Frank Ocean at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Last year's Grammy Awards were somewhat anticlimactic — everyone expected Adele to win everything, and she did. This year's field is wide open, though, with diverse major contenders and no consensus front-runner in top categories.
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The main four categories skew young this year, but the nominees are spread across a variety of genres and include both newcomers and relative veterans. Here are a few races to watch for home score-keeping:
An eye on Ocean
Frank Ocean was the major new story of 2012 pop, even aside from his sublime album "Channel Orange." When he came out that he'd had a same-sex relationship, he upended expectations about contemporary R&B artists and was applauded for his bravery by the vast majority of fans.
It would be a major signal of changing values in traditionally homophobic genres for him to win album of the year, record of the year or best new artist. But there's a question of how many older, whiter Grammy voters — perhaps those inclined to support vintage leaning acts like Mumford & Sons, Jack White or the Black Keys for Album of the Year — fully immersed themselves in this young, African American man's landmark album.
Manly "authenticity" versus female expertise
This year's dude-heavy cast of major-category nominees seemed to value "authenticity" over the master-crafted pop that actually dominates airwaves today. The Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Jack White, Ocean and Fun. all trade in sincere, self-penned music that plumbs the travails of life, death, heartbreak and challenging production styles. Does populist (and, notably, female-centric) pop like Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" stand a chance against all the seriousness in song of the year and record of the year?
Punching the dance card
The obscure L.A.-via-Liechtenstein producer Al Walser ran an inside game among his fellow Grammy voters to score a nomination in best dance recording for his homemade trance single "I Can't Live Without You."
Walser knew what he had to do to get on the ballot without a budget. If his laudable lobbying skills (and that dance music remains foreign to many Grammy voters) can beat Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia and Avicii in this important genre category, the Grammys might need to reassess how they evaluate dance music. Last week Rolling Stone has his Vegas odds at 2-1 to win.
Everything old is new again — and so is everything new
The real aesthetic competition this year is between revivalist rock and folk and future-thinking, genre-blending artists. Acts such as the Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, the Black Keys, Alabama Shakes and White all hark back to older ideas about guitar-based musicwith anthemic updates to compete on radio.
In the other corner, however, acts like Fun., Ocean and Miguel seem to represent the direction pop (and America) is taking — aesthetically omnivorous and spread across racial and sexual identities. See if one side wins out, like fun. for best new artist, Miguel's "Adorn" for song of the year and Ocean's "Channel Orange" for album of the year — that may be the face of Grammys to come.