The Grammy nominations are next week—on December 5, to be exact—and they’ll be announced during a super-fancy concert hosted by Taylor Swift and LL Cool J.
As we get closer to the official announcement, I’m going to consider who should be nominated in the “big four” categories: Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. And let me tell you up front: I’m going to be highly prejudiced about this. I have a lot of strong opinions about awards shows. I cannot apologize for it. Nay, I SHALL NOT apologize for it.
Let’s start with Best New Artist, a category that has been almost aggressively obscure recently. Bon Iver won last year, and before that, it was Esperanza Spalding. And they’re both quite talented, sure, but now it’s time to hand a trophy to someone who has actually sold a few singles. Sometimes, I want my awards shows to honor left-field talent, and sometimes, I want them to anoint of the year’s biggest stars. If the pendulum doesn’t swing back to popularity this year, then cool kids are going to beat up Best New Artist in the parking lot and steal her chem notes.
So who should be nominated? Let’s consider a few candidates:
The New Artist: Fun.
What Did They Do This Year? Between “We Are Young” and “Some Nights,” they dropped two of the biggest singles of 2012, and they also saw their album Some Nights sell over half a million copies. Along with Gotye (more on him in a minute) they launched an alt-rock revival. Meanwhile, lead singer Nate Ruess co-wrote and duetted on the best song on Pink’s new album AND co-wrote Ke$ha’s “Die Young.”
Do They Deserve the Nomination? Oh, yes. And since they’re performing at the nomination concert, they’ll probably get tapped in several categories. Right now, I’d say they’re a lock to win Best New Artist, and probably a few other things, too. Having a second huge hit was a big help, because that makes them seem like a band with staying power. (Oh, and their new single “Carry On” is ALSO great.)
The New Artist: Gotye
What Did He Do This Year? He released “Somebody That I Used to Know,” which was almost as inescapable as “Gangnam Style” this year.The lack of a follow-up single—and the vaguely experimental, yet vaguely retro excellence of his album Making Mirrors—lets him seem like an artist who isn’t playing the popularity game. Therefore, he gets to be mainstream and indie all at once. A neat trick.
Does He Deserve the Nomination? Absolutely. Gotye is my emotional choice to win, even though I don’t think he can beat Fun. I just love Making Mirrors, and while I won’t be surprised if he never has another hit, I’m guessing he’ll deliver many excellent songs in the future.
The New Artist: Frank Ocean
What Has He Done This Year? On the cultural front, he made waves by coming out before he even released his first album. Even better, once that album, Channel Orange, actually did arrive, people focused as much on his amazing R&B music as they did on his sexuality. It’s a solid hit, which suggests he’s connecting with a lot of people… gay, straight, and in betweeen.
Should He Get the Nomination? Totes! Great music from an openly gay musician always gets my vote.
The New Artist: Ellie Goulding
What Did She Do This Year? Over a year after it was released, her wonderful song “Lights” finally became a hit. Then she followed it up with “Anything Can Happen,” an equally wonderful anthem from her new album, Halcyon, which suggests she deserves comparisons to Robyn. As in… she adds killer songwriting and trenchant emotion to her pelvis-rattling hooks.
Should She Get the Nomination? I think she should, but since her album came out a while ago, she may not be eligible. But since 2012 was the year she really made an impact, she might squeak in under the category’s weird rules.
The New Artist: Macklemore
What Did He Do This Year?: Between the funny-yet-intelligent swagger of “Thrift Shop”—which hypes up his commitment to discount fashion—and the beautiful pro-gay-marriage sentiment of “Same Love,” he released two of the best rap songs in recent memory. Then he used his album The Heist to take on his personal demons with the same disarming honesty.
Should He Get the Nomination? Along with the four artists listed above, Macklemore would complete my dream slate of Best New Artist nominees for 2012. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. An indie rapper without a true breakthrough hit is probably a bridge too far for the Grammy nominators, who tend to choose alt rockers, R&B divas, and jazz artists when they want to tap a surprise candidate in this field. (Along with Bon Iver and Esperanza Spalding, see Susan Tedeschi, Silversun Pickups, The Ting Tings, Ledisi, and Heather Headley.)
The New Artist: One Direction
What Did They Do This Year? For one thing, they had two albums debut at number one, and will probably see both of those albums sell a million copies before New Year’s Eve. In an era when album sales are almost universally terrible, that’s kind of amazing. They also added respectability to their boy band/reality show roots by demonstrating that they can actually sing. Their recent single “Little Things,” for instance, is a spare acoustic ballad that forces them to hit real notes. Not every pop act could withstand those demands.
Do They Deserve the Nomination? No. Besides being able to sing on key and look cute at all times, these fellas don’t have that spark of artistic originality that makes an Ellie Goulding or a Gotye so distinctive. They simply do a good job with the material their producers hand them. And that’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t really merit an award, if you ask me. However, I’m sure they will get nominated, just like Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Ace of Base, and Color Me Badd.
The New Artist: Of Mosnters and Men
What Did They Do This Year? They had a slow-burning success with their album My Head is an Animal, which has sold steadily for an entire year, and they released “Little Talks,” one of the boppiest, quirkiest (and secretly saddest) songs of the year. They’re a very good indie band, and they’re just the kind of group the Grammys love.
Do They Deserve the Nomination? Why not? I don’t love every song on their album, but on the whole, I love their style. Plus, they’re from Iceland, which is one of my favorite countries in the world. It could go either way for them in this category, but I won’t be said if they make it.
The New Artist: Carly Rae Jepsen
What Did She Do This Year? She performed and co-wrote “Call Me Maybe,” which is really played out at the moment but which is also a perfect pop record.
Does She Deserve the Nomination? Lord no. Her follow-up singles—“Good Time” with Owl City and “This Kiss”—have about one-tenth the charisma of “Call Me Maybe.” If she has another album in her, I’ll be surprised. Still, I’d say she has a decent shot of being nominated.
The Lumineers — Because they sound like Mumford and Sons, whom the Grammys love, and because their song “Ho Hey” is in the top ten right now.
Kimbra — Because she sang on Gotye’s song and released an outstanding album of her own
Lana Del Rey — Because she got a lot of attention. However, most of it was negative.
Imagine Dragons and Alabama Shakes — Because they’re both solid rock bands that released excellent singles (“It’s Time” and “Hold On,” respectively) and decent albums this year
Haim — Just kidding! This trio of rocking sisters will never get nominated, but I wish they had a shot. They rule.
Mark Blankenship is still mad that Robyn didn’t get a Best New Artist nomination back in 1998. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.