Nothing will make you crazier than trying to predict the Grammy nominees. Just when you think you've got Album of the Year on lockdown, Vince Gill gets tapped for a bluegrass tribute that maybe 24 people heard. The second you get cocky about Best New Artist, you learn that "Ledisi" and "Skrillex" are not, in fact, new street names for heroin.
But randomness injects the Grammys with unpredictable fun. When this year's nominees are announced at the Grammy Nominations Concert -- airing on CBS tonight, at the viewer-friendly time of 10pm on a Friday night -- I'm sure I'll be infuriated that the ghost of Roy Orbison made the list for Song of the Year, but I'd rather be angry than bored. Plus, if one of my bolder predictions actually pans out, then I can revel in the glory for a lifetime.
So with full awareness of my fool's errand, here are my guesses for the four major categories. I'm feeling confident for the time being, but when "Work Bitch" gets shortlisted for Record of the Year, I'll happily own my mistakes.
Album of the Year
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience. This album was not only the year's best seller, but also a reminder that when Timberlake puts his SNL career on hold and actually makes some music, he can still sex our eardrums like a boss. Granted, nobody loves Part 2, but Part 1 is too strong to ignore.
Taylor Swift, Red. "Hasn't this album been out for 100 years?" Yes. However, this year's eligibility period ran from October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013, so Red is just now having its Grammy moment. And make no mistake: Swift's seamless, multiplatinum transition into arena pop will feel the love, especially considering she won this award for Fearless a few years ago.
I'm guessing either Macklemore & Ryan Lewis or Lorde will get a newcomer's slot with The Heist or Pure Heroine, respectively, but I'm torn on which one will make it. I'm tempted to say that Macklemore's multiple hits will give him the edge over Lorde's bulletproof cool. Meanwhile, Bruno Mars can't be discounted for Unorthodox Jukebox, Drake had a good year with Nothing Was the Same, and if country voters want more than Taylor Swift, they might go with Luke Bryan or Kacey Musgraves (more on her later.) And let's not forget the classic rock/old fogey slot: Critics loved Elton John's The Diving Board and Elvis Costello and The Roots' Wise Up Ghost. I'm guessing Elton has the edge, though, because he's a global treasure.
EDM will crash this category eventually, so what if Daft Punk rides Random Access Memories into the final five? They've been around long enough to seem like established acts, which might make voters less terrified of those shiny helmets.
Sorry, Kanye. Jesus might be your homeboy, but Yeezus is just too polarizing for the Academy.
Final predictions: Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Daft Punk, Elton John, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Song of the Year
"Just Give me a Reason" by Pink and Nate Ruess. Pink has been woefully under-nominated in her career, but I don't see how anyone could deny the songwriting in this capital-p power ballad, which features and was co-written by last year's Best New Artist. (Well, the award went to fun., not Nate Ruess alone, but you know what I mean.) Grammy voters LOOOOVE giving additional nominations to Best New Artist champs, because it makes them seem prescient, and it lets them avoid the one-hit-wonder embarrassment of a Starland Vocal Band or a Marc Cohn.
"Locked Out of Heaven" or "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars. Mars is an old-fashioned songwriter in the best way, and one of these recent hits is bound to get tapped.
We've got to assume that "Mirrors," "I Knew You Were Trouble," and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" are being considered here. (However, Daft Punk's track might strike some people as more of a production achievement.) Since a country song always sneaks into this category, I'm throwing my money behind Kacey Musgraves's "Merry Go 'Round," and if Ed Sheeran can get tapped for "The A-Team," then why not Passenger for the equally lovely (and more commercially successful) "Let Her Go?" On the rock tip, there may be room for Imagine Dragons and "Radioactive," but since Sting released new music this year, he might get included just for being Sting. There's also a possibility for Lorde and/or Macklemore, especially if the latter submitted "Same Love," but I'm doubtful the new kids will crash all four categories.
I'm fantasizing about a showdown between Katy Perry's "Roar" and Sara Bareilles' "Brave." I mean… what if the Academy uses this category to decide who the "real" songwriter is? Granted, "Roar" was co-written by Max Martin, who also contributed to "I Knew You Were Trouble," so he may cancel his own votes. But still, I can dream.
I think I need to manage my expectations for Drake's slinky and flawless "Hold On, We're Going Home." It's probably too low-key to get the attention it deserves.
Final Predictions: "Just Give Me a Reason," "Locked Out of Heaven," "Mirrors," "Merry Go 'Round," "I Knew You Were Trouble"
Record of the Year
"Royals" by Lorde. Can you name a cooler song that was released this year? Neither can I. Neither can the Academy.
"Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake. Because it's the biggest hit from the year's biggest album.
A few weeks ago, I would've said that "Blurred Lines" couldn't miss in this category, but given all the lawsuits flying around about the song, it doesn't seem so bulletproof anymore. And if she didn't seem to turn off the Academy, I'd assume Pink was a lock for "Just Give Me a Reason." Instead, I'm just pretty sure. Meanwhile, I'm terrified to say that Florida Georgia Line could make the cut with "Cruise," which is three and a half minutes worth of the sound of country music dying. On the other hand, Avicii's "Wake Me Up!" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" could prove irresistible, since unlike "Cruise," they blend genres without inviting scorn. Once again, we also have to consider Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, not to mention "Radioactive," which kept Imagine Dragons on the chart for almost the entire eligibility period.
Ultimately, there are so many strong contenders here that I won't be surprised if they extend the field to six nominees, just like last year.
"Skyfall" may not have the staying power of "Someone Like You," but we should never underestimate Adele.
She may get some nominations in less prestigious categories, but Miley Cyrus isn't riding her "Wrecking Ball" to the big dance.
Final Predictions: "Mirrors," "Get Lucky," "Locked Out of Heaven," "I Knew You Were Trouble," "Royals"
Best New Artist
Kacey Musgraves. The country music community is basically tearing itself apart right now, feuding over the increasing influence of slick, mindless pop, and at every country awards ceremony, Kacey Musgraves has been nominated to carry the torch for the purists. She might be singing about gay relationships and weed, but she's doing it with insightful lyrics, acoustic arrangements, and an obvious understanding of her genre's roots. I won't be surprised if she's an upset winner in this category.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Taken together "Thrift Shop," "Can't Hold Us," "Same Love," and "White Walls" offer something for everyone, and appeal that broad builds consensus.
Lorde released her album on the last day of eligibility, so she'll probably make it here. Avicii could follow in Skrillex's footsteps as an emissary of dance music, and Kendrick Lamar is very popular, so don't count him out.
What would this category be without a Susan Tedeschi or an Esperanza Spalding to keep us guessing? I'm sure there are potential nominees I've never even heard of, but for now, I'm going to suggest Savages and HAIM. Both are female rock bands with groovy sounds, and as far as I'm concerned, HAIM dropped one of the best albums of the year.
I've heard rumblings of support for American Idol alum Phillip Phillips, who bucked that show's recent fortunes by nabbing both a hit single and a platinum album. However, he's hardly Carrie Underwood.
Final predictions: Kacey Musgraves, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, HAIM
Mark Blankenship thinks about pop music, and sometimes he even writes about it. Find him at markgblankenship.com or on Twitter @IAmBlankenship