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Grammys Big 4: A Tip Sheet for the Top Categories

Grammys Big 4: A Tip Sheet for the Top Categories

When it comes to Grammy categories, all eyes are especially keen on Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. Here, Billboard takes a deeper look at this year's field. And the nominees are.... artists that have been making undeniable, head-turning music. Read on.

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Album of the Year
In the company of former winners like Sinatra, Wonder and McCartney -- the best of the best.

Album of the Year


Producers: Jim Abbiss, Adele Adkins, Paul Epworth, Rick Rubin, Fraser T. Smith, Ryan Tedder, Dan Wilson
Engineers/mixers: Jim Abbiss, Philip Allen, Beatriz Artola, Ian Dowling, Tom Elmhirst, Greg Fidelman, Dan Parry, Steve Price, Mark Rankin, Andrew Scheps, Fraser T. Smith, Ryan Tedder
Mastering engineer: Tom Coyne
Label: XL Recordings/Columbia Records

Already the best-selling album of the 21st century by a U.K. artist, 21 is also the biggest seller of 2011 in the United States with more than 5 million copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. At press time, it had spent 13 weeks in the pole position of the Billboard 200, and had yet to leave the top 10 since its February debut. Although Adele herself has been mostly off the scene since being sidelined with a vocal injury in October, her visibility has sustained with hits like "Rolling in the Deep," "Someone Like You" and "Set Fire to the Rain."

Album of the Year

Wasting Light
Foo Fighters

Producer: Butch Vig
Engineers/mixers: James Brown, Alan Moulder
Mastering engineers: Joe LaPorta, Emily Lazar
Label: RCA Records/Roswell Records

Wasting Light was the band's first No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 235,000 copies in its first week, and earned Dave Grohl and company some of their best reviews in years. Headline-grabbing appearances at South by Southwest, Lollapalooza and Coachella, plus a successful fall tour, have further reinforced the Foos' leading rock act status. This is the band's second album of the year nod. Its 2007 album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace was a nominee at the 50th awards.

Album of the Year

Born This Way
Lady Gaga

Producers: Paul Blair, DJ Snake, Fernando Garibay, Lady Gaga, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, Jeppe Laursen, RedOne, Clinton Sparks
Engineers/mixers: Fernando Garibay, Bill Malina, Trevor Muzzy, RedOne, Dave Russell, Justin Shirley Smith, Horace Ward, Tom Ware
Mastering engineer: Gene Grimaldi
Label: Streamline/Interscope/Kon Live

Lady Gaga opened last year's ceremony with Born This Way's title track, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her awards track record is pretty impressive, having won five of the 12 trophies she's been nominated for since 2009. Propelled by 99 cent pricing at the Amazon MP3 store, Born This Way debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 1.1 million copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the best first-sales week of the year. This is Gaga's third album of the year nomination. Her debut, The Fame, was nominated at the 52nd Grammys, while follow-up EP The Fame Monster was up for the award at last year's ceremony. She has yet to win in the category.

Album of the Year

Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Bruno Mars

Featured artists: B.o.B, Cee Lo Green, Damian Marley
Producers: Dwayne "Supa Dups" Chin-Quee, Needlz, the Smeezingtons
Engineers/mixers: Ari Levine, Manny Marroquin
Mastering engineer: Stephen Marcussen
Label: Elektra

After topping the Billboard Hot 100 with "Just the Way You Are," the lead single from Doo-Wops & Hooligans, in October, Bruno Mars returned to the peak position in January 2011 with the project's second single, "Grenade." Third single "The Lazy Song" reached No. 4, while a high-profile "Glee" cover of album cut "Marry You" sent the song to No. 85 on the Hot 100. Doo-Wops & Hooligans debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

Album of the Year


Featured artists: Drake, Eminem, Nicki Minaj
Producers: Ester Dean, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Alex Da Kid, Skylar Grey, Kuk Harrell, Tor Erik Hermansen, Mel & Mus, Awesome Jones, Makeba Riddick, the Runners, Sham, Soundz, Chris "Tricky" Stewart, Sandy Vee, Willy Will
Engineers/mixers: Ariel Chobaz, Cary Clark, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Alex Da Kid, Josh Gudwin, Kuk Harrell, Jaycen Joshua, Manny Marroquin, Dana Nielsen, Chad "C-Note" Roper, Noah "40" Shebib, Corey Shoemaker, Jay Stevenson, Mike Strange, Phil Tan, Brian "B-Luv" Thomas, Marcos Tovar, Sandy Vee, Jeff "Supa Jeff" Villanueva, Miles Walker, Andrew Wuepper
Mastering engineer: Chris Gehringer
Label: Def Jam

Rihanna's first album of the year nomination also includes a song that has already tasted victory. Loud's first single, "Only Girl (In the World)," took home the Grammy last year for best dance recording, as it was the only track from the album released in time to be considered for nomination. Loud is also one of her most successful projects, spawning three No. 1 singles ("Only Girl," "What's My Name?" "S&M") and three other charting hits ("Cheers [Drink to That]," "Man Down" and "California King Bed").

NEXT PAGE: Record of the Year


Photo Credits (from top): lauren dukoff; steve gullick; Mariano Vivanco; sebastian kim; universal music group

Record of the Year
The records that captured the imaginations of us all.

"Rolling in the Deep"

Producer: Paul Epworth
Engineers/mixers: Tom Elmhirst, Mark Rankin
From: 21
Label: XL Recordings/Columbia Records

Perhaps the most inescapable song of 2011, "Rolling in the Deep" spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has sold more than 5.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Paul Epworth, a producer primarily known for his work with U.K. electronic acts (Florence & the Machine, Friendly Fires, Sam Sparro) gave the song a punchy, '60s soul vibe. This is Epworth's first record of the year nomination and the second for Adele following a 2010 nod for "Chasing Pavements."

Bon Iver

Producer: Justin Vernon
Engineers/mixers: Brian Joseph, Justin Vernon
From: Bon Iver
Label: Jagjaguwar

"Holocene" was the second single from Justin Vernon's band Bon Iver's self-titled second album, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in July. "Holocene," like all of Bon Iver's 10 songs, was written, composed and produced by Vernon. It is also the only record of the year nominee that never charted on the Billboard Hot 100. The track's quiet use of hand claps and drums as occasional rhythmic accompaniment makes it a fitting soundtrack to cold winter days. This is Bon Iver's first record of the year nomination.

Bruno Mars

Producers: The Smeezingtons
Engineers/mixers: Ari Levine, Manny Marroquin
From: Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Label: Elektra

Bruno Mars and his production team the Smeezingtons were
everywhere in 2010 and 2011, writing songs for Mars' Doo-Wops & Hooligans and Cee Lo Green ("F**k You") as well as the singer's collaborations with B.o.B, Bad Meets Evil and Travie McCoy. This hard-hitting ballad topped the Billboard Hot 100 and also became a quick favorite on the singing competition circuit, performed by contestants on "American Idol" and "The Voice." This is Mars and the Smeezingtons' third record of the year nomination, following 2011 nods for "Nothin' on You" and "F**k You."

"The Cave"
Mumford & Sons

Producer: Markus Dravs
Engineers/mixers: Francois Chevallier, Ruadhri Cushnan
From: Sigh No More
Label: Glassnote Records

Mumford & Sons' breakthrough track has a history with the
Grammys. During last year's ceremony, the band performed the song with Bob Dylan and Brooklyn folk rockers the Avett Brothers. Producer Markus Dravs gives the song a rock drive that meshes with the band's more traditional bluegrass arrangements. "The Cave," which peaked at No. 2 on the Rock Songs chart, No. 3 on Alternative Songs and No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, secures Mumford & Sons' first record of the year nomination. Dravs helped Arcade Fire take home an album of the year Grammy last year for its work on The Suburbs.

Katy Perry

Producers: Mikkel S. Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Sandy Vee
Engineers/mixers: Mikkel S. Eriksen, Phil Tan, Sandy Vee, Miles Walker
From: Teenage Dream
Label: Capitol

Katy Perry began the year at the top of the Hot 100 with "Firework," which was also part of a medley of hits she performed during last year's Grammys. The single was one of two songs produced by Swedish production team Stargate (aka Mikkel S. Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen) for Perry's Teenage Dream, and is a departure of sorts from their signature brand of guitar-driven R&B and rhythmic dance. "Firework" also had a life of its own as an empowerment anthem. This is Perry's first record of the year nomination, while Stargate was nominated in 2008 for Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable."

NEXT PAGE: Song of the Year


Photo Credits (from top): lauren dukoff; d.i. anderson; sebastian kim; rebecca miller; lauren dukoff

Song of the Year
Lyrical achievement. The power and truth of a beautiful song.

"All of the Lights"

Songwriters: Jeff Bhasker, Stacy Ferguson, Malik Jones, Warren Trotter, Kanye West
Performers: Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Fergie
From: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Publishers: Very Good Beats/Hip Hop Since 1978
Label: Roc-a-Fella

One of the longest songs from Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was also one of its biggest-Rihanna sings the chorus and Kid Cudi and Fergie drop guest verses while Alicia Keys and La Roux's Elly Jackson harmonize between Kanye's raps. This is West's third song of the year nomination, following previous nods for "Jesus Walks" in 2005 and for his guest rap on Estelle's "American Boy" in 2009. "All of the Lights" peaked at No. 2 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"The Cave"

Songwriters: Ted Dwane, Ben Lovett, Marcus Mumford, Country Winston
Performers: Mumford & Sons From: Sigh No More
Publisher: Universal Music Group Publishing
Label: Glassnote Records

Also up for record of the year (as well as best rock song and best rock performance), "The Cave" became Mumford & Sons' second single to chart in the United States following "Little Lion Man." An anthemic song with uplifting lyrics ("And I'll find strength in pain/And I will change my ways"), "The Cave" has sold more than 1 million digital tracks, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This is the band's first song of the year nomination.


Songwriters: Brody Brown, Claude Kelly, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine, Bruno Mars, Andrew Wyatt
Performer: Bruno Mars From: Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Publishers: Mars Force Music/Bughouse, Music Famamanem/Toy Plane Music/Art for Arts Sake/Late 80s Music/Westside Ind. Music/Studiobeat Music, Warner-Tamerlane, Andrew Wyatt, Downtown DMP Songs
Label: Elektra

Bruno Mars went to intense lengths to declare his unrequited devotion to a lady in "Grenade," offering to catch one of the title explosives on her behalf and even take a bullet to his brain. The hard-hitting lyrics caught on among pop and R&B fans alike, sending the song to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 as well as such lists as the Hot Digital Songs and Mainstream Top 40 charts. This is Mars' second song of the year nomination, having been previously nominated as a co-writer of Cee Lo Green's "F**k You" last year.

Songwriter: Justin Vernon
Performer: Bon Iver From: Bon Iver
Publisher: April Base Publishing
Label: Jagjaguwar

Bon Iver's self-titled second album documents moments in singer Justin Vernon's life during the band's 2010 U.S. tour. "Holocene" finds Vernon on the icy streets of Chicago, calling an old friend in Milwaukee. Although "Calgary" was the first single released from the album, "Holocene" scored the major nominations thanks to a bittersweet atmosphere and cinematic music video. This is Bon Iver's first nomination in this category, and one of four that the budding folk act received for its second album.

"Rolling In The Deep"
Songwriters: Adele Adkins, Paul Epworth
Performer: Adele From: 21
Publishers: Universal-Songs of PolyGram/EMI Music Publishing
Label: XL Recordings/Columbia Records

"There's a fire starting in my heart/Reaching a fever pitch/It's bringing me out the dark." Those lyrics are etched in many a radio programmer's memory this year as the song became Billboard's biggest crossover hit of the past 25 years. In addition to topping the Billboard Hot 100 and pop charts, the song appeared on Hot Latin Songs and Triple A, among others. This is Adele's second song of the year nomination, following 2010's "Chasing Pavements."

NEXT PAGE: Best New Artist


Best New Artist
They're from country, hip-hop, indie folk and electronic dance music -- this year's new kids on the block.

The Band Perry
Best New Artist

The Band Perry has quietly become one of country's biggest breakouts and pop crossovers in recent years, with its self-titled debut album peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and selling approximately 1 million copies after more than a year on the Billboard 200, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The single "If I Die Young" has also been a juggernaut on the Billboard Hot 100, with more than a year on the chart and sales of 3.5 million downloads despite the song peaking at No. 14.

Bon Iver
Best New Artist

While not exactly new to the indie music circuit after his acclaimed 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver's breakout year (in which he became a group) was buoyed by singer Justin Vernon's appearance on Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The crossover appeal trickled down to the act's second album, Bon Iver, which found Vernon dabbling in other genres that stretched beyond his mostly acoustic brand of folk-pop. The self-titled sophomore set debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 325,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

J. Cole
Best New Artist

Debuting just before the Grammy nomination cutoff, J. Cole's Cole World: The Sideline Story entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1 in October with sales of 217,000 copies. The album was preceded by a series of mixtapes from the North Carolina rapper as well as a popular weekly online feature, "Any Given Sunday," in which Cole debuts new songs. Cole was also nominated for best new artist at the 2011 BET Awards.

Nicki Minaj
Best New Artist

Billboard's 2011 Rising Star had a packed year that included two top 10 Hot 100 singles and a No. 1 album with Pink Friday. The latter accomplished the rare feat of reaching the No. 1 spot two months after its release. Minaj's single "Super Bass" also reached No. 3 on the Hot 100-the highest-charting song by a solo female rapper since Missy Elliott's "Work It" in 2003.

Best New Artist

Perhaps the least well-known on the pop circuit among this year's best new artist nominees, electronic/dubstep DJ Skrillex has quickly made a name for himself on the dance scene, where he can regularly play to a few thousand people. His debut EP, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, ranked in the upper reaches of Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart for the better part of 2011. It also helped the DJ book high-profile gigs on MTV and at South by Southwest, as well as a new collaboration with members of the Doors for an upcoming Hyundai campaign.

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