Album of the Year
Keeping in mind the analysis I did last year, I'm looking at the top nominees across the genres to be the strongest contenders here:
Pop: Carole King & James Taylor's Live at the Troubadour is possibly the strongest AOTY contender this year, in a year that didn't really see a blockbuster album (like Taylor Swift last year). After them, the only other marginally strong pop contender is Lady GaGa's The Fame Monster, although it's an EP and she was nominated last year, so it doesn't feel right to me.
Rap: Eminem's Recovery is the other album getting a lot of buzz for a nod, expected to top Jay-Z's The Blueprint III.
R&B/contemporary R&B: Sade feels like a pretty good bet for Soldier of Love. Wouldn't it be great to see Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid?
Rock/alternative: Hard to gauge what album(s) will be the one(s) coming from here this year, as there's no surefire contender. Even last year that was the case: Although U2 and Green Day looked the most promising, they were actually passed over for the left-of-field pick, Dave Matthews Band. With that in mind, it could be something like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Mojo over more obvious choices like Arcade Fire's The Suburbs or Vampire Weekend's Contra. I just don't see an AOTY nod going to Linkin Park's A Thousand Suns, Pearl Jam's Backspacer or Muse's The Resistance.
Country: Here's one to spark an argument. A country album will likely get in the mix, but it will be the more commercial, pop-leaning Need You Now by Lady Antebellum or the more acclaimed and purely country Revolution by Miranda Lambert. Given Grammy's penchance for commercial hits, bet on the former.
Record of the Year
This is a race sure to be dominated by four singles: Jay-Z & Alicia Key's "Empire State of Mind," Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance," Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now," and Eminem & Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie."
After that it gets harder. Katy Perry & Snoop Dogg's "California Gurls" was the biggest summer jam, but big summer jams only have about a 50/50 chance of getting a ROTY nod ("Crazy in Love," "We Belong Together," "Umbrella," and "I Gotta Feeling" made the cut, while "Hot in Herre," "Promiscuous," and "I Kissed a Girl"--tellingly a Katy Perry track--did not). I have a warm feeling about Michael Buble's "Haven't Met You Yet," but that's not universal. A more offbeat move could be to throw in Florence & the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over." If Live at the Troubadour proves irresistable, perhaps Carole King & James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend." Timing could be good for Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are."
Don't look for Train's "Hey, Soul Sister," which was apparently not eligible, nor B.o.B & Hayley Williams' "Airplanes," which wasn't submitted (they submitted "Airplanes II," the alternate vresion that also features Eminem, which was an odd choice).
Best New Artist
There are 444 submissions in this category, including (in alphabetical order): Justin Bieber, B.o.B, Susan Boyle, Taio Cruz, Jason DeRulo, Drake, Florence & The Machine, Ke$ha, Kid Cudi, La Roux, Adam Lambert, Mumford & Sons, Neon Trees, Noisettes, Owl City, Mike Posner, Mark Ronson & the Business International (really?), The Script, Shontelle, Jamie T (really??), Two Door Cinema Club, Vampire Weekend (really???), and The XX.
Surprising omissions: Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae, and Nicki Minaj.