A year that gave us much exuberant pop music about being happy, shaking it off, keeping it fancy and/or letting go of problems — “the past is in the past,” sings Idina Menzel in “Let It Go” — had little need for the starker realities either down the street, overseas or within the heart.
But, then, who can blame Menzel, Taylor Swift (“Shake It Off”), Ariana Grande (“Problem”) and Pharrell (“Happy”), leading contenders when the Grammy Awards nominations are announced Friday, for preaching positivity in rough-and-tumble times? Pharrell tacitly acknowledges the disconnect in his opening couplet: “It might seem crazy what I’m about to say / Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break.” Right now, it does sound kind of crazy, but OK.
For commercial popular music, the Grammys are a kind of break, a celebration of melodic and lyrical sunshine that serves as a time stamp, embedded in memories for the decades to come.
Arriving through a new staggered, day-long rollout involving television and social media that aims for extended trending-ness, these chart-toppers will join likely nominees including superstar singer Beyoncé, upstart Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, British seducer Sam Smith and yet another beige Coldplay effort. So they will combine to set in the official record the output of a year in which sounds, musical memes, videos, tweets and clips shot through cyberspace like meteors.
Recall, after all, a year of Sia’s lovely “Chandelier” clip, of British synth-rock band Bastille’s darkened “Pompeii,” of lots of drunken male country stars like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean ogling women, of fed-up artists Miranda Lambert and Maddie & Tae (“Girl in a Country Song”) calling them out.
Well, for one: “Surfboard. Surfboard — graining on that wood, graining, graining on that wood,” the memorable break in “Drunk in Love.”
My favorite pop song of the year once again arrived courtesy of Beyoncé, whose “Drunk in Love” is complex where Swift’s “Shake It Off” is simplistic, is funky and hard where “Happy” is gratuitously catchy, is realistic where “Let It Go” is a fairy tale from Disney’s “Frozen.” The most memorable single from her 2013 December surprise album “Beyoncé" — a lock for an album of the year nod — “Drunk in Love” deserves any nominations it receives, a roller coaster of feral passion so blissfully executed that you can feel the fire inside the beats.
My biggest Grammy fears — after all, voters of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences have been embarrassingly misguided in the past — involve two ubiquitous chart-toppers: “Rude,” the dastardly earworm by MAGIC! that rivals Men at Work’s “Down Under” as the worst reggae-inspired song ever recorded; and John Legend’s “All of Me,” a ballad so blandly imagined that Coldplay’s Chris Martin might have penned it. Hopefully “Stay With Me,” a much lovelier ballad from Smith’s breakout debut album, “In the Lonely Hour,” will prevail among voters — and that “Rude” starts gathering well-deserved dust come Saturday morning.
My predictions in the top four categories.
Album of the year: Beyoncé, “Beyoncé"; Coldplay, “Ghost Stories"; Miranda Lambert, “Platinum"; Ed Sheeran, “X"; Sam Smith, “In the Lonely Hour.”
Record of the year: “Problem” (Ariana Grande featuring Iggy Azalea); “Shake It Off” (Taylor Swift); “Stay With Me” (Sam Smith); “Happy” (Pharrell); “Fancy” (Iggy Azalea).
Song of the year: “Drunk in Love” (Beyoncé); “Happy” (Pharrell); “Let It Go” (Idina Menzel); “Stay With Me” (Sam Smith); “All About That Bass” (Meghan Trainor).
New artist: Iggy Azalea; 5 Seconds of Summer; Haim; Schoolboy Q; Sam Smith.
By nature, excellent popular music will undoubtedly be overlooked. Best-case scenario: voters deliver a few surprises. I’m hoping that Beck’s “Morning Phase” sneaks in as an album of the year nominee in place of Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories.” Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse (featuring Juicy J)” warrants a song of the year nod. And — fat chance, I know — but Usher’s “Good Kisser” hasn’t been mentioned in many pre-nomination tallies, but in the perfect world it would get a handful of mentions.
A Very Grammy Christmas Special
Who: Sam Smith, Mary J. Blige, Big Sean, Tim McGraw, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams. Album of the year nominees will be announced (remaining categories to be announced earlier that day)
When: Friday, 9 p.m. ET/PT