Stars roll dice for Grammys gold as Vegas hosts music's best

Jon Batiste is up for 11 awards at the 2022 Grammys

LAS VEGAS: The music world's A-listers will hit Las Vegas on Sunday for the Grammy Awards, where pop's chart-toppers along with jazzman Jon Batiste will compete for the industry's most coveted trophies.

The US gambling capital is hosting the ceremony for the first time ever, after organizers postponed the original January 31 event over a surge in Covid-19 cases and then moved it out of Los Angeles.

The timing of the Grammys just one week after Will Smith stunned the world by slapping Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars adds an extra layer of unpredictability to what is already usually one of the more bizarre nights on the showbiz awards circuit.

Justin Bieber will vie for eight trophies at the ceremony hosted by late night television personality Trevor Noah, as will R&B favorite H.E.R. and singer-rapper Doja Cat.

Grammys darling Billie Eilish is in the running for seven prizes. The same holds true for Olivia Rodrigo, a former Disney channel actress who exploded onto the pop scene last year with her breakout smash hit "drivers license."

The 19-year-old Rodrigo landed expected nods for her much-touted debut album "Sour," and is a near shoo-in for the Best New Artist prize -- she is up against Eilish's brother Finneas, rapper Saweetie and experimental pop act Japanese Breakfast, among others.

Like Eilish in 2020, Rodrigo has the opportunity to sweep the top four categories on the same night, which would make her only the third artist to do so. The first was singer-songwriter Christopher Cross.

But it is Jon Batiste -- the jazz and R&B artist and bandleader, who won an Oscar last year for his soundtrack to the Pixar animated movie "Soul" -- who has the most chances at Grammys gold, snagging 11 nominations including in two top categories.

The artist born into a prominent New Orleans musical dynasty will compete mainly on the strength of his album "We Are" and its rousing single "Freedom."

The sleeper nominations leader is up for awards in fields spanning genre and medium, including R&B, jazz, American roots and contemporary classical, along with nods for Best Music Video and his composition work on "Soul."

He appeared briefly on the red carpet at a pre-Grammy gala Friday, hamming it up for photographers before telling AFP he was feeling "great" ahead of Sunday's awards.

"I'm so happy," he said with a loud whoop. "My granddad came to town!"

Recognition across the board

The Grammys field is wide open -- especially after the Recording Academy expanded the top four categories yet again, this time to include 10 nominees, in a bid to improve diversity.

"I guess in this instance, expansion of the categories does mean more women, more marginalized people getting recognized," said Brandi Carlile, who is up this year for five gramophones.

"Some things improve in certain areas, they slip in other places," she told AFP, but added: "I'm watching it change and evolve and get better every year, and I'm heartened by it."

The expansion has also resulted in one of the most eclectic crops of Best New Artist nominees in recent memory, even if Rodrigo is widely tipped to win.

"Pop just has a bigger footprint, but I love that they're diving into other genres," country singer Jimmie Allen, a nominee in the category, told AFP.

"Win or lose, I'm just happy to be nominated."

Angelique Kidjo, who has four past Grammys under her belt and has three chances to win this year in the global performance categories, said the Recording Academy had made strides in recent years but that there was a "long road" ahead.

"It's a work in progress," she told AFP. "There's goodwill on their part. How do we bring that into action?"

She encouraged the Academy to add the global performance categories into the televised broadcast, which normally is reserved for the top four awards and some choice genre fields.

The vast majority of prizes are given out before a slim audience in the hours before the main gala.

Korean pop juggernauts BTS scored one nomination in the pop categories for the huge commercial hit "Butter" -- less than expected for the massively popular boy band that has struggled to make inroads at the Grammys.

But BTS is slated to perform at an event watched as much for its staging as the actual awards, as will Rodrigo, Eilish, Batiste, H.E.R. and Lil Nas X.

The Recording Academy will also include a special segment on Ukraine, in partnership with Global Citizen, encouraging awareness of the war as well as fundraising efforts for humanitarian aid.

Among Sunday's presenters will be folk icon Joni Mitchell, who was honored at a moving tribute gala Friday.

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