Grammys 2015: Who Should Win, Who Will Win

Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, and ScHoolboy Q -- it's a wild year.

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The 2015 Grammys are this Sunday, which means only one thing: Every haberdasher in the country is crossing their fingers for another Pharrell hat meme to kickstart sales. Well, it also means that LL Cool J is about to get some serious screentime to make some lame jokes, there’ll be some head-scratchers in the award winners department, a handful of massive names will put on crazy stage shows, and a room full of equally massive names will dance awkwardly. (Seriously, someone keep a camera on Taylor Swift throughout every performance.)

The Grammys have been taken far less seriously than the other big show business awards for a while. Even Homer Simpson, back in 1993, had a tough take on the golden gramophone: “Wow, an award statue! Oh … it’s a Grammy.” Part of that comes from the fact that the voters are hard to predict and make some strange decisions. We won’t get into Jethro Tull’s Hard Rock/Metal Performance win, Milli Vanilli’s Best New Artist, or Tony Bennett’s 1995 Album of the Year win for his MTV Unplugged set. However, the positive side of that perception is that there’s less pretension toward decorum, and the cranked-up weird quotient results in seriously entertaining surprises.

Suffice it to say, if we wind up running the table (heck, hitting 80%) on these predictions, it’ll have been a pretty good day. Feel free to share your picks in the comments below, including your over-under on the number of times LL mentions NCIS: Los Angeles.

–Adam Kivel
Managing Editor

Best Music Video

GRAMMYBESTVIDEO

Arcade Fire – “We Exist”
DJ Snake and Lil Jon – “Turn Down for What”
Sia – “Chandelier”
Pharrell Williams – “Happy”
Woodkid (featuring Max Richter) – “The Golden Age”

Who should win: “Chandelier”
Who will win: “Happy”

Sia’s music video for “Chandelier” pushed the boundaries of 2014. Many thought the video hovered between pedophilia and awkward stretches. Dancer Maddie Ziegler, who was 11 years old at the time the video was filmed, flips and twists her way through a dirty, abandoned room, contorting her limbs in a nude-tone leotard while her mini-Sia wig whips her face. What the reality star dancer actually portrays is our unfamiliarity with the purpose of performance art — and “Chandelier” somehow became performance art for the masses. A music video that forces the viewer to come to terms with their own digestion and understanding of content is one that extends beyond temporary entertainment into a sociological endeavor. Yet here it is, raking in millions of views for unadulterated expression that many feel emotionally cut off from expressing themselves. It’s more than worthy of the award.

Meanwhile, it feels like Pharrell’s “Happy” came out years ago, but thanks to the cutoff dates, his 2013 November release was just big enough to make it. To be fair, the video took a lot of work. Editing through 24 hours’ worth of footage and dragging a camera across Los Angeles day and night is worth a ton of applause on the filmography side. The real reason it will win is because celebrity cameos attached to a musical pick-me-up injection is a surefire formula. No one is pushed to their boundaries. No one feels uncomfortable. It’s dozens of everyday Americans sharing the screen with Magic Johnson, Odd Future, and Steve Carell. It’s safe. It’s energetic. It’s so incredibly happy. How could they say no? –Nina Corcoran

Best Song Written For Visual Media

GRAMMYSONGFORVISUAL

Tegan & Sara (featuring The Lonely Island) – “Everything Is Awesome!!!” (The LEGO Movie)
Ed Sheeran – “I See Fire” (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
Glen Campbell & Julian Raymond – “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell, I’ll Be Me)
Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez – “Let It Go” (Frozen)
Spike Jonze & Karen O – “The Moon Song” (Her)

Who should win: Tegan & Sara (featuring The Lonely Island) – “Everything Is AWESOME!!!”
Who will win: Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez – “Let It Go”

Given The LEGO Movie wasn’t even nominated for the Academy Awards’ animated film category, it already feels like it’s at a disadvantage here despite being phenomenal. With lines like “It’s awesome to win/ It’s awesome to lose,” “Everything Is AWESOME!!!” has a strong message, regardless of context: Attitude is everything. The song, much like the film it was written for, goes beyond cheap moves to instill something deeper that happens to be delivered in a sugar high gloss. Not to mention a win would bring Tegan and Sara, The Lonely Island, Mark Mothersbaugh, and possibly Batman onstage.

This battle, though, comes down to attitude versus independence. There’s no doubt the song we heard the most this year was “Let It Go”. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you go, or whether you have kids. The Oscar-winning track gets a prom-style blowout thanks to the Broadway pipes of Idina Menzel and children everywhere. Its mind-blowing statistics make it an obvious pick for the panel, especially since it affirms independence for children instead of narrating some frantic plastic toys. To deny the popularity of “Let It Go” is a foolish thing, and the last thing Grammy voters want is to once again look foolish, even if their predictability already makes them so. –Nina Corcoran

Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media

GRAMMYBESTSCORE

Christophe Beck – Frozen
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Gone Girl
Alexandre Desplatt – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Steven Price – Gravity
Thomas Newman – Saving Mr. Banks

Who should win: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Gone Girl
Who will win: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Gone Girl

Let’s be real for a minute: Yes, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were delectably perfect in their roles in Gone Girl, but what really sealed the deal on the movie’s dark atmosphere was Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s haunting, unsettling industrial-lite soundtrack. In the film’s most violent scene, the grating synths are just as memorable as the copious amounts of gushing red blood. While Frozen will, no doubt, put up a fair fight in terms of votes, we’re confident that the Gone Girl score will ultimately and rightfully win. –Katherine Flynn

Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media

GRAMMYBESTSOUNdTRACK

American Hustle
Frozen
Get On Up: The James Brown Story
Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1
The Wolf of Wall Street

Who should win: Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1
Who will win: Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1

Aside from Frozen, and to an extent The Wolf of Wall Street, this year’s Best Complication Soundtrack for Visual Media category is the battle of the ’70s Hit Lists. American Hustle, Get On Up, and Guardians of the Galaxy all co-op the best, most recognizable jams from the ’70s; whether they be slow jam, piano ballad, or arena rock, these soundtracks have got them all. To be fair, Get On Up is all one artist, and also a majority of the songs are originally from the ’60s, but you get the general idea. So, which of these is the most cohesive, made the biggest splash, and fit the movie best? Well when you look at it through those guidelines, you would think that the incessantly prominent and forever digging holes in your brain soundtrack to Frozen would be top of the list. However, that soundtrack is really one song that gets played over and over … and over … and over.

For our money, Guardians of the Galaxy is going to take home the cake. The director, James Gunn, has put together an excellent companion piece to Star Lord’s journey throughout the movie. Set up as a compilation of his mother’s favorite tracks from Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 was nearly as big as the movie itself upon release — no small feat for a movie that has grossed roughly $600 bazillion world-wide. –Nick Freed

Best Comedy Album

GRAMMYBESTCOMEDY

“Weird Al” Yankovic – Mandatory Fun
Jim Gaffigan – Obsessed
Louis C.K. – Oh My God
Patton Oswalt – Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time
Sarah Silverman – We Are Miracles

Who should win: Louis C.K. – Oh My God
Who will win: “Weird Al” Yankovic – Mandatory Fun

There is no comedian in the game who continually puts in the hard work and gets out the high-yield returns like Louis C.K. Ever since he decided to follow George Carlin’s practice of one entirely new routine a year that culminates in a major stand-up special, Louis has been dominating, combined with his landmark TV show, innovative self-release of specials, and sold-out nationwide tours (including a recent three sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden). Though writing and producing his TV show now take up most of his time, Oh My God is one of his best specials. Could he add a Grammy award to match his 2012 win for Hilarious?

In any other year? Yes. However, 2014 seems to be the year of “Weird Al.” His blockbuster release, Mandatory Fun, debuted at number one on the billboard chart — a first for Al and a first for a comedy album since 1963 — and exploded across the cultural landscape. Parodies of fellow Grammy nominees Iggy Azalea and Pharrell, as well as videos for every song on the album (including a star turn from fellow Comedy nominee Patton Oswalt), also gave Al the highest sales of his career. “Weird Al” is a cultural institution, and Mandatory Fun is a highlight in his catalog. While he has won Grammys in the past, this one will be a truly deserved award in a category that actually has some seriously stiff competition. It’s all veteran comedians at the top of their games, but it seems like this go around will belong to the Master of Parody. –Nick Freed

Best Rap Album

BESTRAPALBUM

Iggy Azalea – The New Classic
Childish Gambino – Because the Internet
Common – Nobody’s Smiling
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP2
ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
Wiz Khalifa – Blacc Hollywood

Who should win: ScHoolboy Q – Oxymoron
Who will win: Iggy Azalea – The New Classic

The Grammys couldn’t possibly give this one to Iggy Azalea … could they? They caught some flack handing the 2014 Best Rap Album award to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, some attacking the voters as racist for picking out the one white artist in the field. Others were bothered by the choice because it absolutely robbed Kendrick Lamar, whose good kid m.A.A.d. city was an immediately recognized masterpiece — not to mention it also beat out the sterling releases from Kanye West (Yeezus) and Drake (Nothing Was the Same). But Macklemore’s album was all over the radio and commercially viable — or at least one argument went, though Macklemore and Kendrick’s to-date album sales are entirely comparable and both went Platinum in about a year.

So, handing the award to a white, pop-friendly rapper again would mean doubling down on a controversial decision, one that would surely further alienate a good portion of the rap world. Celebrating someone like Wiz Khalifa could be one direction, a Billboard No. 1 complete with a certified winner in “We Dem Boyz”. They could go with Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, which though loved and hated in equal measure, would put a recognizable face on the stage. Or they could, nay should hand the award to ScHoolboy Q, a TDE compatriot of Kendrick’s whose Oxymoron was critically acclaimed and a Billboard No. 1 and had a few undeniable hooks (“Man of the Year” anyone?).

But jeez, everybody loved “Fancy”, so that’ll probably do it. –Adam Kivel

Best Rap Song

GRAMMYBESTRAPSONG

Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”
Kanye West & Charlie Wilson – “Bound 2”
Kendrick Lamar – “i”
Wiz Khalifa – “We Dem Boys”
Drake – “0 to 100 / The Catch Up”

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – “i”
Who will win: Kanye West & Charlie Wilson – “Bound 2”

You think I’m gonna go on a “Kendrick gets robbed again” rant. And I want to, but I’m not. I’m gonna flip the script and say Kendrick gets robbed, but he gets on some Susan Lucci shit instead. I predict he gets nominated on a yearly basis for the next decade and just misses again and again as his work and influence get bigger and bigger until he catches a Denzel in Training Day-style lifetime achievement workaround.

If not going to Kendrick’s hot fire “i”, I suppose a track off Yeezus is the next best choice. Although, no surprise that the powers-that-be behind the Grammys selected the album’s silliest, meme-friendly track with “Bound 2”. I would have gone “Black Skinhead” myself, but no doubt the name alone scared off many potential votes. One day, Kendrick will usurp Kanye. That day will come sooner than later — but just not today. –Kris Lenz

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

GRAMMYBESTRAPSUNG

Common (featuring Jhene Aiko) – “Blak Majik”
Eminem (featuring Rihanna) – “The Monster”
iLoveMakonnen (featuring Drake) – “Tuesday”
ScHoolboy Q (featuring BJ the Chicago Kid) – “Studio”
Kanye West & Charlie Wilson – “Bound 2”

Who should win: ScHoolboy Q (featuring BJ the Chicago Kid) – “Studio”
Who will win: Eminem (featuring Rihanna) – “The Monster”

Even though our own Michael Madden called “Studio” one of the relatively “underwhelming” tracks on Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron, it’s an underwhelming track on a near masterpiece album. A low point on an album like Oxymoron is still light years ahead of most hip-hop tracks out there. BJ the Chicago Kid’s smooth tenor takes over most of the track, but Q’s rapid-fire lines elevate the track above the rest of those in the category. Yes, even above Kanye’s “Bound 2”, which could very well take home the win if the “collaboration” part is given short shrift by voters. Common could possibly have given Q a run, but the flatline repetition of “Blak Majik” knocks him out of the running.

No one in the category, however, could possibly stand up to the runaway train duo of Eminem and Rihanna. “The Monster” isn’t the best track from The Marshall Mathers LP 2, but the combination of these two is golden in any scenario. “Love the Way You Lie” took over the world a few years ago, and “The Monster” has the same magic. Could this be the track that finally nabs the duo their elusive Grammy? Looking at the competition in the category, more than likely. –Nick Freed

Best Rap Performance

GRAMMYBESTRAPPERFORMANCe

Childish Gambino – “3005”
Drake – “0 to 100 / The Come Up”
Eminem – “Rap God”
Kendrick Lamar – “i”
Lecrae – “All I Need Is You”

Who should win: Kendrick Lamar – “i”
Who will win: Kendrick Lamar – “i”

In 2014, Kendrick Lamar was nominated for seven (!) Grammys, mostly for his acclaimed opus good kid, m.A.A.d city. Last year, the Compton emcee walked away without any awards, but this time he’ll finally bring home some hardware. (Or, as colleague Kris Lenz predicted in the Best Rap Song category, he could get robbed again — but let’s keep our fingers crossed that doesn’t happen here.) Anticipation for Kendrick’s follow-up has reached a fever pitch, and early glimpse “i” stands as a testament to his relentless positivity in the face of a dark world. Between the sweet sample of the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady” and Lamar’s emphatic message of self-love, this track is a winner.

A resurgent Eminem’s tongue-twisting “Rap God” (he set the Guinness World Record for Most Words in a Hit Single) and Drake’s slow-burner “0 to 100 / The Catch Up” will give Kendrick a run for his money, but K. Dot should edge out the competition. –Killian Young

Best Urban Contemporary Album

GRAMMYBESTURBANCONTEMPORARY

Jhene Aiko – Sail Out
Beyonce – Beyoncé
Chris Brown – X
Mali Music – Mali Is…
Pharrell Williams – G I R L

Who should win: Beyonce – Beyoncé
Who will win: Beyonce – Beyoncé

Woe befalls those who compete against Queen Bey. Beyoncé dropped her self-titled album as a surprise, causing the world to collectively lose its mind and inspiring a bunch of copycat stunts to varying (but always lesser) degrees of success in the time since. It didn’t hurt that Beyoncé was a great record, and the release wasn’t a gimmick meant to disguise a weak release. Anthemic ballad “XO” will be a powerful staple of Beyoncé’s sets for years to come, and sexy single “Drunk in Love” showcases her powerhouse vocals.

In another year (or in an alternate reality where Beyoncé didn’t shock the world with an unexpected LP), Pharrell’s G I R L may have stood a chance or might’ve even been the favorite. But this is Beyoncé’s award to win. –Killian Young

Best R&B Song

GRAMMYBESTRBSONG

Beyoncé (featuring Jay Z) – “Drunk in Love”
Usher – “Good Kisser”
Chris Brown (featuring Usher & Rick Ross) – “New Flame”
Luke James – “Options (Wolfjames Version)”
Jhene Aiko – “The Worst”

Who should win: Beyoncé (featuring Jay Z) – “Drunk in Love”
Who will win: Beyoncé (featuring Jay Z) – “Drunk in Love”

Is this even a contest? Does anyone actually want Chris Brown to win? Sure, Usher’s “Good Kisser” was also infectiously great, but when Bey and Jay invite you to take a glimpse into their sex life, you drop everything else and pay attention. This is a song for the ages: catchy, window-vibrating, addictive. Even Jay Z’s slightly uncomfortable Ike-and-Tina-referencing rap (“Eat the cake, Anna Mae” — everyone’s least favorite popular lyric of the year) can’t sink it. We all know that “Drunk in Love” deserves to win, and by our approximations, the Grammy committee will, too. –Katherine Flynn

Best R&B Performance

GRAMMYBESTRBPERFORMANCE

Beyoncé (featuring Jay Z) – “Drunk in Love”
Chris Brown (featuring Usher & Rick Ross) – “New Flame”
Jennifer Hudson (featuring R. Kelly) – “It’s Your World”
Ledisi – “Like This”
Usher – “Good Kisser”

Who should win: Beyoncé (featuring Jay Z) – “Drunk in Love”
Who will win: Beyoncé (featuring Jay Z) – “Drunk in Love”

This is Queen B’s year — what year isn’t? — and the rest of the field should be glad they were nominated. It’s a surprisingly weak field, considering the incredible surge of talent in the R&B world. I guess we’ll save the D’Angelo vs. Frank Ocean battle for 2015. But, in any year, Beyoncé’s album and stand-out single “Drunk in Love” would be a front-runner. Whenever global power couple Bey-Jay get together to trade a couple verses extolling each other’s charm, power, etc., there’s no shame in gathering around close and listening in. –Kris Lenz

Best Alternative Music Album

GRAMMYBESTALTERNATIVE

Alt-J – This Is All Yours
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Cage the Elephant – Melophobia
St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Jack White – Lazaretto

Who should win: Arcade Fire – Reflektor or St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Who will win: Arcade Fire – Reflektor

This category provided some of the most divisive predictions among our writers, so it was hard to choose just one record that should win. Our #7 album of 2013 (Reflektor) and our #8 album of 2014 (St. Vincent) are honestly both deserving of the praise they received.

Annie Clark emerged from her last record, the 2012 David Byrne collaboration Love This Giant, with a bold sonic evolution on her excellent new self-titled. St. Vincent featured emphatic, emotional lyrics, as well as a wide range of guitar tones and unique soundscapes.

However, after a buzzworthy guerrilla marketing campaign, critical acclaim, and a superb showing on the charts, Arcade Fire’s Reflektor is hard to ignore. The ambitious album — partly inspired by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne’s travels to Haiti — resonates with its rare influences and the always great vocal chemistry of its two lead singers. Arcade Fire’s history with the Grammys (their first three albums were all nominated for awards) probably give them a leg up on the competition. –Killian Young

Best Rock Album

BESTROCKALBUM

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
Beck – Morning Phase
The Black Keys – Turn Blue
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – The Hypnotic Eye
U2 – Songs of Innocence

Who should win: Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
Who will win: U2 – Songs of Innocence

CoS’s own Josh Terry called Ryan Adamsself-titled “one of the most comforting, mature, and fully realized albums of his career,” and most everyone tended to agree. Adams has been all over the map, releasing metal and punk in quick succession, but his singer-songwriter sweet spot was brought out in spades with Ryan Adams. The songs are heartfelt and clever and contain his trademarked darkness hovering under the surface of the lyrics. When compared to Beck’s return to Sea Change form on Morning Phase, The Black Keys return to what The Black Keys do on Turn Blue, and Tom Petty’s “I’m already a star!” songwriting on Hypnotic Eye, Ryan Adams should be a shoe-in for Best Rock Album…

Except for U2, who Apple blasted into your iTunes without your prior knowledge or desire. We all would like to think that we aren’t as cynical as we seem, but when it comes to U2, we are ready to pass off that modesty and self-preservation. The juggernaut of U2 (who the Grammy voters love), regardless of the guileless nature of Songs of Innocence, could just take home the golden phonograph — much to the chagrin of most music fans, but much to the joy of Apple and wrap-around sunglasses stocks. –Nick Freed

Best Rock Song

GRAMMYBESTROCKSONG

Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”
Beck – “Blue Moon”
The Black Keys – “Fever”
Ryan Adams – “Gimme Something Good”
Jack White – “Lazaretto”

Who should win: Jack White – “Lazaretto”
Who will win: Jack White – “Lazaretto”

Well … take your pick of textbook blues rock, country rock knockoff, blues rock knockoff, sad sack Beck, or whatever Paramore is (emo pop?). We have to give this one to Jack White, whose brand tends toward a certain palatable dynamism, familiar but never boring. Add his headlining mega-tour, and it is safe to say that he’s earned the honor. None of the nominated songs represent a zeitgeist-defining sing-along, but White’s “Lazaretto” stands out as the most exciting option of an underwhelming bunch. Long live rock and roll. –Kris Lenz

Best Rock Performance

GRAMMYBESTROCKPERFORMANCE

Ryan Adams – “Gimme Something Good”
Arctic Monkeys – “Do I Wanna Know?”
Beck – “Blue Moon”
The Black Keys – “Fever”
Jack White – “Lazaretto”

Who should win: Arctic Monkeys – “Do I Wanna Know?”
Who will win: Jack White – “Lazaretto”

“Do I Wanna Know?” oozed from every bar jukebox in the past year, heralding a triumphant international comeback for the Arctic Monkeys. Their 2013 album, AM, caused a lot of buzz for a band that everyone thought had peaked in the mid-2000s, and the songs sound even better when performed live. Winning a Grammy could cement the band’s place in the Brit-rock canon and validate their viability for the years to come. That being said, Jack White is a living rock legend unto himself, and The White Stripes took home six of the golden gramophones in their day. While both songs have claims to the title of Best Rock Performance, our bet is that “Lazaretto” will ultimately come out on top. –Katherine Flynn

Best Dance Recording

GRAMMYBESTDANCERECORDING

Basement Jaxx – “Never Say Never”
Clean Bandit (featuring Jess Glynne) – “Rather Be”
Disclosure (featuring Mary J. Blige) – “F for You”
Duke Dumont (featuring Jax Jones) – “I Got You”
Zhu – “Faded”

Who should win: Basement Jaxx – “Never Say Never”
Who will win: Disclosure (featuring Mary J. Blige) – “F for You”

Basement Jaxx return to ’00s house — a genre and era they know well — on “Never Say Never”. It’s true the single is popular largely because of its music video. When your song is the soundtrack to a “Tw3rk-Bot 1.0” lab study that aims to bring dance back to mankind, it tends to stick out, especially when that robot butt wanders out into apocalyptic streets on its own, shaking away. While the video is a mockumentary, the song itself is less bark and more bite. The British duo nail effortless beats with snappy electronica and bright vocals. They’ve been a force in dance music since 1994, and their return to the scene with “Never Say Never” is well worth rewarding.

Once again, things boil down to a matter of familiarity. With awards already in their back pockets and a recognizable facial scribble, Disclosure up their chances of winning by working their name into headlines. The garage-house number is a remix of “F For You”, their fourth single off of Settle, and the original allowed the duo to become recognizable by name alone, regardless of who is singing on the track. Add the fact that the remix features none other than Mary J. Blige, and you’ve got a winning formula. In-the-moment popularity tends to benefit dance artists more than longevity. That mainstream appeal gives Disclosure a leg up on other dance acts, even if Basement Jaxx drew up a tighter number. –Nina Corcoran

Best Dance/Electronic Album

GRAMMYBESTELECTRONIC

Aphex Twin – Syro
Deadmau5 – While(1<2)
Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
Röyksopp & Robyn – Do It Again
Mat Zo – Damage Control

Who should win: Aphex Twin – Syro
Who will win: Deadmau5 – While(1<2)

Given the rare opportunity to let art and justice prevail (just once!), we regretfully inform you, dear reader, that Aphex Twin’s brilliant return to the LP format is likely to just get edged out by the EDM powerhouse of Deadmau5. The kids have spoken, and Deadmau5’s consistent ventures into full-length territory performed predictably well on dance and electronica charts. That and Deadmau5’s leviathan-like headlining tour presence make him a powerful cultural force. And, the album isn’t bad, either.

At least all the fortysomething electronic music beardos will have something to rant about on Twitter  — and I’ll gladly raise my voice with theirs — as Aphex Twin’s surprise release (and commercial success) will likely go unrewarded. A sneaky surprise could come in the form of Aphex Twin and Deadmau5 splitting the vote and letting Röyksopp & Robyn’s excellent collab, Do It Again, take home the award. But that’s wishful thinking at best. –Kris Lenz

Best Pop/Vocal Album

GRAMMYBESTPOPVOCAL

Coldplay – Ghost Stories
Miley Cyrus – Bangerz
Ariana Grande – My Everything
Katy Perry – Prism
Ed Sheeran – X
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

Who should win: Katy Perry – Prism
Who will win: Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

This is a really close call. Don’t underestimate Ariana Grande, who’s riding high on a huge year with massive hits “Problem” and “Break Free”, as well as a high-profile guest spot with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj on “Bang Bang”.

Super Bowl halftime queen Katy Perry may not have replicated the remarkable success of her previous album, Teenage Dream, which spawned five number-one singles. However, Prism has certainly held its own as one of the year’s great pop juggernauts: Triumphant anthem and lead single “Roar” got Hillary Clinton’s stamp of approval, and the trap-infused, Juicy J-featuring “Dark Horse” hit number one.

On the other hand, since Sam Smith burst onto the scene with his major label debut In the Lonely Hour, emotional singles “I’m Not the Only One” and “Stay with Me” have been simply unavoidable. The soulful crooner’s impressive vocal performance will push him past Perry and Grande for the win. –Killian Young

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

GRAMMYBESTPOPGROUPDUO

Iggy Azalea (featuring Charli XCX) – “Fancy”
Coldplay – “A Sky Full of Stars”
A Great Big World (with Christina Aguilera) – “Say Something”
Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj – “Bang Bang”
Katy Perry (featuring Juicy J) – “Dark Horse”

Who should win: Katy Perry (featuring Juicy J) – “Dark Horse”
Who will win: Iggy Azalea (featuring Charli XCX) – “Fancy”

Katy Perry pushes into deeper terrain on “Dark Horse”, both lyrically and sonically. With Juicy J by her side, she’s able to walk with confidence, pushing her sound out of magenta pop and into grimier trap beats. The two brought southern rap-techno to mainstream radio, a feat that’s certainly not easy to accomplish, especially with minimal production. By challenging her audiences to embrace the off-kilter track instead of a pop-friendly song, Perry asked listeners to wait a few seconds before throwing thumbs up or down. There’s certainly less bleakness in a Katy Perry trap song than a Young Jeezy one. “Dark Horse” brings Juicy J in to balance things out, making for the perfect group pop performance that twists expectations just enough to raise eyebrows while getting us to hear her out until the end.

“Fancy”, on the other hand, has been beaten to death all summer (and fall), so it’s the obvious pop group performance to come to mind for 2014. Is it the best representation of group numbers from last year? Yes. It was inescapable. The music video is nearing half a billion views. Is it the best pairing of musicians for a pop song? No. Charli XCX is a powerhouse singer and songwriter, but “Fancy” criminally under uses her. Iggy Azalea spits out her lines with newfound confidence, pushing Charli XCX to the side instead of fully embracing the hooks she could have brought. “Fancy” is a mediocre albeit successful pop song that sees two of the industry’s top women of the year delivering lukewarm results. With Katy Perry and Juicy J’s easy-to-overlook risks, “Fancy” winning feels both expected and disappointing. –Nina Corcoran

Best Pop Solo Performance

GRAMMYBESTPOPPERFORMANCE

John Legend – “All of Me (Live)”
Sia – “Chandelier”
Sam Smith – “Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”
Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
Pharrell Williams – “Happy (Live)”

Who should win: Sia – “Chandelier”
Who will win: Sam Smith – “Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”

Pharrell nabbed plenty of Grammy attention last year, and even a Grammy statue for his work on Random Access Memories. So, the pedigree is there, not to mention that “Happy” spread through the country like a plague because of Pharrell’s infectious vocal positivity. T-Swift’s “Shake It Off” relied on the performer’s palpable charisma just as much and was similarly inescapable. But neither crackles with the sort of emotional lightning of Sia’s “Chandelier”. The enigmatic Australian delivers the song as if her life depends on it, and that sort of passion deserves recognition.

But it’s hard to deny Smith’s vocals on “Stay With Me”, the sort of pipes that appeal to a wide spectrum of listeners. Though perhaps not as dynamic as Sia, he has a sonorous connection to his lyrics too, clearly emoting every line. Signs point to this being one of many Grammys that’s Smith’s to lose. –Adam Kivel

Best New Artist

GRAMMYBESTNEWARTIST

Iggy Azalea
Bastille
Brandy Clark
HAIM
Sam Smith

Who should win: HAIM
Who will win: Sam Smith

There have been some absolutely bonkers winners in the Best New Artist category in Grammys history. Marvin Hamlisch had been scoring films for six years before winning in 1974 on the back of a reworking of “The Entertainer”. So, the “new” part isn’t necessarily key. Neither is “Best,” considering a list of winners including Jody Watley, Milli Vanilli, and Debby Boone.

HAIM was our Rookie of the Year back in 2013 in large part due to their insanely catchy indie pop and all-out energetic performances. Since then, they’ve only proven their crossover appeal, become BFFs with Taylor Swift, and showcased their skills on the festival circuit. While the others have had bigger pop appeal, HAIM are the ones with personality and originality.

That said, they’re middle of the pack when it comes to who’ll actually win. Iggy Azalea was all over the airwaves this year, but the Grammys have a real soft spot for soulful British crooners (See: Adele, Amy Winehouse), and Smith had a hit song that was almost as ubiquitous as “Fancy”. Though Azalea should provide some stiff competition, “Stay with Me” is the kind of soaring, serious, traditional melody that resonates with the Grammys, which should mean a win for Smith. –Adam Kivel

Song of the Year

GRAMMYSONGOFTHEYEAR

Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass”
Sia – “Chandelier”
Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
Sam Smith – “Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”
Hozier – “Take Me to Church”

Who should win: Sia – “Chandelier”
Who will win: Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”

This one’s going to be a free-for-all. All five songs nominated in this category are runaway hits. You’ve got a couple of pop veterans, a couple of beloved newcomers, and a (relatively) edgy surprise story. So, let’s take this one-by-one.

Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” is the least glittery of the nominees, giving it some perceived artistic credibility among the field. However, it also seems like too bold a choice for the conservative voting bloc. Sam Smith and Meghan Trainor both come from more classic pop styles. Trainor’s song had an uplifting message and was catchy as all get-out, but doesn’t quite have the show-stopping moment it would seem to need. The appeal of Sam Smith’s vocals and familiar lovesick lyrics lock in with the masses. The recent embroilment over writing credits between Smith and the duo of Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne could take some of the blush off of the rose in the writing department.

After years of writing for others, grabbing featured vocal spots, Sia finally commanded the attention she deserved with “Chandelier”. The song catapulted her into the limelight, both commercially and critically, and deservedly so. But her decision to not show her face in performances or public appearances, send out other performers in her place, and the like could go one of two ways: Grammy voters could go in for the quirky mystery, or they could be put off. Instead, they could opt for the equally massive “Shake It Off” and the intensely personable and open Taylor Swift. While it suffers the same lack of a heart-wrenching moment that Trainor’s song did, the Grammys just plain love T-Swift. –Adam Kivel

Album of the Year

GRAMMYALBUMOFTHEYEAR

Beck – Morning Phase
Beyoncé – Beyoncé
Ed Sheeran – X
Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour
Pharrell Williams – G I R L

Who should win: Beyoncé – Beyoncé
Who will win: Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

The eponymous Beyoncé was an album every bit as powerful as its namesake, and no other work in 2014 challenged our notions of domesticity, motherhood, and female sexuality in quite the same way. While Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour has gotten a lot of industry love since its release, it can’t quite hold a candle to Bey in terms of sheer show(wo)manship. We’re pulling for Beyoncé’s unique combination of fierceness, vulnerability, killer beats, and general aura of sass (with “I don’t need you seeing Yonce on her knees” still being one of my favorite lines from any album put out in 2014). But Sam Smith’s sad sack balladeering (meant in the nicest way possible) might just take home the gold. –Katherine Flynn

Record of the Year

GRAMMYRECORDOFTHEYEAR

Iggy Azalea (featuring Charli XCX) – “Fancy”
Sia – “Chandelier”
Sam Smith – “Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”
Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”
Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass”

Who should win: Sia – “Chandelier”
Who will win: Sam Smith – “Stay with Me (Darkchild Version)”

It’s hard not to be blown away the first time you hear “Chandelier”. Capturing a burst of pure emotion that strong is hard to do, if not impossible. “Chandelier” does just that in the chorus, though. It’s a fresh, clear, and intense explosion of vocal stardom, letting Sia rip straight from the heart to fill the room with soul. Sia redefined herself on 1000 Forms of Fear, so much so that nearly everyone thought she was a new artist. When you stop penning pop hits for Rihanna and Beyoncé to focus on your own material, you want to do it big. Sia completely outdid herself in that endeavor. “Chandelier” is the confident explosion into the spotlight that she’s already been feeling the warmth of for years.

Sam Smith wasn’t afraid to get emotional, either. The 22-year-old English singer-songwriter bares his soul in “Stay with Me”. The gut-punching notes of the chorus hit hard thanks to help from a handful of backing gospel singers. Considering the song’s familiarity and nonstop radio play, “Stay with Me” makes for a less abrasive, smoother swallow, giving the Grammy crowd a Record of the Year that’s emotional without being intense. It’s the safe bet. Sia, for some reason, is just risky enough to lose. Considering the Tom Petty “I Won’t Back Down” suit ended after Grammy votes were due, though, we might just see some major onstage awkwardness over the win. –Nina Corcoran

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