Music world to honor its best at toned down Grammys
NEW YORK: With a Black Lives Matter protest song and one of the year's hottest hits, Beyonce will strive Sunday to end her streak of snubs at the Grammys, as the music world attempts to turn the page on a devastating 2020.
The normally glitzy gala will be toned down, like all major awards shows, to a primarily virtual affair, with a mix of live and pre-taped performances in compliance with restrictions of the coronavirus era, which left the industry flailing and forced the ceremony to be pushed back.
The 63rd annual Grammys falls nearly a year to the day after venues big and small were forced to close, as Covid-19 infections flared across the United States.
Ahead of Sunday's show, 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 is the most nominated female artist ever with 79, tied with Paul McCartney and just one behind the duo with the most nods: her husband, Jay-Z, and Quincy Jones, who each have 80.
Her sweeping "Black Parade" -- released in June amid explosive nationwide anti-racism protests after another spate of deadly police violence targeting African Americans -- is up for Record and Song of the Year honors.
Many critics nevertheless favor the chances of Lipa, who took an ultimately successful risk in dropping a sparkly disco ball of a dance album just as the pandemic took hold.
Hot girls and women who rock
Onetime Grammy darling Swift bagged a handful of nominations for releasing the surprise cottagecore quarantine album "folklore," which earned the pop shapeshifter commercial and critical acclaim.
Rapper Ricch -- who won a trophy last year for his collaboration with the late artist Nipsey Hussle -- has six chances at Grammys gold, including for Song of the Year, which honors songwriting, for his hit "The Box."
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 contenders in the rock categories, which for the first time are almost all dominated by women.
Last year's big winner Billie Eilish could strike gold again, with Post Malone, Justin Bieber and rapper DaBaby all also in the mix.
And "hot girl summer" ruler 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 pack.
Also eyeing Best New Artist is Phoebe Bridgers, the Californian indie artist who is one of the women leading the charge in the rock categories.
Fiona Apple -- whose album "Fetch The Bolt Cutters" was hailed by critics -- is also leading that charge, after many years when women were sidelined by the Recording Academy's voters.
In addition to Beyonce's Black power anthem, Lil Baby's "The Bigger Picture" -- released during the summer's Black Lives Matter protests -- is twice-nominated.
The soulful 23-year-old H.E.R. picked up a Song of the Year nod for her BLM-themed song "I Can't Breathe."
And Mickey Guyton made history this year as the first Black woman ever nominated in a country category, for her song "Black Like Me."
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.
Can performances seduce viewers?
Though he was shut out of the general field categories, "Watermelon Sugar" singer Harry Styles is one of many A-listers set to perform, as organizers try to draw eyes to a lengthy awards show.
Last month's Golden Globes posted abysmal ratings, with 62 percent fewer viewers tuning in compared to last year.
Sunday's show is the first produced by Ben Winston, who is taking over after Ken Ehrlich helmed it for four decades -- and sometimes clashed with stars over their performances, notably Ariana Grande.
Megan Thee Stallion is likely to wow onstage as is Cardi B, who will perform despite not submitting her work for consideration this year.
That duo's summer smash "WAP" could have been among the top nominees but rapper Cardi reportedly held it back for consideration next year -- when she has hinted she will release an album.
If they perform the risque ode to female desire anyway, it could be one of the night's most jaw-dropping moments: the bop drips with sexual metaphors that would certainly be censored on a network broadcast.
Swift, Ricch, Eilish, Lipa, Malone and DaBaby are also slated to perform, along with the South Korean sensation BTS, who nabbed a pop nomination.
Latin trap superstar Bad Bunny will also appear, as well as country stars Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Guyton.
Comedian Trevor Noah is set to host Sunday's show, which the Academy dedicated to the resiliency of the music industry as well as frontline workers combatting the infection's spread.