It was about 12 years ago, or around the time an aged, cranky Steely Dan topped a young, cranky Eminem for album of the year — and all the air was immediately sucked out of the universe — when the Grammys realized they needed to change things up.
Although "music's biggest night" was, and always will be, an awards show, the Recording Academy needed to counterbalance peer-based voting with youthful vigor. Since then, the Grammys have worked on boosting both hip points (done) and television ratings (bingo), mainly by making the three-hour-plus night an endlessly cool concert, pairing legends and newcomers, with strange bedfellows galore.
They don't always get things right: It seems wrong that two of the biggest noisemakers of the past year — Miley Cyrus and Kanye West — will have reduced roles, awards-wise and otherwise, on Sunday's big to-do.
But the 56th annual Grammys, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (8 p.m. on CBS), should be a hoot regardless. Stevie Wonder will jam with Daft Punk (the cyborgian Frenchmen who gave us the life-affirming Get Lucky). Robin Thicke (Blurred Lines) will get brassy with Chicago. And live sets by Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, plus an all-star metallic jam led by Dave Grohl and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, will hopefully have us chatting fervently on Monday.
In between all the ruckus and rock royalty, they'll hand out a smattering of the 100-plus shiny gold gramophones (most of which are doled out at a next-door ceremony before the big show). Just for kicks, here are my best guesses at who brings home the heaviest of hardware:
ALBUM OF THE YEAR My winner? The boogie-robot goodness of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, which also featured super-producer Pharrell, whom I absolutely man-crush adore. Taylor Swift's Red pumped myriad ubiquitous hits into the universe (We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, I Knew You Were Trouble), but doesn't it feel like that LP came out years ago? Macklemore & Ryan Lewis might snag this one, although I see them cleaning up elsewhere. Sara Bareilles and Kendrick Lamar are fresh talents, but they made this cut mainly to show that the Grammys are still sorry for that whole Steely Dan thing.
BEST NEW ARTIST My winner? Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. This is the safest pick of the night. Thrift Shop, yo! "It was 99 cents!" Note to fans of fellow bestie noms Lamar and Kacey Musgraves: Your faves will win pretty trophies, too, just not here.
SONG OF THE YEAR My winner? Same Love, Ben "Macklemore" Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis. Remember: This one goes to songwriters. And this poignant No. 1 about same-sex tolerance — from a rapper — was a revelation. Katy Perry's Roar, the runner-up, has approximately 57 "songwriters" listed. That hurts.
RECORD OF THE YEAR My winner? Royals, Lorde; Joel Little, producer. Record of the year, on the other hand, goes to the artist, producer, engineers. Lyrics matter, but not as much as the vibe. Get Lucky and Blurred Lines were HUGE hits, yes, but Lorde is the kind of artist the Grammys flat-out adore: smart, young, classy and loaded with enough chops to keep her off the one-hit wonder list.
BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM My winner? Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience: The Complete Experience. After having a mega year, J.T. was also sort of snubbed by the Grammys. But he'll win this — even if he's not there to accept.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected]