When the Grammy nominations were announced on Dec. 1, Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster looked like the front-runner to win for Best Pop Vocal Album. But that was before Katy Perry's Teenage Dream experienced a resurgence on the strength of the #1 smash "Firework." Now the race is wide-open. Either of these hit-oriented pop collections could take the prize, or they could both fall behind John Mayer's less overtly commercial Battle Studies. Mayer won for Best Pop Vocal Album four years ago for Continuum, which was also a finalist for Album of the Year.
The Grammy insiders that decided the final nominations the Album of the Year category passed over Battle Studies, though they did select both The Fame Monster and Teenage Dream.
Even so, Battle Studies still has a chance of winning the pop album prize because Mayer has appeal in both pop and rock circles (as do such past winners in this category as Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Sting and Steely Dan). Indeed, Mayer is nominated this year for vocal performances in both pop ("Half Of My Heart") and rock ("Crossroads").
But there's a complicating factor: Mayer's image took a hit last year with comments he made in a Playboy interview that were seen as racist and misogynist. Those comments, for which Mayer apologized, may have cost him an Album of the Year nomination.
Here are a couple other factors to consider. Both Gaga and Perry (but not Mayer) are set to perform on the Grammy telecast. Also, in the 16 years that the Grammys have presented an award for Best Pop Vocal Album, nobody has ever won it twice. Mayer would be the first.
Gaga won for Best Electronic/Dance Album a year ago for The Fame, but was moved over to the pop field for the EP. Her sound hasn't changed, but the perception of her has. She's now officially in the pop mainstream. (The Fame would almost certainly have won Best Pop Vocal Album, beating the Black Eyed Peas' The E.N.D., if it had been placed in the pop field last year. That would have given Gaga a chance at being the first two-time winner in the history of the category.)
It's a close call, but I'm going to stick with Gaga, who is also the front-runner in three other categories. "Bad Romance" is likely to win for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video. "Telephone," Gaga's hit duet with Beyonce, is likely to win Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals.
Here's a closer look at the nominations in the pop, dance and traditional pop fields.
Best Pop Vocal Album
The likely winner: The Fame Monster. Mayer isn't the only finalist here who is nominated in more than one field. Gaga is nominated in both the pop and dance fields. (Perry is nominated only in the pop field. Bieber and Boyle weren't nominated for performance awards, which suggests that their chances of winning here are slim.)
All five of the nominated albums are million-sellers. That isn't true of the album finalists in any other genre, or even for Album of the Year.
Best Pop Song (The Missing Category)
There is no category for Best Pop Song, though there are categories for rock, R&B, rap and country songs. The thinking seems to be that a Best Pop Song category would overlap to a large degree with Song of the Year. But it doesn't really work out that way. This year, no pop songs were nominated for Song of the Year. (This year's Song of the Year category has two country songs, one rap song, one R&B song, and Ray LaMontagne's "Beg Steal Or Borrow," which is from an album that is vying for Best Contemporary Folk Album.) Pop songwriters simply don't have a Grammy category to call their own.
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
The likely winner: "Bad Romance." The Album of the Year nominations for Gaga and Perry propel them to the front of the pack here. "Bad Romance" is more of a vocal tour-de-force than "Teenage Dream." Also, "Bad Romance" is nominated for Best Short Form Music Video.
Grammy trivia: Jones is a two-time winner in this category for 2002's "Don't Know Why" and 2004's "Sunrise." Beyonce won last year for the studio version of "Halo." This year's nomination for a live version of the same song is a little much.
Best Male Pop Vocal Performance
The likely winner: "Just The Way You Are." Mars' valentine was the biggest hit of this bunch, with four weeks at #1 on the Hot 100. Moreover, Mars was a welcome presence on pop radio all year long. There will be a wave of sympathy for Jackson, but the song didn't really happen apart from the movie of the same name.
Grammy trivia: Taylor Swift is featured on Mayer's "Half Of My Heart," but her role was judged too minor to place the recording in the Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals category. Mayer has won in the male pop category four times, a total matched only by Stevie Wonder and Sting. Jackson won once, for Thriller.
All five of these performances are on the new Grammy Nominees 2011 album.
Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals
The likely winner: "Hey, Soul Sister." The studio version of this smash wasn't eligible this year (it came out just before the start of the eligibility period), but this version from the group's iTunes Session EP qualified. Maroon5 is a two-time winner in the category, but "Misery" wasn't as successful as the group's winning entries, "This Love" and "Makes Me Wonder." Paramore may benefit from Hayley Williams' heightened prominence as a result of the hit "Airplanes."
All five of these performances are also on Grammy Nominees 2011.
Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals
The nominees: "Airplanes, Part II" (B.o.B featuring Eminem and Hayley Williams), "Imagine" (Herbie Hancock featuring P!nk, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No 1, Jeff Beck and Oumou Sangare), "If It Wasn't For Bad" (Elton John and Leon Russell), "Telephone" (Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce), "California Gurls" (Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg).
Grammy trivia: "Airplanes, Part II" and "California Gurls" were deemed too pop-oriented to compete for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, which is in the rap field.
Best Pop Instrumental Performance
The likely winner: "Nessun Dorma." Beck's album, Emotion & Commotion, is a finalist for Best Rock Album. The Brian Setzer Orchestra is a two-time winner in this category. They won one of those Grammys for a 1998 recording of "Sleepwalk," the same song they have in the running this year.
Best Pop Instrumental Album
The nominees: Gerald Albright's Pushing The Envelope, Larry Carlton & Tak Matsumoto's Take Your Pick, Kenny G's Heart And Soul, Robby Krieger's Singularity, Kirk Whalum's Everything Is Everything: The Music Of Donny Hathaway
The likely winner: Everything Is Everything. Voters may select Whalum's album as a way of saluting the late Donny Hathaway, a top R&B singer of the 1970s. Larry Carlton won in this category for a 2001 collaboration with Steve Lukather.
Best Dance Recording
The likely winner: "Only Girl (In The World)." It will be close between Rihanna's #1 pop smash and Gaga's song, which was a big dance club hit, but not a big crossover hit. Gaga won in this category last year for "Poker Face." She's vying to become the second two-time winner in the history of the category, following Justin Timberlake.
The Best Electronic/Dance Album
The likely winner: La Roux. The album, which spawned the top 10 hit "Bulletproof," has outsold the other four finalists combined. But don't discount the Chemical Brothers. The act has won twice in this category, for 2005's Push The Button and 2007's We Are The Night.
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. This would be Buble's third win in this category in four years. He won last year for a live album (Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden) that relatively few heard, so he'll probably win again for this chart-topping studio release. It outsold the other four finalists combined. Buble's nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for a hit from the album seals the deal.
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.
Grammy trivia: Johnny Mathis has never won a Grammy, though he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. The legendary balladeer was first nominated 50 years ago for his classic version of "Misty."
To My Readers: If you missed my preview of the "Big Grammy Categories," here's a link. Next up: the rock field, followed by R&B, rap and country.