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[Kanye] would be a lock if his history of awards show outbursts and grandiose ego didn’t hurt him with voters.
GRAMMY PROGNOSTICATIONS BEGIN HERE WITH OUR OWN LENNY BEER
With Initial Ballots Now in Voters’ Hands, Let the Speculation Begin
If it’s October, the initial Grammy ballots are now in the hands of voters, so let the touting start as to favorites for the 52nd annual ceremony to be held at L.A.’s Staples Center on Jan. 31, bumped up a week for the Winter Olympics.

This is the first in a series, which will analyze the various categories, beginning with Best Album of the Year.

According to our own Grammy guru Lenny Beer, the locks include Taylor Swift, whose Fearless is the year’s top-selling album and one of the most critically acclaimed. With The Recording Academy’s large and influential Nashville memberships, this should be a done deal.

Right behind Ms. Swift is Maxwell, whose Columbia album, BLACKsummers’night, was both a commercial and artistic success, making him a sure pick in the main competition as well as a favorite in the R&B categories.

PROBABLES: Island/IDJ’s controversial Kanye West, once again hip-hop’s main man, had a huge smash album in 808s and Heartbreak, which produced any number of hit singles, including “Love Lockdown,” “Heartless” and “Amazing.” He would be a lock if his history of awards show outbursts and grandiose ego didn’t hurt him with voters.

Music World/Columbia diva Beyonce’s I Am… Sasha Fierce produced perhaps the year’s top anthem in “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” but she may have to knock out Kanye to get a spot in the Final Five.

Atlantic’s Zac Brown Band is probably the best-selling group you’ve never heard of, country-rock’s answer to the Dave Matthews Band. Their album, Foundation, has been ensconced on the charts since its release and is now platinum.

LaFace/JLG’s Pink is long overdue for recognition, and this year’s Funhouse has already spawned a number of hits and 1.3 million in sales, including  “So What,” “Sober” and “Please Don’t Leave Me.” She’s also reaping the benefits of a successful arena tour.

Reprise's Green Day could also be in this category, except for the fact 21st Century Breakdown didn’t do quite as well, either with buyers or critics, as its celebrated predecessor, American Idiot.

FAVORITES WITH ISSUES: Interscope’s U2 was the year’s biggest rock sales debut, but last year’s lackluster Grammy opener might have turned off some important members of the voting block.

Arista/RMG’s much-ballyhooed Whitney Houston, whose album arrived just in the nick of time to be Grammy eligible, could well be rewarded for her comeback, though questions still arise whether she can pull it off live.

Interscope’s Black Eyed Peas may be viewed as largely a singles group, though they’re likely to have a major role on the telecast, whether or not they get the Best Album nom. Labelmate Lady Gaga and Universal Republic’s Colbie Caillat, unfortunately, may not be taken seriously in some quarters, both of them undeniably guilty pleasures we think should be considered. Lady Gaga’s ineligibility for Best New Artist on another obscure rule is what may turn out to be the most controversial topic of this year’s awards show, a topic we will discuss further.

WILD CARDS: Capitol’s The Decemberists offered one of the year’s most critically praised releases in the concept disc, The Hazards of Love, a throwback to the classic-rock of vinyl albums whose songs told compelling stories. In my mind, it’s the artistic triumph of the year. This is one of those few albums that demands to be listened to start to finish to appreciate. We strongly suggest all voters take the time to take it all in before making their final decision.

Glassnote’s French nouvelle vague rockers Phoenix, ineligible for Best New Artist due to a technicality, are nevertheless one of the left-field success stories of the year, with momentum that will be building as the nomination process proceeds. It’s now grabbing ears thanks to a Cadillac commercial, critical kudos and leader Thomas Mars’ pairing with Sofia Coppola. It wouldn’t surprise us if this made the final five.

IDJ singer-songwriter Chrisette Michele’s sophomore album, Epiphany, was just that, debuting at #1 and putting her in line for more accolades, though Maxwell may well have grabbed the neo-soul slot in the general Albums category. Look for her to get multiple nominations in the R&B fields.

Same can be said for Interscope diva Keri Hilson, whose debut album, In a Perfect World, produced the hit singles, “Turnin’ Me On,” with Lil Wayne and “Knock You Down,” with Kanye West and Ne-Yo. She is also ubiquitous on a number of other collaborations with Fabolous, R. Kelly, Asher Roth and Sean Paul. Hilson would seem among the leading contenders for a Best New Artist nod.

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