Before getting down to the business of prognosticating the 2013 Grammy Awards, to be broadcast Sunday from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, I'd like to take a moment to thank Adele.
Last year, she made it so simple. The British songwriter's sophomore disc, 21, was such a dominant force that predicting she would make a clean sweep of it - album, song, and record of the year - was so easy, even a rock critic could do it. (Though I will accept congratulations for also calling Bon Iver's upset win as best new artist, thank you very much.)
This year, it's trickier. Although 21 was the biggest-selling album in 2012, as it was the previous year, the Recording Academy was unwilling to take the bold step of nominating Adele for everything all over again. (She did snare a nod for pop solo performance, for a live version of "Set Fire to the Rain.")
Instead, the four major categories - the three above, and best new artist - are wide open, no clear favorites. And each features youngish stars, signifying the music industry's efforts to recognize fresher faces who have racked up singles sales and Spotify streams, rather than the long-in-the-tooth acts who have been traditional Grammy favorites.
Esteemed vets like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Dr. John were ignored in the general categories.
Though tried-and-true forms like blues-rock and folk-pop are represented, the musicians being showcased (such as the Black Keys and Mumford & Sons) are of more recent vintage. And the Grammys have done well in showing love to R&B innovator Frank Ocean, 25, and Miguel, 26, the left-of-center love man who is another key player in reshaping contemporary R&B, and who snagged five nominations, including a nomination for "Adorn" as best song.
So strong is the Grammy youth movement this year that among the major category nominees - including Nate Ruess' pop-rock band fun. (in all four categories), and Ocean (in three of the four) - former White Stripes leader Jack White qualifies as a geezer, at 36.
Among things to watch for: Will Ocean - who had a notorious dustup with Chris Brown in a Los Angeles parking lot last month - cross paths with the best urban-contemporary album nominee? And will Brown be Rihanna's date?
Do Philadelphia hip-hop heroes the Roots have a chance at best rap album, going against Drake, Nas, and Rick Ross? Maybe.
Ditto for Diplo, the former Philadelphian who's up against the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and fun.'s Jeff Bhasker, among others, as producer of the year. Probably not - but as that award will be given away before the telecast, we'll know who won before the show starts.
The same goes for the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, which has two nominations in the instrumental composition category - and, at least mathematically, has a 40 percent chance of winning a golden gramophone. Now, on to the predictions:
Album of the year: The Black Keys, El Camino; fun., Some Nights; Mumford & Sons, Babel; Frank Ocean, Channel Orange; Jack White, Blunderbuss.
Will win: Babel. Not the best, most exciting, or most adventurous album of 2012, but these Brits' robust, traditionalist sound is likely to be the most reassuring to Grammy voters. El Camino is a deserving dark horse.
Should win: Channel Orange. The class of a field that could have been much stronger. Where is Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel. . . ? Or Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. City? (Or any hip-hop, for that matter?) Ocean is a shrewd in-character storyteller and an agile singer with a stunning voice and a refreshing distaste for the surface slickness that has dominated mainstream R&B for too long.
Record of the year: "Lonely Boy," the Black Keys; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Kelly Clarkson; "We Are Young," fun.; "Somebody That I Used To Know," Gotye featuring Kimbra; "Thinkin Bout You," Frank Ocean; "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," Taylor Swift.
Will win: Fun. Along with Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and "Somebody," "We Are Young" was a pop song that wouldn't go away, whether you wanted it to or not. Ruess is a 30-year-old craftsman who deserves his props - and gets extra points for collaborating with the uncategorizable dervish Janelle Monáe.
Should win: "Thinkin Bout You." A heartbreaking internal monologue of a love song, as quietly catchy as it is haunting.
Song of the year: "The A Team," Ed Sheeran; "Adorn," Miguel; "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen; "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Kelly Clarkson; "We Are Young," fun.
Will win: "Call Me Maybe." I should hope so, anyway. "The A Team" is a sentimental dark horse - it's a heart-tugger about being homeless over the holidays - for this songwriter's award. Fun. should have its fun elsewhere, and I don't see the Grammy giving it up for Clarkson, an American Idol alum.
Should win: "Call Me Maybe." My second favorite: Miguel's "Adorn." But attention must be paid to Jepsen's lighthearted pop tune that captures the awkward hesitancy and uncertainty of teenage flirtation and is so well put together that it easily withstood a gazillion YouTube remixes - have you heard President Obama's? - while maintaining its essential charm.
Best new artist: Alabama Shakes, fun., Hunter Hayes, the Lumineers, Frank Ocean.
Will win: The Lumineers, the cute-as-can-be Denver trio who are America's answer to Mumford & Sons. The band is coming off a performance of "Ho Hey" on Saturday Night Live and a sold-out Tower Theatre show (and returns to headline the Susquehanna Bank Center in July). After 44 weeks on the Billboard album chart, their self-titled debut is still in the Top 10.
Should win: Ocean is the most accomplished of this bunch, which includes Hayes, a 21-year-old Louisiana country heartthrob, who - in keeping with the Grammy tradition of nominating new artists who are not new at all - released his first album when he was 8. If Ocean doesn't win, I'd be most heartened by a victory for the Alabama Shakes, the soul-rock trio fronted by the redoubtable Brittany Howard.
The Winner Is . . .
Album of the year:
Will win: Babel, Mumford & Sons.
Should win: Channel Orange, Frank Ocean.
Record of the year:
Will win: "We Are Young," fun.
Should win: "Thinkin Bout You," Frank Ocean.
Song of the year:
Will win: "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen.
"Call Me Maybe."
Best new artist: