Kendrick Lamar vs. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
Lorde vs. Katy Perry.
"Get Lucky" vs. "Blurred Lines" a.k.a. Pharrell vs. Pharrell.
There are so many tough choices this year at the Grammy Awards, where Jay Z is the top nominee with nine, but may not the favorite to take the most trophies when the show airs live Sunday on CBS at 8 p.m. EST from The Staples Center in Los Angeles. Lamar, Macklemore and Lewis, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams are next with seven, but none is guaranteed a trophy in what must have been a tough year for voters — and has been for us as The Associated Press tries to sort out the mess.
Here are a few tips for this year's office pool:
ALBUM OF THE YEAR: "The Blessed Unrest," Sara Bareilles; "Random Access Memories," Daft Punk; "good kid, m.A.A.d city," Kendrick Lamar; "The Heist," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; "Red," Taylor Swift.
FEKADU: Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" doesn't even have a 20 percent chance to win this — though it should. And why isn't Bruno Mars' "Unorthodox Jukebox" on the list? I can't deal. Putting my personal feelings aside, this is how it will work: While Taylor Swift had earth-shattering numbers, Sara Bareilles created a top-notch, memorable album, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis owned 2013, they won't win here. That leaves Daft Punk and Kendrick Lamar — who is like a second coming to hip-hop. If "Random Access Memories" was a little stronger, it would win, but I think the Recording Academy — after failing to properly award amazing rap records in the top categories — will get it right with a win for Lamar. "Poetic Justice," indeed!
TALBOTT: Don't be daft, punk! Looking back over the history of the Grammys, the usual winner in this category is that year's "event" album. Those records got attention beyond the quality of the music for some reason or another. With all due deference to Taylor Swift's popularity, the album that felt like an event in this group is Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories." It didn't yield as many hits as "Red" — one of three albums on this list that came out way back in 2012, a limiting factor for all. But few albums had as much ink spilled over them this year. Score one for the robots.
RECORD OF THE YEAR: "Get Lucky," Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers; "Radioactive," Imagine Dragons; "Royals," Lorde; "Locked Out of Heaven," Bruno Mars; "Blurred Lines," Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell.
TALBOTT: Oh, Lorde, this one's easy. "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines" had their runs, but Lorde finished the year in the strongest position as Grammy voters were filling out their final ballots. Those other two songs were sexy — or depending on your point of view, sketchy — come-ons, and felt like distant memories of one-night stands as the year closed. Lorde, on the other hand, offered something of an anthem for the dispossessed, an antidote to the swagification of pop music. Listeners took note, and I think Grammy voters did, too.
FEKADU: You have a strong argument, Talbott, but I also think Lorde may be too new to win this — shoot, she was too new for a best new artist nomination. That's the same deal for Imagine Dragons. Mars' hit, while epic, might seem too old, which leaves us with two Pharrell-laced bangers. "Get Lucky" wins this because it features a legend, a super-respected musical duo and it wasn't sued by Marvin Gaye's children. Can't wait to see their suits.
SONG OF THE YEAR (songwriters): "Just Give Me a Reason," Pink, Nate Ruess and Jeff Bhasker; "Locked Out of Heaven," Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine; "Roar," Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee and Henry Walter; "Royals," Lorde and Joel Little; "Same Love," Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert.
FEKADU: I think the real competition is between "Just Give Me a Reason" and "Same Love." Pink's duet with Nate Ruess, who won this award for "We Are Young" with fun. last year, is a rousing number and a win like this for Pink is deserving after she's impressed us year after year. "Same Love," though, was a social anthem and more than a year after it was released, it still provides the chills when Macklemore begins his verse. Who am I kidding? "Same Love" wins this.
TALBOTT: History tells us sometimes the hits win. Sometimes the winner has become an anthem in some way. And sometimes it's a right-field entry you may not have expected. I think this is where The Recording Academy shows its love for progressive, open-hearted messages and rewards Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for a song that was a lot of all three.
NEW ARTIST: James Blake; Kendrick Lamar; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; Kacey Musgraves; Ed Sheeran.
TALBOTT: This category is and always has been baffling. This is a strong group, but how could Lorde not be nominated? Historically best new artist has been impossible to predict, and this year's nominees are all over the board. While I personally feel Kendrick Lamar has the best long-term prospects among these entries, I think voters are focused on Macklemore and Lewis and their dazzling year and will give the nod to the Seattle rap duo.
FEKADU: If Ed Sheeran released a sophomore album this year as gratifying as his 2011 debut, this would be his trophy. But you're right about Macklemore and Lewis winning this.
POP SOLO PERFORMANCE: "Brave," Sara Bareilles; "Royals," Lorde; "When I Was Your Man," Bruno Mars; "Roar," Katy Perry; "Mirrors," Justin Timberlake
FEKADU: Oh wait, Justin is nominated for something? It's crushing how he didn't earn any top nominations this year — it almost makes you wonder who he irritated? Anyhow, it will be a cat fight full of roars: While Bareilles deserves to win here — her copycat, Katy Perry — will take home her first Grammy Award.
TALBOTT: Ah, the positive pop song. Even in today's raunch-obsessed music scene, there's nothing quite as powerful as an empowering song like "Roar." The problem for Perry, though, is Lorde stole her growl.
ROCK ALBUM: "13," Black Sabbath; "The Next Day," David Bowie; "Mechanical Bull," Kings of Leon; "Celebration Day," Led Zeppelin; "... Like Clockwork," Queens of the Stone Age; "Psychedelic Pill," Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
TALBOTT: This category makes me feel old — and conflicted. Do we go with the four beloved legacy acts who didn't put out the best albums of their careers but sure get credit for trying? Or do we go with the more current acts who are certainly deserving of their own moments? I'm thinking Zeppelin, Sabbath, Bowie and Young cancel each other out and voters already feel like they've rewarded the Kings. So I'm picking the true long shot here, and the band that put out the year's best rock album: Queens of the Stone Age.
FEKADU: I just hope that David Bowie shows up when he wins this award. Don't want him to become the Maggie Smith of awards shows.
R&B SONG: "Best of Me," Anthony Hamilton; "Love and War," Tamar Braxton; "Only One," PJ Morton featuring Stevie Wonder; "Pusher Love Girl," Justin Timberlake; "Without Me," Fantasia featuring Missy Elliott and Kelly Rowland.
FEKADU: If Stevie Wonder had a writing credit for "Only One," PJ Morton — the keyboardist for Maroon 5 — would win this. And while Tamar Braxton had an impressive year thanks to her reality show, we all know this will go to the former N'Sync frontman.
TALBOTT: The Recording Academy sent Timberlake mixed messages with his large nomination total but lack of a major nod. Here's where voters make nice.
RAP ALBUM: "Nothing Was the Same," Drake; "Magna Carta Holy Grail," Jay Z; "good kid, m.A.A.d city," Kendrick Lamar; "The Heist," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; "Yeezus," Kanye West.
TALBOTT: On the surface this is a cutthroat category, but it's really a two-rapper race. Drake, winner of last year's Grammy in this category, Jay Z and West have all been saluted before. And Macklemore and Lewis will figure in the overall categories, leaving the bedrock hip-hop voters free to go with their hearts. Lamar spent a good portion of the year proclaiming himself the greatest, and we agree.
FEKADU: Kendrick's verse on "Control" foreshadowed his win here. Maybe next year, Kanye?
COUNTRY SONG: "Begin Again," Taylor Swift; "I Drive Your Truck," Lee Brice; "Mama's Broken Heart," Miranda Lambert; "Merry Go 'Round," Kacey Musgraves; "Mine Would Be You," Blake Shelton.
FEKADU: Musgraves is a bright newcomer nominated twice in this category since she co-wrote Miranda Lambert's hit. However, she'll win the gold for her own song Sunday night.
TALBOTT: Here's where I go all Nate Silver on you, Mesfin. Looking at the records, a blonde has won this award every year since 2005 (if you count Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley and Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox, and we certainly do). So let's narrow that field right on down to Swift and Miranda Lambert. Now, add in the fact that Lambert and Musgraves have been splitting votes in the country song categories of other awards show — I see no reason that trend will change — and that leaves Swift an easy winner. Maybe the night's top winner — if Mesfin and I are wrong. Nobody around here's predicting that, though.
Follow Mesfin Fekadu at twitter.com/MusicMesfin and Chris Talbott at twitter.com/Chris_Talbott