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Grammy countdown: Is there an M.I.A.-like surprise for record of the year?

November 30, 2009 |  5:19 pm


M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" wasn't the obvious choice to be nominated for a major Grammy Award. The song, after all, uses a string of gun shots as one of its hooks. At a major award gala, one in which the Dixie Chicks were considered a surprisingly political nomination choice, it would be safe to assume that the revolutionary anthem "Paper Planes" would be sitting the kudos event out. 

Yet old man Grammy had a few surprises in store for its 2009 telecast, nominating M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" for record of the year, and embracing obscenity-per-second rapper Lil Wayne in its album of the year field. Ultimately, the more conservative choices won, but a step on the continued road to relevancy had been taken.

Can the Grammys maintain a bit of adventure when nominees are announced this Wednesday evening? Pop & Hiss has already handicapped the major album and new artist categories, and today turns the attention to the record of the year field. In a year that featured new singles from Green Day and U2, is there room for any new blood in Club Grammy? Read on.

The top 5 best bets for record of the year:

Green Day's "21 Guns"
Beyonce's "Halo"
Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me"
Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling"
Lady Gaga's "Poker Face"

Reasoning: Green Day has won this category before, and "21 Guns" taps a similar vein as "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Expect big things for Green Day and its album "21st Century Breakdown," because it had a mix of critical and commercial success that other such veteran artists (read: U2, Bruce Springsteen) lacked in 2009. Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas were too big to ignore, and "Poker Face" and "I Gotta Feeling" easily stand as two of the most ubiquitous singles of the last year. Likewise for Swift, but she'll actually face stiffer competition when it comes to scoring a nomination in this field. Voters may like her better in song of the year, which awards the songwriter (record of the year goes to the artist, producers, engineers and mixers). To be sure, Swift is in line for plenty-o-Grammys, but this won't be a walk in the park for her that it was for the County Music Assn. Awards. Beyonce is a Grammy favorite, and though  "Halo" wasn't the pop-culture phenom that was "Single Ladies," it's the kind of graceful big-build ballad that hits a wide swath of Grammy voters. Her early singles from "I Am ... Sasha Fierce" weren't really recognized at the 2009 ceremony, and that will probably be righted Wednesday night. As for "Single Ladies," Grammy ballots show it wasn't submitted for record of the year, but it will score a song of the year nom.

Top 5 alternate best bets for record of the year:

MGMT's "Kids"
Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody"
Diane Birch's " "Nothing But a Miracle"
Kanye West's "Heartless"
U2's "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"

Reasoning: A mid-temp anthem from U2? Giving Grammy voters a new U2 record is like putting tuna in front of a kitten. Don't forget, the Grammys wrongly gave U2 a prime slot to promote its album on the 2009 awards, and one can safely pencil in U2 for pretty much any of the major Grammy categories and not be embarrassed. MGMT, however, is a hipper choice, and because the success of "Kids" came deep into the act's album cycle for "Oracular Spectacular," there's no worry of voters embracing a one-hit wonder. Kanye is a wild card, and he was a lock at the 2010 awards for pretty much every major category until he upset the universe by interrupting Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards. But let's keep the discussion on the music here, and "Heartless" is the most deserving, unique song mentioned in this blog post. Birch has a shot to be this year's Adele, and allows the Recording Academy to champion a young artist with an old soul. But if one of the best bets doesn't get in, the first alternate is going to be the Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody." The band was huge in 2009, and heading into the voting months of September and October, it  was the best-selling rock band of the year. "Use Somebody" shows off the band's serious side, and without a Foo Fighter on the ballot, this could be breakout Grammys for the Kings of Leon.

Better alternative: Kid Cudi's "Day 'n' Nite." His "Man on the Moon: The End of Day" was released after the eligibility period ended, but, with apologies to Drake and Wale, Kid Cudi was the breakout rapper of 2009. "Day 'n' Nite" was inescapable for the first few months of 2009, and it allowed the artist to be a radio and pop-culture staple for much of the year. The song is also a minimalist head trip, with its speak-sing vocals and beats that feel as though they're in slow-motion. If Kanye doesn't score a nomination in this field, here's hoping one of his proteges does.

--Todd Martens


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Photo: Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong. Credit: Associated Press