(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Award nominees, click here.)
The GRAMMY Awards boast a rich tradition in the Record Of The Year category, honoring artists from Frank Sinatra and Simon And Garfunkel to Billy Joel and Michael Jackson, and more recently, Coldplay, Green Day and Norah Jones, among many others.
This year, five more contenders enter the formidable fray to compete for the 2010 Record Of The Year honor, an award acknowledging the artist, producer and recording engineer and/or mixer. Whereas Song Of The Year is a songwriter award, which in many cases is also the artist, this coveted prize recognizes everyone else responsible for the finished product. This year's nominees share a level of excellence that ensures the winner will do justice to the legacy of this very special award.
B.o.B's "Nothin' On You" featuring Bruno Mars gets the category off to a smooth and sultry hip-hop/R&B start with this unforgettable track off B.o.B's major label debut No. 1 album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray (a reference to the rapper's real name). Eminem's "Love The Way You Lie" featuring Rihanna, which is also nominated for Song Of The Year and comes off his Album Of The Year-nominated Recovery, uses the full vocal force of Rihanna to power the cautionary tale of a fiery relationship. Cee Lo Green's "F*** You," which also garnered a Song Of The Year nod, combines foul-mouthed irreverence and a modern take on the doo-wop music of the '50s into a lovable kiss-off song. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' anthemic "Empire State Of Mind," off Jay-Z's No. 1 album The Blueprint 3, has attracted so much airplay that it's already in the canon of classic New York songs. And "Need You Now," which also earned a Song Of The Year nomination, is the endearing drunk lover's lament that sets the tone as the title track of Lady Antebellum's stunning sophomore release, which topped both the pop and country charts.
The merits of "Nothin' On You" (crafted in part by "F*** You" co-writers Philip Lawrence and Mars, along with B.o.B and Ari Levine) are hard to deny, whether you're instantly grabbed by Mars' perfect vocals on the enchanting chorus, B.o.B's deft rapping and singing throughout, or the Smeezingtons' (code name for the trio of Lawrence, Levine and Mars) seamless production. Don't worry, you're not alone if you can't decide which part of the song you like best. This track reached No. 1 in the United States and England, suggesting the other Record Of The Year contenders may have nothin' on B.o.B.
While much has been written and said about "Love The Way You Lie," hearing the song in all its unfettered fury is something to behold. Eminem and Rihanna combine to set aflame the classic torch-song structure, creating a track about combustible love that explains the concept of tortured attraction better than anything in recent memory. Adding to the heat is the furious production work of Alex Da Kid and Makeba Riddick.
Green might have gone "Crazy" as part of the GRAMMY-winning duo Gnarls Barkley (with Danger Mouse), but on "F*** You," the only thing slightly off-kilter is the R-rated title. Otherwise, this song is pure ear candy, from the Xbox/Atari comparison in the clever lyrics, to a melody made better by the production bells and whistles of the Smeezingtons, that you just can't seem to shake.
Anytime you can combine the old-school rap genius of Jay-Z with the pitch-perfect singing of Keys, you're in for a treat, and "Empire State Of Mind," produced by Angela Hunte, Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic and Shux, has taken off around the world from the "concrete jungle where dreams are made." The song attained a chart-topping state of mind, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Rounding out the nominees are the current kings and queen of contemporary country, Lady Antebellum, who hooked up with fellow Nashvillian and producer Paul Worley to craft a new classic with "Need You Now." The liquored-up love song puts you back on the sawdust-covered floor of your local haunt, shaking in your boots while you try and seal the deal for the night with the one you long for.
Who will win the coveted Record Of The Year trophy? Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.
(Matt Sycamore is a Pacific Northwest-based freelance music writer.)