Expect the third time to be the charm for Eminem. The rap star's smash album Recovery is the front-runner to win Album of the Year on Feb. 13, when the 53rd annual Grammy Awards are presented at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Eminem has been nominated in this category twice before, but lost both times. Ten years ago, The Marshall Mathers LP lost to Steely Dan's Two Against Nature. Two years later, The Eminem Show lost to Norah Jones' Come Away With Me.
The loss to Steely Dan was highly controversial. Many believed that the veteran pop duo won in large part because Grammy voters couldn't bring themselves to give their top award to an artist whose raw lyrics made him a polarizing figure at the time. Since then, Eminem starred in a hit movie and even won an Oscar. He has shown resilience and staying power, which Grammy voters respect.
Also, in the past decade, the Recording Academy has recruited more young voters. Seven years ago, a rap album, OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, won Album of the Year. Rap is so central to pop culture at this point that even Grammy voters have gotten on board.
Lady Antebellum and Drake will also do well on Grammy night. Lady A's heartfelt ballad "Need You Now" is the favorite to win for Record of the Year. It will probably also squeak by Eminem to take Song of the Year. "Need You Now" would be the third Record of the Year in five years with strong country appeal. Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready To Make Nice" won for 2006. The Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration "Please Read The Letter" won for 2008.
Drake is vying to become the second rap artist to win for Best New Artist. Arrested Development won the award for 1992. (Lauryn Hill won for 1998, but she was on the R&B side of hip hop.) Drake, who was born in Toronto, would be the first Canadian to take Best New Artist.
Here's a closer look at the top categories.
Record of the Year
The nominees: B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars' "Nothin' On You," Eminem featuring Rihanna's "Love The Way You Lie," Cee Lo Green's "F*** You," Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State Of Mind," Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now."
The likely winner: "Need You Now." This is the first time in Grammy history that three collaborations have been nominated for Record of the Year. All three of these pairings are nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. They will likely split the votes of young, hip, urban-oriented Grammy voters. "F*** You," which is nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance, has similar appeal. Lady A's ballad is the only choice for older, more conservative and country-leaning voters.
Album of the Year
The likely winner: Recovery. This will be the second year in a row that the best-selling album of the year (per Nielsen SoundScan) will walk off with the Grammy for Album of the Year. Taylor Swift's Fearless achieved this double feat last year. Previous double winners were Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard soundtrack (1993) and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (it won the Grammy for 1995 and was #1 for 1996).
The critically-lauded Arcade Fire would stand a better chance if the band had more pop radio presence (like U2 did the year it won for The Joshua Tree). Lady A's album would stand a better chance if it had produced a second crossover smash. Gaga's release (the first EP ever to be nominated for Album of the Year) would stand a better chance if it was a full-length album and not just a "bonus" disk. Perry's album seemed like the weakest of the five candidates when the nominations were first announced, but the first-rate "Firework" dominated the airwaves during the voting period.
Song of the Year
The nominees: "Beg Steal Or Borrow" (Ray LaMontagne), "F*** You" (Cee Lo Green with Brody Brown, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine and Bruno Mars), "The House That Built Me" (Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin), "Love The Way You Lie" (Eminem with Alexander Grant and Holly Hafferman), "Need You Now" (Lady Antebellum with Josh Kear).
The likely winner: "Need You Now." "Love The Way You Lie" deals with an important topic, domestic abuse, which gives it added weight. But a rap song has never won in this category. "F*** You" is an irresistible slice of old-school R&B, but the title will scare off some voters. "Need You Now" and "The House That Built Me" could easily split the country vote. Even so, I think voters may settle on "Need You Now," which has the grace and poignancy of an Eagles classic from the '70s.
Best New Artist
The likely winner: Drake. Justin Bieber and Drake are the only finalists whose albums received nominations as Best Album in their genres. (My World 2.0 is vying for Best Pop Vocal Album. Thank Me Later is up for Best Rap Album). Bieber is the biggest seller of this bunch, but teen idols rarely win. (A cynic might say they are nominated in part because they are likely to draw their young fans to the TV show.) Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons both appeal to the same alternative-minded voters, which may split their votes. Esperanza Spalding's nomination was its own reward. Relatively few had heard of the talented jazz musician before the nominations were announced on Dec. 1.
Drake should have been up for this award a year ago. His breakthrough smash "Best I Ever Had" vaulted into the top five on the Hot 100 in early July 2009. But Grammy rules (which are due for an update) specify that an artist isn't eligible for Best New Artist until the year the act's first album is released. That's why the red-hot Bruno Mars and Nicki Minaj weren't nominated this year. Their first albums came out after the close of the eligibility year (Sept. 1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2010).
Best Pop Vocal Album
The likely winner: The Fame Monster, with the Mayer and Perry albums close behind. Mayer won here with his last studio album, Continuum, but he didn't make any friends with his Playboy interview a year ago. Gaga won for Best Electronic/Dance Album a year ago for The Fame, but was moved over to this category for the EP. Her sound hasn't changed, but the perception of her has.
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
The nominees: Michael Buble's Crazy Love, Barry Manilow's The Greatest Love Songs Of All Time, Johnny Mathis' Let It Be Me: Mathis In Nashville, Rod Stewart's Fly Me To The Moon...The Great American Songbook: Volume V, Barbra Streisand's Love Is The Answer
The likely winner: Crazy Love. Buble won last year for a live album (Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden) that relatively few heard, so he'll probably win again with this chart-topping studio release. This will be his third win in four years. Streisand, who dominated this genre before Buble was born, is also represented with a chart-topping studio album. And she's overdue for a Grammy, having last won 24 years ago. Stewart won his only Grammy (!) for the third volume of this series, which is finally ending with this volume.
Best Rock Album
Best Alternative Music Album
Best R&B Album
Best Contemporary R&B Album
The likely winner: Raymond V Raymond. Usher won in this category six years ago with Confessions. His only real competition this year is the critically-hailed Monae. (P.S. If the Recording Academy combined these two R&B album categories, they'd have one highly competitive category instead of two that always feel a little padded.)
Best Rap Album
The nominees: B.o.B's The Adventures Of Bobby Ray, Drake's Thank Me Later, Eminem's Recovery, Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3, the Roots' How I Got Over
Best Country Album
The likely winner: Need You Now. Lambert won in this category at both of the major country music awards shows (presented by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Assn.) She may do it again, but Lady A's nominations in the top three categories will probably give them the edge. The Grammys' voting base is broader than those country organizations.
Best Americana Album
The likely winner: The List. The Plant/Krauss collaboration Raising Sand won Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album two years ago. But Plant's solo album didn't have the same impact. Besides, the story behind Cash's album is irresistible: These songs were drawn from a list of 100 essential country songs that was drafted for Cash by her dad, Johnny Cash. How do you compete with that?
Best Musical Show Album
The nominees: American Idiot (Featuring Green Day), Fela!, A Little Night Music, Promises, Promises, Sondheim On Sondheim
The likely winner: American Idiot (Featuring Green Day). Green Day's American Idiot was nominated for Album of the Year (and won for Best Rock Album) six years ago. Who would have guessed that it would inspire a Broadway show? Grammy voters love it when artists make bold moves.
Best Compilation Soundtrack Album
The nominees: Crazy Heart, Glee: The Music, Volume 1, Treme, True Blood-Volume 2, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
The likely winner: Glee: The Music, Volume 1. Glee has been a phenomenon. The cast's version of "Don't Stop Believin'" is even nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. (That helps make up for the fact that Journey's original version of the song in 1981 wasn't nominated in any category.) Crazy Heart, which features the Oscar-winning (and Grammy-nominated) "The Weary Kind," is also a strong candidate.