The Grammys have a determinedly behind-the-times history, and Song of the Year is one of the ceremony’s most reliably old-fashioned categories. It’s given to the songwriter—even though what constitutes a “song” today is a lot different than when the Grammys began in 1959, back when sheet music was still a major music-biz income source. Usually the nominations overlap heavily with Record of the Year (which is given to artist and producer), with a couple of differences, sometimes confusing ones. (Take 2010—since when was Beyoncé’s “Halo” more of a “record” and “Single Ladies” more of a “song”?) This year, the category seems like as much of a straight shot as the other Big 3 (Album and Record). But as with everything the Grammys do, from picking the nominees to putting on a show, there’s always the possibility of surprise—last year looked like it belonged to Eminem, and he got shut out. It’s highly doubtful that’ll happen to Adele, whose “Rolling In The Deep” is nominated here, but with Grammy, you truly never know.
Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi & Fergie, “All of the Lights” (Jeff Bhasker, Stacy Ferguson, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter & Kanye West, songwriters)
WHAT: The acceptable-to-Grammy-sensibilities (it has a quasi-classical intro!) resulted in a big-category faint-praise nod in the direction of a guy whose shenanigans they are fucking tired of already—and never mind the one-and-a-half albums he put out during the nomination period.
PROS: Quasi-classical intro signals that West is a Serious Musician in a way that the voters who played flugelhorn on a session 30 years ago and haven’t paid attention to new music since can appreciate.
CONS: The only Song nom without a Record one to go with it. However, four of the last ten Song winners weren’t even nominated for Record—the largest such cluster in the awards’ history. (They were: “Dance with My Father” in 2004; “Daughters” in 2005; “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” in 2006; and “Single Ladies” in 2010). So this still has a shot.
COVERS? Portland Cello Project; The Northern Lights; Patrick Stump; Karmin feat. Orlando Dixon
Mumford & Sons, “The Cave” (Ted Dwane, Ben Lovett, Marcus Mumford & Country Winston, songwriters)
WHAT: Nice boys with real instruments.
PROS: Performed behind Bob Dylan on last year’s awards show; country-leaning songs have done well in recent years (“Need You Now” and “Not Ready to Make Nice” won this category in 2011 and 2007, respectively).
COVERS? Vanessa Carlton; Dia Frampton; Tyler Ward and Megan Nicole; Ellie Goulding; Two Door Cinema Club
Bruno Mars, “Grenade” (Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Bruno Mars & Andrew Wyatt, songwriters)
WHAT: Another gooey bonbon from Lionel Richie 2.0.
PROS: Ever since Mars hatched from his larval egg at Grammy HQ, fed on only the most the finest fromage, he’s been primed for a moment like this. This song has the best shot at continuing the Record-Song split of recent Grammys, too.
CONS: It’s up against “Rolling in the Deep.”
COVERS? Before You Exit’s (kind of cute) version; various American Idol contestants performed it during tryouts
Bon Iver, “Holocene” (Justin Vernon, songwriter)
WHAT: The new face of mom-friendly “hip.”
PROS: Kanye co-sign + Portlandia + “A-a-a-arcade Fire?” + the Return of Soft Rock [TM] + memories of Christopher Cross’s 1981 sweep = possible upset.
CONS: This ambient froth is a song?
COVERS? I think I heard it coming out of a humidifier once.
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, songwriters)
WHAT: Song of the year, according to everyone.
PROS: Announces itself as a standard on the first play.
CONS: Grammy’s recent streak of Song-Record splits.
COVERS? Mike Posner; Linkin Park; John Legend; between one-third and three-quarters of the drunk women at your nearest karaoke bar
FINAL PREDICTION: It’s Adele’s to lose—probably to Bruno Mars.