Linkin Park? U2? Ke$ha? Behind MTV’s Musical March Madness Selection

With the tipoff of our tournament set for Monday, Bigger Than the Sound breaks down your favorite band's chances of busting the bracket.

Last year, when we launched the inaugural Musical March Madness tournament, we did it largely on a whim.

As I wrote when I revealed my original (handwritten) bracket , the basic idea was to combine my love of college basketball, gambling and rock music (and superfluous lists) into one magical event, and it really didn’t matter that I hadn’t figured out how bands would advance in the tournament or even what they’d get for winning. All I knew was that it seemed like a fun idea (especially since I didn’t have anything else to write my column about that week) and that somewhere, there had to be someone who cared about these seemingly disparate things nearly as much as I did.

As it turned out, there were a lot of people who cared, and when it was all said and done — thanks to the efforts of a whole lot of folks, including Newsroom blog editor Kyle Anderson, who basically decided “You know what? People should vote on this!” — not only was Musical March Madness a certified success, but we somehow even managed to get an actual trophy to present to the winners, Coheed and Cambria , too. So, really, everybody won.

Of course, given the success of the original MMM, attention quickly shifted to the 2011 tournament. Last year, I basically just threw together a list of 64 bands (65, actually; who could forget the epic Against Me!/ Creed play-in battle?). For the 2011 tournament, however, I did research, monitored album sales and basically became a Selection Committee of one. And, yes, it took way longer than I ever could have imagined.

So, with the 2011 Musical March Madness set to tip off Monday — when we reveal our full bracket of 64 bands and launch voting in first-round matchups — I decided to pull back the curtain on that selection process. Some teams have all but locked up their spots in the 2011 tournament, while others still have some work to do. In the spirit of all things bracketological, here’s my up-to-the-minute look at where your favorite bands stand for this year’s MMM:

The #1 Seeds
The biggest bands in the land. Last year, I gave out #1′s to Nickelback, Coldplay, Blink-182 and the Kings of Leon. Somewhat surprisingly, three-quarters of them ended up losing in the opening round of the tournament (only Blink survived, making it to the round of 32 before losing to 30 Seconds to Mars). Obviously, I overestimated the popularity of some of those acts, which means that, in 2011, to be a #1 seed, you have to have proven yourself as not only a rock-solid commodity, but an actual threat to win the championship too. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to have an album either in stores or coming soon. So here are my latest contenders for top seeds:

» Foo Fighters
» 30 Seconds to Mars
» Linkin Park
» My Chemical Romance
» Arcade Fire
» Vampire Weekend
» Muse
» The Black Keys
» Blink-182
» Radiohead
» Coldplay
» Mumford & Sons

The Foos have a hotly anticipated album coming down the pipeline, as does Coldplay. Are expectations enough to make them #1′s? Or will the committee recognize the breakout success of the Black Keys, Muse and Mumford? Does a #1 album and a shocking Grammy win earn the Arcade Fire a top seed? Linkin Park and MCR both scuffed a bit with their latest albums, but does that matter, especially since they’re both legacy acts with loyal fanbases (and, in the case of My Chem, are tournament-tested)? And will the committee ignore the fact that, by most accounts, Radiohead’s latest was a bit of a letdown or that Blink-182 may never actually release their new album? As you can see, there are still plenty of questions left to be answered.

The Old Guard
Legacy acts with something left in the tank. In 2010, time-tested faves like Slipknot, the White Stripes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, Pearl Jam, U2 and the Dave Matthews Band all got invites to the big dance based largely on reputation alone (just think of them as the Dukes or Kansases of MMM). Of course, nearly all of them got knocked off in the first round, which means that this time around, reputation isn’t going to be enough to punch their tickets. Shoot, some of these acts aren’t even around anymore, which means that some deck-shuffling is in order. Here are the established acts that are still fighting for their tournament lives:

» Green Day
» Dave Matthews Band
» U2
» Red Hot Chili Peppers
» Rage Against the Machine
» Kid Rock
» Pearl Jam
» R.E.M.

Some (like the Chili Peppers and U2) have announced new albums this year, while others (like DMB) are planning to take 2011 off entirely. Still, whatever their status may be, the old guard remain forces at the cash registers and on radio, even if their latest albums didn’t exactly light the world on fire. And ignoring that entirely just isn’t possible. So how does the committee decide which make the field of 64? Good question. I’m still trying to figure out the answer.

The New Blood
Upset-minded young guns. The 2010 MMM featured up-and-coming acts like the Young Veins, 3OH!3, Owl City and MGMT. One year later, none of them are even on the radar. Picking new bands for MMM is always a challenge, though in 2011, there seem to be a handful who have all but secured their spots in the tournament, thanks to their breakout successes. I’m talking about the likes of:

» Mumford & Sons
» Florence and the Machine
» The Black Keys
» Cage the Elephant
» Sleigh Bells
» Adele

If the tournament started today, all of the above have been in (and some may even earn high seeds). But do any of them have enough to actually win the tournament? We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Bracket Busters
Bands with solid, if not spectacular, résumés (weak out-of-conference schedules, etc.). Last year, this included eventual champs Coheed and Cambria, Final Four acts like Tokio Hotel, Elite Eight bands like Panic! at the Disco and Owl City, and even Patrick Stump, who rumbled all the way to the Sweet 16. In other words, the 2011 champion could very well come from this group. Here’s my list of under-the-radar threats:

» Panic! (once again)
» Weezer
» The Decemberists
» Cake
» Paramore
» Avril Lavigne
» Crystal Bowersox
» Adam Lambert
» Death Cab for Cutie
» All Time Low

Two of the above — Cake and the Decemberists — have recent #1 debuts under their belts, while others have new albums on the horizon (DCFC, ATL, Avril). Others, like Bowersox and Lambert (who made the Sweet 16 last year), command insane fanbases, which make them dangerous on any day. Lavigne and ATL still have some work to do, but I’d consider all of the acts I just mentioned as safe for now.

The Bubble Bands
On-the-verge acts that need a little help to make it in. Maybe they win their conference championship, or maybe they PayPal the selection committee some cash, but these are the bands on the brink. In 2010, that included Panic! (no new album or single), the Gaslight Anthem (up-and-comers just learning to play together) and Coheed (largely ignored by mainstream radio). Most of those bands managed to do quite well in the tournament, while others, like Hollywood Undead, Lil Wayne, Them Crooked Vultures and the National, all flamed out in the tournament’s opening round. Somewhat fittingly, it’s a real feast-or-famine type of thing. Here’s my updated list of bubble bands:

» Cobra Starship
» Ke$ha
» Tokio Hotel
» MGMT
» Train
» Adele
» Bret Michaels
» Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
» Taylor Swift

Right off the bat, neither Ke$ha nor Swift really rock (though Ke$h does use Jack Daniels as mouthwash), which makes them long shots. Tokio Hotel have done next to nothing since last year’s tournament, but was their success enough to earn them a spot this year? Bret Michaels is basically indestructible at this point, so I’d consider him a lock. Cobra Starship are largely dormant but command a big enough fanbase to warrant consideration. MGMT’s last album stiffed in spectacular fashion, which places them squarely on the soapy surface of the bubble.

So, will your favorite band make the cut for the 2011 Musical March Madness tournament? As you can see, the Selection Committee still has plenty of work to do — which means that, between now and Monday, I’ll be burning the midnight oil, busting out the brackets and then re-busting them once again. It’ll be a chore, but I bet it will be worth it. And I hope you’ll be along for the ride. Your band needs you, after all.

MTV’s 2011 Musical March Madness Tournament begins Monday, March 14, when we reveal the full field of 64 bands that will battle for the championship. Winners are determined by fan votes, so if your favorite act makes the cut, it’ll be up to you to guide them to glory. You can rally the troops on Twitter using the hashtag #MMM — but get ready, it’s gonna be a war.