As a slate, this year's list isn't quite as hit-heavy as last year's, in which all five nominees charted no lower on the Hot 100 than #2 (except "Fuck You," which only achieved that feat after being nominated). Rather, this year's list has three massive hits, a modest (but very pro-Grammy) release and a real head-scratcher.
Adele - "Rolling in the Deep"
Of course, there was no question this would be nominated. It's the year's biggest hit, definitely in sales (5.6 million copies sold), if not airplay as well (look for it to top Billboard's year-end Hot 100 list that will be out soon). And everyone loves it...still. This is Adele's second nomination in the category, after "Chasing Pavements" 3 years ago. The song was co-written (with Adele) and produced by Paul Epworth, the British producer behind the latest Florence & the Machine album. [US peak: #1(7 weeks), UK peak: #2]
Bon Iver - "Holocene"
This, then, is the head-scratcher. Many considered Bon Iver's Bon Iver a strong contender for a slot in Album of the Year, but ROTY? Really? It's very odd. It's possible it got a lot of votes because 1) it was the track chosen to compete in ROTY, 2) a lot of people like Bon Iver and voted for it wherever they saw it, and 3) the band just missed out in AOTY, but made it in here. I don't consider it a very interesting song--it's not one I singled out when I reviewed the album (NME, Pitchfork, The Guardian praised it, even AllMusic, which didn't like the album, said it was a highlight, so maybe I just missed the boat on this one). Nevertheless, despite its nonhit status, or perhaps because of it, I would consider this a strong contender, given recent Grammy history (it's been 12 years since a #1 single has won ROTY and generally the lowest-charting nominee has been the one to win). [US peak: --, UK peak: --]
Bruno Mars - "Grenade"
Had Bruno Mars been a bigger name last year and the timing been a little different, his "Just the Way You Are," the first Doo-Wops & Hooligans single, would probably have been a ROTY nominee. "Grenade's" nod makes up for that (as well as Doo-Wop's AOTY nod). I'm not at all surprised to see this song on the list, but I would be surprised if it won, given that I think this is about fourth on the list. Still, in Britain, this is the single that kept Adele's aforementioned megahit from hitting #1. Counting his guest vocal on B.o.B's "Nothin' on You," this is Mars' second ROTY nomination. [US peak: #1(4 weeks), UK peak: #1(2 weeks)]
Mumford & Sons - "The Cave"
There's one main reason this song is on the list and it's a really important one: During last February's Grammys, British indie folk quartet Mumford & Sons, nominated for best new artist and rock song, charmed critics and audiences with their stirring live performance of this song. It generated a lot of buzz, sending their single into the top 40 and making their album, Sign No More, a bestseller (it sold twice as much this year as it did last year when it was released). Good will like that is extremely valuable and thus "The Cave" becomes an unlikely although not unexpected ROTY nominee. [US peak: #27, UK peak: #31]
Katy Perry - "Firework"
In the middle of Perry's five-song streak of #1 hits from Teenage Dream (a 2010 AOTY nominee) came "Firework," the biggest of her singles from the 2011 eligibility period. Despite the cultural significance associated with her singles "I Kissed a Girl" and "California Gurls," neither snagged a ROTY nominee, making this Perry's first. I chalk that up to a bias against big summer hits (although Rihanna's "Umbrella" and Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" did receive nominations). [US peak: #1(4 weeks), UK peak: #3]
Don't really see any major snubs in ROTY this year; snubs in general are hard to identify, since the field is so wide open. Some people may think Lady Gaga was snubbed for "Born This Way," but she didn't submit the song for contention (she didn't even submit "The Edge of Glory"), and it's really not a surprise that "Judas" or "You and I" weren't nominated.
Among the other AOTY nominees not represented in ROTY, Foo Fighters didn't have a breakout hit like they did in 2007 ("The Pretender," a ROTY nominee from their AOTY-nominated album). And Rihanna didn't submit anything from Loud; she submitted "We Found Love" instead, perhaps too new to draw much attention.
The songs I'd have thought had a chance at getting in here that didn't make it are (in order): 1) Foster the People - "Pumped Up Kicks," 2) Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera - "Moves Like Jagger", 3) Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson - "Don't You Wanna Stay," 4) Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga - "The Lady Is a Tramp," 5) Nicki Minaj - "Super Bass," and 6) Taylor Swift "Back to December."