In the running are Justin Bieber, Drake, Maroon 5, Katy Perry and Rihanna, but more than any other award this year, it’s anyone’s guess who will take home the honor. Read on to see our analysis — and who’s likeliest to win big.
THOUGHTS ON THE NOMINEES:
Each one of these nominations is well-deserved, in terms of commercial success; there are no contenders who don’t belong. That said, each nominee has earned their space here for different reasons.
Justin Bieber’s Believe was inarguably one of the biggest albums of the year: A global #1 hit that ushered in a new sound for the Biebs, taking him away from the teen-pop of his debut into a more sophisticated R&B sound. But while lead single “Boyfriend” broke the VEVO record for the most views in a 24-hour period (a staggering 8 million — though this was bested later in the year year by One Direction), it didn’t quite manage to top the charts, bowing out at #2 on the Hot 100. While #1 hits aren’t everything, it’s questionable whether the year truly belonged to Bieber.
The sophomore LP from Drake, Take Care, had a major impact this year, too, although he’s less of a singles artist than the other acts on this list. Take Care is a sprawling, stunning achievement, critically acclaimed and commercially huge, with a strong artistic sensibility, but did Drake truly dominate the last year in the realm of pop music? Certainly, he’s influential, but his crossover success in the mainstream didn’t translate into the monster airplay commanded by his contemporaries.
Maroon 5 stand in stark contrast to that, given the clear radio-friendliness of their last LP and its string of massively successful smashes — with Adam Levine‘s ubiquity as a judge on The Voice only augmenting the band’s visibility. Listeners had no qualms about buying Maroon 5′s evolution into an ultra-produced pop outfit, with “Payphone” and “One More Night” both demolishing the competition in the mainstream radio game, but that may have diluted their artistic credibility.
Even though it’s been over two years since Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, she got extra mileage out of the album this year by dropping The Complete Confection rerelease, and the retooled album — which featured “Part of Me,” her seventh #1 on the Hot 100 and one of the best songs of her career — kept her reign intact. Still, Perry’s predominance this year had more to do with her film Part of Me 3D, which seemed omnipresent over the summer due to heavy marketing and promotions — and her ability to command the public attention makes her a serious threat.
It’s no secret that Rihanna is the ultimate singles artist, churning out pop hits with ruthless regularity, and the global smash “We Found Love” was one of her biggest to date, cementing her place as a pop superstar. But Talk That Talk missed the #1 spot on the albums chart — even with so many #1 singles, Rihanna still has yet to drop a #1 album. Still, her grind with releasing a new album each year and a relentless promotions and tour schedule makes her a compelling entrant in this heated race.
WHO WILL WIN:
Although Katy Perry may pull through with the sympathy vote — her high-profile divorce from Russell Brand and her wildly effective and humanizing documentary have made her more likable than ever to the public — our money’s on Justin Bieber, given the fervor of his fanbase, the success of Believe and the fact that he’s still the biggest male pop artist in the game. The diva war has a way of fracturing the market, but Bieber always stays on top.
WHO SHOULD WIN:
Nobody in pop’s A-list worked harder than Rihanna this year — the fact that yet another new album drops from her next week should testify to that — and with her blockbuster performances and monster singles (there’s no contesting that “We Found Love” and “Where Have You Been” are both extraordinary songs), she deserves this win. But more than that, Rihanna shapes the sound of the mainstream, with more inventive and risk-taking sonic choices than any of the artists on this list. Other acts made great pop music, but this year, Rihanna defined it.