The old Grammys were predictable. The new Grammys always surprise you in one way or another.

Predictably, Adele and Bruno Mars, two of the biggest acts of the past year, are finalists for album, record and song of the year for the 54th Grammy Awards. The only other candidate for three of the four top awards is -- can you believe this? -- Bon Iver, the cult-loved, icy-as-winter indie rocker from suburban Eau Claire, Wis.

The critically acclaimed Bon Iver, known as Justin Vernon to his family and friends, is nominated for best new artist, which was not unexpected, but his nods for best record and song for "Holocene" were a huge surprise. The nominations were announced Wednesday during a live hourlong TV program featuring performances by Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Usher and others.

After recording a preciously hushed album about the breakup of a relationship ("For Emma, Forever Ago") in his Wisconsin cabin in 2008, Bon Iver became an indie-rock darling. Since Kanye West invited him to perform on his 2010 bestseller "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," Bon Iver has gained more widespread attention.

His second album, "Bon Iver," matches the melancholy of his debut, with more ambitious, layered music that almost sounds like a modern version of prog-rock. This week, "Bon Iver" was named as 2011's best album by Paste, a cultural tastemaker magazine. "Bon Iver" is a finalist for the Grammy for best alternative album.

Grammy folks better get to know the pride of Wisconsin. When announcing the nominees on TV, rapper Nicki Minaj mispronounced it as "Bonn Eye-ver" but TV star Taraji P. Henson got it right: "Bun Eee-vair."

His little-known "Holocene," which wasn't even the most played "Bon Iver" song on 89.3 FM the Current, is an achingly quiet, 5 1/2-minute falsetto-filled, gorgeous pop meditation about how Vernon, now 30, screwed up a relationship. Realistically, it probably doesn't stand a chance competing against such blockbusters as Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and Mars' "Grenade." Those two hitmakers each received six nominations, including album of the year for Mars' "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" and Adele's "21," the runaway bestseller of 2011.

For best new artist for the Feb. 12 awards, Bon Iver is vying with pop/rap star Minaj and country-pop hitmakers the Band Perry, the two favorites, and rapper J. Cole and electronica hero Skrillex. The finalists in the top four categories were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel whereas the nominees in the 74 other categories were voted on by members of the Recording Academy.

Rap superstar West, always an outspoken Grammys bridesmaid when it comes to the major categories, was actually the leading nominee -- with seven -- but received only one high-profile nod, for song of the year for "All of the Lights."

"The Grammy Nominations Concert Live" was as much about performances as announcements. Lady Gaga opened and closed the show, the latter with a knockout duet reading of her "You and I" with well-matched vocal powerhouse Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. The other live highlights were rapper Ludacris joining Jason Aldean for the country hit "Dirt Road Anthem" and an exciting all-star treatment by Common, LL Cool J and others of Grandmaster Flash's hip-hop classic "The Message."

Four musicians with Minnesota connections received nominations. St. Paul singer Stokley Williams is recognized for best R&B song and performance, both for "Not My Daddy" with Kelly Price. As one of the producers of Adele's "21," Dan Wilson, a Minneapolitan who recently moved to Los Angeles, could receive an album of the year trophy. Minneapolis guitarist Brian Setzer is a finalist for best instrumental album for "Setzer Goes Instru-mental," and Nicholas McGegan, former artistic partner of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, is recognized in the best instrumental performance category for three Haydn symphonies with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

@jonbream • 612-673-1719