The nominating slate of Grammy's biggest award held more surprises this year than usual. Remember all that ink I've bled the last few years with my theories about AOTY spreading its nominations across popular music's biggest genres? You can throw that argument aside this year, as four pop albums made the cut this year with not a an R&B, country, rap or folk album in sight (at least my insistence that a rock album always gets nominated held true).
Adele - 21
This is one of two albums I picked as sure-bet nominees this year, so it's no surprise to see it here. Certainly she's the favorite to win, as 21 is the year's best-selling album (and the fastest-selling in the last 6 years)--a true phenomenon of the likes that hasn't been seen in a long time. The album has achieved a level of cultural consciousness few have reached in recent years, sending singles on to multiple radio formats, appealing to all ages, and getting props from the likes of Saturday Night Live and Glee (both in the same week even). Naysayers who say the album is dead were proven wrong this year.
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Some people might be surprised to see the Foo Fighters' Wasting Light on the list, but I wasn't. The album was heralded as their best work in years, surpassing the acclaim of their 2007 album, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, which was also an AOTY nominee.
Lady Gaga - Born This Way
I must admit to a little bit of surprise to see Lady Gaga's Born This Way on the list. Gaga experienced a bit of backlash this year, with "Born This Way" being called an "Express Yourself" rip-off and "Judas" flopping on the charts. And the album didn't sell as well as expected. Nonetheless, "The Edge of Glory" and "You and I" generated positive buzz, and "Marry the Night" is quickly looking it could be massive, so I'm glad to see it here, since I think it's her strongest album yet.
Bruno Mars - Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Two months ago I said that since Adele was a lock that if voters were willing to nominate a second pop album, it would likely be Bruno Mars' Doo Wops & Hooligans, a solid album that generated three big hits this year. Grammy proved last year that it liked Mars, nominating his productions of B.o.B's "Nothing on You" and Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You" for Record of the Year.
Rihanna - Loud
The biggest surprise of what's on the list is Rihanna's Loud. Although Good Girl Gone Bad was a bigger commercial hit and Rated R a more artistic album, neither managed an AOTY nod. Loud, which I would consider inferior to both of those albums, nonetheless scored three #1 hits, and so I think it's commercial appeal is what put it on the list (akin to last year's nod to Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, which has since proven to be one of the all-time biggest producers of big pop hits).
- Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. After 21, this was the other album I was sure would be nominated. West has been nominated three times before, and his latest album was just as acclaimed as those--if not more so, with "masterpiece" being bandied about to some extent. Still, the album produced no major hits on par with a "Gold Digger" or "Stronger," which may have been what sank it against this pop-heavy slate of hit albums. Nevertheless, I consider this a snub on par with the recent omissions of Bruce Springsteen's Magic and Bob Dylan's Modern Times.
- Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What. This isn't a snub against Simon so much as it is against Grammy pillars. Nostalgia has long played an important role in the Album of the Year category (see Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock, Robert Plant, etc.), but not so much this year or last, when Carole King and James Taylor's album was similarly snubbed. Foo Fighters have been around for awhile, but like 20 years, not the 40+ years for the artists listed above.
- Taylor Swift - Speak Now. This was tipped by some as a pretty hot bet, but frankly, I'm not surprised she didn't make it in. Speak Now wasn't nearly the crossover success that Fearless was and Swift was so well-decorated 2 years ago that voters may feel like honoring someone else this time.
- Bon Iver - Bon Iver. Bon Iver showed up in Best New Artist (despite having put out a popular album 3 years ago) and this was the year's hottest alternative album. So after a win by an alternative album last year (Arcade Fire's Suburbs), I thought this had a good chance of making the cut. Surprisingly, he shows up in ROTY instead for "Holocene."
- Tony Bennett - Duets II. There was some talk that he could get in there, but I'm glad it didn't turn out that way in the end. He's not really that interesting to me.