Everyone bags on the Grammys, that annual snooze-fest in which the record industry pretends it's still relevant and honors a bunch of terrible artists for making horrible music only housewives and tween girls actually care about, but every now and then, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gets it right. Last month's nominations brought numerous nods for deserving performers, and come Jan. 26, when "music's biggest night" plays out at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, we'll have our eyes on five key categories: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Rock Album of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year. If it were up to us, things would play out as we've outlined below, though really, as long as the whole thing wraps up by 11PM EST, we'll be happy campers.


  • Album of the Year

    'Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,' Kendrick Lamar

    "It's deep-rooted, the music of being young and dumb," Lamar raps on 'Sherane, aka Master Splinter's Daughter,' the lead-off track on his sophomore album. The Compton MC knows what it's like to be a young buck with girls, guns and money on the brain, but on this, the greatest hip-hop LP to come out of his unfair city since mentor Dr. Dre's 'The Chronic,' he unfurls a smart, complex narrative about the temptations facing many African American teenagers. Alternately violent, sexy and funny as hell (will someone please give Kendrick's dad back his dominoes?), 'Good Kid' is a flawed masterpiece whose confused morality -- the major sticking point for disapproving critics -- may well be the point.

    Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope
  • Record of the Year

    'Get Lucky,' Daft Punk

    For the uninitiated, Record of the Year is all about sound, unlike Song of the Year, which rewards composition and lyrics, and in 2013, nothing hit the ears like 'Get Lucky.' Credit these French groove-bots -- and special guest Nile Rodgers -- with reminding the world there's no form of dance music more powerful than disco. Resistance is futile.

  • Song of the Year

    'Royals,' Lorde

    Great songs don't just get people singing -- they get people talking, too. That's certainly the case with 'Royals,' a commentary on materialism in hip-hop some hear as smart and snarky and others deem downright racist. Not bad for a 16-year-old New Zealand newbie who's probably never twerked a day in her life.

  • Best Rock Album

    '... Like Clockwork,' Queens of the Stone Age

    David Bowie is the sentimental favorite, and 'The Next Day' is pretty great, but if we take rock to mean rock -- chunky, riff-packed music that makes you scrunch up your eyes, curl your lip and nod your head like a biker admiring the glorious bar fight he's just instigated -- you've gotta go with the Queens. Plus, 'If I Had a Tail' sounds like a Bowie jam, so by giving Josh Homme and co. the gramophone statue, Ziggy gets roundabout props.

    Matador Records
  • Best Alternative Album

    'The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You,' Neko Case

    Our pick for the best album of 2013 is another brilliant addition to Case's discography, and while it doesn't sound a whole lot different from her two previous LPs -- 'Middle Cyclone' and 'Fox Confessor Brings the Flood' -- the songs are more personal, and Neko sings them with all the rage, regret, weariness and wisdom that have made her one of the greatest songwriters of her generation. The National and NIN made fine records, too, but neither the Brooklyn bum-out kings nor Trent Reznor could sing a song about an airport bus stop and leave your soul absolutely shattered.