Five things to watch for at the Grammys

Maggy DONALDSON
·4-min read

Keen to keep viewers glued to the Grammys, the Recording Academy has asked the music world's powerhouse performers to anchor yet another awards gala forced to go virtual.

Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, BTS, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish are among the long list of musicians who will appear during the mix of live and pretaped performances on Sunday.

The Grammys gala falls nearly a year to the day that the coronavirus pandemic shuttered clubs and halted touring, dealing a crippling blow to the industry.

Here's a guide to the event, which comedian Trevor Noah will host:

- Women take center stage -

Beyonce is the leading nominee with nine -- despite not releasing an album in the past year -- while Swift and Lipa both nabbed six nods for records they dropped during quarantine.

Bluesy rocker Brittany Howard -- known for her leading vocals with the band Alabama Shakes -- jumped into the spotlight on her own with five nominations for her first solo album "Jaime."

Howard is among the leading women in the rock categories, where female artists made an extremely strong impression on Grammy voters.

For the first time ever, the Best Rock Performance category is comprised entirely of solo women or female-led acts: Howard, Fiona Apple, Phoebe Bridgers, sister group Haim, Grace Potter and the Adrianne Lenker-fronted band Big Thief.

The Best Country Album category features four solo female acts along with one male-female group.

Mickey Guyton -- who will perform Sunday -- is up for Best Country Solo performance, becoming the first Black woman nominated in a country category for her song "Black Like Me."

And rapper Megan Thee Stallion is poised to make a splash, with four nominations including for Best New Artist -- a category featuring seven women out of eight nominees.

- Mea culpa to Beyonce? -

Beyonce is the most nominated woman in Grammy history with 79, and is tied with Paul McCartney for the second most nods ever.

They're each just one nomination behind top dogs Jay-Z (Beyonce's husband) and Quincy Jones, who both have 80.

But the 39-year-old -- whose art, social media messaging, sales innovations and pop culture presence have indelibly shaped the industry -- has repeatedly fallen short in the top categories.

In 2017, she notably lost out to Adele, despite dropping the seminal visual album "Lemonade" and embarking on the previous year's most lucrative tour.

After several years of promising to improve its recognition of artists who aren't white men, Sunday could be the moment the Academy finally pays Beyonce her due.

Her sweeping "Black Parade" -- released amid explosive nationwide anti-racism protests -- is in the running for Record and Song of the Year honors.

She could also bag several awards thanks to her collaboration with Megan Thee Stallion on the wildly popular "Savage" remix.

Whether Beyonce will attend -- virtually or otherwise -- is up in the air: She's not on the performance list and since 2018 has skipped the ceremony.

- Pandemic performances -

The mostly virtual event promises top-tier talent recruited in a bid to draw screen-weary eyeballs, after a devastating year in the world of live performance.

Both Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B are scheduled to perform, though it's unclear if they'll appear together: the duo's summer smash "WAP" was a fan favorite, but its graphic content is perhaps too much for network television.

Swift will perform at the gala for the first time since 2016, in addition to Eilish who last year swept the general field categories.

Lipa, rapper Roddy Ricch and Post Malone will grace the stage, as will Latin trap superstar Bad Bunny, along with pop nominees Harry Styles and South Korean boy band sensation BTS.

- Oddballs -

A little less than a month after his chaotic presidential bid ended, Kanye West notched a 2021 Grammy nomination -- but it had nothing to do with rap.

No, the artist who shook hip-hop with his 2004 album "The College Dropout" is up for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album, in recognition of his ode to evangelism, "Jesus Is King."

The spoken word category that regularly features unexpected Grammy contenders -- both Michelle and Barack Obama are past winners -- this year includes journalists Rachel Maddow and Ronan Farrow, as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.

And the Eurovision competition got an unlikely shoutout this time around, as the soundtrack for a comedy film about the kitschy contest was nominated for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media.

- Posthumous nominations -

The field features a number of posthumous nominations, including two for the revered American songwriter John Prine, who died of coronavirus complications in April.

Leonard Cohen, who died in 2016, received a Best Folk Album nomination for "Thanks for the Dance," a collection of raw vocals the Canadian legend's son finished for him.

And Brooklyn drill rapper Pop Smoke -- who was shot dead in the Hollywood Hills in February 2020 -- received one nomination for Best Rap Performance for "Dior."

The late artist will compete in that category with another rapper who died young: Nipsey Hussle, who won two posthumous awards last year, is nominated for "Deep Reverence," a collaboration with Big Sean.

mdo/sst