In a contest of wills--will Alicia Keys strike gold? Will Dylan do it again?--The Irish are up-front Grammy faves

Nothing is ever certain in the Grammy prediction biz, but there’s little doubt that U2’s exhilarating performance at Super Bowl XXXVI guarantees them an Album of the Year win the night of Feb. 27. Except it doesn’t. Grammy ballots were due two days before kickoff.

Even so, U2 — nominated in eight categories — are the obvious favorites. Last year, while accepting a Record of the Year Grammy for ”Beautiful Day,” Bono said that with their ”back to scratch” new album All You Can’t Leave Behind, U2 were ”reapplying for the…best band in the world job.” Heading into this year’s ceremony, it’s clear that at the very least they’ve become the most important band in the world. In the days after 9/11, the rockers’ heart-tugging stage tributes and key role in the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon made them grief’s pop face, and radio stations embraced their music’s uplifting sincerity, giving the album a major second wind.

But U2 weren’t the only artists to enjoy a renewed elevation in recent months. Newcomer India.Arie — who scored a minor hit last spring with Song of the Year nominee ”Video” and quickly faded into the neo-soul ether — staged her own resurgence on nomination day, nabbing an unexpected seven nods. Amazingly, that’s one more than heavily favored It Girl Alicia Keys. Even so, come Grammy day, Keys stands the best chance of tinkering with U2’s lock.

But don’t take our word for it. For the skinny on this year’s phat cats, some record-biz voters graced us with their Grammy wisdom and wrath — anonymously, of course.

ALbum of the year

Acoustic Soul, India.Arie Love and Theft, Bob Dylan Stankonia, OutKast All That You Can’t Leave Behind, U2 O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack

SURVEY SAYS…U2. ”A huge band returning to form, then becoming astoundingly relevant by the events of Sept. 11,” says an indie-label exec. Sure, the album’s 16 months old, but ”over time the songs became stronger.” Besides, Dylan got his prize in ’98, and genre support for OutKast and O Brother won’t be enough to win. ”Album of the Year is usually what we wish we’d put out on our label, and O Brother is that record,” says a producer. ”That said, U2 will win.”

Song of the Year

”Drops of Jupiter,” Train ”Fallin’,” Alicia Keys ”I’m Like a Bird,” Nelly Furtado ”Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” U2 ”Video,” India.Arie

SURVEY SAYS…U2. ”They’ve become by miles the most important band in the world,” says a label chief. Has Alicia’s heavy cribbing from Aretha hurt her in this category? ”If anything, she’ll be rewarded for that,” laughs a major-label macher. ”The Grammys like new blood, but only if it reminds them of something old.” As for India.Arie, ”I haven’t run into one person who knows how she got all those nominations,” says an R&B staffer. ”It really is a mystery.”

Record of the Year

”Video,” India.Arie ”Fallin’,” Alicia Keys ”Ms. Jackson,” OutKast ”Drops of Jupiter,” Train ”Walk On,” U2