Taylor Swift has a lot of experience at being "the youngest ever." In November, she became the youngest person ever voted Entertainer of the Year at the Country Music Assn. Awards. Now, she seems destined to become the youngest artist ever to win the Grammy for Album of the Year. The 20-year old country/pop sensation would take that distinction from Alanis Morissette, who was 21 when Jagged Little Pill won the award in 1996.
Kings of Leon and Beyonce are expected to be the other big winners when the 52nd annual Grammy Awards are presented at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 31. Kings of Leon's rock smash "Use Somebody" is likely to win four awards, including Record and Song of the Year. Grammy voters have demonstrated a comfort level with mainstream pop-rock: Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" won last year as Song of the Year. Santana, U2, Coldplay and Green Day have all won for Record of the Year since 1999.
Beyonce, who led all artists with 10 nominations, has a good chance of winning five awards. That would make her the first female artist ever to win five Grammys twice. She previously took home five awards in 2004.
Beyonce could even become the first female artist ever to win six Grammys in one night. It all hinges on the outcome in the Song of the Year category. Her smash "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" is in a close contest with "Use Somebody." "Single Ladies" was one of the year's most ubiquitous songs. Its profile was boosted by parodies by such varied acts as Justin Timberlake and the Chipettes. But only two R&B songs, Alicia Keys' "Fallin'" and Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father," have been voted Song of the Year. And they were both elegant ballads, not frisky, danceable tunes.
Lady Gaga would have easily taken Best New Artist, but she was ruled ineligible on the grounds that "Just Dance," the first single from her album, was nominated for a Grammy (Best Dance Recording) last year. (The same rule disqualified Jennifer Hudson a year ago and threatens the eligibility of Drake and Kid Cudi next year, unless the Grammy Trustees change it.) With Lady Gaga out of the running, country's Zac Brown Band is likely to take home the award.
Colbie Caillat and her father, record producer Ken Caillat, may soon have matching Album of the Year awards. This is due to the Recording Academy's overly generous policy in which artists who are featured on an album receive nominations and awards for Album of the Year, just as if they are the principal artist. Colbie Caillat and Swift teamed for a duet, "Breathe," on Fearless. Ken Caillat won for co-producing Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, which was voted Album of the Year for 1977.
The Caillats wouldn't be the first father and daughter to each win for Album of the Year. Ravi Shankar won as a participant on The Concert For Bangla Desh, the 1972 champ. His daughter, Norah Jones, has taken the award twice, first for her 2002 debut, Come Away With Me, and again as a featured artist on Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, the 2007 victor.
After this year, Steve Martin will have won as many Grammys for making music as he ever did for telling jokes. Martin's The Crow/New Songs For The Five-String Banjo is a shoo-in to win for Best Bluegrass Album. Eight years ago, Martin won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance for playing on "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," a track from Earl Scruggs & Friends. Martin won back-to-back Grammys for Best Comedy Album with Let's Get Small (1977) and A Wild And Crazy Guy (1978).
Here's a preview of key categories.
Album of the Year. Nominees: Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce, The Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D., Lady Gaga's The Fame, Dave Matthews Band's Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King, Taylor Swift's Fearless. Beyonce's album was well-received, but Fearless was a phenomenon. And the academy has a large country contingent. Fearless would be the fourth Album of the Year winner in nine years with strong country appeal, following O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Dixie Chicks' Taking The Long Way and Raising Sand by Robert Plant/Alison Krauss. Prediction: Swift.
Record of the Year. Nominees: Beyonce's "Halo," The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling," Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," "You Belong With Me." Kings of Leon's main competitors are the Peas, whose song took on a life of its own, and Swift, in large part because Grammy voters tend to get caught up in sweeps. ("Single Ladies" wasn't entered in this category. Beyonce's team instead entered a pair of pop-oriented ballads, "Halo" and "If I Were A Boy." That was a lucky break for Kings of Leon. "Single Ladies" would have been a more formidable competitor here than "Halo.") Prediction: Kings of Leon.
Song of the Year. Nominees: "Poker Face" (Lady Gaga), "Pretty Wings" (Maxwell), "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" (Beyonce), "Use Somebody" (Kings of Leon), "You Belong With Me" (Taylor Swift). "Use Somebody" has the majestic, anthemic quality of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," which won in this category last year. Prediction: Kings of Leon.
Best New Artist. Nominees: Zac Brown Band, Keri Hilson, MGMT, Silversun Pickups, The Ting Tings. Solo female artists often have an edge in this category, which could clinch it for Hilson. But her debut album failed to receive a nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album, while Brown's debut made the finals for Best Country Album. (This is a rather weak field. Lady Gaga would have given it some pizzazz.) Prediction: Zac Brown Band.
Best Pop Vocal Album. Nominees: The Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D., Colbie Caillat's Breakthrough, Kelly Clarkson's All I Ever Wanted, The Fray's The Fray, Pink's Funhouse. You can make a reasonable case for any of these albums winning. Clarkson took this award four years ago, but I gotta feeling the Peas will win. (Sorry.) Prediction: The Black Eyed Peas.
Best Electronic/Dance Album. Nominees: The Crystal Method's Divided By Night, David Guetta's One Love, Lady Gaga's The Fame, LMFAO's Party Rock, Pet Shop Boys' Yes. The Pet Shop Boys have been charting longer than Lady Gaga has been alive. They really should win a Grammy someday, but this won't be the year. Prediction: Lady Gaga.
Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. Nominees: Tony Bennett's A Swingin' Christmas, Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden, Harry Connick Jr.'s Your Songs, Liza Minnelli's Liza's At The Palace, Willie Nelson's American Classic. Bennett has a perfect track record in this category (10 nominations, 10 wins). But there may be a hitch this time: A Christmas album has never won in this category. Bennett's strongest challengers are Connick, who won this award eight years ago, and Nelson, who played a key role in reviving this genre with his 1978 album Stardust. American Classic received a second nomination (Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals for a duet with Norah Jones), which shows that the album is on voters' minds. Prediction (nervously): Nelson.
Best Rock Album. Nominees: AC/DC's Black Ice, Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood's Live From Madison Square Garden, Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown, Dave Matthews Band's Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King, U2's No Line On The Horizon. As the only rock album included in the Album of the Year finals, Matthews has an advantage here. But it was a blue-ribbon panel of Grammy insiders that put Matthews into that top category. U2 has stronger appeal to rank-and-file Grammy voters. Want proof? U2 has amassed 22 Grammys. Matthews has won two. Prediction: U2.
Best Alternative Music Album. Nominees: David Byrne & Brian Eno's Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, Death Cab For Cutie's The Open Door EP, Depeche Mode's Sounds Of The Universe, Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeah's It's Blitz. Phoenix is this year's buzzy breakthrough act, in the same way that Wilco and Gnarls Barkley were when they won in this category. Prediction: Phoenix.
Best R&B Album. Nominees: Anthony Hamilton's The Point Of It All, India.Arie's Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics, Ledisi's Turn Me Loose, Maxwell's BLACKsummers'night, Charlie Wilson's Uncle Charlie. India.Arie won in this category seven years ago, but this was Maxwell's year. Prediction: Maxwell.
Best Contemporary R&B Album. Nominees: Beyonce's I Am...Sasha Fierce, Jamie Foxx's Intuition, Pleasure P's The Introduction Of Marcus Cooper, Trey Songz' Ready, T-Pain's Thr33 Ringz. Beyonce's first two solo studio albums both won this award. She'll soon be three for three. (Note to the Recording Academy: You really should combine this category with Best R&B Album. You'd have one hot, competitive category as opposed to two that always feel a little padded.) Prediction: Beyonce.
Best Rap Album. Nominees: Common's Universal Mind Control, Eminem's Relapse, Flo Rida's R.O.O.T.S. (Route Of Overcoming The Struggle), Mos Def's The Ecstatic, Q-Tip's The Renaissance. Eminem's first three albums all won this award, but his fourth, Encore, lost to Kanye West's Late Registration. This year, West's more pop-oriented 808s & Heartbreak was entered in the Best Pop Vocal Album category instead (where it failed to get a nomination). That helped clear the field here for Relapse. Prediction: Eminem.
Best Country Album. Nominees: Zac Brown Band's The Foundation, George Strait's Twang, Taylor Swift's Fearless, Keith Urban's Defying Gravity, Lee Ann Womack's Call Me Crazy. Strait won last year for Troubadour, but he's not going to repeat. Prediction: Swift.
Paul Grein writes the Chart Watch blog which appears each Wednesday. He has been analyzing and handicapping the Grammys since 1977, when the winners ranged from Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life to Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight."