Predicting Grammy winners is like moderates voting in Republican primaries: You’re just trying to pick the least terrible outcome, and old white guys are always the favorites. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences does not always have its finger on the pulse, and so if you are someone who actively follows music — or just someone who likes instruments other than guitars — the awards can be extremely frustrating. (Ask Kanye.) And the eligibility window is always so off. (This year it's October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013, which means: no Beyoncé.) The point here is that expectations should be low, and so with that in mind, Vulture added a second category to our predictions that we’re calling “Who Should Win,” and fair warning that it is often very heavily weighted toward Kacey Musgraves. Anyway, here are our bets. See you on Sunday night for the ceremony.
Best Pop Vocal Album
The 20/20 Experience: The Complete Experience, Justin Timberlake
Pure Heroine, Lorde
Paradise, Lana Del Rey
Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke
Unorthodox Jukebox, Bruno Mars
Who Will Win: Bruno Mars. He’s a radio staple, and he’s even doing the Super Bowl halftime show. He’s the populist choice, and the Grammys will want to give him a vote of confidence. If there’s any further indication, the last two Best Pop Vocal Album awards went to Kelly Clarkson and Adele. This is the crowd-pleasing, “Nobody Could Possibly Hate Them” award.
Who Should Win: All-Around Good Guy Bruno Mars deserves this one. Not to mention that Unorthodox Jukebox is an album you and your mom would likely both enjoy. Promise! Try it.
Best Pop Solo Performance
“Brave,” Sara Bareilles
“When I Was Your Man,” Bruno Mars
“Roar,” Katy Perry
“Mirrors,” Justin Timberlake
Who will win: “Royals.” ... because they have to give Lorde something, and as you will see, the rest of the night might not shake out in her favor. She’s too hip to dominate the Grammys; they’re still living in late 2012.
Who should win: We are just incredibly pro-Lorde over here.
Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
“Get Lucky,” Daft Punk and Pharrell
“Just Give Me a Reason,” Pink featuring Nate Ruess
“Stay,” Rihanna featuring Mikky Ekko
“Blurred Lines," Robin Thicke featuring T.I and Pharrell
“Suit & Tie,” Justin Timberlake featuring Jay Z
Who Will Win: "Blurred Lines." No matter how much you’re sick of hearing it, this one was the undeniable Song of Summer 2013. And this award goes to undeniable, if overplayed, songs of spring and summer. (See: last year’s winner, “Somebody That I Used to Know”)
Who Should Win: Let "Blurred Lines" win and we can leave it behind us.
Best Rock Song
"Ain't Messin 'Round," Gary Clark Jr., songwriter (Gary Clark Jr.)
"Cut Me Some Slack,"Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, Kris Novoselic, and Pat Smear, songwriters (Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Kris Novoselic, and Pat Smear)
"Doom and Gloom," Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, songwriters (The Rolling Stones)
"God Is Dead?" Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Ozzy Osbourne, songwriters (Black Sabbath)
"Panic Station," Matthew Bellamy, songwriter (Muse)
Who Will Win: "Cut Me Some Slack" It seems impossible that Grammy voters will see the names “Grohl” and “McCartney” on the same line and not vote for it.
Who Should Win: Bluesy Texas guitar stud Gary Clark Jr. really deserves something.
Best Rock Performance
“Always Alright,” Alabama Shakes
“The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” David Bowie
“Radioactive,” Imagine Dragons
“Kashmir (Live)," Led Zeppelin
“My God Is the Sun,” Queens of the Stone Age
“I’m Shakin’,” Jack White
Who Will Win: "Radioactive." We’re still not really sure who Imagine Dragons are, but we do know that “Radioactive” was everywhere this year. Last year, Mumford & Sons took Best Rock Performance (and Album of the Year), so it's safe to bet that voters will go with the buzziest band.
Who Should Win: Queens of the Stone Age. Josh Homme’s band is totally underrated and totally awesome.
Best Rock Album
13, Black Sabbath
The Next Day, David Bowie
Mechanical Bull, Kings of Leon
Celebration Day, Led Zeppelin
… Like Clockwork, Queens of the Stone Age
Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young With Crazy Horse
Who Will Win: Queens of the Stone Age. This is like choosing between children for the Grammy votes, but let’s figure it out in terms of vote splitting. Zeppelin, Bowie, Black Sabbath, and Neil Young all cancel each other out on the old-timer nostalgia front; Kings of Leon have already won a bunch of Grammys; and Queens of the Stone Age are actually playing at the Grammys, so you have to figure someone noticed that album? Right? (Okay, maybe Bowie just wins.)
Who Should Win: Like we said, Queens of the Stone Age shred in highly listenable ways.
Best Alternative Music Album
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko Case
Trouble Will Find Me, the National
Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails
Lonerism, Tame Impala
Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend
Who Will Win: Nine Inch Nails has never won in this category, and the Grammys like a good triumphant return. Vampire Weekend is going to have to lose a few more times before they’re really eligible.
Who Should Win: Vampire Weekend, for a smart, mature, and incredibly enjoyable album.
Best R&B Performance
“Love and War,” Tamar Braxton
“Best of Me,” Anthony Hamilton
“Nakamarra,” Hiatus Kaiyote featuring Q-Tip
“How Many Drinks?” Miguel featuring Kendrick Lamar
“Something,” Snarky Puppy With Lalah Hathaway
Who Will Win: "How Many Drinks?" You might sense an overall feeling that we’re a bit down on the Grammys, but we have faith they’ll pull through on this one. Kendrick is all over the place in these nominations but will likely get snubbed from the big categories; Miguel was huge last year and lost to Frank Ocean in Best Urban Contemporary Album. Grammy voters will likely (okay, hopefully!) remember that.
Who Should Win: Miguel and Kendrick. And it’s three or so drinks, thank you for asking.
Best Urban Contemporary Album
Love and War, Tamar Braxton
Side Effects of You, Fantasia
One: In the Chamber, Salaam Remi
New York: A Love Story, Mack Wilds
Who Will Win: Fantasia. To leave Rihanna completely off the pop categories and relegate her to R&B? That’s harsh, Grammys. Not to mention, she’ll likely lose the category to a nominee that better fits this offensively nebulous categorization: Fantasia. Last year’s Urban Contemporary went to Frank Ocean, snubbing Chris Brown and Miguel, which got more critical buzz than Mumford’s Babel.
Who Should Win: Side Effects of You should win, and likely will win. Although, watch out for Grammy favorite Salaam Remi, whose album is mostly features but comparisons have been already drawn between him and Herbie Hancock, who won Album of the Year in 2008.
Best R&B Album
R&B Divas, Faith Evans
Girl on Fire, Alicia Keys
Love in the Future, John Legend
Better, Chrisette Michele
Three Kings, TGT
Who Will Win: Girl on Fire. Even though Faith Evans called her album R&B Divas (nice try, Faith), this will likely be given to Alicia Keys. Keys isn’t new to this game: In 2005, The Diary of Alicia Keys was nominated for both Album of the Year and Best R&B Album. It took home the latter. (The same year, “If I Ain’t Got You” was nominated for Song of the Year and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance; it took home the latter. Can you tell the Grammys have a problem here?) She won with “Empire State of Mind” in 2011 and “Girl on Fire,” the song, was everywhere in 2013. Girl will win.
Who Should Win: As far as the future of contemporary R&B goes (although isn’t Miguel R&B? Isn’t Beyoncé R&B? This is a constantly problematic category), John Legend is our best bet. He can be as cheesy as they come, but Love in the Future is a great album. But you know who else should have be recognized? Janelle Monae. The Electric Lady is nowhere, and deserves better.
Best Dance/Electronica Album
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
18 Months, Calvin Harris
A Color Map of the Sun, Pretty Lights
Who Will Win: Daft Punk. is the only band Grammy voters have even heard of.
Who Should Win: Disclosure is the hip choice, and it is possibly truer to the future of the category. But you know what? We were fond of Random Access Memories, too.
Best Rap Performance
“Started from the Bottom,” Drake
“Tom Ford,” Jay Z
“Swimming Pools (Drank),” Kendrick Lamar
“Thrift Shop,” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz
Who Will Win: "Thrift Shop." Earlier this week, the AP reported that the Grammys rap committee tried to ban Macklemore and Ryan Lewis from all hip-hop nominations. They were vetoed by the general committee in a “landslide” vote, which would indicate that the larger pool of Grammy voters (a) likes Macklemore and (b) likes Macklemore as rappers. Pair that with the overwhelming breakout success of “Thrift Shop,” and you probably have a winner.
Who Should Win: We don't like to do too much explaining. (“Started from the Bottom.”)
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
“Power Trip,” J.Cole featuring Miguel
“Part II (On the Run),” Jay Z featuring Beyoncé
“Holy Grail,” Jay Z featuring Justin Timberlake
“Now or Never,” Kendrick Lamar featuring Mary J. Blige
“Remember You,” Wiz Khalifa featuring the Weeknd
Who Will Win: "Holy Grail." You think they’re gonna nominate Jay nine times and not give him one? And you think they’re gonna let Justin walk away without a trophy? Nope.
Who Should Win: “Too Much” from the Drake album. It’s better than all of these.
Best Rap Album
Nothing Was the Same, Drake
Magna Carta … Holy Grail, Jay Z
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar
The Heist, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Yeezus, Kanye West
Who Will Win: Kendrick Lamar. We’d like to believe that just this once, the Grammy voters will notice how often “Kendrick Lamar” shows up on their ballot and actually tick the box.
Who Should Win: Are you gonna make us choose between Kendrick and Kanye? Really?
Best Country Song
"Begin Again," Taylor Swift, songwriter (Taylor Swift)
"I Drive Your Truck," Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary, songwriters (Lee Brice)
"Mama's Broken Heart," Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves, songwriters (Miranda Lambert)
"Merry Go 'Round," Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves and Josh Osborne, songwriters (Kacey Musgraves)
"Mine Would Be You," Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, and Deric Ruttan, songwriters (Blake Shelton)
Who Will Win: "I Drive Your Truck." Last year, Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” swept both Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Brice took both, as well.
Who Should Win: How many times do we have to shout Kacey Musgraves before the Grammys will hear it? Her “Merry Go ‘Round” (off Grammy-nominated album Same Trailer, Different Park) not only deserves it, but Musgraves also helped write another song on the nominees list: Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
Best Country Solo Performance
“I Drive Your Truck,” Lee Brice
“I Want Crazy,” Hunter Hayes
“Mama’s Broken Heart,” Miranda Lambert
“Wagon Wheel,” Darius Rucker
“Mine Would Be You,” Blake Shelton
Who Will Win: “I Drive Your Truck,” a sad, sad song written about a man driving a truck that belonged to his brother who was lost in combat is not only based on a true story, but it also already took home the Country Music Awards’ Best Song.
Who Should Win: “I Drive Your Truck.” It’s good, it’s relevant, and it’ll likely win.
Best Country Album
Night Train, Jason Aldean
Two Lanes of Freedom, Tim McGraw
Same Trailer, Different Park, Kacey Musgraves
Based on a True Story … , Blake Shelton
Red, Taylor Swift
Who Will Win: If Taylor doesn’t take home Best Album, she’ll likely take home Best Country Album. If she does take home Best Album, she’ll likely also take home Best Country Album. And not to say that Red doesn’t deserve it — it does! — but with Red, Taylor went full pop and her wins should accurately reflect that.
Who Should Win: Kacey Musgraves won’t take home Best New Artist, but she deserves it; Jody Rosen called her a “millennial torchbearer,” and (all respect to T-Swizzle) she’s not doing so by pulling a Taylor Swift and crossing over into Pop territory. She’s doing it her own way, and Same Trailer, Different Park is the result: It’s perfect.
Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
Who Will Win: It was the year of Pharrell.
Who Should Win: It was the year of Pharrell.
Best New Artist
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Who Will Win: Best New Artist is the most confounding of categories, and half the time it goes to someone who has been around forever. (See: Bon Iver, in 2012.) We’re tempted to pick Ed Sheeran, just because it would fall into the nonsensical pattern (he was nominated for a Best Song Grammy last year, and is somehow still “new”). But the general Grammy committee’s overwhelming enthusiasm for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis suggests that they’ll take this one home.
Who Should Win: Kacey Musgraves! Kacey Musgraves! We love you, Kacey Musgraves!
Song of the Year
"Just Give Me a Reason," Jeff Bhasker, Pink, and Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out of Heaven," Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, and Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar," Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry, and Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals," Joel Little and Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love," Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert, and Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert)
Who Will Win: Song of the Year goes to the song’s writer, which would point toward 2013’s (actually) teenaged dream, Lorde, but notice she’s not in the Best New Artist category. The Grammys are consistently late on people, and we fear they’ll be late here. Meanwhile, not only was “Same Love” huge, but the addition of Mary Lambert made it important, and it was the first Top 40 song in the U.S. to promote and celebrate same-sex marriage. It will be hard for Grammy voters to resist.
Who Should Win: Lorde, duh. See you next year, girl.
Record of the Year
“Get Lucky," Daft Punk and Pharrell
"Radioactive,” Imagine Dragons
“Locked Out of Heaven,” Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell
Who Will Win: You know who remembers the seventies? Grammys voters! You know who loves to reward achievement like ten to twenty years after the fact? Grammys voters! This was not Daft Punk’s best album, but “Get Lucky” was a genuine phenomenon. It is the perfect Record of the Year.
Who Should Win: Look, “Royals” deserves many awards, and maybe this should be one of them. But you can’t shake your fist at “Get Lucky,” either.
Album of the Year
The Blessed Unrest, Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar
The Heist, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Red, Taylor Swift
Who Will Win: There is a theory here in which Taylor Swift and Macklemore split the Top 40 vote, and Daft Punk rides the Old Person Seventies Nostalgia vote all the way to Best Album glory. But Grammy voters like to reward success, in the traditional “selling a shitload of albums” sense of the word, and no one sold more albums than Taylor Swift.
Who Should Win: We’d be perfectly happy if it went to Kendrick, but come on. Red is a triumph.