The choruses and melodies honored during Sunday’s 57th Grammy Awards at the Staples Center are destined to be played at high-school class reunions until at least 2065, even if by then global warming will have rendered such gatherings oceanic parties.
“The haters gonna hate. Shake it off!” “I’m so fancy, you already know!” “I’m happy! Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof!” “I’m all about that bass, ‘bout the bass, no treble!”
Songs of protest? Not unless you count breakout pop star Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” a celebration of bottom end-sound and sound female bottoms that objects to Photoshopped physical perfection (and, unfairly, high-end sound frequencies).
FULL COVERAGE: Grammy Awards 2015
When the stage lights up and LL Cool J arrives once again to welcome the expected 28 million TV viewers, we’ll witness a generational range of the era’s biggest major-label stars bringing their best. Scheduled performers include some of the most successful, most obsessed-about entertainers in the world: Kanye West, Sam Smith, Paul McCartney, Rihanna and others will attempt to convey beauty both musical and physical. Scores of the lesser-known, equally inspired nominees have been relegated to an afternoon at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Here, some races and faces to watch, and potential broadcast highlights:
Will this be Smith’s breakout moment? When the lights go down, one of the main questions will be how many of the British singer’s nominations will gain him a trophy. The 2014 breakout singer’s pop song “Stay With Me” and “In the Lonely Hour,” the album from which it arrived, are nominated for five awards, and Smith seems a lock to get new artist (outflanking Haim, Bastille, Iggy Azalea and Brandy Clark). The 22-year-old’s opening confession has become a universal ode to romantic devotion: “Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night-stand.”
That could be a problem, because Smith’s main competition, Taylor Swift, is, well, Taylor Swift. Her “Shake It Off” is another favorite, though voters may hold off on awarding Swift this year. Her album “1989" was released after this year’s Sept. 30 cutoff date for eligibility. Though “Shake It Off” is on the album, she strategically released it as a single just before that date, ensuring Swift spots this year and on the 2016 ballot.
Mash-ups to watch. One of Grammy Awards producer Ken Ehrlich’s favorite tasks is arranging striking on-stage mash-ups. The goal? To find common ground between kindred spirits in disparate worlds — and give stage time to as many musicians in such a short window of time as possible.
This year’s wild combinations include British beatbox folkie Ed Sheeran, whose “X” is nominated for album of the year, teaming with a newly reunited Electric Light Orchestra. Though ELO’s Jeff Lynne could be Sheeran’s grandpa, they’re slated to share the stage and will likely perform Sheeran’s big hit “Sing.” Which ELO songs will the sprightly redhead help belt? Here’s hoping it’s “Telephone Line” or “Mr. Blue Sky.”
Other planned collaborations include Beck (nominated for, among others, album of the year for his “Morning Phase”) playing with Coldplay’s Chris Martin in what will likely be a soft, pleasant strum-fest. Multiple Grammy winner and nominee Mary J. Blige will commune with Smith. Their connection? Both have worked with English production team Disclosure. (Don’t be surprised if Disclosure is onstage too.)
An Australian year at the Grammys? Three big names in Australian music are buzzing. One of them is very different than the other two. Specifically, AC/DC will arrive to possibly pummel viewers with something from its new album, “Rock or Bust.”
Let’s just hope it won’t be the horrible “Play Ball.” At the opposite end? Azalea, the ghetto-patois rapper whose nomination for rap album has seemingly infuriated an entire genre.
Azalea’s up for two major awards: record of the year and new artist. Chances are she won’t win either. Preferably fellow Australian Sia’s “Chandelier” will stomp “Fancy” in the record-of-the-year category. That beguiling track, about embracing adventure before it’s too late, is an instant classic. Nor is Azalea likely to prevail as new artist. She’s nominated alongside Smith, the excellent country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark, L.A. sibling band Haim and English would-be arena rock group Bastille.
Album of the year? Beyoncé will likely win this major category for her self-titled December-surprise hit record. Though it’s a shame that “Drunk in Love,” her great collaboration with husband Jay Z, failed to garner a major song award (it’s nominated in R&B performance and R&B song), it’s hard to be too concerned about it bothering Beyoncé. She and her husband performed the song at last year’s ceremony, after all. Still, her record resonated throughout 2014 more than the other nominated albums by Smith, Beck, Pharrell and Sheeran.
Will the Grammys acknowledge social protest? History will recall that as Ferguson, Mo., was recovering from riots and police clashes that rattled America, Swift coincidentally released “Shake It Off,” her anthem to celebratory ambivalence. On Sunday, two performances have the potential to suggest that shaking off problems isn’t always the best solution.
Singer John Legend, for example, will be joined by his collaborator Common to perform their song “Glory,” which appears in the film “Selma.” A work that stares racism in the face, the lyrics will likely draw polarized online response: “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough,” raps Common in the song, addressing the death of a young black man. “Resistance is us / That’s why Rosa sat on the bus / That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.” Rumors have been circulating that Beyoncé might be part of this performance, which would be a thrill to see.
Kanye, Rihanna and McCartney on the same stage. The biggest moment of the night will likely be the onstage collaboration among rapper-producer West, pop singer Rihanna and former Beatle McCartney. Joining to perform their curiously magnetic new ballad “FourFiveSeconds,” the union will likely be the buzz of social media throughout the night. Added incentive: What faux pas might Kanye commit?