The Grammy Awards traditionally generate a mixture of love, hate and laughter, but one thing you can say about them: they’ve thrown predictability right out the window with the CD player.

It’s hard to know just what those wacky voters will do next when they impart top honors to Herbie Hancock and Taylor Swift.

Hancock’s album was a tribute to Joni Mitchell that few people even heard. The country-pop singer, meanwhile, took down Beyonc?nd Lady Gaga with her diary of a teenage kid.

Who are these Grammy people, and what do they like? No one really knows. Safe to say, though, that there are other factors at play besides quality, starting with the fact that the most acclaimed band of the past 15 years, Radiohead, slid through its prime without an album Grammy.

At the 53rd annual Grammy Awards tonight, it’s another clash of superstars, with the exception of The Arcade Fire. Of the five album nominees, its release, “The Suburbs,” is the only one that is universally acclaimed.

Two of the nominated albums — by Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum — didn’t even crack the Top 300 in the Village Voice’s Pazz and Jop Poll of the nation’s critics, because they aren’t good albums. They have wonderfully catchy singles, yes, but they don’t fall into the realm of complete, essential albums — not that this is the era of essential albums.

Eminem’s “Recovery,” the favorite to win, fared a little better on that Voice list, but it’s still down at No. 57. The most acclaimed album of 2010, Kanye West’s brilliant “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” came out in November and missed the deadline, which is another annual Grammy annoyance.

Last year, the top categories (Album, Song and Record) were split among three artists — Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon and Beyonc?- and that very well could happen again. So if you like surprises, tune in.

Unlike the Oscars, the performances are the main attraction anyway, and we’ll get them from all five album nominees. Among those hitting the stage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles will be Lady Gaga, The Arcade Fire, Eminem, Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum, plus Rihanna, Cee-Lo Green, Justin Bieber, Drake, Barbra Streisand, Miranda Lambert, Usher, Bruno Mars, Muse and Christina Aguilera, who will not be singing the national anthem.

Now, on with the ritual of who will/should/could win:


“The Suburbs,” The Arcade Fire; “Recovery,” Eminem; “Need You Now,” Lady Antebellum; “The Fame Monster,” Lady Gaga; “Teenage Dream,” Katy Perry.

So, yeah, these choices are less than ideal.

Perry’s album has a few good singles and plenty of filler, and Lady Antebellum was paint-by-numbers country pop with one standout single. “The Fame Monster” is an EP, so should it even be there? Everyone likes a comeback story, and “Recovery” is one for Eminem, but at 76 minutes, it’s a bit of a sprawling mess. Still, he’s due for big honors and will probably win over The Arcade Fire, an indie stalwart that carefully crafts an “album.”


“Nothin’ on You,” B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars; “Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem featuring Rihanna; “[Forget] You,” Cee-Lo Green; “Empire State of Mind,” Jay-Z and Alicia Keys; “Need You Now,” Lady Antebellum.

Jay-Z won three Grammys last year for songs from “Blueprint 3,” which came out in late 2009 and could have, should have been nominated for Album of the Year. The consolation prize should be a win here for “Empire State of Mind,” which has risen to the level of New York anthem. One question, though: Where was “Bad Romance” in this race? And this one


“Beg Steal or Borrow,” Ray LaMontagne; “[Forget] You,” Cee-Lo Green; “The House That Built Me,” Miranda Lambert; “Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem featuring Rihanna; “Need You Now,” Lady Antebellum.

The anything-can-happen factor tells us that Lady Antebellum could very well run away with this songwriting award, but it’s more likely a two-man and (one-woman) race. Eminem’s powerful duet with Rihanna is the favorite to win, despite legitimate concerns that it makes domestic violence look kinda cool and sexy. I like Cee-Lo’s viral hit “[Forget] You” for its sheer audacity.


Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence and The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Esperanza Spalding.

How do you even begin to compare a grouping that ranges from teen-pop sensation to jazz bassist? I’m not blown away by any of these choices, so I would write in Ke$ha, who provided more trashy good fun in 2010 than anyone.

My guess is that the academy, which went for Brits two of the past three years, will go for the arty choice of Florence and The Machine.


Best Male Pop Vocal Performance: Ke$ha wasn’t the only one excluded from the Best New Artist list. Bruno Mars, who’s been showing that he sings even better live than on record, didn’t meet the eligibility period. He should get this over the likes of Michael Jackson and Adam Lambert for “Just the Way You Are.”

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: Lady Gaga has to get something for her big “Bad Romance,” so this is it.

Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals: It was a bang-up year for this category, which pits “California Gurls” (Katy Perry/Snoop Dogg) against “Telephone” (Gaga/Beyonc? One of these will win, but I’d vote for “Airplanes, Part II” (B.o.B., Eminem and Hayley Williams).

Best Pop Vocal Album: From Justin Bieber to Susan Boyle, this category has a 30-year age range. This is where Gaga, somewhere in the middle, can grab an album Grammy for “The Fame Monster.”

Best Rock Album: Tom Petty has been woefully overlooked at the Grammys, with only three wins (including one for video and one as part of The Traveling Wilburys). “Mojo” was a strong return to form and deserves this nod over Pearl Jam, Neil Young, et al.

Best Rap Album: In this blood duel between Eminem and Jay-Z, I’d go with the old-school flavor of The Roots.

Best R&B Album: John Legend and The Roots are a formidable team on “Wake Up!” and should run away with this.

Best Country Album: Jamey Johnson’s “The Guitar Song” was a much better Album of the Year choice than Lady Antebellum, so he should get it here, slightly ahead of Miranda Lambert.

Best Rock Song: U2 and Bruce Springsteen have owned this category, but Kings of Leon won this last year, and here they are again with “Radioactive.” The academy will probably like the new/old flavor of Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man,” and it’s not a bad choice.

Best Americana Album: Robert Plant won the Best Album Grammy with Alison Krauss two years ago and deserves one here for the fine follow-up, “Band of Joy.”

Best Alternative Album: This is the ghetto spot for all the critical darlings. The Arcade Fire is the frontrunner, but I’d go with Vampire Weekend’s “Contra.”

Best Country Song: Tough call, as this is a one-on-one between Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum from the Song of the Year category. They’re so different. Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” is a lovely short story; “Need You Now” is sexy and smoldering. Advantage: Lady Antebellum.

Best Rap Song: Same deal, as Jay-Z and Eminem spill into this race. Since it’s not about beating up your girlfriend, “Empire State of Mind” should win the race.

Best R&B Song: With WAMO off the FM dial, these slow jams are hard to find in the ‘Burgh, which, when you think about it, may jeopardize population growth. Even though I love the Legend/Roots project, Fantasia is the standout on the Diana Ross throwback “Bittersweet.”