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Battle lines are drawn for this year's Grammy Awards
The Grammy Awards are in trim, fighting form this year. And that should lead to fierce "fights" at the 54th annual ceremony taking place Sunday, Feb. 12, in Los Angeles.
The big news is that since last year's show, the Recording Academy tightened the awards lineup from 109 to 78 categories -- a response to criticism that the Grammys, which are ostensibly based on merit, were out of touch with the mass audience tastes more commonly reflected in popularity contests such as the American Music Awards, the People's Choice Awards and the sales-based Billboard Music Awards. The Academy buckled, much to the disappointment of residents in eliminated categories from the traditional gospel, Zydeco, Cajun, children's and other fields.
Others bemoaned the shedding of instrumental categories in pop, rock and country, and to the end of separate male and female categories in the major fields. Some Latin jazz musicians filed suit against the Academy after their categories were dumped, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition and activist Cornel West made public statements protesting the cuts and calling for "expansion" of the awards to be more comprehensive and inclusive.
Jackson also raised the possibility of protests outside this year's ceremony.
Nevertheless, the Grammys will go on, and the battles will move inside the Staples Center with some particularly interesting ballot match-ups. Here are the 10 most intriguing contests to watch as the ceremony unfolds:
Adele vs. ... Everyone: She's not the leading nominee -- that would be Kanye West with seven -- but the British singer is tied for second with six nods and seems poised to take home most if not all of those trophies thanks to the sales strength and consensus critical and peer support for her sophomore album, "21." Adele already has a Grammy pedigree with a Best New Artist win in 2009, and she'll be performing live for the first time since having throat surgery in November. She'll be giving a lot of thank-you speeches, too, and anyone in the same categories (sorry Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Rihanna and the rest) should be ready to spend the night in their seats.
Kanye West vs. Kanye West: The outspoken rapper had two major releases during the Grammy eligibility period -- his own "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and his "Watch the Throne" collaboration with Jay-Z. Largely shunned in the major categories (except for a Song of the Year nomination for his "All of the Lights"), West is effectively competing against himself for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song. That could increase his chances of winning -- or split voters and open the door for other nominees.
Who's New? The Best New Artist category typically has some odd ducks; for instance, Bon Iver's first album came out in 2008 and J. Cole has been releasing mixtapes since 2007. But the real test here is who's constituency is stronger -- Nicki Minaj's coaltion of Pop, R&B and Rap, The Band Perry's country community or Skrillex's previously under-awarded electronic field. We'll see who can marshall the most (voting) troops.
Tony! Tony! Tony! The Best Pop Duo/Group Performance has one Grammy's most eclectic lineups with the Black Keys, Coldplay, Foster the People and Maroon5 with Christina Aguilera. But while Tony Bennett and the late Amy Winehouse may not move like Jagger, sentiment will send them home with the award for their duet on "Body and Soul."
Taylor vs. Jason: Taylor Swift and Jaason Aldean dominated country music during 2011 in two very different ways -- she with her huge pop crossover appeal, him by staying close to his twangy roots. They'll meet each other in the Best Country Album and Best Country Solo Performance categories, and we'll see if Swift can "Speak Now" or will have to forever hold her peace.
Down to the Whipping Post:Three members of the Allman Brothers Band -- Gregg Allman and guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks (the latter with the Tedeschi Trucks Band) -- are nominated for Best Blues Album for solo albums. We'd understand if the other ABB members take a pass on this particular category.
]Water, Water Everywhere: Coldplay's "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" and the Decemberists' "Down By the Water" flow into each other in the Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance categories. That should keep Radiohead's "Lotus Flower" from drying out.
Dueling Accordions: The Academy's shrinkage makes for a silly mixed bag in the Best Regional Roots Music Album competition, with Jimmy Sturr's polka and George Kahumoku, Jr.'s Hawaiian slack-key guitar pitted against Louisiana stalwarts the Rebirth Brass Band, C.J. Chenier and Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys. At least they all can play a credible version of "Iko Iko."
Please Don't Shoot the Deputy...: Bob Marley's sons Ziggy and Stephen are up against each other for Best Reggae Album. But win or lose, we know that every little thing's gonna be alright...
]One Is The Loneliest Number...: Best R&B Performance pits one man, Charlie Wilson, in a pack of women (Marsha Ambrosius, Ledisi, Kelly Price and Corinne Bailey Rae). Flip to Best Traditional R&B Performance and Betty Wright, albeit with the Roots, stands up to Eric Benet, Cee Lo Green, R. Kelly and Raphael Saaadiq. And it was necessary to get rid of those separate gender categories because...?
Bonus Track: Not a category, but Chris Brown makes his return to the Grammys this year after assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna (who's also performing) the night before the 2009 ceremony. The incident hasn't been forgotten, but we'll see if Brown has been forgiven.
The 54th Annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, on CBS, WWJ-TV in Detroit. Performers include: Adele; Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson; the Beach Boys with Maroon5 and Foster the People; Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood; Glen Campbell with The Band Perry and Blake Shelton; the Civil Wars; Coldplay with Rihanna; the Foo Fighters with Deadmau5; David Guetta with Chris Brown and Lil Wayne; Diana Krall; Bruno Mars; Paul McCartney; Nicki Minaj; Maceo Parker; Katy Perry; Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band; Taylor Swift; Joe Walsh; and a tribute to Etta James by Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt. LL Cool J will host. The Grammy Awards Pre-Telecast Ceremony begins at 4 p.m. and will be streamed at www.grammy.com/live and www.cbs.com. A full list of Grammy nominees can be found at www.grammy.com.
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