Tonight marks the prologue to "Music's Biggest Night," the Grammy Nominations special, with artists like Adele, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift just hours away from receiving trophy nods aplenty. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is so predictable, they might as well just call the February 12, 2012 Grammy ceremony "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy About Yoü & I Rolling in the Deep," but there are always a few surprises and snubs along the way. For a breakdown of the favorites in each major category, check out Paul Grein's Grammy Crystal Ball.
Here at The Amp, we're interested in those off-the-radar artists, albums, and songs that stand absolutely no shot of winning, let alone earning a nomination, even though they might deserve some Grammy consideration. These are five of our dark horse, in-a-perfect-world nominees:
Song of the Year
If Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" doesn't win this, then the Grammy infrastructure is irreparably broken. That song, along with "Moves Like Jagger" and a Lady Gaga and Kanye West song to be named later, are guaranteed nominations, but if The Amp had a say, Lloyd's "Dedication to My Ex (Miss That)" would also get a nod. Last year, the Grammy voters proved they aren't that old and stodgy by nominating Cee Lo Green's explicit "F--- You" for Song of the Year (albeit as "Song Now Known as 'Forget You'" on the TV broadcast).
Lloyd's Motown rave-up, while clearly inspired by Cee Lo's tune, was every bit as catchy as "F--- You," but "Dedication" upped the ante by recruiting Lil Wayne as narrator and locating Andre 3000 for an incredible guest verse. Unfortunately for the song, the edited version was too choppy and stilted for consistent radio play; as it turns out, it was harder to clean up the chorus "I miss that p----, that p----" than it was to turn "F--- You" into "Forget You." Still, "Dedication to My Ex" ranks near the top of The Amp's own list of the year's best tracks, even though Grammy voters will no doubt ignore it tonight.
Best Rap Album
The Amp has one, small request in this category: NOMINATE A MIXTAPE! In 2011, even more than previous years, many of the best hip-hop releases were independently released mixtapes. While there were a few essential rap releases the past 12 months, like 'Watch the Throne' and 'Take Care', it was an absolute banner year for mixtapes: Kendrick Lamar's 'Section.80', Curren$y's 'Covert Coup', Lil B's 'I'm Gay (I'm Happy)', Big K.R.I.T.'s 'Return of 4Eva', and that's just to name a few noteworthy ones.
Spin made their own list of the year's 50 best mixtapes, and if you stacked those up against the 50 best major label rap albums this year, the mixtapes would slaughter them. Yet, the Grammys consistently ignore this indispensable part of hip-hop. Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' has the Best Rap Album award locked, and Beastie Boys, Nicki Minaj, and 'Watch the Throne' might also be in play, but the Grammys should at least nominate one mixtape just to prove they're paying attention to hip-hop and not "losing touch with contemporary popular culture."
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Lady Gaga, Adele, and Taylor Swift will alternate winning this Grammy for the next decade or so, with Rihanna, Beyonce and Katy Perry all getting nominations to ensure they show up at the ceremony and smile on the red carpet. But The Amp would absolutely love to see Swedish pop god Robyn finally score a much-deserved nod in this category. The singer's "Body Talk" is technically eligible for a nomination this year, since it was released November 22, 2010, after the last Grammy cut-off date.
Robyn has hung around and remained consistently awesome longer than her pop peers, but even though everyone from Katy to Rihanna to Gaga have cashed in on Robyn's innovative style, it's unlikely she'll be rewarded by the Grammy voters. She has scored two Grammy nominations in the Dance categories -- that's where the voters put the female artists they don't understand, like Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" in 2009 -- but if there was any justice, "Call Your Girlfriend" or "Indestructible" would be nominated here, in a major category. But alas, they won't be.
Best New Artist
This is Nicki Minaj's category to lose, and considering the outrage that came after Esperanza Spalding beat out Justin Bieber and Drake, it's unlikely the Grammy voters would deviate from popular opinion in this category ever again. Bon Iver, Foster the People, British pop weirdo Jessie J, and a couple of country acts we've never listened to will also get some recognition here, since they're all commercially palatable.
However, 2011 has seen plenty of rookies that at least should be part of the Best New Artist conversation: Kendrick Lamar, Active Child, the Weeknd, James Blake, and many more. In fact, under the vague Grammy rules for Best New Artist, critically loved and established acts like Fleet Foxes and St. Vincent could also generate a nod. Long story short: Just don't do something stupid and nominate Kreayshawn.
Best Alternative Music Album
You'll probably find Radiohead's 'The King of Limbs' here, because they're Radiohead, even if 'TKOL' was their worst reviewed album of the past decade. A smattering of nominees that encapsulate NPR's definition of "alternative music" -- Wilco's "The Whole Love," My Morning Jacket's "Circuital" and Bon Iver's "Bon Iver" -- are also possibilities, as is the Strokes' "Angles." But an under-the-radar disc that's also worthy of a nod is Panda Bear's 'Tomboy."
Though critically acclaimed for the better part of the '00s, Animal Collective has been virtually ignored by Grammy voters, even though their "Merriweather Post Pavilion" topped countless Best Of lists in 2009. What better way to give the band their due than breaking the seal and nominating Panda Bear's Beach Boys-inspired album, which in an alternate universe, would also be in the running for Album of the Year also. Then again, Grammy voters probably just think "Panda Bear" and "Animal Collective" are things you see at the zoo.
Check back tomorrow after the nominations for more Grammys coverage.