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Grammys 2011: An early look at album of the year contenders (Part 2) [Updated]

November 4, 2010 |  3:21 pm

The previous post in this series went live last week. Be sure to check out The Envelope's new blog Awards Tracker to stay up to date on all things Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, Grammys and more. Don't fret, Pop & Hiss Grammy fans, this blog will keep you informed of anything of Grammy importance that you need to read on Awards Tracker.

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The Grammy Awards went young -- and pop -- in 2010, awarding crossover teen star Taylor Swift the show's top crown -- album of the year. Will the popularity trend continue, or will voters finally throw a curve and honor something a bit more unexpected? Answers will be forthcoming soon enough. 

Grammy ballots were due Wednesday, and nominations will be revealed in early December. Here's a look at some of the likely nominations -- and perhaps some deserving ones. 

This is Part 2 of a two-part post. Looking for thoughts on the Arcade Fire, Eminem and more? Those are in Part 1

Lady Gaga, "The Fame Monster" (Interscope)

Grammy potential: This is sort of a wild card. Sales have surpassed 1.3 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and voters embraced Gaga in 2010, giving her an album of the year nod for "The Fame." Television plays a part here, as Grammy no doubt wants the Monday-morning talk that a Gaga performance typically brings. Yet "The Fame Monster" is only eight tracks, and could be classified more as an EP than an album. Though Gaga has supported it as if it's a full-length release, voters may wait till her 2011 album rather than nominate a shortened effort.

Grammy deserving: Again, this is kind of a toss-up. With "The Fame" scoring an album of the year nomination in 2010, voters happily embraced Gaga's spectacle, and in terms of major pop stars, this year's field lacks a Beyonc√© or a Black Eyed Peas (don't expect to see a Ke$ha or a Katy Perry in the album of the year field). From start to finish, "The Fame Monster" packs more hooks, and more weirdness, than "The Fame," and tracks such as "Bad Romance" and "Alejandro" have instantly become Gaga signatures. 

Sade, "Soldier of Love" (Epic)

Grammy potential: Consider "Soldier of Love" wrapped, sealed and ready to toss in the mail straight to Grammy voters, no additional postage necessary. Sade is a former best new artist winner, and the group took home best pop vocal album in 2001 for "Lovers Rock." With its first new album in nearly a decade, the act doesn't stray far from its comfort zone of minimalistic soul, but the expansiveness is subtle and, as always, goes down easy.

Grammy deserving: Sade does a lot with very little, and it's all delivered with grace and coolness. There's worldly ambitions, dips into reggae and spacious rhythmic explorations. But this is not chill-out bedroom music, as "Soldier of Love" explores what are often bleak topics. It's not always about the groove, but what lurks between them. 

Mumford & Sons, "Sigh No More" (Glassnote)

Grammy potential: No doubt Mumford & Sons are lined up for a best new artist nod, as these U.K. folk rockers have been one of 2010's biggest success stores. After 30 weeks on the chart, the album is approaching 300,000 copies sold, and is holding steady in the top 30. As much as media types like to knock the Grammys for being out of touch, voters do like to get some new blood in there, especially if the act traffics heavily in tradition. 

Grammy deserving: Completely unassuming, Mumford & Sons are the kind of band that's likely to make a believer out of those who see the quartet live. Often energetically upbeat, band members go to town on their instruments, but do so with precision, and sing-along chants that work equally well in barrooms and arena settings. Their everyday casualness should go over well with Grammy voters, but there's more adventurous options. 

[Update: This original version of this post listed Island Records as the label home to Mumford & Sons. The act is on Island Records in the U.K. and Glassnote Records in the United States.]

Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now" (Capitol Nashville)

Grammy potential: Lady Antebellum performed "Need You Now" at the 2010 Grammy telecast, and turned a late-night tale of boozy desperation into more of a clap-along ditty. That's Lady Antebellum, which hints at edgy emotions, but keeps its songs straight down the center. With light country flourishes, Lady Antebellum is the kind of crossover act Grammy embraces, and after selling 2.7 million copies of "Need You Now," the trio will have a happy Grammy season. 

Grammy deserving: This is pleasant-enough adult pop, but it's hard to argue that Lady Antebellum should be the Nashville representative in this category. These are songs that won't disrupt a meal at Applebee's, but aren't exactly attention grabbers. Singer Hillary Scott has a girl-next-door charm, but she's not the scorching belter that is Miranda Lambert. After awarding a country princess in 2010, don't be too shocked if voters skip the crowd-pleasers and go for something with deeper country roots.  

John Legend & the Roots, "Wake Up!" (Columbia)

Grammy potential: There's been some talk of James Taylor and Carole King earning an album of the year nomination for their folksy trip back in time, "Live at the Troubadour," and yes, Grammy voters love a stroll down memory lane. Yet this late entry from smooth R&B singer Legend and hip-hop powerhouse the Roots looks back with a bit more of a modern flair. Legend is a bit of a Grammy darling, and the Roots, while no Grammy strangers, are overdue for some album of the year recognition. 

Grammy deserving: If the Roots score an album of the year nod, it should be for the act's own "How I Got Over," but with higher profile rap releases from Eminem and Jay-Z in the running, the Roots' effort would be considered a longshot. The act's pairing with Legend feels more like Grammy bait than a must-have album. Legend and the Roots dug deep in resurrecting a host of soulful protest songs of the '60s and '70s, but the tone here is more reverential than rebellious. 

-- Todd Martens

Images, from left: Sade (Getty Images); Lady Gaga (Getty Images); and Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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