Grammys 2014: Who Will Win Album Of The Year?

The Grammys are a headscratcher every year, but this year’s crop of Album Of The Year nominees seems especially befuddling. Three of the choices were released waaaay back in October 2012. We get it, you have to have cutoff dates for this sort of thing but, damn, that’s like two music industry half-lives ago! One of the albums is a throwback to the decades when the music industry was an unstoppable force and thus it sounded purposely cheesy and self-indulgent. And one nominee sold a paltry 68,000 units its first week, received middling reviews and quite frankly has no business being here, no matter how many times that one song is played at your local supermarket.

And that’s before you factor in all the worthy albums that could’ve taken that spot (sorry, Kanye WestLorde, Justin Timberlake, HAIM, Drake, etc.) So what in the hell are we to make of the biggest category for this year’s Grammy Awards? We’re not entirely sure, but below we’ve tried to predict who will win.

The Blessed Unrest — Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
good kid, m.A.A.d city — Kendrick Lamar
The Heist — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red Taylor Swift

THOUGHTS ON THE NOMINEES: It’s basically the too-big-to-fails (Daft Punk, Taylor) against the little-engines-that-could (K-Dot, Macklemore, Sara). And within that battle, there’s a radio rap vs. “real” rap face-off. The interesting thing about the Kendrick-Macklemore competition is that both albums are the product of artists who stuck to their own script and refused to cave in to industry demands, resulting in a couple of the year’s most self-assured and consistent offerings. If either were to win, it would be a watershed Grammy moment: the Academy’s first time awarding the night’s top honor to a straight-up, non-crossover rap album (previously, Lauryn Hill‘s solo debut and Outkast‘s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won Album Of The Year, but both were a hybrid of pop, rap and R&B).

But that storyline could be buried beneath the juggernaut that is Red, which had the biggest sales debut of any album since Eminem‘s The Eminem Show in 2002. What’s interesting is that the album’s selling point was its blatant appropriation of glossy, big-tent pop sounds, marking Swift’s artistic evolution, when usually the evolution works in the reverse — more accessible to more difficult (see: Yeezus). Even if this were a sellout move on Taylor’s part (but, like, you can’t really sell out after already having a million-selling week), it’s not like the Grammy cabal would care. After all, Santana‘s radio-kowtowing orgy Supernatural won Album Of The Year and Creed have a Grammy to their name, so yeah.

On a related note, you have Daft Punk, who proved this year that if you have enough money and talented friends, you can create the best-sounding record of the year. It’s the Yankees of the Grammys this year: sure, the French duo’s deep pockets allowed them to call in some of their favorite musicians to help out. But even if you bought the best players, they’re still the best players. Also, if there’s one thing the Grammys love, it’s when old white dudes give in to their masturbatory studio indulgences, and RAM is one orgasmic exploration of the studio space (and actual space).

The thing that unites the four above-mentioned nominees is that their releases were all culturally relevant and depicted a different slice of the zeitgeist. The biggest contribution Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest gave to the pop music discussion in 2013 was… it had one song that Katy Perry ripped off. I’m not trying to insult Bareilles, she made a solid album. It’s just utterly insignificant, and by no means defines the year.

WHO WILL WIN: Since it’s such a jumble of nominees this year, it’s also tough to pick a winner. You could make a case for any of them (except The Blessed Unrest). Red has the numbers. Random Access Memories has the cultural cachet. GKMC was the most critically acclaimed album of the bunch. And The Heist has the grassroots rise and, well, sure seems like any easy way for the Grammys to embrace hip-hop without, ya know, really embracing hip-hop.

I think it comes down to Daft Punk and Taylor, though, because the Grammys are the music establishment, and these two huge acts both benefit and benefit from whatever shred of life remains in the music-industrial complex. So, then, since the eight previous Album Of The Year winners performed at the ceremony, and Swift isn’t on the roster this year, I’m going with the pattern and predicting Daft Punk will take home the top prize. [Ed note: As our intrepid commenters pointed out below, Swift is performing this year. I even wrote our post announcing her addition to the show. So yes, I am an idiot. But I still think Daft Punk will win — they soundtracked much of 2013 and the Academy is very stingy with repeat AOTY winners. Still have no idea how they’ll give an acceptance speech, though.]

WHO SHOULD WIN: [Biting my tongue so that I won’t type Yeezus] Taylor Swift’s Red crushed the competition and it ably pulled off a sonic evolution. So a second Album Of The Year win for Swift would be hard to argue with.

Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.

  • BrianSco

    So many things about this article confuse me. Taylor Swift is performing this year….Plus I hardly call The Blessed Unrest getting middling reviews. It got a 68 on metacritic, which by no means is critically acclaimed, but it’s a higher number than Teenage Dream and Some Nights received when they were both nominated for AOTY. Plus, you can’t call an album utterly insignificant and then say you aren’t trying to insult Barielles. That’s like saying no offense, and saying something offensive. I don’t even think Barielles’ album should or will win, but this article seems extremely biased. I love Haim, but their album sold 26,000 copies in its first week, a number far less than Sarah’s, even if it did get better reviews. So how does their album define the year?

    • Carl Williott

      Teenage Dream and Some Nights were commercial smashes. Days Are Gone is a critical smash. The Blessed Unrest is neither. All I’m saying is it’s an inoffensive, middle-of-the-road release that had no broader impact, so why is it there? Why is it selected above more worthy offerings, or other inoffensive, middle-of-the-road releases? And if I wanted to insult her, I’d maybe call her Sara Bore-eilles and say The Blessed Unrest is a bland lump of flaccid Walmart music that won’t be remembered a year from now. No offense LYLAS.

  • Nico

    Way to do your research, Carl. The entire basis of your article is rendered invalid because you don’t apparently realize Taylor is playing.

    • Carl Williott

      Yeah yeah I forgot, I even did our post about it. Hard to keep track of the 5,000 performers. The piece has been updated above.

  • Patrick

    I’m not sure if you bothered to listen to The Blessed Unrest, but it’s a great, cohesive album. It was well-reviewed, and she was far more experimental than “Brave” showed. While I was surprised it got nominated, it certainly deserves it.

    Flaccid Walmart music? Where do you think Taylor Swift’s fans are purchasing her album? I’m sorry Sara didn’t have a few famous exes/beards to write about.

  • Sean

    Wow! Harsh words for Sara Bareilles’ most experimental, poignant, and well-written album to date. To say that her nomination was a surprise is an understatement, but it would be refreshing to see an artist who receives relatively little praise and recognition for her honest, beautiful work receive such a high honor at the Grammys. Not saying that I think it’ll happen, but I can dream. Long live Sara B