Unlike MTV’s Video Music Awards, which usually reward some combination of pop excellence, symbolic audacity, and likelihood of being controversial, the Grammys’ short-form music video category is a lot like the Oscars. They don’t always pick the best videos—this year’s list omits such highlights as Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” Ke$ha’s “Blow,” the Beastie Boys’ “Make Some Noise,” and Beyoncé’s “Girls (Who Run the World)”—but they do a good job of capturing the middlebrow zeitgeist, recognizing those videos that manage to combine critical respectability with popular appeal. Looking through their past winners, they generally pick the right one from the bunch (“Opposites Attract” in 1991, “Losing My Religion” in 1992, “Digging in the Dirt” in 1993). Their blind spot is the same one in every other category: older artists. That’s why “Free as a Bird” beat “Tonight, Tonight” in 1997, and Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” won over Feist’s “1234” in 2008. With no dead artists eligible this year, will the righteous (Adele) triumph? Or will Grammy voters give in to their lazier impulses and just pick OK Go?
Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
WHO: I think we’ve passed the point in this feature where I need to tell you who Adele is.
PROS: Actually the best video of the bunch: gorgeous, perfectly showcasing Adele, and subtly effective in relating the visuals to the emotional core of the song. Plus, it’s people playing real instruments in an abandoned house while looking sad, like a sensitive 13-year-old’s idea of authenticity.
CONS: Will voters have Adele fatigue? Unlike other categories, where Adele is the clear respectable choice, here she’s up against such critical luminaries as Radiohead. With no Bruno Mars or Katy Perry to split the pop vote, she could suffer.
THE GIMMICK: A vibrating house.
NUMBER OF YOUTUBE VIEWS: 229 million
Memory Tapes, “Yes I Know”
WHO: One-man chillwave act came gone straight synthpop.
PROS: Mixes moody, black-and-white footage with bluntly obvious visual effects.
CONS: Nominated in no other categories, and practically unknown in Grammy terms (he’s on Carpark), it’s unclear even how this got nominated; its chances of picking up underdog votes are tempered by the Brooklyn-centric visuals and the music’s lack of intrinsic appeal to traditional Grammy voters.
THE GIMMICK: His body dissolves into a latticework of rubbery strands.
NUMBER OF YOUTUBE VIEWS: 200k
OK Go, “All is Not Lost”
WHO: The dudes on the treadmills.
PROS: Pressed-for-time Grammy voters may just assume an OK Go video must be the best video of the year, given past performance.
CONS: Despite being a pretty neat video, it failed entirely to go viral; their Super Bowl ad from last week already has more views than this. That may because there’s so much going on (screen splitting! One-take live performance! Feet spelling out letters! Interactivity! Dance routine!) that it’s hard to encapsulate in a quicklink.
THE GIMMICK: Multiple; see above.
NUMBER OF YOUTUBE VIEWS: 1 million
Radiohead, “Lotus Flower”
WHO: Britpoppers turned art-rockers.
PROS: In black-and-white; inspired a meme; is Radiohead. Plus, they have more nominations than anyone else in the category besides Adele.
CONS: Features a dance routine, which is gauche; no overly-metaphoric showy visual effect.
THE GIMMICK: Thom Yorke dancing!
NUMBER OF YOUTUBE VIEWS: 15.5 million
Skrillex, “First of the Year (Equinox)”
WHO: BOOM SKREE WUB DUB DUB.
PROS: “Edgy” in an unthreatening way with a straightforward, humorous concept that makes you want to click the “like” button. And maybe the academy feels bad for never recognizing Richard D. James?
CONS: It’s a little more about child rape than we’d seem comfortable with, and it may still be too “edgy” for Grammy voters.
THE GIMMICK: I Spit On Your Grave, but, y’know, for kids.
NUMBER OF YOUTUBE VIEWS: 36 million
Weird Al, “Perform This Way”
WHO: Musical parodist your cool friends never talk about but all loved when they were 14.
PROS: Name recognition, plus the Wilco-y narrative of Gaga’s people initially rejecting the song may get him some sympathy.
CONS: Is Weird Al; music industry ultimately probably has more sympathy for Lady Gaga.
THE GIMMICK: Al’s head on a Gaga-esque body replicating many of Gaga’s most memorable outfits.
NUMBER OF YOUTUBE VIEWS: 4 million on the initial audio-only post, 10.5 million on the official video