. The list includes four big names: Johnny Cash (for Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison), James Brown (as one of five writers on Star Time), country singer/songwriter Tom T. Hall (for Tom T. Hall's Greatest Hits) and classical pianist Glenn Gould (for Hindemith: Sonatas For Piano).
The other nominees are the far less famous writers of liner notes to a Syl Johnson collection, Complete Mythology; The Bristol Sessions, 1927-1928: The Big Bang Of Country Music; Hear Me Howling!: Blues, Ballads & Beyond As Recorded By The San Francisco Bay By Chris Strachwitz In The 1960s; and The Music City Story: Street Corner Doo Wop, Raw R&B And Soulful Sounds From Berkeley, California 1950-75.
My call: Diamond should have won a Grammy in the '60s for those great Bang recordings (which included "Solitary Man" and "Shilo") but a Grammy for liner notes is the next best thing.