More than 18,000 members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences vote on the Grammy Awards each year. The academy says it’s out to reward “artistic excellence,” but history shows us that sales and chart position often matter just as much, if not more. If you’re looking for up-and-coming talent, or under-recognized veterans, the Grammys are not for you.
That’s where these predictions come in. Sunday, when Grammys will be handed out in a record 110 categories and you’re left wondering if there’s anything better out there, here’s your guide to the music you really ought to hear:
Album of the Year
Nominees: “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” Foo Fighters; “These Days,” Vince Gill; “River: The Joni Letters,” Herbie Hancock; “Graduation,” Kanye West; “Back to Black,” Amy Winehouse.
Who will win: The third time’s the charm for West, who was denied in this category on his first two albums.
Who should win: West is overdue.
Who got shafted: How did Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic” get overlooked in favor of Gill and Hancock?
Record of the Year (Award to the artist and the producer, recording engineer and-or mixer)
Nominees: “Irreplaceable,” Beyonce; “The Pretender,” Foo Fighters; “Umbrella,” Rihanna featuring Jay-Z; “What Goes Around ... Comes Around,” Justin Timberlake; “Rehab,” Amy Winehouse.
Who will win: Winehouse’s “Rehab” is a new song with a retro feel, just what the Grammys love.
Who should win: Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”
Who got shafted: LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”
Song of the Year (A songwriters award)
Nominees: “Before He Cheats,” songwriters Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins (performed by Carrie Underwood); “Hey There Delilah,” Tom Higgenson (Plain White T’s); “Like A Star,” Corinne Bailey Rae; “Rehab,” Amy Winehouse; “Umbrella,” Shawn Carter, Kuk Harrell, Terius “Dream” Nash & Christopher Stewart (Rihanna featuring Jay-Z).
Who will win: “Rehab,” again.
Who should win: Even though “Umbrella” was everywhere, “Rehab” gets the nod
Who got shafted: Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks”
Best New Artist (For an artist who releases the first recording that establishes the artist’s public identity)
Nominees: Feist, Ledisi, Paramore, Taylor Swift, Amy Winehouse.
Who will win: Feist’s squeaky clean reputation should get her the win over the more controversial Winehouse.
Who should win: Feist, even though she’s on her second album
Who got shafted: Peter Bjorn and John
Best Pop Vocal Album
Nominees: “Lost Highway,” Bon Jovi; “The Reminder,” Feist; “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long,” Maroon 5; “Memory Almost Full,” Paul McCartney; “Back to Black,” Amy Winehouse.
Who will win: Feist’s album is more consistent than Winehouse’s.
Who should win: McCartney for his most personal album yet, “Memory Almost Full.”
Who got shafted: M.I.A.‘s “Kala” is terrific multi-culti pop.
Best Rock Album
Nominees: “Daughtry,” Daughtry; “Revival,” John Fogerty; “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” Foo Fighters; “Magic,” Bruce Springsteen; “Sky Blue Sky,” Wilco.
Who will win: The academy throws Springsteen a bone.
Who should win: “Sky Blue Sky”
Who got shafted: Spoon’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga”
Best Alternative Music Album
Nominees: “Alright, Still ...,” Lily Allen; “Neon Bible,” Arcade Fire; “Volta,” Bjork; “Wincing the Night Away,” The Shins; “Icky Thump,” The White Stripes.
Who will win: Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible”
Who should win: The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump”
Who got shafted: Battles’ “Mirrored.”
Best R&B Album
Nominees: “Funk This,” Chaka Khan; “Lost & Found,” Ledisi; “Luvanmusiq,” Musiq Soulchild; “The Real Thing,” Jill Scott; “Sex, Love & Pain,” Tank.
Who will win: Ledisi, nominated for best new artist, should take this consolation prize.
Who should win: Scott, though “The Real Thing” is not her best work.
Who got shafted: The fiery Betty LaVette and “Scene of the Crime.”
Best Rap Album
Nominees: “Finding Forever,” Common; “Kingdom Come,” Jay-Z; “Hip Hop is Dead,” Nas; “T.I. vs T.I.P.,” T.I.; “Graduation,” Kanye West.
Who will win: West has won this award each time he’s released an album.
Who should win: Jay-Z defines rap; West is more of a pop artist.
Who got shafted: El-P’s “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead”
Best Country Album
Nominees: “Long Trip Alone,” Dierks Bentley; “These Days,” Vince Gill; “Let it Go,” Tim McGraw; “5th Gear,” Brad Paisley; “It Just Comes Natural,” George Strait.
Who will win: Gill, whose ambitious four-album “These Days” deserves some kind of prize.
Who should win: Gill
Who got shafted: “Anchored in Love: A Tribute to June Carter Cash.”
Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album
Nominees: “The Calling,” Mary Chapin Carpenter; “My Name is Buddy,” Ry Cooder; “Washington Square Serenade,” Steve Earle; “Children Running Through,” Patty Griffin; “Orphans,” Tom Waits.
Who will win: Waits’ triple-CD “Orphans” brims with great songs
Who should win: Waits
Who got shafted: Cooder should be nominated instead for an album he produced, Mavis Staples’ “We’ll Never Turn Back.”
Best Compilation Soundtrack Album
“Across The Universe,” various artists; “Dreamgirls,” Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose; “Hairspray,” various artists; “Love,” the Beatles; “Once,” Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
Will win: “Dreamgirls” as Beyonce bests the Beatles (“Love,” “Across the Universe”)
Who should win: Indie hit “Once”
Who got shafted: Joe Strummer documentary “The Future is Unwritten.”