After a year that lacked culture-dominating albums by pop superstars like Adele or Lady Gaga, the 2013 Grammy nominations are likely to be a void through which just about anybody can jump.
It won't be Taylor Swift – though she's co-hosting Wednesday's nominations concert with LL Cool J, 2012's best-selling star released her latest album, Red, after the Grammy's September 30th eligibility deadline. So will next February's broadcast be another coronation moment for breakout boy band One Direction? Will Bruce Springsteen take a bow for his President Obama-approved anthem, "We Take Care of Our Own"? Or will one-hit wonders like Psy, Carly Rae Jepsen or Gotye get recognition? Here are our predictions for the nominees in the top Grammy categories:
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Swift's Red would have been the obvious choice, but it missed the cut-off date. Fortunately, Mumford & Sons were more prepared with Babel, which came out on September 24th. "A lock," says Steve Greenberg, former president of Columbia Records and chief executive of S-Curve Records. "Frank Ocean could get a lot of Grammys. His album [Channel Orange] is wonderful and his story suggests an artistic bravery." Also likely to fit the nominating committee's preferred mixture of high sales, artistic merit and potentially-high-TV-ratings performance: Springsteen's Wrecking Ball, Pink's The Truth About Love and Maroon 5's Overexposed.
RECORD/SONG OF THE YEAR: Suspense of the year: Will Psy's "Gangnam Style," the most popular YouTube video of all time and an obvious 2012 pop-culture phenomenon, make the list? Or will it seem like "I'm Too Sexy" by next February? "People at present look him as a one-hit wonder," Greenberg says. "It would be ballsy for the Grammys to do it, but I don't know if it has a chance." It was a huge year for singles, as the record industry continued to drift away from albums, so Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," Maroon 5's "One More Night," Rihanna's "Diamonds," Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and Fun.'s "We Are Young" are likely to compete for real estate in these categories.
BEST NEW ARTIST: Too bad Justin Bieber isn't "new" anymore – his Believe may be the odd album out in a Grammy-friendly year for albums and (especially) singles. But this category is likely to be stacked: It probably belongs to Frank Ocean, who may well be on his way to a huge Grammy year. Other possibilities: Denver folk-rockers Lumineers, who could easily slip into the Mumford-Avett Brothers role as Credible Rock Stars of the Year; Carly Rae Jepsen, who is lightweight but nonetheless a Grammy kind of pop star; One Direction, who are certain to win something, if not Record of the Year; a country act such as Hunter Hayes or American Idol winner Scotty McCreery; and a wild card, such as underrated R&B singer-songwriter Elle Varner. As for Gotye, who seemed last March like rock radio's next big thing: "Nobody even listened to one other song from that record," says Carl Mello, director of CD purchasing for New England record chain Newbury Comics. "Certainly not encouraging, I would say."
BEST ROCK ALBUM: The truly best rock albums almost never win this category, so stop fantasizing about the Cloud Nothings. Veteran consistency is much more important to Grammy voters: Last year's nominees included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wilco and Foo Fighters. So the obvious pick is Jack White's Blunderbuss, which actually was a superb album, with bonus points for saluting rock history on a cover of Little Willie John's "I'm Shakin'." Also possible here: Mumford & Sons, Coldplay (2011's Mylo Xyloto didn't make the cut-off for last year's nominations), Springsteen, Bob Dylan's Tempest, Van Halen's Different Kind of Truth and the Beach Boys' That's Why God Made the Radio.
BEST ROCK SONG: It's unlikely that Springsteen will fit into the jammed Song and Record of the Year categories, but the guy helped clinch the election for Barack Obama – "We Take Care of Our Own" was not only a good song, but a staple at the President's reelection rallies. It's certain to appear in this category. Otherwise, this is a tough one to predict. Will the Grammys go old and look at Dylan's gnarly-voiced "Duquesne Whistle"? Young with Imagine Dragons' lite-rocking "It's Time"? Indie with Japandroids' "The House That Heaven Built"? Southern with Alabama Shakes' "Hold On"? "Foo Fighters didn't have a record out, so that's going to be complicated for Grammys," Mello says.