LOS ANGELES: Nearly a year to the day after COVID-19 grounded tours and forced performance venues to close, the music world will celebrate its stars at the Grammys on Sunday, and try to move past a crushing 2020.
The normally glitzy gala will be scaled back, like all major awards shows, to a primarily virtual affair, with a mix of live and pre-taped performances in keeping with restrictions now commonplace in the coronavirus era, which left the industry flailing and forced the ceremony to be pushed back by weeks.
Beyonce – whose repeated losses in the top categories have stirred heated controversy – leads the pack with nine nods, followed by Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Roddy Ricch with six each.
Beyonce’s sweeping Black Parade – released in June amid explosive nationwide anti-racism protests, after another spate of deadly police violence targeting black Americans – is up for Record and Song of the Year honors.
Many critics nevertheless favor the chances of Lipa, who took a big risk in dropping a sparkly disco ball of a dance album just as the pandemic took hold – a bet that paid off.
Swift – a onetime Grammys darling who hasn’t won in five years – bagged a handful of nominations for releasing her surprise quarantine album folklore, a commercial and critical hit.
And rapper Ricch – who won a trophy in 2020 for his collaboration with the late artist Nipsey Hussle – is a strong contender, including for Song of the Year, which honors songwriting, for his hit “The Box.”
Megan in the mix
Bluesy rocker Brittany Howard – known for fronting the band Alabama Shakes – seized the spotlight on her own with her first solo album Jaime, which earned five nominations.
She is among the top candidates in the rock categories, which for the first time are almost all dominated by female nominees.
2020’s big winner Billie Eilish could strike gold again, while Post Malone, Justin Bieber and rapper DaBaby are all also in the mix.
And “hot girl summer” queen Megan Thee Stallion is likely to slay, with four nominations including for Best New Artist.
The remix of her wildly popular song “Savage” featuring Beyonce is up for several awards including Record of the Year – a collaboration that helped Queen Bey jump to the front of the musician pack.
Also eyeing Best New Artist honors is Phoebe Bridgers, the Californian indie artist who is one of the women leading the charge in the rock music categories.
But it wouldn’t be the Grammys without controversy.
The Weeknd has pledged to stop submitting music for awards consideration after he surprisingly received no nominations, despite a big year commercially.
The Canadian superstar follows in the path of artists like Frank Ocean and Drake, who have turned up their nose at an institution they say fails black artists and women.
‘Power to heal’
On Friday night, MusiCares – the philanthropic arm of the Recording Academy that focuses on assisting music industry members with mental health and financial hardship – held its annual star-studded fundraising event, with artists including Elton John Zooming in for the cause.
“This year’s mission feels more urgent,” the British legend said of the normally black-tie gala that also was shifted online.
Ringo Starr, Mick Fleetwood, Shakira, Bonnie Raitt and Gloria Estefan were among the music greats urging donations to the fund after a year that left the industry in free fall.
The event relied on a mix of recorded performances from past years, from the likes of Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, along with fresh shows from artists including John Legend, and Album of the Year nominees Haim and Jhene Aiko.
Grammys organizers are plugging performances as a reason to tune in Sunday, bringing in heavyweights including Cardi B, Swift, Eilish, Lipa, Harry Styles, South Korean boy band sensation BTS and rapper DaBaby to light up screens.
Latin trap superstar Bad Bunny will also appear, as well as country stars Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Mickey Guyton – the first black woman ever nominated in the country category.
Comedian Trevor Noah is set to host Sunday’s show, which the Academy has dedicated to the resilience of the music industry as well as frontline workers combating the spread of COVID-19.
“All these months… it’s been so hard on everyone,” interim Recording Academy President Harvey Mason Jr said during the MusiCares event.
“But as we know music brings us together, lifts our spirits and has the power to heal.”