Grammys 2011: The year Eminem, Drake, Jay-Z and hip-hop win big?
In the days leading up to Sunday's Grammy Awards, which Pop & Hiss will be covering live, this blog will tackle various Grammy artists, personalities, categories and just plain oddities. For even more Grammy info, check Awards Tracker and The Envelope.
A rundown of the races to watch during Sunday’s 53rd Grammy Awards. The ceremony from Staples Center will be broadcast on CBS at 8 p.m.
Album of the year
It's not unusual for hip-hop artists to earn a nomination for album of the year. Actually winning, however, is still a rarity. The favorite for this year's top prize is Eminem, whose "Recovery" was 2010's top-selling album. Once a magnet for controversy, Eminem on "Recovery" is more thoughtful and serious, with a darker, less hook-filled tone. This is, however, Eminem's third album of the year nod, having been bested before by Steely Dan and Norah Jones.
Such has been the fate for many a hip-hop artist, because Kanye West couldn't garner the votes to top Herbie Hancock, and Lil Wayne never had a shot against Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Yet Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" is too frivolous, even by Grammy standards, and Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" is pleasant but not the crossover force that was Taylor Swift's "Fearless." Forget Arcade Fire, whose adventurous concept album "The Suburbs" is significantly outgunned by the star power here. Lady Gaga's "The Fame Monster" spawned hit after hit, yet at only eight tracks was billed as an EP. That should clear the way for Eminem, who, seven albums into his career, is something of a seasoned old-timer, which is a trait Grammy voters love.
Record of the year (artist and producer)
Jay-Z has never won in one of the top Grammy categories; his pairing with Alicia Keys for "Empire State of Mind" is likely his best shot yet. The I-heart-N.Y. anthem has already been granted iconic status. Still, this award typically goes to something voters consider more serious, which likely spells doom for Cee Lo Green's "[Forget] You" and B.o.B.'s "Nothin' on You." Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" is the type of slow-moving pop song right in the Grammy voters' wheelhouse, and Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie" found a way to turn themes of domestic abuse into a No. 1 single.
No doubt the rise of Justin Bieber was one of pop's biggest story lines in 2010. Yet teenage girls aren't a sizable portion of the Recording Academy voting bloc, which has shown a reticence toward embracing teen pop stars. The Jonas Brothers were a no-go, likewise Taylor Swift. Bieber, of course, has a secret weapon in Usher, and the blessing of the R&B star/mentor lends an air of legitimacy. Jazz favorite Esperanza Spalding is likely too unknown, but emotional rapper Drake and English folk rockers Mumford & Sons will have their champions. Recent history, however, has voters often aligning with acts steeped in tradition (see Adele, Zac Brown Band, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, etc.), which makes Mumford & Sons the safest bet. Orchestral U.K. rockers Florence + the Machine were a late 2010 breakout in the U.S. with their surprise hit "Dog Days Are Over" and are therefore something of a wild card here.
Song of the year (songwriters)
While song of the year is a songwriter's award, voters don't shy from pop hits here, the evidence being last year's win of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." Thus, because of its weighty subject matter, Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" with Rihanna would seem to have the inside track, as Ray LaMontagne's "Beg Steal or Borrow" is a shuffling little acoustic number, and Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me" will split the Nashville vote with Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now." Voters embraced Cee Lo Green's "[Forget] You," but the song's slyly offensive charm is at risk of being seen as a novelty.
Best rock album
Grammy voters skewed older in the rock field this year, nominating legends Jeff Beck and Neil Young alongside veteran workhorses Pearl Jam and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. In terms of contemporary fare, grandiose rockers Muse represent the younger generation. Historically, Petty and Young have been unjustly ignored, as Young has only a Grammy in the recording package field. Expect the trend to continue, as "Le Noise" is Young at his more experimental. For Petty and the Heartbreakers, the act's "Mojo" presented a more bluesy side of the act, but failed to make a serious dent in the marketplace. Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" saw the band returning to a more aggressive sound, but Beck's orchestra-enhanced "Emotion & Commotion" seems a more sure bet, as the guitarist already has five Grammys to his name but none for a full album. Muse, however, has the kind of pomp and flash to attract attention, and "The Resistance" marries fancy guitar-work with Broadway-worthy arrangements.
Best rap album
Not much to discuss here, as Eminem's "Recovery" has this all but locked up. He's won this category before, including last year for his "Relapse," and if by some chance he's upset in the album of the year field, Eminem can be assured to not go home empty-handed. Yet there are others worthy of the trophy here. Granted, B.o.B.'s "The Adventures of Bobby Ray" is too casual of a debut to merit a win, and while Jay-Z's "The Blueprint 3" re-established the rapper's dominance, if it wasn't his strongest work. Yet Drake's "Thank Me Later" is a varied, open-hearted collection, and the Roots' topical jazzy-soul set "How I Got Over" should have finally been the release that got this group its best rap album Grammy.
Best country album
There's drama to be had in this field, as Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" made the act a near-household name and has sold more than 3 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Yet Miranda Lambert's "Revolution" heeds more to country's rougher roots, and has quietly sold more than 1 million copies. After Taylor Swift's win last year, Lambert would represent a drastic shift, as she's could be Swift's troublesome, beer-swilling older sister with knockout vocals. Jamey Johnson's "The Guitar Song" packs even more grit, but the personalities of Lady Antebellum and Lambert will likely keep the others, including Zac Brown Band and Dierks Bentley, out of contention.
-- Todd Martens
Images: Drake, top left, and Eminem at last year's Grammy Awards. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times. Jay-Z at the 2010 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festial. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.