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Grammy Awards: Amidst controversy, 10 stories we're watching

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Controversy and the Grammy Awards go together like commercials on network TV — a constant and, perhaps, a necessary evil.

But as the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards prepare to be presented on Sunday, Jan. 26, in Los Angeles, this year's fireworks are taking place in advance of the show, and behind the scenes.

On Jan. 16 Recording Academy President Deborah Dugan was placed on administrative leave amidst allegations of misconduct. With Chairman and previous Grammy winner Harvey Mason Jr. taking over, the situation has exploded with hints of rigged voting and financial improprieties in the organization, which Dugan reportedly was trying to clean up. Dugan, meanwhile, reportedly sought a $22 million buyout to leave quietly.

Mason sent an unusually detailed letter about the situation to Academy members, while Dugan has filed an EEOC complaint against the Academy for sexual harassment and discrimination — and says she's had had to hire security because of unspecified threats. One Grammy sponsor, Champagne Billecart-Salmon, has pulled out to protest Dugan's treatment.

Will all of this impact the show that millions will watch on CBS? Unlikely — other than that Mason will be the presiding officer, and there may be some, but not many, comments from winners and presenters. It's not a high-impact story outside the industry, although it's certainly on the radar.

And it's not like the Grammys are ever short on drama of some kind, whether it's furor over winners — or nonwinners — confusion over performances or titters about fashion choices. This year's Grammy nominees reflect the Academy's earnest machinations to appear current and relevant. But even in that context, those who go home without trophies and their fans will heat up the post-show discussion.

With all that in mind, these are 10 things we're looking forward to playing out.

• Lizzo vs. Billie Eilish: With eight and six nominations respectively, they're set up for a showdown of new pop princesses. The smart money is on Detroit-born Lizzo. Eilish is certainly having her moment, but Lizzo made a lot of right moves and peaked her visibility just ahead of the Grammy nominating and voting period. We're thinking "Truth Hurts" gets Record and Song of the Year, though Eilish is a more deserving pick for Best New Artist, since Lizzo is three albums in at this juncture.

• Lizzo's look: See ... well, just about anything she's worn in public during the past year, but especially the thong she twerked at the Los Angeles Lakers game in October.

• "Lover" or leave it: A new Taylor Swift album usually puts her in the major categories, but this year she finds herself with only a Song of the Year nod for the title track to her "Lover" album (and pointedly no Album of the Year nomination) and a pair of Pop field possibilities. But if anyone has the firepower to break the Lizzo-Eilish axis, it will be Swift -- who, by the way, is skipping the ceremony.

• Album of the Year: A particularly intriguing category beyond Lizzo and Eilish. Ariana Grande's "Thank U Next" was a powerhouse, but this is one area where voters have often aligned with critical tastes, so don't be surprised if Lana Del Rey, H.E.R. or dark horses such as Bon Iver or Vampire Weekend prevail over pop.

• Lil Nas X: The country-rap single "Old Town Road" was huge, but also straddled so many different genres he may be a man without a country here. He also has to contend with Lizzo and Eilish, and it's interesting the song got no love in either the country or rap categories.

• Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album: The Academy expanded the category this year, so now Elvis Costello & the Imposters' rocking "Look Now" is rubbing musical elbows with Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bublé, John Legend and Barbra Streisand. Maybe they figure that because he's recorded with Tony Bennett, who's won the category 13 times, Costello fits? Seems like Academy kind of logic.

• Sweet Emotions: The veteran Boston troupe's Las Vegas residency has kept Aerosmith somewhat visible, but far more below the radar than they usually are. Its medley of hits — including "Walk This Way" with Run-DMC — as part of its MusiCares Person of the Year honors should be a show highlight, as well as a bone for rock fans. Of course, a lawsuit from drummer Joey Kramer alleging he's been forced out of the band (and was seen being barred from rehearsals in a TMZ video this week) adds its own drama to the proceedings.

• Dynamic Duos: The Grammys has always been merrier with more, so we'll get cozy real-life couples Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton and Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes. Resurgent Tanya Tucker — whose "While I'm Livin'" deserved an Album of the Year nomination — also will be joined by 2019 Grammy darling Camila Cabello, which could well be the best thing to hit the stage.

• Motown magic: We're rooting for "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations" for Best Musical Theater Album — but it's a stiff category with noms for Harry Potter, the new "Oklahoma!," "Moulin Rouge!" and Tony Award favorite "Hadestown."

• Keys to the highway: In 2019 Grammy winner Alicia Keys did a fine job of moving the show smoothly and incorporating some nice, insider-style musical asides. Here's hoping for more of the same this year. Ricky Gervais is great, but one encounter per award season is enough.

The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards take place Sunday, Jan. 26, in Los Angeles and will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on CBS (WWJ-Channel 62 in Detroit). Pre-show ceremonies and Red Carpet arrivals will be carried on grammy.com.

Web Site: www.grammy.com

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