Surprising pairings of old reliables and new stars make this a must-see night of live music.
Do you really care whether Mumford & Sons or fun. wins the Grammy for album of the year? Probably not. The No. 1 reason to tune into “music’s biggest night” Sunday is the live performances.
In 3 ½ hours, fewer than a dozen trophies will be handed out, but there will be more than 15 noteworthy performances. Grammys executive producer Ken Ehrlich always concocts some unexpected, and unforgettable, duets.
Remember Prince and Beyoncé? He was in purple, she in pink as they mashed up “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Crazy in Love” to open the evening. Remember Elton John and Eminem? The gay rocker and gay-bashing rapper built bridges by collaborating on Em’s song “Stan” about an obsessed fan.
This year Elton will team up with British newcomer Ed Sheeran. Country stars Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert will duet. And Sting will join Rihanna and Bruno Mars. Will it be must-see TV or another Grammy train wreck? Who can forget Taylor Swift’s off-key moment in 2010, singing with Stevie Nicks on “Rhiannon”?
Justin Timberlake, who hasn’t released an album since 2007, is slated to perform just because he is Justin Timberlake and will boost TV ratings — wardrobe malfunction or not.
Even if you don’t have a horse in any of the Grammy races, you’ll want to see if Swift can handle singing live on TV (she’ll open the show), if Jennifer Lopez’s outfit is too much for prime time and if Maroon 5’s Adam Levine has any new tattoos. Heck, you might want to hear the soft-spoken Prince present a prize. Wonder if he’ll be paired again with Beyoncé, who’s also a presenter?
Of course, the awards program will be stocked with newer names who aren’t as well-known as last year’s big winner, Adele. The Lumineers, Frank Ocean, fun., the Black Keys and Mumford & Sons will perform.
As for who will go home with Grammys from the 55th annual ceremonies, here are a few predictions.
Album of the year
Nominees: Black Keys, “El Camino”; fun., “Some Nights”; Mumford & Sons, “Babel”; Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange”; Jack White,” Blunderbuss.”
“Blunderbuss” was my No. 1 album of 2012, and “Channel Orange” rated highly, as did “El Camino” in 2011. (Grammy eligibility runs from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012.) I’d be comfortable if any of those titles took the trophy, but “Babel” will speak the loudest to 12,000 Recording Academy voters.
Record of the year
Black Keys, “Lonely Boy”; Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger”; fun., “We Are Young”; Gotye, “Somebody That I Used to Know”; Frank Ocean, “Thinkin’ Bout You”; Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
My vote would have been for Carly Rae Jepsen’s perfect pop song, “Call Me Maybe,” which didn’t make the finals. There are four strong contenders here, with Clarkson, fun., Gotye and Swift. Swift is a Grammy favorite but Gotye’s record is more artful.
Song of the year
Ed Sheeran, “The A Team”; Miguel, “Adorn”; Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”; Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger”; fun., “We Are Young.”
Remember, this is a songwriting award. The Grammy goes to Clarkson for an anthem with a strong melody and stronger message.
Best new artist
Alabama Shakes, fun., Hunter Hayes, the Lumineers and Frank Ocean.
Five deserving candidates. Ocean and Alabama Shakes have the most talent, but Ocean’s other nominations give him momentum for a victory here.
Best alternative album: My vote and the Grammy go to Fiona Apple for “The Idler Wheel.” Potent stuff.
Rap album: It’s a two-horse contest between Drake and Nas, who wins by a nose for “Life Is Good.”
Rock album: Beloved Bruce Springsteen snares another Grammy for “Wrecking Ball” but Jack White and Black Keys are more deserving.
Country album: Miranda Lambert is a lock for “Four the Record.”
Americana album: Not sure how Bonnie Raitt ended up in this category. Her “Slipstream” is first-rate but this one screams “Babel,” by Mumford & Sons.
Blues album: Although no one thinks of Dr. John as a blues artist, his outstanding “Locked Down” is Grammy-worthy.
Dance recording: Skrillex owns this category once again, scoring with “Bangarang.”
Pop vocal album: Maroon 5 — 2005’s best new artist — continues its Grammy success with “Overexposed.”
Pop solo performance: Despite competition from Clarkson, Adele grabs one more Grammy for a live version of “Set Fire to the Rain.”
R&B performance: If voters are listening closely, they’ll honor Miguel for “Adorn.”
Rap/sung collaboration: Jay-Z is competing against himself but he can’t trump sentiment, so Nas will win for “Cherry Wine,” featuring the late Amy Winehouse.
Country solo performance: It’s five guys and Carrie Underwood, who will prevail for the song “Blown Away.”
Producer of the year: Is this a two-man competition between Dan Auerbach (Black Keys, Dr. John) and Markus Dravs (Mumford, Coldplay)? Or will a big night of fun. mean that Jeff Bhasker triumphs? Auerbach is the pick here.
Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719