The eligibility period for the 2012 Grammy Awards ended Friday. The nominees won't be out until December, but the list of eligible contenders will be out until sometime later this month. Here's a look at 20 possible contenders for Album of the Year (AOTY):
Adele - 21. There are two albums I expect are a lock. 21 is this year's true musical sensation, a surprise mega-hit from a singer who got mainstream attention for her first album, but not nearly on this scale. For it: A commercial and critical success that continues to score hits around the globe and the year's best-selling album. Against it: Nothing.
Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This is the other one. For it: West has proven himself a popular AOTY contender, with three previous nominations, and this album was widely heralded as his masterpiece. Against it: Unlike those three albums, MBDTF failed to score a hit on par with the likes of "All Falls Down," "Gold Digger" or "Stronger." The release of his collaboration with Jay-Z could split some votes, since it's unlikely voters would nominate both.
After that, it gets less clear, so in keeping with the tradition of AOTY generally representing a mix of genres, I'm going to proceed from that context:
Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What. For it: This could get the Grammy veteran/nostalgia nod. Simon has a long history of Grammy awards. He's won 12 of them and been nominated in AOTY either solo or with Art Garfunkel 7 times, including 3 wins. This album received high praise from critics and has been a commercial success too. Against it: Last year, AOTY didn't have a nostalgia-type nominee (see snub of Carole King & James Taylor), so if they want to keep the category for young/new/hot acts, then Simon won't be it.
Bruno Mars - Doo Wops and Hooligans. For it: Grammy demonstrated interest in Mars last year, awarding his "Just the Way You Are" with Male Pop Vocal Performance and nominating two of his productions--B.o.B's "Nothin' on You" and Cee-Lo's "Fuck You"--for ROTY. The musical diversity of his debut and its legs with hit singles "Grenade" and "The Lazy Song" should make a strong contender. Against it: Since Adele is a lock, this has a shot only if voters are willing to nominate more than one pop album (which, among all the genres, is the one they are most willing to do that for).
Lady Gaga - Born This Way. For it: Gaga's The Fame and Fame Monster were both AOTY nominees, and Born This Way continued to up the bar creatively and was received just as well by critics. Against it: Commercially, Born This Way didn't quite meet expectations, and Gaga suffered some backlash this year. Since I expect 21 to be a shoo-in and Doo Wops to outscore this, I think it a very long shot for her this time.
Rihanna - Loud. For it: Loud, Rihanna's fifth album, was a major commercial success, scoring three #1 hits. Against it: critics have never fawned over Rihanna, and while Loud was a solid pop album, it lacked the artistry of her previous effort, Rated R, which I had thought her best possible contender yet for this, but it wasn't nominated.
Tony Bennett - Duets II. For it: Bennett is an old Grammy favorite who won the 1994 AOTY for his MTV Unplugged album. So he's got nostalgia plus that Amy Winehouse duet, "Body & Soul," which looks like a possible ROTY contender. Against it: As liberal as the music industry is, his recent public statements about 9/11 may turn off voters.
Bon Iver - Bon Iver. For it: Bon Iver's second album was this year's indie alternative favorite, and since such an album won AOTY last year (Arcade Fire's The Suburbs), I think it a good chance that we'll see another similar album in the mix this year. Critics also really liked it; it's one of the most praised releases this year. Against it: Although the enduring appeal of his first album and this album's release put Bon Iver more in the spotlight, it might not be enough to score an AOTY nod.
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light. For it: Foo Fighters are longtime Grammy favorites. All of their albums except their first were nominated for Rock Album, an award they've won three times. Their last album, 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, was an AOTY nominee and critical consensus seems to be that Wasting Light is even better. It's also been a decent success commercially. A mainstream rock album is almost always nominated and what other work in that genre released this year is on par? Against it: Grammy strayed last year by not nominating a mainstream rock album, so if Bon Iver fills the bill again this year, Foo Fighters could be overlooked; however, I think it quite possible that both albums will be nominated.
Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. For it: Longtime industry bad boys received universal praise for this, their 8th album. Their 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill, is now considered a classic. Against it: Although they've been nominated before, they don't have a particularly strong history, although they did win an Instrumental Album award for their last album, The Mix-Up. This might not be mainstream enough to get a nod.
Beyonce - 4. For it: It's no secret Grammy loves Beyonce. "Halo" won the Female Pop Vocal award for 2009, and because it was loved so much, a live version of the song was nominated again the following year. 4 sets a new bar for Beyonce creatively, and critics responded in turn (it's her highest rated on Metacritic). Her last album, 2008's I Am...Sasha Fierce, was her first nominated for AOTY. Against it: Critical success doesn't necessarily translate to an AOTY nod--Sasha Fierce, her only nomination--has the lowest score among her works at Metacritic. More importantly, 4 has been a major disappointment commercially, so far generating no significant hit in the US.
Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday. For it: Nicki Minaj has been one of the year's biggest breakout stars, an ascension that began with major buzz late last year and climaxing this summer with her major hit "Super Bass." She's certain to get a Best New Artist nomination, where she'll be duking it out with Bruno Mars for the win. Against it: It look a long time for Pink Friday to really catch on, although in a way that shows the album had remarkable staying power. Critics liked, but did not love, the album.
Kanye West & Jay-Z - Watch the Throne. For it: Two of the industry's biggest stars team up and deliver great results. West is a frequent AOTY nominee, but Jay-Z has often been overlooked. Those wanting to finally give him some credit could kill two birds with one stone by nominating this. Against it: It's a solid album, but not a knockout, certainly inferior to West's own album, which is far more deserving. It's sold well so far, but not produced any major hits.
Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer. For it: Grammy already showed it liked Cee Lo by nominating the album's hit single, "Fuck You!," in ROTY last year. Plus he's been nominated before with Gnarls Barkley. Against it: Despite what I think is its obvious appeal, no one seems to be talking about it.
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV. For it: Lil Wayne was the toast of the rap world in 2008, widely regarded as an important creative force. His Tha Carter III was a major commercial and critical success and earned an AOTY nod. Against it: In 2011, this no longer seems to be the case. Too much time away from the spotlight while serving a prison term and some ego-serving vanity projects (the ill-fated "rock" album, for example), have chipped away his credibility. The album has been very successful commercially but received mixed reviews from critics.
Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'. For it: Stone Rollin' is a solid, retro-leaning R&B album with strong praise from critics. Against it: Saadiq isn't exactly a household name, so while this may be a strong contender for R&B genre awards, I don't think its up for a general category.
Michael Jackson - Michael. For it: Nostalgia for Jackson, gone just 2 years now, is still strong. For many, he is the epitome of popular music talent. His 1982 album, Thriller, is an undisputed classic. It won AOTY, and he was also nominated for Bad (1987) and History (1995) (Let's pause and note the injustice that History is an AOTY nominee, but not Off the Wall). Against it: Nostalgia won't be enough to drive this controversial and frankly underwhelming posthumous release to an AOTY nod.
Taylor Swift - Speak Now. For it: Taylor Swift proved herself a Grammy darling last year, winning AOTY for Fearless and awards in three other categories. Against it: Speak Now is no Fearless, with sales about half of its predecessor and, critically, none of those big crossover hits.
Jason Aldean - My Kinda Party. For it: Although I wouldn't consider him a crossover artist, he came close with this album, reaching the top 10 with his acclaimed hit "Dirt Road Anthem" and even drawing some top 40 airplay with his Kelly Clarkson duet "Don't You Wanna Stay"--both of which were #1s on the country chart. Against it: Most country albums that have snagged an AOTY nod in recent have been artists with major crossover appeal (Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, Taylor Swift), and Aldean isn't quite there yet (however, Vince Gill got a nod in 2007, so it is possible).
Lady Antebellum - Own the Night. For it: Lady Antebellum became Grammy darlings this year, winning Record and Song of the Year for "Need You Now," a massive crossover hit last year from their second album of the same name, which was also an AOTY nominee. Anticipation was great for this third album, and its first single, "Just a Kiss," looks like it will be another crossover hit for the group. Against it: Critics gave Own the Night mixed reviews and the group doesn't seem to have the cache it did a year ago.