<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

Credit: AP Photo

Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Springsteen: Grammy predictions for record of the year

Who will get a coveted nomination on Dec. 5?

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.

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<p>Rihanna's &quot;Unapologetic&quot;</p>

Rihanna's "Unapologetic"

Credit: Def Jam Recordings

Rihanna scores her first No. 1 album with 'Unapologetic' on the Billboard 200

Feat comes one week after first single, 'Diamonds' tops Billboard Hot 100

Seven would seem to be Rihanna’s lucky number.  “Unapologetic,” her seventh studio album in as many years, has become her first effort to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

She scores the feat one week after the album’s first single, “Diamonds,” became her 12th chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Unapologetic” dropped on Monday, Nov. 19, instead of the usual Tuesday release date, so the title benefitted from an extra day of sales in this week’s Nielsen SoundScan tally (SoundScan measures says from Monday through Sunday). The album sold 238,000 copies, a personal best for the singer, whose previous best week had been with 2010’s “Load,” which sold 207,000 copies in its opening frame to start at No. 3.

All seven of her studio albums had opened on the top 10, including 2007’s “Good Girl Gone Bad,” which peaked at No. 2, according to Billboard.
As Billboard notes, her arrival at No. 1 ends a rather dubious record she’s certainly happy to see end: until today, she was the artist who had scored the most No. 1 songs without having ever achieved a No. 1 album.


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<p>Chris Brown</p>

Chris Brown

Credit: AP Photo

If We Managed Chris Brown...

Why does he bring a gun to every knife fight?

How many more chances does Chris Brown get and why do his fans continue to condone whatever he does?

If we managed Chris Brown, we would keep him off of Twitter for good, take away his Instagram account, and make him take a complete break from any public appearances for at least six months.

As you know, the boy who can’t keep his mouth shut was at it again on Sunday when he got in a Twitter fight with writer/comic Jenny Johnson. To be fair, Johnson, who we had never heard of before Sunday, provoked Brown when she responded to an innocuous tweet by Brown with an insulting reply.

instead of not taking the bait, Brown then immediately escalated the online feud by, as abusive men do, turning the fight into one suggesting sexual acts and calling Johnson a gardening tool (though we’re quite sure he meant “ho,” instead of “hoe”).  It went downhill from there and ended with Brown deleting his Twitter account. (We’ll see how long that lasts. For now, he’s taking his rants to Instagram. Same persecution complex, different venue).

Brown has gotten predictably boring in that if he is treated badly-- or perceives that he is-- he fires back with a response that is wildly inappropriate. He brings a gun to a knife fight every single time, such as  throwing a chair at a window at “Good Morning America” after he didn’t like being asking about beating up Rihanna.  He also has to keep apologizing for making gay slurs.

What Brown has never seemed to grasp is that as a public figure, he is going to be a lightning rod for criticism. That just comes with the territory. And yet he has never developed the ability to walk away.

This is where management comes in. Before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and any other social media where artists can communicate directly with fans, managers and publicists could serve as a buffer between an act and his or her fans. Now, however, there is no filter. Most acts don’t need one, but Brown is desperately and pathetically in need of someone who will sit him down and tell him to stop it.  That person’s next step will probably be packing up his or her things and finding a new job, but if Brown hears it enough, maybe it will sink in.

Additionally, and this is the part that really seems beyond the pale, is that it’s clear that Brown sees himself as a victim. If people would just, as his latest single addressed, not judge him,  everything would be just fine. It’s our fault that he keeps getting into rumbles.

We live in a time when bad behavior very rarely generates consequences.   For a short black-out period after he beat up Rihanna in 2009 where he was treated like a pariah in some quarters, virtually everyone was willing to forgive him, whether it was radio or the Grammys or even the Grammy voters, who awarded him with a Grammy this year.

Yet after a carefully-managed apology about Rihanna, all he has done the past three years is show that he does not have a handle on his anger issues and that he has zero impulse control...whether it’s on during a live interview or on Twitter. 

Brown needs a time-out, but given that his fans are willing to forgive him anything and, other than people in Guyana protesting his now-cancelled gig, there seems to be no downside to being an abusive, hot-tempered, threatening, ill-behaved star. So expect more of the same.

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Album Review: Alicia Keys hits the right notes on 'Girl On Fire'
Credit: RCA

Album Review: Alicia Keys hits the right notes on 'Girl On Fire'

Bruno Mars, Maxwell, Nicki Minaj pitch in on Grammy winner's fifth album

There’s a new girl in town and her name is Alicia Keys.  Sure, she arrived on the scene as a fully-formed artist with 2001‘s “Songs In A Minor,”  but it’s clear on “Girl On Fire,” her first album in three years, that reinvention and rediscovery are the main courses on the Grammy winner’s menu.

“I found a brand new kind of free,” she sings on “Brand New Me,” her current single co-written with Emeli Sande.  “It took a long, long road to get here. It took a brave, brave girl to try,” Keys states on the piano ballad.

[More after the jump...]

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Grammy predictions for best new artist

Grammy predictions for best new artist

Will Carly Rae Jepsen face fun., Frank Ocean or One Direction?

The Grammy nominations will be announced on Dec. 5. One of the most hotly contested races is always for best new artist.  Some years, the Grammys have gotten it right and picked acts who went on to have long careers. Other years, they’ve made regrettable choices: Starland Vocal Band or A Taste Of Honey anyone? To be eligible, an artist must have released at least one album, but cannot have released more than three. The eligibility period runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30, which means such hot artists as Meek Mill are not eligible since debut album came out after Sept. 30. Artists cannot have previously won a Grammy.  

See if we included your favorite new act:

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Will Taylor Swift or Rihanna be the big American Music Awards winner?
Credit: AP Photo

Will Taylor Swift or Rihanna be the big American Music Awards winner?

We predict a sweep for One Direction

This Sunday, the 40th American Music Awards will take place in Los Angeles. While the awards don’t have the prestige of the Grammys, they have something that the Grammys don’t: the winners are voted on by the fans. That means that One Direction will win in every category for which they are nominated. The AMAs also have another great advantage-- and this is why acts like Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj and Linkin Park will be performing: the show happens right before major holiday shopping begins so it’s an excellent chance for acts to get in front of their fans to remind them that their new album will make a most excellent stocking stuffer.

Below are our predictions for Sunday night. Remember, the fans pick the winners (the nominees are determined by a number of criteria, including sales and airplay), so the trophy doesn’t necessarily go to who is most deserving, it goes to who has the most ardent fan base...sort of like “Dancing With the Stars” or “American Idol.”

The American Music Awards air live from the Nokia Theater at 8 p.m. ET.

New artist of the year:
J. Cole
Carly Rae Jepsen
One Direction

It’s a fine list and some of these artists will no doubt find their way into the Grammy best new artist category (although Cole already got nominated for that honor last year). Fun. may seem like the act with the longest career potential, but given that One Direction’s fans have already worn their fingers to the nubs voting, this one goes to 1D.

Winner: One Direction

Male artist, pop/rock:
Justin Bieber
Flo Rida

Hmmm...not a lot of rock in this pop/rock category, is there? That’s because there are few male solo rockers making a lot of noise right now.  Also, with the inclusion of Flo Rida, Pitbull and Usher, it’s clear that pop and R&B and rap all appeal to the same audience now. Justin Bieber continues to defy the odds and is showing much more staying power than the usual teen phenom.

Winner: Justin Bieber

Female artist, pop/rock:
Kelly Clarkson
Nicki Minaj
Katy Perry

All of these artists are very popular and all have had great years. Since she’s between album cycles, Katy Perry may be at a slight disadvantage here.  Clarkson is so popular, but she probably can’t compete with the ardency of Minaj’s and Rihanna’s fans. This is a contest between Minaj’s Barbies and Rihanna’s Navy. We’re going with the military.

Winner: Rihanna

Band, duo or group, pop/rock:
Maroon 5
One Direction
The Wanted

Again, there’s a paucity of rock acts here. The Wanted had one hit. We’re not saying they are done, but they can’t compete with the likes of fun. or Maroon 5 when it comes to radio supremacy or One Direction when it comes to teen phenoms. Maroon 5 has had an incredible resurgence over the past year, but, again, their fans won’t come out in the same number  as One Direction’s.

Winner: One Direction

Male artist, country:
Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church

The three hottest male solo acts will duke it out here for bragging rights...if you don't count Blake Shelton as one of the hottest male country artists right now (rolling my eyes). All three are buddies and are, in fact, racing up the country charts right now with Jason Aldean’s “The Only Way I Know,” which features Luke Bryan and Eric Church. All three have great careers going right now, but Aldean still outsells both of them both in record sales and ticket sales.

Winner: Jason Aldean

Female artist, country:

Miranda Lambert
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

It’s nice that Taylor Swift is nominated, even though she didn’t have an album out during the eligibility period, but it also shows that she can step away and there aren’t other solo female artists to take her place. Carrie Underwood has had a great year and is coming off a No. 1 single with “Blown Away,” but Miranda Lambert is just unstoppable these days.

Winner: Miranda Lambert

Band, duo or group, country:
Zac Brown Band
Lady Antebellum
Rascal Flatts

What? No The Band Perry? That’s a pretty noticeable omission. Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum had fans that extend beyond country die-hards and that could help them with the voting here, but the Flattheads love their boys. All three acts have had strong years, but Lady A has the largest base.

Winner: Lady Antebellum

Artist, rap/hip-hop
Nicki Minaj

Know why this category isn’t split into male and female? Because there aren’t enough hit-making female rappers to fill out their own group. Maybe one day that will change and Missy Elliott is returning so Nicki Minaj will have some company. This one isn’t even a contest. It’s Minaj for the win.

Winner: Nicki Minaj

Male artist, soul/R&B:

Chris Brown
Trey Songz

Usher’s album was an artistic triumph, if not the commercial success of some of his past efforts, but Chris Brown, who seemed to release a new song every week, appears to have completely overcome his past troubles and his fans really stand behind him.  Trey Songz rounds out the category nicely, but Brown is the winner.

Winner: Chris Brown

Female artist, soul/R&B:
Mary J. Blige

Beyoncé is a fan favorite, but, like Taylor Swift, she hasn’t been working a new album this year.  Mary J. Blige is so awesome that the award should be named after her, but she has an older demo that won’t likely get out the vote for her. Rihanna, who just keeps releasing hit after hit after hit is a one-woman jukebox.

Winner: Rihanna

Artist, alternative rock:

The Black Keys
Linkin Park

What a wacky grouping of artists. They couldn’t be more different. Gotye had one hit, but what a mighty hit it was. Both the Black Keys and Linkin Park put out albums that continued the trajectory they were on, but didn’t seem to take them to new heights. Still, LP’s fans are powerful

Winner: Linkin Park

Artist, adult contemporary:
Kelly Clarkson

Really? There’s not even a discussion to be had for this one.

Winner: Adele

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<p>Hayden Panettiere at the CMA&nbsp;Awards</p>

Hayden Panettiere at the CMA Awards

Credit: AP Photo

Is Hayden Panettiere's 'Telescope' a real hit or a novelty?

Can the 'Nashville' star become a country star herself?

Hayden Panettiere has a top 40 country hit, but is it real?  In an art-imitates-life-imitates-art way, Big Machine Records, home to such artists as Taylor Swift, released “Telescope,” a song Panettiere’s character, Juliette Barnes, sang on the ABC series “Nashville.” 

[More after the jump...]

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Credit: RCA Records

Album Review: Christina Aguilera blooms on 'Lotus'

In case you've forgotten, she's a fighter, but also a dancer

Christina Aguilera has a manifesto and on “Lotus,” it’s upfront and center. Her new album, out Nov. 13, opens with a self-important, autotuned declaration set to a trance-like chant, that her rebirth is here: “submerged from her pain, broken pieces,” this “songbird” is beginning again and she needs to speak her truth:  “I say goodbye to the scared child inside. I sing for freedom and for love. I look at my reflection, embrace the woman that I’ve become. The unbreakable lotus in me, I now set free.”

[More after the jump...]

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<p>One Direction's &quot;Take Me Home&quot;</p>

One Direction's "Take Me Home"


Album Review: One Direction's 'Take Me Home' masterfully hits its target

Exceedingly well-crafted songs dominate group's second set

It’s a sad fact that boy bands, no matter how talented they are, generally have a shelf life only slightly longer than a carton of milk.

Yes, One Direction’s chart-topping “Up All Night” came out less than eight months ago, but the group is striking while the curling iron is hot by releasing a new album on Nov. 13. Can there be any doubt that the album will arrive at No. 1, carried to the high perch aloft the hearts of screaming fangirls?

The 13 songs that make up “Take Me Home”  create a hermetically-sealed bubble that is only big enough for a tween/teenage girl, her favorite 1D member, and their all-encompassing love.

The tunes, tailor-made for the 2013 arena tour the quintet has already sold out, are slightly more sophisticated than the tracks on “Up All Night,” but to the band’s credit, they in no way attempt to leave behind the audience that made them so popular.

There’s a song factory working overtime that churns this stuff out and the overlords have names like Dr. Luke, Shellback and Ed Sheeran: in other words, 1D has the top pop crafters in the land coming up with these tunes.  Regardless of the author, they all follow the same basic road map:  The songs are sexy and slightly suggestive, but won’t send the younger set scurrying to their parents to ask for explanation. The boys are confident with just enough quivering vulnerability to appear completely unthreatening, like a pretty pony. Love is shiny and clean and never, ever messy with each potential dilemma neatly tied up within the confines of a 3-minute pop song. And, not to be overlooked, no matter what the situation, the girl is always in control and she has the final say.

There’s nothing original about any of the songs here, but they are so exceedingly well crafted and produced  that they ovecome the mind-numbing similarity of the songs’ themes about love, love, love.

So adoring are their fans (as I write this, some of them have been camped out since Friday for One Direction’s Tuesday appearance on “Today”), that One Direction wisely sends a love letter directly to them with “Back For You.” Yes, they see YOU out in the audience, and even though they are leaving every night,  know they are returning just for YOU.

It’s these kinds of canny moves that keep Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson, all of whom trade off on vocals,  first and foremost in their fans’ hearts. The CD booklet even devotes a page to a dreamy close up of each of the individual members so fans can have a mini-poster of their favorite band member.

The album opens with first single “Live While We’re Young,” which starts with a Clash-like “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” type riff. It signals that our fellas are growing up.  Like many of the songs on “Take Me Home,” the lyrics are open to naughty interpretation, such as taking photos that had better not be shared (get it?).

That segues into “Kiss You,” a bouncy, electronic infectious ditty that opens with “Oh, I just want to take you any way that you like...”  But before things get too scary, we’re clearly reminded that it’s ok to stop at kissing.

There nothing a teen girl likes more than a slow song that promises undying love and One Direction’s five members are nothing if not attuned to their girls’ needs. On second single, “Little Things,” each member spins what he loves about his girl and how perfect she is, even if she still has to squeeze into her jeans or likes the sound of her own voice. While it’s meant to be a song to ensure that he loves her just the way she is, even if she can’t love herself, it comes across like a catalog of every fault a woman likes to wish her man never notices. But the band (well, the songwriters) deserves points for pushing the idea that her perceived imperfections are what make her so lovable.

Every song here feels like it could have been recorded by someone else:  “C’mon, C’mon” features a Neon Trees’-like kick drum propulsion. Mid-tempo “Last First Kiss” feels like a Panic At The Disco outtake when it bursts into the chorus, although the message of “I want to be the first to take it all the way like this” is the stuff that makes girls hug their pillows a little tighter at night.  Mid-tempo ballad “Over Again, co-written by Sheeran, has a Ryan Tedder/OneRepublic-like yearning to it.

The best tracks on “Take Me Home” include the militant drum stomp of uptempo “Heart Attack,” which features a fun, spirited vocal delivery by the boys,  as well as the irrepressibly jaunty “I Would” (musically, it’s similar to Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”), which is bolstered by spritely whistles and hand claps. “Rock Me” opens similarly to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and stays with a mid-tempo, nearly hypnotic anthemic beat that will become a live staple, even with the unwieldy “R-O-C-K Me Again” part.

Teen girls love their secrets and 1D conspiratorially joins in with “They Don’t Know About Us,” a rhythmic ballad about young love that the older folks just don’t understand. “They don’t know about the things we do/they don’t know about the I love yous/ but i bet you if they only knew/ they would just be jealous of us.” No, they’d probably lock up their daughter, but the thought of an all-consuming love that no one else can penetrate is what One Direction promises better than Bieber, better than The Wanted, better than anyone out there right now.

The album ends with “Summer Love, ” a frankly gorgeous acoustic guitar-based ballad. The end of summer fills in metaphorically for our time with 1D coming to a close. It’s slow, luscious, and sweeping as it swells with strings, but never goes too far over the top.  I’m so far out of the One Dimension demographic, I practically need a GPS to find it, but this one had me swooning.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but don’t worry. As they promise on “Back For You,” they’re coming back.

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<p>Kelly Clarkson in &quot;Catch My Breath&quot;</p>

Kelly Clarkson in "Catch My Breath"


Watch: Kelly Clarkson is diva-licious in video for 'Catch My Breath'

She's also very tall

Ingredients necessary for Kelly Clarkson’s “Catch My Breath” video? A white background, a beautiful black dress, some computer generated designs and a mighty strong fan.

The result? Clarkson’s most “Diva”-like video.

[More after the jump...]

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