This year's Grammy nominations in the four major categories offer a mix of last year's most ubiquitous stars and artists whose work floated under the mainstream pop radar. Given the highly fragmented state of pop music and the Recording Academy's unpredictable tastes, picking a shoo-in for the major awards isn't easy. But here are my picks for those who deserve the golden gramophone and those who will probably win it anyway.
Record of the Year
Nominees: "Irreplaceable," Beyonce; "The Pretender," Foo Fighters; "Umbrella," Rihanna featuring Jay-Z; "What Goes Around ... Comes Around," Justin Timberlake; "Rehab," Amy Winehouse
My pick: "Irreplaceable." This ice-hearted kiss-off became one of 2007's most memorable hits with its infectious "to the left" hook. Plus, Beyonce, who already owns 10 Grammys, is a Recording Academy darling. So she will probably strut away with this one.
Album of the Year
Nominees: Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters; These Days, Vince Gill; River: The Joni Letters, Herbie Hancock; Graduation, Kanye West; Back to Black, Amy Winehouse
My pick: Hancock's River is one of the most sterling pop-jazz albums to come out in a while and one that can easily stand next to his classic work. But because West briefly resuscitated the industry by selling nearly a million copies of Graduation in its first week of release, the Academy may feel obliged to hand him the Grammy in this category.
Song of the Year
Nominees: "Before He Cheats," Carrie Underwood (Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins); "Hey There Delilah," Plain White T's (Tom Higgenson); "Like a Star," Corinne Bailey Rae (Corinne Bailey Rae); "Rehab," Amy Winehouse (Amy Winehouse); "Umbrella," Rihanna featuring Jay-Z (Shawn Carter, Kuk Harrell, Terius "The Dream" Nash and Christopher Stewart)
My pick: "Rehab." Given Winehouse's recent pitiful situation with drugs, the song has taken on a sadder feel. But beyond that, it is still a refreshing, smart-aleck take on a subject seldom addressed in pop music. But it's too dark a tune to win song of the year. The Academy will probably go with a safe, bright number like "Umbrella."
Best New Artist
Nominees: Feist, Ledisi, Paramore, Taylor Swift, Amy Winehouse
My pick: Ledisi, a dynamite soul-jazz vocalist based in Oakland, Calif., deserves the award. Although Lost & Found, her debut for Verve Records, garnered strong reviews, not enough mainstream pop fans know her name. But Winehouse, despite her well-publicized personal drama, may snag this one.