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. This isn't just a coincidence: The Recording Academy has a strong country contingent.
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 younger, 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.
Grammy Trivia: This is the third nomination in this category for both Eminem and Jay-Z. Eminem was previously nominated for "Without Me" and "Lose Yourself." Jay-Z was previously cited for his featured roles on Beyonce's "Crazy In Love" and Rihanna's "Umbrella."
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 would stand a better chance if the album had spawned 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. At this point, Teenage Dream is the only Album of the Year contender to spawn three #1 hits on the Hot 100. I still don't think Perry is going to win here, but at least now she's in the race.
Grammy Trivia: Eminem is only the second rap artist, following Kanye West, to receive three Album of the Year nominations as a principal artist. West scored with The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation. Lil Wayne has also received three Album of the Year nominations, but he was the lead artist on only one of those albums (Tha Carter III). His other two nominations were for his featured roles on West's Graduation and Eminem's Recovery.
Lady Gaga was also nominated in this category last year with The Fame. She's the first artist to receive back-to-back Album of the Year nominations (as a principal artist) since Kanye West scored in 2004 and 2005.
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 Skylar Grey), "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. (Of course, neither had an uptempo R&B song until Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" won last year.) "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.
Grammy Trivia: This is Eminem's second nomination in this category. He was previously cited for co-writing "Lose Yourself." It's also the second nomination for Josh Kear, who was cited for co-writing the Carrie Underwood smash "Before He Cheats."
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 (which surged during the voting period) 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).
Grammy Trivia: Drake, who was born in Toronto, would be the first Canadian to take Best New Artist.
The above four categories comprise the General Field, which is the first field on the ballot. Here are three other key categories that aren't confined to any one genre.
Producer of the Year
The nominees: Rob Cavallo, Danger Mouse, Dr. Luke, Redone, The Smeezingtons (Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine).
The likely winner: The Smeezingtons. The triumvirate produced two of the finalists for Record of the Year: "Nothin' On You" and "F*** You (Forget You)." The range of these two hits is especially impressive. "Nothin' On You" blends timeless romantic balladry with a dash of hip-hop. "F*** You (Forget You)" brought back old-school R&B.
This is the fourth nomination in this category for both Cavallo (who won for 1998) and Danger Mouse (who has yet to win). It's the first nomination for all of the other finalists. Redone and Dr. Luke are also Album of the Year candidates for their work with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, respectively.
Best Short Form Music Video
The nominees: Ain't No Grave/The Johnny Cash Project (Johnny Cash), Eminem featuring Rihanna's "Love The Way You Lie" (explicit version), Gorillaz, Mos Def and Bobby Womack's "Stylo," Cee-Lo Green's "F*** You," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."
The likely winner: "Bad Romance." Gaga's rep as the new Madonna will probably carry her to a victory here. (Madonna won in this category for 1998's "Ray Of Light.") The Record and Song of the Year nominations for "Love The Way You Lie" and "F*** You" will help those videos' chances.
Grammy Trivia: Eminem won here for 2002's "Without Me." Cash won twice in this category, with 2003's "Hurt" and 2007's "God's Gonna Cut You Down." He's the only country artist ever to win for a video.
Best Long Form Music Video
The nominees: Blur's No Distance Left To Run, When You're Strange (The Doors), The Greatest Ears In Town: The Arif Mardin Story (Arif Mardin), Rush's Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, the White Stripes' Under Great White Northern Lights.
The likely winner: Under Great White Northern Lights. The White Stripes are Grammy darlings. The group has won Best Alternative Music Album three times. The Doors and Arif Mardin are also strong candidates. The Doors didn't get any Grammy love in the 1960s, but the group received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Mardin, a two-time Producer of the Year winner, received a Trustees Award in 2001. He died in 2006.
To My Readers: Over the course of the next week, I'm going to take a close look at every single race in the following fields: Pop (including Dance and Traditional Pop), Rock (including Alternative Music), R&B, Rap and Country. I hope they help you win in your office Grammy pool.