The hottest and most prized category in the Grammys each year is without a doubt, the Album of the Year category.
Many were rightfully upset that Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, one of the year's most widely praised albums, was shut out of the category. But the remaining contenders in the category are all worthy in their own way. For the most part.
Let's size up the albums that made it into the Album of the Year category. We'll take a look at the quality of the album and rate the likelihood of it taking the trophy home.
Adele - 21
Adele is hands-down, without a doubt, the favorite in this and every category for the 2011 Grammys. Her album was a critical darling and its throwback soul sound is extremely palatable to the conservative Grammy committee. That the album was also a huge commercial success will only serve to embolden the Grammy committee in rewarding Adele and this heartbreak album.
Quality: A With help from producer heavyweights like Rick Rubin, Adele and her team have crafted an achingly beautiful, haunting blues album. The last time a British soul singer swept the scene in this way (Amy Winehouse), she stormed the Grammys and took home the big prizes.
Odds: 3/5 If this were a boxing match, Adele would be the heavyweight contender. No pun intended.
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Rock music has a tough time in today's hip hop/pop/country-dominated recording music industry, but the Grammys still fall all over themselves to reward rock music at its big shindig. This is the stunt the Grammys pulled in rewarding Arcade Fire with the Album of the Year award last year up against far more popular contenders from Lady Gaga, Eminem, Lady Antebellum and Katy Perry. This Foo album, like Adele's, was also widely praised by critics, which lends the nod the necessary air of credibility.
Quality: B The rock genre's mainstream offerings have been meager, but the Foo Fighters are pretty much consistently reliable.
Odds: 2/5 Don't be surprised if the Grammys pull a repeat of last year and ditch the popular kids in favor of the rock misfit.
Lady Gaga - Born This Way
This is the album that Gaga dubbed to be revolutionary. She even debuted the lead single this year at the 2011 Grammys in a very perplexing, Alvin Ailey/Madonna-inspired number that included lots of latex and an alien egg. But Gaga's sophomore album hasn't exactly lived up to the expectations she set, nor has it matched the success of its predecessors The Fame and The Fame Monster. Born This Way has seen a dearth of #1 singles and while the first-week sales were record-breaking, the overall tally hasn't matched up to her debut. It looks like the U.S. economy isn't the only thing going through a recession.
Quality: B- This is a pretty mixed bag. There are some gems here, but the production throughout is mired in depressing, murky, lawnmower grunge effects and distorted vocals.
Odds: 2/5 Gaga is the biggest name in pop music and the Grammys know that putting her in the top category will build suspense. But the committee is known for denying the crown to a supernova, only to reward them years later. If by some miracle Gaga does wind up taking the win, it will probably be because the Grammys want to tap into the enthusiasm of her little monsters, not because this is her most deserving body of work.
Bruno Mars - Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Good guys can finish first, and Bruno Mars proved that in 2011 with his string of earnest, pleasant pop hits. He sold his heart, not his sex, unlike other male artists in the pop/R&B categories. As a songwriter and producer, Bruno is a self-made man, crafting gems not only for himself, but also for A-list talent like Cee Lo, who took the Grammys by storm last year with his Mars-assisted "F**k You." Bruno's debut received generally positive reviews, but it wasn't the critical darling that Adele's was. It was a sleeper hit commercially though, opening with modest sales and building up to over a million in sales over time.
Quality: B Good songwriting, earnest lyrics and beautiful harmonies abound on Bruno's debut. His Elvis impression on "Runaway" ain't bad either.
Odds: 1/5 For Bruno, getting the nomination for his debut album alone is a huge honor. He'll likely take home other awards that night, but it's hard to imagine the Grammys passing up Adele to reward him in the biggest way possible.
Rihanna - LOUD
The singles queen made good on the Thriller predictions about her follow-up to the critically acclaimed Rated R. While LOUD isn't anywhere nearly as personal and in-depth as Rated R it makes up for its lighter content by showing off the full spectrum of Rihanna's versatility as a vocalist. She flits and floats effortlessly between the delightful island pop of "What's My Name?," the sassy electro pop of "S&M" and the simmering bellows over the stirring guitars on "California King Bed." Rihanna made sure there was something for everybody on this effort and her diverse single strategy paid off in spades.
Quality: A As pop albums go, LOUD left the average pop music fan a very satisfied customer. But let's face it, the Grammys aren't in the habit of rewarding pop music with the Album of the Year award. If that were the case, Madonna would have far more Grammys under her belt.
Odds: 1/5 The commercial success of LOUD warrants the album being considered, but the Grammys probably won't dare spurn Adele in favor of RiRi. No matter how much "What's My Name?" gets the voting members lower halves twirkin', this awards show is known for playing it safe, and Rihanna is pretty much dangerous territory.
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