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The Grammy for record of the year is among the most coveted trophies handed out at the annual music glad-handing awards. On Dec. 5, the five contenders for that category will be announced along with the nominees for the other 2,385 awards handed out on Feb. 10 at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.
Over the years, the nominations have often reflected what were the biggest pop hits of the year with seemingly no separation between commercial and artistic values.
However, there’s often an oddball, tastemakers' choice thrown in that no one can predict, such as Bon Iver’s “Holocene” this past year. The voters can also feel motivated by much more than the music. For example, in 1986, “We Are The World” won record of the year as a way for the industry to pat itself on the back for doing something good. In 2007, the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready To Make Nice” snagged the golden gramophone because the voters wanted to show their support for the trio after country radio had tossed them aside for lead singer Natalie Maines’ negative comment about then-President Bush.
To be eligible a song must have been released between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012. That means that Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” an otherwise sure bet, should not be eligible since it was released in July 2011. Similarly, fun.’s “We Are Young” went to radio in September 2011, as did Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” We’ll see how closely these rules are observed.
People often, understandably, confuse record of the year with song of the year. Record of the year goes to the artist, producer, recording engineer and/or mixer, whereas song of the year's sole recipient is the songwriter. Therefore, when thinking about record of the year contenders, it helps to think about the totality of the song’s sound, the production elements, the performance, etc., more than just the lyrics and melody.
Here are 11 songs that are contenders for the five slots, listed in alphabetical order by song title. These are not what I necessarily consider the best tunes, but they are what I think the voters will put forth.
“Burn It Down,” Linkin Park”: Is it time to recognize Linkin Park in this category or will their start as a nu-metal band always haunt them? This track fused everything the band does: rock, hip-hop, electronica. It’s probably the least likely on the list, but it’s worth considering.
“Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen: This song was so much more than a hit single, it was a pop culture touchstone that spawned a life of its own through the dozens of remakes. While some folks never warmed to it, it’s punchy, sweet appeal is undeniable.
“Gold On the Ceiling,” The Black Keys: There aren’t a lot of clear-cut alternative contenders this year, but this retro, thumping track was a stand-out that was inescapable, not only from radio play, but from usage for televised sporting events ranging from the NCAA basketball tournament to the 2012 Olympics.
“I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons: It’s certainly not the best track on “Babel,” but the rambunctious, albeit somewhat plodding, first single feels authentically rootsy and even though they’re only on their second album, Mumford & Sons feel like Grammy favorites.
“Mercy,” Kanye West Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz: It may be hindered by its use of a sample, Super Beagle’s “Dust A Sound Boy,” but this in-your-face rap tune insinuated its way to the top of the hip-hop charts this year. Still, not so sure the Grammys are ready to reward a song that references “ass steak”...or Sarah Palin.
“Payphone,” Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa: It was locked out of the top spot on the Billboard 200 and voters may go for follow-up “One More Night,” which did reach the summit, but for my money, this is the far better record of the two with a much catchier melody and stronger performance by Adam Levine.
“Some Nights,” fun.: Fun.’s second biggest single, following “We Are Young,” is a smorgasbord of a song with lots going on and yet the gorgeous pop production never feels cluttered and none of the elements ever clash with each other. It’s a very well made record, as well as being tremendously catchy.
“Thinkin’ Bout You,” Frank Ocean: He’s more likely to win best new artist or album of the year for the stunning “Channel Orange,” but this swirling, sexy slow jam definitely deserves recognition.
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift: She’s been nominated once before here for “You Belong With Me.” “Red,” the album on which “Never, Ever” is featured, will be eligible for album of the year next year, but the Grammys want to pay attention to Swift this year, especially given that she is one of the few artists who still sells boatloads of records. Plus, this stompy pop song ushered in a new, rockier era in Swift’s sound.
“We Take Care Of Our Own,” Bruce Springsteen: He’s won 15 Grammys, and been nominated in this category three times before, but he has never taken home a statue for record of the year. He’s not this year either, but he may make it into the elite five with this impassioned, political rocker that details how we’d like to believe we act as a country.
“Where Have You Been,” Rihanna: Her monster hit, “We Found Love,” shouldn’t be eligible, so this stands in as a worthy candidate. She reunites with “Love’s” Calvin Harris on this electro-pop, dance banger that lifts off like a rocket.
What are your picks? See my predictions for best new artist here.