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10 reasons to watch the Grammys
Lady Gaga, the pregame MVP for her stunning national anthem at the Super Bowl, now gets the equally difficult task of paying tribute to the late great David Bowie at the 58th annual Grammy Awards Monday night.
It will be one of the most anticipated moments at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in a show full of stars, including the two biggest-selling artists of 2015: Adele and Taylor Swift.
Also scheduled to perform is the year’s most acclaimed artist, Kendrick Lamar, who could steal the show with his sprawling epic “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
Meanwhile, you’re saying, “Wait. Monday?” Yes, the Grammys are usually earlier in February on a Sunday, but the Super Bowl was later, so they’ve been moved to Monday, out of the way of Valentine’s Day and at the end of a long Presidents Day weekend, if there is such a thing.
The Grammys will go without Beyonce, Bruno Mars and Coldplay for performers Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Diplo, Skrillex, Chris Stapleton, Bonnie Raitt, Gary Clark Jr., Pitbull, Robin Thicke, Travis Barker, the Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Joe Perry and more), James Bay, Andra Day, Ellie Goulding, the Broadway cast of “Hamilton,” Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly, Little Big Town, Carrie Underwood, The Weeknd and Luke Bryan, John Legend, Demi Lovato and Meghan Trainor doing a tribute to MusiCares Person of the Year Lionel Richie.
Here are 10 reasons to tune in:
1. One for Wiz? Through seven previous nominations, Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa has yet to be crowned, partly because his competition in the rap categories has been Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake and Eminem. This time it’s different. In his fifth straight nominated year, he has his first in a top three category: “See You Again” for song of the year. The feel-good anthem from the “Furious 7” soundtrack topped the charts last summer for 12 weeks and became the first rap video with 1 billion YouTube views. It’s still a dark horse at about 6-1 odds to top Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” or Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” It’s also an underdog in the pop duo/group performance category with “Uptown Funk” (Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars) and “Bad Blood” (Swift/Lamar) in the way. His other shot is for best song written for visual media, where “Glory” from the “Selma” track may be a more sentimental choice. Asked about the Grammy race last week, Khalifa told us, “I really don’t stress it. I know how important that song is to making that show the show that it’s supposed to be.”
2. Kendrick could sweep: Khalifa is about a foot taller than Lamar, but the rapper from Compton, California, who opened for Wiz on the Under the Influence of Music Tour in 2012 loomed large over the hip-hop field in ’15. He has seven prior nominations himself, with no wins, but that will change Monday night, as Lamar has a leading 11 nominations, including album of the year for the wildly ambitious “To Pimp a Butterfly.” As a perfect soundtrack for Black Lives Matter, it was the runaway favorite with critics last year and even got the stamp of approval from President Barack Obama, who welcomed him at the White House. Grammy voters can throw it in the face of the whites-only Oscars by making this chart-topping, near-platinum album its pick. If nothing else, an obvious best rap album.
3. In memoriam: Sadly, tributes are at the forefront of the show, as the music world suffered some devastating losses the past year. As noted, the Bowie honors go to Gaga, a controversial choice given that they never worked together and she’s no Bowie, silly costumes aside. Nile Rodgers, who worked with Bowie on the “Let’s Dance” album in 1983, should be a reliable music director for this. Incidentally, Bowie was woefully overlooked by the Grammys, his one win being best video, short form in 1985, compensated with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime),” a bonus cut on his best-of compilation “Nothing Has Changed,” is up for arrangement, instruments and vocals for Maria Schneider.
Blues disciple Gary Clark Jr. will celebrate B.B. King’s legacy along with B.B. friend Bonnie Raitt and country singer Chris Stapleton, who impressed Grammy producers with a cover of “The Thrill Is Gone” on YouTube.
Legendary badass Lemmy Kilmister will get a devil-horned Motorhead salute from the Hollywood Vampires, a supergroup made up of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Joe Perry, Guns N’ Roses rhythm section Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, guitarist Tommy Henriksen and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Witkin. “We started this band as a means to toast our ‘dead drunk friends’ at the Rainbow, all the ghosts in the bar, and now I guess Lemmy is involved in that, too,” Alice Cooper told Rolling Stone. Regrettably, the potential tribute list extends to Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner, Natalie Cole and Maurice White.
4. Tony and Zimmy: At 89, Tony Bennett owns the best traditional pop vocal album category, winning it no less than 12 times since it was created in 1992. The only other multiple winners are Natalie Cole (two) and Michael Buble (four), and this year there are three other repeat nominees: Josh Groban, Barry Manilow and Seth MacFarlane, whose vocal talents are not the centerpiece of his career. But now there’s a new kid on the block: 74-year-old Bob Dylan, with “Shadows in the Night,” an album of standards popularized by Frank Sinatra, just like Bennett’s first win in this category in ’93 with “Perfectly Frank.” Dylan, not blessed with a voice made for Sinatra, brings a distinctly craggy but real approach to these “Shadows,” making a win here an amusing upset. Rock’s greatest songwriter has more standing in the best historical album category for “The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11.”
5. Adoring Adele: Adele wasn’t nominated for any Grammys because her album “25” wasn’t any good and didn’t sell very well. Kidding. It was the music industry’s savior in 2015, but the Grammys have their own wacky calendar, which runs from Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015. “Hello” was released on Oct. 23 and “25” on Nov. 20, so the album, which obliterated the single-week sales record in the Nielsen SoundScan era (3.38 million), will likely sweep the Grammys in 2017 and turn up again in 2018. In the interest of relevancy and ratings, the Grammys lined up the British diva to sing.
6. Not just bros: It’s all bro-country for the Academy of Country Music Awards’ best country album: Chris Young, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton. The Grammys let the ladies in with Little Big Town, Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves joining Sam and Chris. It’s likely to be a Musgraves-Stapleton race, pitting two newly discovered talents adored by fans and critics.
7. In like a Lamb: The metal performance category is always fun for pure train wreck appeal. Last year, comedy duo Tenacious D steamrolled Motorhead, Slayer, Anthrax and Slipknot for the win. This year’s story is Richmond, Virginia, metalcore band and now four-time nominee Lamb of God. The LoG entry is “512,” named for the basement dungeon cell that singer Randy Blythe occupied at the Pankrac Prison in the Czech Republic after he was charged with manslaughter for pushing an unruly fan from the stage. He was acquitted but spent a grueling summer there in 2012, inspiring this brutal track. The challengers are August Burns Red, Sevendust and masked marvels Ghost and Slipknot.
8. More first-timers: Among the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to never win a Grammy is twice-nominated punk poet Patti Smith. That could change Monday night, BUT her Grammy would be for reading not singing. Her nomination is for best spoken word album for Jo Nesbo’s book “Blood on Snow.”
Critics love Bjork, but she’s an unlucky 13 at the Grammys. Her 14th nomination and fourth for alternative music album is “Vulnicura,” in a tough race with Alabama Shakes, Wilco, Tame Impala and My Morning Jacket.
Critics do not love Justin Bieber, who has not been nominated since 2011, when he lost best new artist, as did Drake, to Esperanza Spalding. He might get his first Grammy for best dance recording working with Skrillex and Diplo on “Where Are U Now.”
Among the other possible first-timers: Alabama Shakes (four nominations, including album of the year), The Weeknd (seven, including album and record of the year), Ed Sheeran (record and song of the year), Death Cab for Cutie, Florence + the Machine, Ellie Goulding and Elle King.
9. PSO and Pittsburgh connections: The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is a Grammy-winning group, winning for its work with Yo-Yo Ma in 1992. Last year it lost to the St. Louis Symphony. This year, the PSO is nominated for best orchestral performance for the live album “Bruckner: Symphony No. 4,” conducted by Manfred Honeck at Heinz Hall.
The best musical theater album category is loaded with ’Burgh connections: Pittsburgh CLO chief Van Kaplan co-produced “An American in Paris”; Michael Cerveris, already a Tony winner for “Fun Home,” is a native West Virginian who spends the holidays with his family here; Carnegie Mellon University grads Renee Elise Goldsberry and Leslie Odom Jr. are part of the “Hamilton” cast; and Tony winner Christian Borle of “Something Rotten!” is from Fox Chapel and CMU.
10. Big legends, small categories: The Grateful Dead? Never won a Grammy (but did get the Lifetime Achievement Award in ’07). The Rolling Stones? Didn’t get one until ’95, for “Voodoo Lounge” LOL. The two titans square off for best boxed or special limited edition package for “30 Trips Around the Sun” and the “Sticky Fingers” reissue, respectively.
Joni Mitchell, whom we almost lost last year, is nominated for writing the liner notes to her compilation “Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced.”
Stevie Wonder won the album Grammy in 1974. Also nominated that year were albums by Charlie Rich, Bette Midler, Paul Simon and Roberta Flack. Guess what else came out in 1973: “Dark Side of the Moon.” In 1981, “The Wall” lost to “Christopher Cross,” just another reason why so many people don’t care about the Grammys. Pink Floyd hasn’t gotten that Lifetime Achievement Award yet, but it has won for best engineered nonclassical album for “The Wall” (1980) and rock instrumental performance for Marooned” (1995). Now, Roger Waters is up for best music film for “The Wall” and best surround sound album for the remastered 1992 LP “Amused to Death.” I’m sure he’s amused.