NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Grammy Awards: Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band Are Up Front

Both Have Prominent Nominations and Good Chances in the All-Genre Categories

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Pick the Grammys ? May as well try out for Peyton Manning’s job. Your results will likely be about as good.

The main factor prohibiting accurate Grammy predictions is the actual body of Grammy voters. Geographically, demographically and musically, they are all over the map. They number many thousands strong and represent every musical genre. They are old fogies and young self-styled hipsters, Western swingers and Latin aficionados and rappers and folk music traditionalists and classical purists, and they represent every other stripe of music that there is in Grammy’s 109 award categories.

The one constant over many years, although that is changing, has been a very slow acceptance of rapid changes in music. Another that is gradually going out the door is the automatic nomination and election of known names. One element that is still foremost — or should be — in voters’ mind is that Grammy awards are based on musical merit, rather than popularity.

Even so, none but idiots dare to predict the Grammy winners every year. But, what the hell, let’s take a modest plunge into those roiling waters.

The big focus this year is, of course, Taylor Swift and her eight nominations, second only to Beyoncé’s 10. Swift has had such a banner year that she became a virtual tidal wave unto herself, rolling over everything in her path. And Kanye West certainly helped her along the way, earning her the badge of being the brave little soldier. But nobody wins eight Grammys this year. So what are her chances?

She is nominated for three of the all-genre general music categories, as well as others in pop and country. In those general categories, her Fearless is up for album of the year. “You Belong With Me,” a track from that album, is nominated for record of the year. And her co-write with Liz Rose of “You Belong With Me” is in the mix for song of the year.

In the album category, Swift’s rivals are Beyoncé, the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and the Dave Mathews Band. Personally, I see this as a two-horse race between Swift and Beyoncé with the race too close to really call. The Las Vegas betting line three days before the awards show shows Taylor at 5-4, Beyoncé at 2-1, Dave Mathews Band at 13-2, Black Eyed Peas at 9-4 and Gaga at 6-1. My choice: Taylor.

For record of the year, Taylor is up against the favored Beyoncé, the Black-Eyed Peas, Kings of Leon and Lady Gaga. This should be a Taylor-Beyoncé race, again too close to really call. Vegas has Taylor at 27-20, Beyoncé at 3-2, Black Eyed Peas at 5-1, Gaga at 11-2 and Kings of Leon at 4-1.

In the song of the year slot, Taylor’s entry faces songs representing the artists Gaga, Maxwell, Beyoncé and the Kings of Leon. Vegas line: Taylor 3-2, Beyoncé 7-4, Gaga 9-2, Maxwell 15-2 and Kings of Leon 5-2. Edge to Taylor. If she has a lock on any one category, this is it. “You Belong With Me” was everywhere.

Also in the general categories, the Zac Brown Band are nominated for next new artist. I think Zac and company’s chances are good against a field of Keri Hilson, MGMT, Silversun Pickups and the Ting Tings. Voters who have paid attention to the ZBB and actually listened to their very good album are probably convinced. Plus, the ZBB are plenty country enough without being a product of the Nashville music factories to satisfy the anti-Nashville voters. Are there enough of those voters? Maybe or maybe not — early buzz centers on Hilson, with her Vegas line at 3-2. ZBB are at 9-2, MGMT at 23-20, Silversun Pickups at 10-1 and Ting Tings at 4-1. My choice is the ZBB.

Taylor also has two pop music nominations, for female vocal performance (“You Belong With Me”) and for collaboration with vocals (“Breathe” with Colbie Caillat). In the former category, her rivals are Adele, Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Pink. In the second, she faces Rosanne Cash and Bruce Springsteen, Clara and Justin Timberlake, Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat, and Willie Nelson & Norah Jones. Both races: too close to call.

In the country music categories, Swift has three nominations: album with Fearless, female vocal for “White Horse” and song for “White Horse.”

In the country album category, Swift is staring at strong competitors: George Strait’s Twang, the Zac Brown Band’s The Foundation, Keith Urban’s Defying Gravity and Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy. A very close race. Strait has won this only once (in 2008 for album with Troubadour) and, in fact, that is his only Grammy, but I have a feeling he could repeat. Or Taylor could domino. 50-50.

In the female vocal field, Taylor’s performance of “White Horse” looks at rivals Miranda Lambert (“Dead Flowers” ), Martina McBride (“I Just Call You Mine” ), Carrie Underwood (“Just a Dream” ) and Lee Ann Womack (“Solitary Thinkin'” ). Totally a toss-up. Womack doesn’t sell like she used to, but she remains a favorite of the Grammy crowd. McBride always has her champions. Carrie is always a strong factor, and Lambert is coming on fast. Edge: It may be Lambert’s time.

As for country song, it’s another too-close-to-call race. “White Horse” faces competitors “All I Ask for Anymore” (recorded by Trace Adkins), “High Cost of Living” (Jamey Johnson), “I Run to You” (Lady Antebellum) and “People Are Crazy” (Billy Currington). I would place my bets on “White Horse” or “I Run to You.”

In the male country vocal field, the entrants are Adkins (“All I Ask for Anymore”), Currington (“People Are Crazy”), Johnson (“High Cost of Living”), Strait (“Living for the Night”) and Keith Urban (“Sweet Thing” ). Edge: Probably “Sweet Thing.”

For duo or group, I would expect either the ZBB’s “Chicken Fried” or Lady A’s “I Run to You” to win over Brooks & Dunn’s “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” Rascal Flatts“Here Comes Goodbye” and Sugarland’s “It Happens.” The ZBB could emerge as this year’s Kentucky Headhunters, who came from seemingly nowhere in 1990 to snag a Grammy for best country group.

If Taylor Swift does not go home with an armload of hardware from Grammy night, I’ll be greatly surprised. The Mayan calendar predicts three Grammy wins for Taylor out of eight nominations. The calendar is not always right.