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Sunday, February 13, 2011

2011 Grammys: The Steve Theory Won't Go Home a Winner

I have a problem come Grammy night. No, it isn’t that I’m busy and my DVR is broken and I’ll miss the show. It isn’t that I am determined to establish hipster cred by dissing the Grammys as irrelevant. I also have no money riding on anything and have no industry contacts. No, my problem is that my Steve theory looks like it may fall apart.

Steve theory?

Steve is a buddy of mine since high school days. I’ve noticed in recent years how much his musical tastes align with Grammy voters so I picked Taylor Swift’s Fearless to win Album of the Year in 2010 (which it did) because Steve said it was the most likely of the nominees that he would buy.

So who is vying for the big prize in 2011? Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, Eminem’s Recovery, Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now, Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster, and Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. Like last year, Steve doesn’t own any of the batch, but if push came to shove, he’d go country-pop. Last year that meant Swift and this year it would be Lady Antebellum.

The problem is that no one is picking Lady A. They put out the year’s second best-selling album (only behind Eminem) and had a major hit with the title song, which is up for song and record of the year. It will probably win one of those awards. As for Album of the Year, they may get the country vote, but will be in a three-way battle for the pop vote, which should be split between Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.

That leaves it as two-horse race where most picks are leaning toward Eminem. The music industry is abuzz about Recovery being his rebound from a prescription drug habit and a comeback after what Em himself called a less than stellar album with 2009’s Relapse.

It makes for a feel-good story (even if it does shatter my Steve theory), but also emphasizes a common Grammy problem – awarding the big prize to artists for the wrong album. Winners Bob Dylan (Time Out of Mind), Ray Charles (Genius Loves Company), Steely Dan (Two Against Nature), and Herbie Hancock (The Joni Letters) all have far loftier works in their repertoire that didn’t even get nominated.

Eminem has been nominated twice before – for 2002’s The Eminem Show and 2000’s The Marshall Mathers LP – and both were more deserving of the prize. Frankly, I think he should have won in 2000 against a weak crop. As for 2002, I was rooting for Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising (a great album and one that wouldn’t have just been a career award) over winner Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me.

Still, Recovery wouldn’t be a bad choice. In fact, it is the only album from 2010 to make the top 1000 albums of all time list as determined by Dave’s Music Database, in which I factor in best-of lists, sales, chart figures, and awards.

However, I think history will celebrate Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs even more (regardless of what the Grammys decide). With their third album, they landed at #1 on the Billboard album chart, but somehow haven’t lost any of the indie cred established by their first two acclaimed releases. Add the thematic nature of the album and you’ve got a work that will be hailed years from now as the landmark of one of this generation’s most pivotal bands.

In the end, I expect Lady A will take home an album trophy, but for Country Album of the Year. Gaga should nab the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “Bad Romance” and I’m picking Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Arcade Fire should win for Best Alternative Album and Eminem ought to grab the Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance (“Not Afraid”).

My Steve theory will probably lose tonight, but the nominees may all go home winners. I should take the high road and be proud for all of them. Instead, maybe I can manage the impossible and turn Steve into an Eminem fan before tonight. It isn’t going to happen.

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