If you think the opinions of critics and passionate fans of rock and rap and pop and country mean nothing to the Grammy Awards, being a dance-music fan widens the gap that much more. Essentially, if you’re allergic to bottle service and/or newbs with glow sticks, you’re better off crying into your pitch-shifter. The bulk of this year’s Best Dance Recording roster is out to party like it’s 1999—specifically, that year’s Ministry of Sound compilations, only dumbed further down. Yet that’s notable in itself—part of a shift exemplified last December, when I this Top 40 back-announcement: “I heard that overseas three years ago. That’s how far ahead of the curve Europe is when it comes to dance music.” That pronouncement is this category—which has six nominees instead of five—in a nutshell.
Deadmau5 & Greta Svabo Bech, “Raise Your Weapon”
WHAT: Probably the most songful thing in the costume-wearing Toronto DJ’s catalog—at least up to the point where it becomes totally fuckin’ bitchin’ dubstep, man.
PROS: The best iconography this side of Daft Punk themselves—meaning voters are as likely to recognize his name as Skrillex’s. He’s also a better producer than a lot of electronic-dance snobs like to let on (raises hand).
CONS: He isn’t that much better a producer than electronic-dance snobs like to let on—not that Grammy voters care.
THE BREAKDOWN ARRIVES: The dubstep part comes in arrives at 4:01; the quiet piano comes back in at 7:14.
Duck Sauce, “Barbra Streisand”
WHAT: Boston-to-New York house veteran Armand Van Helden and Kanye’s DJ, A-Trak, accompanied by an “Ooh-ooh-ooh” vocal, get just silly enough.
PROS: Being Kanye’s DJ gives A-Trak some name recognition, and of the straight-dance records in the category (meaning not Robyn), it’s the best by some distance.
CONS: The name sounds like a joke, the track sounds like a half-joke, and awards ceremonies tend to be humor-averse as a rule.
THE BREAKDOWN ARRIVES: In the official video above, 1:04 is the point where the overdubbed studio track gives way to A-Trak doing some turntable tricks in “live” sound. A more formal breakdown occurs between 1:23 and 2:01.
David Guetta & Avicii, “Sunshine”
WHAT: Robert Miles’s “Children” 2.0.
PROS: The Grammys love them a pretty piano melody.
CONS: Pretty one-note even for a dance record.
THE BREAKDOWN ARRIVES: At 2:44; it rebuilds to full strength (so to speak) at 3:53.
Robyn, “Call Your Girlfriend”
WHAT: The one true pop record in the bunch—meaning it was made to be sung along to, preferably as it airs on the radio—by a Swedish pop lifer who opened for Katy Perry, wrote and sang backup for Britney, and has iron-clad critical cred.
PROS: Not just the only real pop song here, which always helps, but also the best dance track—take Robyn off and it’d fit right onto a Roulé 12-inch. In a category that amounts to a sure thing, with a cartoon villain coming in close, she could be a sleeper.
CONS: Even a year ago this would have had a better shot simply because it is a pop record—like the rest of America, Grammy is starting to catch up with dance-music aesthetics.
THE BREAKDOWN ARRIVES: A quick vocal sample is messed with—close enough for pop—for 15 seconds starting at 2:36.
Skrillex, “Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites”
WHAT: Grammy 2012’s misfit golden child.
PROS: Totally his year—he’s up for five awards, not one or two.
CONS: Unusually strong competition, in Grammy terms.
THE BREAKDOWN ARRIVES: At 1:46.
Swedish House Mafia, “Save The World”
WHAT: Fake-Coldplay + gauze-for-ears trance = $$$.
PROS: They sold out Madison Square Garden. And Grammy voters do love them some clueless gut-busting vocals.
CONS: There are other categories for clueless gut-busting vocals. I’d also wager the group’s anonymous name and air (and music) work heavily against them here.
THE BREAKDOWN ARRIVES: In the radio edit above, at 0:37.
FINAL PREDICTION: Sonny came home—with an award!