The music industry can't stop drinking from the fountain of youth.
Like some plastic surgery addict forever injecting Botox, the National Recording Academy of Arts and Sciences (NARAS) and its annual awards ceremony, the Grammys, has, over the last five years, shifted away from honoring the occasional veteran and instead chosen to focus almost exclusively on musicians under age 40.
Ordinarily, this kind of news would inspire me to do backflips, but after five or six straight years of an ever-increasing number of young and relatively untested performers dominating the pre-Grammy discussion, I've begun to wonder if NARAS is overreaching just a bit.
Take this year's crop of contenders: In the three major categories (record, song and album of the year), the elder statesman is Jack White, at age 37. Even more alarming, a few acts are in the running based upon their first album.
While the Grammys' embrace of new faces is admirable and helps the awards remain somewhat relevant (and therefore enticing to television viewers), it's also not a good idea to completely forsake those who have been making music for longer than many of this year's major nominees have been alive. Without the "shock" victories of a Herbie Hancock or Steely Dan, to name just two dark horses that stole younger acts' thunder at previous Grammy ceremonies, the evening would just turn into another one of the umpteen "awards" shows already clogging the calendar.
So, yes, it's great to see Frank Ocean, Alabama Shakes or the Black Keys vying for several of the music industry's top prizes, but the playing field should be a little more level. Don't fall victim to the allure of the young and promising over the guarantee of the tried and true.
After all, if you indulge in too much nipping and tucking, the seams inevitably start to show.
Here are my picks for this year's major Grammy categories. For a full list of nominees in all categories, visit grammy.com.
Record of the year
Of the six nominees, Gotye (for his inescapable earworm Somebody That I Used to Know), fun. (for We Are Young) and especially Taylor Swift ( We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together) feel like token nods to Top 40 radio. That leaves Kelly Clarkson (for Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)) to battle it out with the Black Keys ( Lonely Boy) and Frank Ocean ( Thinkin Bout You). Ocean, as often happens with buzzy upstarts, will likely go wanting in the major categories -- unless NARAS feels like making a statement this year -- and more than likely, the Black Keys, one of the night's most nominated acts, will walk away with the golden gramophone.
Should win: Frank Ocean
Will win: The Black Keys
Song of the year
Out of the big three categories, this one features the most interesting mix of nominees, a true blend of the sounds currently making waves on radio, TV and elsewhere. British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran (for The A Team) and rising R&B star Miguel ( Adorn) are just happy to be here, as is pop pixie Carly Rae Jepsen (the unkillable Call Me Maybe), but the remaining two nominees -- fun.'s We Are Young and the team behind Clarkson's Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You) -- are pretty evenly matched. Clarkson, the veteran, could nab a win here, but NARAS may want to validate the enormous success of fun.'s sophomore album and give them the prize.
Should win: Kelly Clarkson
Will win: fun.
Album of the year
The Grammys' rock bias is on full display here, with the majority of the category given over to rock and pop acts. Only Frank Ocean's boundary-bending Channel Orange stands apart from the pack, made up of the Black Keys' El Camino, Jack White's Blunderbuss, fun.'s Some Nights and Mumford & Sons' Babel. NARAS is an unabashed fan of what the Los Angeles Times critic Randall Roberts calls "Etsy folk" (aka Mumford & Sons and their ilk), so they have an outside chance, as does industry favorite Jack White. While I'd love to see Ocean win this, I think the category comes down to a Black Keys/fun. faceoff.
Should win: Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
Will win: The Black Keys, El Camino
Best new artist
Of his major nominations, here is where Frank Ocean will claim his consolation prize after being shut out in album and record of the year races. Rootsy rock collective Alabama Shakes and, to a lesser degree, the Lumineers (purveyors of the aforementioned "Etsy folk") are the only real threats here, with fresh-faced country singer Hunter Hayes and fun. rounding out the group. Ocean's powerful back story and gorgeous debut album should propel the singer-songwriter, like Bon Iver before him, to Grammy glory.
Should win: Frank Ocean
Will win: Frank Ocean