The Grammys will never top the opulence and buzz of the Oscars, but here's a little secret: "Music's biggest night" is more fun to watch.
That's because the Grammys gave up caring about the awards themselves a long time ago. Only a handful of the 79 categories will be honored on TV Sunday night. Instead, the three-hour telecast will be dominated by live performances: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Katy Perry, the sexy duet team of Coldplay and Rihanna and dozens more.
The Grammys are feeling good about themselves, as album sales have rebounded slightly and ratings for the show were up in 2011. A lot of the buzz is for British R&B star Adele, who will perform and win a slew of trophies. But just because it's her night, that doesn't mean the Grammys won't spread the love, which is modus operandi for the Recording Academy, the awards' governing body. Think of the Grammys like a kids birthday party: All the popular kids go home with a goodie bag, some just have better prizes in them than others.
Album of the Year
• 21, Adele
• Born This Way, Lady Gaga
• Wasting Light, Foo Fighters
• Doo-Wops & Hooligans, Bruno Mars
• Loud, Rihanna
There hasn't been such a slam dunk in this category since Michael Jackson's 1983 Thriller earned eight awards. With all due respect to Gaga & Co., Adele's 21 is being credited for album sales being up for the first time since 2004. That's superheroic, and for all this album's artistic and commercial charms — Adele's soul-kissed holler, the 18 weeks at No. 1, etc. — its resuscitative powers are what truly matter.
Sean's pick: 21, Adele
Record of the Year
• Rolling in the Deep, Adele
Paul Epworth, producer
• Holocene, Bon Iver
Justin Vernon, producer
• Grenade, Bruno Mars
The Smeezingtons, producers
• The Cave, Mumford & Sons
Markus Dravs, producer
• Firework, Katy Perry
Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen & Sandy Vee, producers
It's that time of year when we offer the requisite Grammy tutorial. Listen up: Record of the year is for artists, producers and engineers of a certain song; song of the year, however, is exclusively given to writers of a certain song. Got it? Good. Anyway, the Grammys are showing their hand here, with nothing but Katy Perry's Firework having a shot at knocking off Adele's Rolling in the Deep. That said: It won't.
Sean's pick: Rolling in the Deep, Adele
Song of the Year
• All of the Lights
Jeff Bhasker, Stacy Ferguson, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter & Kanye West, songwriters (Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie)
• The Cave
Ted Dwane, Ben Lovett, Marcus Mumford & Country Winston, songwriters (Mumford & Sons)
Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Bruno Mars & Andrew Wyatt, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
Justin Vernon, songwriter (Bon Iver)
• Rolling in the Deep
Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, songwriters (Adele)
Oh, what the heck: Let's pick an upset. Adele could very well sweep the top three trophies. But if she's going to get bumped off, it'll be here, in a category honoring ink-stained songwriters. The Recording Academy worships Bruno Mars and Kanye West, but Grenade and All of the Lights were written by gaggles of people. The academy loves Bon Iver, too, but Holocene wasn't exactly a "hit." So that leaves Mumford & Sons and the Brits' crunchy, uber-passionate breakout special.
Sean's pick: The Cave, Mumford & Sons (Marcus Mumford, pictured)
Best New Artist
• The Band Perry
• Bon Iver
• J. Cole
• Nicki Minaj
Bon Iver will have to win sometime Sunday, but it won't be here. The Band Perry had a huge hit with If I Die Young, but they might be a flash in the pan. The Grammys are skittish when it comes to rap, but it's impossible to ignore wild chick Nicki Minaj, be it her hair or her hits, including the ubiquitous Super Bass. It also helps that she can sing and that she's a household name, recently mugging it up with Madonna at the Super Bowl.
Sean's pick: Nicki Minaj
Best Alternative Album
• Bon Iver, Bon Iver
• Codes and Keys, Death Cab for Cutie
• Torches, Foster the People
• Circuital, My Morning Jacket
• The King of Limbs, Radiohead
Here's where Wisconsin's Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver, wins his hardware. Album for album, this category has the best music. Bon Iver, Circuital and The King of Limbs all made my "Best of 2011." Foster the People had a monster hit with Pumped Up Kicks, and they might sneak a victory on that alone, but I don't think so. Bon Iver is nominated in myriad categories, a sign that the Grammys are crushing hard on the noise-pop adventurers. As I said, all the popular kids go home with a goodie bag.
Sean's pick: Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Justin Vernon, pictured)
Best Rock Album
• Rock 'N' Roll Party Honoring Les Paul, Jeff Beck
• Wasting Light, Foo Fighters
• Come Around Sundown, Kings of Leon
• I'm With You, Red Hot Chili Peppers
• The Whole Love, Wilco
Here's another category that's set up for an obvious victory: The Foos' Wasting Light doesn't have a shot for album of the year, not with Adele in the same fight. So the melodic rockers will have to settle for this one. The Grammys absolutely love Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer who's aging into a genial, and consistently talented, rock statesman.
Sean's pick: Wasting Light, Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, pictured)
Best Rap Album
• Watch the Throne, Jay-Z & Kanye West
• Tha Carter IV, Lil Wayne
• Lasers, Lupe Fiasco
• Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj
• My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
Lil Wayne is losing luster, and Nicki Minaj will be appeased with her best new artist award. In related news, the only thing better than having Kanye West up at the podium providing the maniacal Twitter fodder is having Jay-Z up there with him. Censors, man your bleepin' stations.
Sean's pick: Watch the Throne, Jay-Z & Kanye West (pictured)
Best Country Album
• My Kinda Party, Jason Aldean
• Chief, Eric Church
• Own the Night, Lady Antebellum
• Red River Blue, Blake Shelton
• Here For a Good Time, George Strait
• Speak Now, Taylor Swift
Here's the only category where my "everyone wins" theory doesn't hold. Aldean should win, but he won't. Taylor Swift has sold more albums than all these folks combined, but momentum's not on her side. Shelton's hot, he played the Super Bowl, he stars on The Voice and his acceptance speech should be a hoot. He has also been pegged to perform Sunday with ailing legend Glen Campbell in what should be an emotional highlight of the show.
Sean's pick: Red River Blue, Blake Shelton
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.