Justin Timberlake, dust off that suit and tie.
The 2013 bounty of pop megastars and smash singles may not leave much room for dark horses on the Grammy racetrack.
Nominees will be announced during The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! - Countdown to Music's Biggest Night, airing Friday (CBS, 10 p.m. ET/tape delay PT) from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. LL Cool J returns as host, and Drake, Robin Thicke, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Keith Urban are set to perform, with Taylor Swift making an appearance via satellite from Australia.
Competition for Grammy gold is especially stiff this year. The Recording Academy received a record 22,000 submissions, 17,000 of which were deemed eligible and sent in ballots to about 12,000 voting members. Winners will be unveiled Jan. 26 on the Grammy Awards.
Artistic excellence is rarely the sole criterion at play here, giving critics plenty to bray about and little to work with as handicappers, since politics, popularity and label or genre loyalties tend to cloud forecasts.
With those variables in mind, here are predictions in three marquee categories.
Album of the year. Timberlake, nominated in the past for Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds, is a shoo-in and could finally get the trophy for his huge-selling The 20/20 Experience. Macklemore & Lewis' The Heist, Bruno Mars' Unorthodox Jukebox and Drake's Nothing Was the Same are likely to make the cut. Voters tend to embrace a veteran, and that could be Elton John for The Diving Board or David Bowie for The Next Day. Award magnet Swift is eligible for Red, but since Speak Now didn't get a nomination, she's not a lock. And she's up against such possible picks as Kanye West's Yeezus, Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city and Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Contenders Kacey Musgraves, Lorde and Florida Georgia Line are more likely to crop up in the new-artist camp.
Record of the year. Thicke's Blurred Lines, Imagine Dragons' Radioactive, Mars' Locked Out of Heaven and Macklemore's Thrift Shop, all huge singles, have what it takes to slide in, along with Pink's Just Give Me a Reason and Lorde's Royals. Timberlake's Mirrors has a shot, too, but he risks vote-splitting for his part on Jay Z's Holy Grail. Katy Perry's Roar and Florida Georgia Line's Cruise have wide appeal, and an EDM wave could push Daft Punk's Get Lucky into contention. (Expect to see some of these same tunes in the song-of-the-year slot, awarded to the songwriter.)
Best new artist. With a slew of hot newcomers in the running, the traditional wild card is a long shot. Expect Macklemore, Lorde and Florida Georgia Line to squeeze in. Musgraves, Lamar, Lana Del Rey, Haim, Imagine Dragons, Ed Sheeran, Earl Sweatshirt, Of Monsters and Men, Emeli Sande and Ariana Grande are strong candidates as well.