BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
NOMINEES: Madonna, "Ray of Light"; Justin Timberlake, "Justified"; Kelly Clarkson, "Breakaway"; Amy Winehouse, "Back to Black"; Adele, "21"
WINNER: "Back to Black." Chances are, there wouldn't have been a "21" (or a "19," for that matter) if it wasn't for "Back to Black." The late Amy Winehouse's success at filling pop melodies with edge and depth is what helped paved the way for Adele and a generation of British singers. The fact that "Back to Black" is just as wrenching today shows why it rules this category.
BEST NEW ARTIST
NOMINEES: The Beatles; Mariah Carey; Lauryn Hill; Amy Winehouse; Adele
WINNER: The Beatles. What is striking about this category is how often Grammy voters have gotten it wrong. (Hi, Milli Vanilli!) But as tempting as it would be to give this award to Adele or Mariah, The Beatles' arrival was truly undeniable.
BEST RAP ALBUM
NOMINEES: Fugees, "The Score"; Jay-Z, "Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life"; Outkast, "Stankonia"; Kanye West, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"; Drake, "Take Care"
WINNER: "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." The category was introduced into the awards in 1996 and it is still dealing with its share of embarrassments. Nevertheless, there have been a handful of worthy winners and West's "Twisted Fantasy" is the best, because of his sprawling artistic vision, but also because hip-hop continues to adapt. As strong as early winners like The Fugees and Jay-Z sounded in their time, their production seems almost primitive today.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
NOMINEES: Simon & Garfunkel, "Bridge Over Troubled Water"; Billy Joel, "Just the Way You Are"; Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"; U2, "Walk On"; Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"
WINNER: "I Will Always Love You." The greatness of "Walk On" and "Not Ready to Make Nice" comes as much from the events connected to them as the songs themselves. The other three songs are all classics in their own ways, but the late Whitney Houston's soaring delivery gives "I Will Always Love You" the edge, a tribute as towering and unshakeable as the Empire State.
BEST ROCK ALBUM
NOMINEES: Alanis Morissette, "Jagged Little Pill"; U2, "All That You Can't Leave Behind"; Bruce Springsteen, "The Rising"; Green Day, "American Idiot"; Black Keys, "El Camino"
WINNER: "American Idiot." This category was first introduced in 1995 (previously, the Grammys went only to songs and performances) but it's been showing its age almost from the start. The 9/11 terrorist attacks spawned the two best winners, with Springsteen's "The Rising" focusing on resilience and Green Day's "American Idiot" focusing on rage. What could be more rock and roll than that? Especially when it's in a world with such well-developed "American Idiot" characters.
SONG OF THE YEAR
NOMINEES: Carole King, "You've Got a Friend"; Marilyn Bergman, Alan Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch, "The Way We Were" by Barbra Streisand; Billy Joel, "Just the Way You Are"; Sting, "Every Breath You Take" by The Police; U2, "Beautiful Day"
WINNER: "Every Breath You Take." As great as all the other songs are, Sting manages to take it one incredible step further. In addition to being immediately memorable and well-crafted, "Every Breath You Take" can be read as a sweet love song so gorgeous it's often used for weddings. It can also be seen as the creepy tale of a delusional stalker, which is kind of what Sting intended.
BEST R&B ALBUM
NOMINEES: TLC, "CrazySexyCool"; Erykah Badu, "Baduizm"; Lauryn Hill, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"; D'Angelo, "Voodoo"; Alicia Keys, "The Diary of Alicia Keys"
WINNER: "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Hill's combination of R&B, hip-hop and "Doo Wop (That Thing)" is a portrait of an artist fully formed, taking advantage of the length of an album to get her entire vision across. Her success, along with Erykah Badu's "Baduizm," has raised the bar for the awards in this category, which were first given out in 1995, so high that generally only serious works can succeed.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
NOMINEES: The Beatles, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"; Carole King, "Tapestry"; Fleetwood Mac, "Rumours"; Michael Jackson, "Thriller"; Lauryn Hill, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"
WINNER: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Look, I don't think I will ever tire of listening to "Tapestry," "Rumours" or "Thriller" and honestly I'd rather listen to any of them in their entirety than "Miseducation" or the middle of "Sgt. Pepper's." But "Miseducation" and "Sgt. Pepper's" both embody what is possible with an album, how worlds can be transformed in 45 minutes or so, especially with stories so intricately drawn that they are only revealed after the 30th or 40th listen. And "Sgt. Pepper's" only gets better the more you listen to it.