By Mesfin Fekadu
and Chris Talbott
Kendrick Lamar vs. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
Lorde vs. Katy Perry.
Get Lucky vs. Blurred Lines a.k.a. Pharrell vs. Pharrell.
There are so many tough choices at the Grammy Awards, where Jay Z is the top nominee with nine, but may not be the favorite to take the most trophies when the show airs at 8 tonight on CBS from Los Angeles. Lamar, Macklemore and Lewis, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams are next with seven, but none is guaranteed a trophy in what must have been a tough year for voters — and has been for us as we try to sort out the mess.
Album of the Year: The Blessed Unrest, Sara Bareilles; Random Access Memories, Daft Punk; good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar; The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; Red, Taylor Swift.
Fekadu: Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience doesn’t even have a 20 percent chance to win this — though it should. And why isn’t Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox on the list? Putting my feelings aside, this is how it will work: Taylor Swift had earth-shattering numbers, Sara Bareilles created a top-notch, memorable album, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis owned 2013, but they won’t win here. That leaves Daft Punk and Kendrick Lamar — who is like a second coming to hip-hop. If Random Access Memories was a little stronger, it would win, but I think the Recording Academy will get it right with a win for Lamar.
Talbott: Don’t be daft, punk! The usual winner is that year’s event album, that got attention beyond the quality of the music for some reason. With all due deference to Swift’s popularity, the album that felt like an event is Random Access Memories. It didn’t yield as many hits as Red, but few albums had as much ink spilled over them this year. Score one for the robots.
Record of the Year: Get Lucky, Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers; Radioactive, Imagine Dragons; Royals, Lorde; Locked Out of Heaven, Bruno Mars; Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell.
Talbott: Oh, Lorde, this one’s easy. Get Lucky and Blurred Lines had their runs, but Lorde finished the year in the strongest position as Grammy voters were filling out their ballots. Those other two songs were sexy — or depending on your point of view, sketchy — come-ons, and felt like distant memories of one-night stands. Lorde offered something of an anthem for the dispossessed, an antidote to the swagification of pop music. Listeners took note, and I think Grammy voters did, too.
Fekadu: You have a strong argument, but I also think Lorde may be too new to win this. That’s the same deal for Imagine Dragons. Mars’ hit, while epic, might seem too old, which leaves us with two Pharrell-laced bangers. Get Lucky wins this because it features a legend and a super-respected musical duo, and it wasn’t sued by Marvin Gaye’s children.
Song of the Year (songwriters): Just Give Me a Reason, Pink, Nate Ruess and Jeff Bhasker; Locked Out of Heaven, Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine; Roar, Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee and Henry Walter; Royals, Lorde and Joel Little; Same Love, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert.
Fekadu: I think the competition is between Just Give Me a Reason and Same Love. Pink’s duet with Nate Ruess, who won this award for We Are Young with fun. last year, is a rousing number and a win like this for Pink is deserving. Same Love, though, was a social anthem and more than a year after it was released, it still provides the chills when Macklemore begins his verse. Same Love wins this.
Talbott: History tells us sometimes the hits win. Sometimes the winner has become an anthem in some way. And sometimes it’s a right-field entry you may not have expected. I think this is where the Recording Academy shows its love for progressive, open-hearted messages and rewards Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
New Artist: James Blake; Kendrick Lamar; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; Kacey Musgraves; Ed Sheeran.
Talbott: This category always has been baffling. This is a strong group, but how could Lorde not be nominated? While I personally feel Kendrick Lamar has the best long-term prospects among these entries, I think voters are focused on Macklemore and Lewis and their dazzling year.
Fekadu: If Ed Sheeran released a sophomore album this year as gratifying as his 2011 debut, this would be his trophy. But you’re right about Macklemore and Lewis winning this.
Pop Solo Performance: Brave, Sara Bareilles; Royals, Lorde; When I Was Your Man, Bruno Mars; Roar, Katy Perry; Mirrors, Justin Timberlake
Fekadu: Oh wait, Justin is nominated for something? It’s crushing how he didn’t earn any top nominations this year — it almost makes you wonder who he irritated. While Bareilles deserves to win, her copycat, Katy Perry, will take home her first Grammy Award.
Talbott: Ah, the positive pop song. Even in today’s raunch-obsessed music scene, there’s nothing quite as powerful as an empowering song like Roar. The problem for Perry, though, is Lorde stole her growl.
Rock Album: 13, Black Sabbath; The Next Day, David Bowie; Mechanical Bull, Kings of Leon; Celebration Day, Led Zeppelin; … Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age; Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
Talbott: This category makes me feel old — and conflicted. Do we go with the beloved legacy acts who didn’t put out the best albums of their careers but sure get credit for trying? Or do we go with the more current acts? I’m thinking Zeppelin, Sabbath, Bowie and Young cancel each other out and voters already feel like they’ve rewarded the Kings. So I’m picking the true long shot, and the year’s best rock album: Queens of the Stone Age.
Fekadu: I just hope that David Bowie shows up when he wins this award.
R&B Song: Best of Me, Anthony Hamilton; Love and War, Tamar Braxton; Only One, PJ Morton featuring Stevie Wonder; Pusher Love Girl, Justin Timberlake; Without Me, Fantasia featuring Missy Elliott and Kelly Rowland.
Fekadu: If Stevie Wonder had a writing credit for Only One, PJ Morton — the keyboardist for Maroon 5 — would win this. And while Tamar Braxton had an impressive year thanks to her reality show, we all know this will go to the former ’NSync frontman.
Talbott: The Recording Academy sent Timberlake mixed messages with his large nomination total but lack of a major nod. Here’s where voters make nice.
Rap Album: Nothing Was the Same, Drake; Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay Z; good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar; The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; Yeezus, Kanye West.
Talbott: On the surface this is a cutthroat category, but it’s really a two-rapper race. Drake, Jay Z and West have all been saluted before. And Macklemore and Lewis will figure in the overall categories, leaving the bedrock hip-hop voters free to go with their hearts. Lamar spent a good portion of the year proclaiming himself the greatest, and we agree.
Fekadu: Kendrick’s verse on Control foreshadowed his win here. Maybe next year, Kanye?
Country Song: Begin Again, Taylor Swift; I Drive Your Truck, Lee Brice; Mama’s Broken Heart, Miranda Lambert; Merry Go ’Round, Kacey Musgraves; Mine Would Be You, Blake Shelton.
Fekadu: Musgraves is a bright newcomer nominated twice in this category since she co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s hit. However, she’ll win the gold for her own song Sunday night.
Talbott: Here’s where I go all Nate Silver on you. Looking at the records, a blonde has won this award every year since 2005 (if you count Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox). So let’s narrow that field down to Swift and Miranda Lambert. Now, add in the fact that Lambert and Musgraves have been splitting votes in the country song categories of other awards shows, and that leaves Swift an easy winner.