The Grammy Awards went young -- and pop -- in 2010, awarding crossover teen star Taylor Swift the show's top crown -- album of the year. For such a seemingly wholesome and beloved artist, it was seen as a somewhat controversial pick.
The Grammys have typically skewed older -- Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Herbie Hancock, U2, etc. -- and rarely award an artist without a lengthy body of work. Unlike Norah Jones and Lauryn Hill, Swift's detailed tales of teenage life seemed aimed at a direct audience, and when she gave a wobbly vocal performance with Stevie Nicks, Team Swift was on the defensive.
The Grammys can't win. Even when they gift its top prize to America's pop sweetheart, complaints pour in. But the Swift win did hint that Grammy voters are willing to go more mainstream than ever, and she competed in a field that also included the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, the Dave Matthews Band and Beyoncé.
One could argue that such a field represented the genre-hopping tastes of the iPod generation, or one could note that the choices were almost stubbornly old school. Voters went with all major label artists, all major stars and carefully spread the picks amid pop, rock, country and R&B fields. A year for the unexpected it was not.
Whether the trend continues, or voters throw in a Radiohead, Hancock or White Stripes-like surprise, will be answered soon enough. Grammy ballots are due Nov. 3, and nominations will be revealed in early December. Before voters put down their pencils, here's a look at some of the likely nominations -- and perhaps some deserving ones.
(This is Part 1. Stay tuned to Pop & Hiss for a continued look at album of the year front-runners.)
Eminem, "Recovery" (Aftermath/Interscope)
Grammy potential: Despite his sometimes penchant for shock-and-awe rap, Eminem has been one of the rare hip-hop artists to graphically explore violence and sex and still earn Grammy recognition in the major categories. Twice Eminem has been nominated for Grammy's top prize. Sales, of course, have helped his cause, and Eminem has a trail of critical accolades behind him. "Recovery" is seen as a more a serious turn than 2009's "Relapse," and little makes an artist more appealing to Grammy voters than getting older.
Grammy deserving: When Eminem released "Relapse," it was his first album of new material in five years, and it captured an artist who had become a cartoon. As rapid and clever as his rhymes were, the drugged-up serial killer shtick was just that, and its appeal was based on whether or not one could see it as humor or some sort of metaphor. "Recovery" is full of anger, but it's largely directed at Eminem himself. It's a moody, lacerating examination, and one that has sold close to 3 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The fact that it's perceived as a more thoughtful album than "Relapse" should make it Grammy bait.