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Fearless Grammy predictions

From Kanye to Sugarland, music's old, new, mediocre battle for top prize
/ Source: msnbc.com contributors

The 48th Annual Grammy Awards air Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBS, and once again we’ll see the old guard duke it out with the new, and the mediocre battle with, well, the rest of the mediocre (and Kanye West). It is the Grammys after all.

Who will win? Who should win? Here are our picks from Grammy’s latest batch of nominees.

Album of the year
“The Emancipation Of Mimi,” Mariah Carey
“Chaos And Creation In The Backyard,” Paul McCartney
“Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” Gwen Stefani
“How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb,” U2
“Late Registration,” Kanye West

Helen’s take: West deserves it, but Carey wins. If Dr. Phil has taught us anything, it’s that American loves a great comeback story. Plus, “Emancipation” is 2005’s the best-selling LP, and Grammy is all about the Benjamins. But for my money, West’s only competition is “Demon Days” by Gorillaz  (which at least got a Record of the Year nod) and “Get Behind Me Satan,” by the White Stripes, once again relegated to the Alternative ghetto. “L.A.M.B.,” like Stefani’s pet Japanese women, is too gimmicky. “Bomb” is U2 Rock Star business as usual. McCartney could be the surprise sentimental win, but man he’s played. In the “Fine” single video, like most McCartney videos over the past 20 years, he’s playing every instrument, including that crusty Hofner Beatle bass. We get it! You were in the Beatles!

Ree’s take: Go Kanye, it’s your birthday! Yeah, I’m a dork, but “Late Registration” is a shoo-in. It might be fun to see Mariah (or Mimi, or whichever of her personalities shows up) get wacky at acceptance-speech time, but West is still the man. I agree, Sir Paul didn’t deserve the nod and St. Bono and Co. are stuck on repeat. L.A.M.B has some rump shakin’ moments. Unfortunately, with more producers on this record than a nori roll’s got rice, Stefani’s breakout is as mismatched as her beloved Harajuku Girls’ leg warmers.

Record of the year“We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey
“Feel Good Inc.” Gorillaz featuring De La Soul
“Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” Green Day
“Hollaback Girl,” Gwen Stefani
“Gold Digger,” Kanye West

Helen:“Feel Good Inc.,” duh! This song is so amazing, I’m breaking my anti-iPod commercial giving props to the genre-bending Gorillaz. “Gold Digger” is also great — solid hip-hop, super catchy without being stupid (unlike “My Humps” and “Candy Shop”). As for “Hollaback Girl,” again I’m not a fan of Gwen’s gimmicks. Good to see Green Day still on top, but “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is one of its lesser punk ballads. Alas, Carey probably wins here as well for the much-loved “We Belong Together.” I’m not a fan of this multi-octave sapfest, but I do like the video where she dumps Eric Roberts at the alter (Tony Mottola?) for that dude from “Prison Break” (Eminem?).

Ree: What’s stupid about “My Humps?” I must be missing something. My niece would totally call “Hollaback Girl,” but since she’s a few years away from making official Grammy picks, I’m going to breakout on my own and give it to Gorillaz for “Feel Good Inc.” It’s smart and I love the thought of the entire record industry kissing up to Gorillaz producer Danger Mouse after the show: “Sooooo sorry about blacklisting your “Grey Album” in ’02 Mr. Mouse. No hard feelings, huh? Let’s get you, Sir Paul and Jay Z all together for a photo op!”

Song of the year“Bless The Broken Road,” Rascal Flatts
“Devils & Dust,” Bruce Springsteen
“Ordinary People,” John Legend
“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” U2
“We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey

Ree: For the sake of our readers, and not at all because I don’t really know, what’s the difference between Song of the Year and Record of the Year?

Helen: Record is a single track from an LP and the award goes to the artist as well as the producers, engineers, etc. Song is for the songwriter. So when “We Belong Together” undoubtedly wins, the Grammy goes to Carey and her hit-making crew. And it might as well — what a bunch of yawners this year. Springsteen might have a sentimental step up on Carey. “Devils & Dust” doesn’t sound much different from most of his material of the past couple of years, but at least he doesn’t write from formula.

Ree: If it is all about songwriting, then even a mediocre Boss tune should whoop this crowd without taking off its jean jacket. “Bless The Broken Road” ain’t “Born to Run,” but can you picture Mariah sweating over lines such as, “Who else am I gonna lean on when times get rough? Who’s gonna talk to me on the phone, ‘til the sun comes up?“ High school poetry alert! The big disappointment in this category will be U2’s loss — I mean to say that will be a disappointment to U2 themselves. (Expect Bono to overcompensate later that evening by bringing peace to the Middle East.)

Best new artist
Ciara
Fall Out Boy
Keane
John Legend
Sugarland

Helen: Legend has the best hope for a lasting career, but that’s never been the criteria for this category’s winner. Still, he has the Kanye West cred, which makes him a strong contender. It might be interesting to see a country act such as Sugarland win. Fall Out Boy is more of that tired fake new wave, Keane is another dull pop band, and Ciara sounds like every other girl on R&B radio.

Ree: Legend should and will get Best New Artist. Then he’ll surprise everyone by breaking this category’s curse and continue to work for years to come. Not because he’s West’s protégé, but because he’s old-school talented. Legend understands R&B as it should be, not the generic trilling-cum-yodeling on so-called R&B radio today. He’s got a great voice and solid songwriting skills that make him a true soul singer.

R&B album“Illumination,” Earth, Wind And Fire
“Free Yourself,” Fantasia
“Unplugged,” Alicia Keys
“Get Lifted,” John Legend
“A Time To Love,” Stevie Wonder

Helen: It’s odd that Carey didn’t make it into this category. Still, there are several strong contenders. Wonder has the sentimental heads-up over Earth, Wind, And Fire, even though this isn’t Wonder’s best effort. As for Keys, “Unplugged” amounts to greatest hits, so she doesn’t deserve it either. I’d like to see Legend take it. As for Fantasia, it’s hard for me to take “American Idol” winners seriously, though Kelly Clarkson is blazing a trail.

Ree: Fantasia takes it! Snerk — just kidding. Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys fight out this one, though sadly, only figuratively. As you may have guessed from my Best New Artist prediction, Legend should and will take this category too. Wonder recorded some respectable R&B, as did Alicia Keys, but Legend makes the traditional new.

Rap album
“Be,” Common
“The Cookbook,” Missy Elliott
“Encore,” Eminem
“The Massacre,” 50 Cent
“Late Registration,” Kanye West

Helen: “Late Registration,” please.West is the smartest thing to happen in Rap since Eminem, who’s also up this year. But “Encore” is greatest hits, and while it’s full of great hits, awards should be for new stuff. Common is interesting, but his R&B raps (such as “Go” featuring West) are dull. Missy Elliott is always great, but this LP isn’t better than “Late Registration.” As for Fiddy, I already mentioned my disregard for its hit, “Candy Shop.”

Ree: How come lyrical skills go out the window when hardcore rappers start making the big money jams? Take 50 Cent: “I’ll let you lick my lollipop…” If you listen closely, you can hear the whole studio cough. “Late Registration” may be a bit pop for this category (I’ll take my rap sans string section, thanks), but West should take this hands down. That is, unless the judges know a good Sugarhill Gang jam when they hear it, and give Missy the bumpin’ dance floor nod.

Rock album“X&Y,” Coldplay
“In Your Honor,” Foo Fighters
“A Bigger Bang,” The Rolling Stones
“How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb,” U2
“Prairie Wind,” Neil Young

Helen: Oh just give it to Neil Young. Coldplay and U2 are practically the same band. (And how is it that Coldplay spent a couple of winning years in Grammy’s Alternative category but are now considered Rock?) Foo Fighters continue to be a respectable rock outfit — but not terribly interesting. As for the Stones, I know a contract with the devil when I see one. Meanwhile, “Prairie Wind” is the best Young LP in over a decade.

Ree: Arrghhhh! What’s going on with rock this year? Good bands nominated, but none of them at the height of their game … except maybe Coldplay. “X & Y” may be the band’s best, but the Kraftwerk stylin’ on this LP isn’t rock with a capital “r”. For the rest of the bands, just change the albums nominated. Let’s have “Foo Fighters” for Foo Fighters, “Beggars Banquet” for the Stones, “Unforgettable Fire” for U2 and “Harvest Moon” for Neil. And the winner is? The Stones, of course. It’s no contest, and I’m not even a big fan. Too bad this category isn’t retroactive.

Country album
“Fireflies,” Faith Hill
“Lonely Runs Both Ways,” Alison Krauss And Union Station
“Time Well Wasted,” Brad Paisley
“All Jacked Up,” Gretchen Wilson
“Jasper County,” Trisha Yearwood

Helen: Check out Brad Paisley, lost in a sea of female nominees. Plus, he looks kind of like Jordan Catalano from “My So-Called Life.” But that’s not why he should win. He’s with some strong contenders, and the Grammy probably goes to America’s Sweetheart, Faith Hill. Still, this kid is like a young George Strait, and “Time Well Wasted” is his most solid LP yet. Paisley’s lyrics are smart, but not annoyingly literate. He can also be clever without being trite, in both words and music. Hopefully we’ll see Paisley in this category for many years to come.

Ree: Insert “Brokeback Mountain” cowboy joke here.

Ree Hines and Helen A.S. Popkin dedicate this year’s fearless Grammy picks to Ree’s mom, Monti, who’s watching the show this year from the skybox with her perennial Grammy pick, Elvis Presley.