Picks and Pans Review: 2005 Grammy Picks

updated 02/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

With Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Usher leading the field, this year's nominees lean heavily toward R&B and hip-hop. Here's who we'd like to see shouting "Yeah!" when the envelopes are opened on Sun., Feb. 13 (CBS, 8 p.m. ET).

Album of the Year

Genius Loves Company
Ray Charles & Various Artists

American Idiot
Green Day

The Diary of Alicia Keys


The College Dropout
Kanye West

With excellent 2004 discs by U2 and Eminem being released too late to make the Sept. 30 Grammy cutoff, and eligible standouts like Jay-Z's The Black Album and George Michael's sorely overlooked Patience not getting nods, this top category is weaker than it should be. Indeed, nothing here screams "Hey Grammy!" like OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below did last year. This year's hip-hop contender, West's overrated debut, The College Dropout, benefits from a bit of freshman luck—and a lot of hype. Usher's solid but unspectacular Confessions, 2004's biggest-selling CD, makes the cut because of its commercial clout. And the sentimental vote nabs a nomination (and quite possibly a trophy) for Charles's not-quite-genius final album. Only Green Day's politically charged punk-rock opera and Keys's classic soul opus truly belong in this category. It's a close call, but we'll give it to Keys, who should have been nominated here for her 2001 debut, Songs in A Minor, and one-upped herself with Diary by turning the page back to the golden age of Aretha, Stevie and Marvin.

Record of the Year

"Let's Get It Started"
The Black Eyed Peas

"Here We Go Again"
Ray Charles and Norah Jones

"American Idiot"
Green Day

Los Lonely Boys

Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris [star]

If anything, the Record of the Year nominees are even less gramophone-worthy than the Album of the Year lot. Sure, "Let's Get It Started" is a fun party song, but it's so lightweight it makes the Black Eyed Peas' previously nominated single in this category, "Where Is the Love," look like "What's Going On." "Heaven" floats along on a blissful cloud, but it falls short of the lofty artistry one would expect from a winner here. "Here We Go Again," while a cross-generational charmer, is hardly revelatory enough to make it worth anointing a remake (although the combined Grammy pedigrees of Jones and Charles maybe too much for voters to ignore). Green Day proved that they have come a long way from their Dookie days by thumbing their bratty noses in the face of the political establishment. But we're rooting for Usher, whose rump-shaking smash, with its sirenlike call to the dance floor, was impossible for us to say no to.

Best Male Pop Vocal
Elvis Costello
"Let's Misbehave"

Josh Groban
"You Raise Me Up"

John Mayer

"Cinnamon Girl"

"Love's Divine" [star]

Let's discount Costello for an obscure cut from a soundtrack to a movie (De-Lovely) that nobody saw. Ditto for Groban, who, with his operatic baritone and classical crossover song, doesn't seem like the right fit here. Mayer rightfully won in this category two years ago for "Your Body Is a Wonderland," but he works his sensitive singer-songwriter shtick a little too much on the sappy "Daughters." It would be nice to see Prince win, if only to make up for the fact that, despite his big comeback in 2004, he did not get an Album of the Year nomination for Musicology. The class of the field, though, is Seal, who also took this prize home for "Kiss from a Rose" in 1996. He brings a soulful, spiritual urgency to his sumptuous ballad from Seal IV that is truly something divine.



Sheryl Crow
"The First Cut Is the Deepest"

Norah Jones
"Sunrise" [star]

Gwen Stefani
"What You Waiting For?"

Joss Stone
"You Had Me"

Since Alicia Keys's stirring performance of "If I Ain't Got You" was dubiously relegated to the best female R&B vocal category, these ladies can breathe a sigh of relief. Aside from Björk, who is too alternative for this crowd, each woman has a real shot. Grammy darling Crow has already won nine times, but this particular cut didn't make the deepest of impressions. Stefani's driving dance track is more of a production showcase than a vocal one; she can wait until next year. Britain's Stone is soulful beyond her 17 years—and Britney-esque looks—on the funky "You Had Me." But we'll go for the smoky stylings of Jones, who won here in 2003 for "Don't Know Why." Her understated, nuanced turn is the perfect combination of jazz cool and country sweetness.

Best New Artist

Los Lonely Boys

Maroon 5

Joss Stone [star]

Kanye West

Gretchen Wilson [star]

Although we would have liked to have seen neo-soul newcomer Van Hunt or jazz-pop piano man Jamie Cullum be nominated, each of these artists has a credible case for being here. Los Lonely Boys, however, smack of being one-hit wonders with "Heaven," while Maroon 5, despite the triple-platinum success of Songs About Jane, seem like little more than last year's answer to matchbox twenty. With a Grammy-leading 10 nods, West feels overnominated, and at this point he is still better as a producer than as a rapper. That leaves blue-eyed-soul sensation Stone and Wilson—country's self-proclaimed "Redneck Woman." We'd be happy to see either win, since both women seem to have what it takes to be around for years to come. Call this one a tie.

Free Me

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Emma Bunton, the artist formerly known as Baby Spice, seeks to free herself from her Spice Girls moniker with a more adult sound on her first U.S. solo release. Blending airy '60s pop with modern-day Euro-pop, the result is a Petula Clark-meets-Kylie Minogue cocktail that goes down smoothly. Bunton sounds surprisingly sophisticated on tracks like the title cut, with its lush strings and her sweet but sultry vocals. When she sings "I long to seduce you," it's clear that Bunton is now a grown-up. Even so, she still knows how to have fun. The kitschy "Maybe" finds her getting in touch with her inner go-go girl.

For information on where to find our Download This picks, go to www.people.com/downloadthis or AOL (Keyword: People)

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