Nicki Minaj is now the ceremony's most unpredictable performer
Beyonce's critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing album "4" got shut out
It's actually Kanye West who's the most nominated artist at this year's Grammys
Editor’s Note: Andrew Unterberger is a writer for Popdust.com.
You might think you have all the answers to the 2012 Grammys – who’s nominated, who’s gonna win, who’s gonna perform, who’s gonna make awkward banter with LL Cool J, who’s gonna make an overt pass at the newly single Katy Perry – but trust us, there are still more questions than there are answers.
Here’s a number of the most-pressing inquiries – 21, in fact, in honor of what’s-her-name (Adele)– facing us a week before the ceremonies tip off:
1. What kind of Don Cornelius tribute will the show put together?
We’ve posited our guess: a Soul Train Line tribute choreographed by Paula Abdul (or possibly Laurieann Gibson, whoever’s cheaper these days), soundtracked by The Roots, with a couple slots available for whatever celebrities feel like jumping up on stage to do a little shimmy and shake. (?uestlove is listed as a presenter, so we’re feeling pretty good about our odds.) In any event, the show will probably need to do something to honor the beloved late TV host, and we’re hoping that the show will be all the funkier for it.
2. What kind of Etta James tribute will the show put together?
Perhaps the more pressing question, and one we’ve spent a good deal of time debating. The Grammys will also probably feel obligated to pay homage to legendary R&B diva Etta James, who died just a week and a half before Cornelius. We’re gonna call Christina Aguilera as the likely featured performer, though we fear the worst with Joss Stone and Jessie J (and still secretly hold out hope for a Lana Del Rey upset). Of course, there is another plausible candidate …
3. Will Beyoncé make her first post-pregnancy appearance?
Her critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing album “4” got shut out, and the most exciting award she’s nominated for is Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (which she could very well lose to ex-groupmate Kelly Rowland anyway), but still – where is Beyoncé gonna make a bigger splash for her comeback appearance than at the Grammys? The Etta James thing is the wild card factor: Beyoncé and Etta obviously had a very personal (albeit occasionally testy) professional relationship toward the end of the latter’s life, and Ms. Knowles would definitely be the home run choice for Grammy producers to lead their tribute.
4. Will anyone beat out Nicki Minaj for Funniest Pronunciation of “Bon Iver”?
Between Justin Vernon’s nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist, at least three people are going to have to read the name “Bon Iver” aloud. Can anyone match the combination of surprise, confusion and Queens accent with which Nicki Minaj read the artist’s name at the Grammy Nominations Concert? We’re guessing no, though if reported presenter Gwyneth Paltrow ends up reading one of them, all bets are off.
5. Which Minaj will show up?
Barbie Minaj? Robot Minaj? Female Weezy Minaj? Roman Zolanski (Minaj)? With Lady Gaga looking to possibly take a breather from the Grammys this year – more on her in a bit – Nicki is now the ceremony’s most unpredictable performer, and we’d believe just about any rumor we heard about what she was planning for Sunday. We just hope it involves some amount of “Super Bass.”
6. Is Skrillex gonna, like, dress up?
We can only assume that America’s dubstep darling will be in attendance Sunday, and we’re more than a little intrigued to see whether the producer will maintain his punk/underground roots and go grungy with it or whether he’ll take this opportunity to represent for dance by cleaning up a little. What if he came with his trademark hair completely shorn off, with just his glasses and a five o’clock shadow? There’s no telling what kind of seismic shifts in our culture that could result in.
7. Who will win Best New Artist?
Speaking of Bon Iver (and Minaj and Skrillex), while the Best New Artist category is probably his/their best chance at actually walking home with an award, it’s still a pretty open race, with just about any of the artists nominated being able to make a case for the win. Minaj is obviously the most commercially successful, J. Cole has some of the best industry backing (having Jay-Z in your corner is always a good start), The Band Perry are the most conventionally Grammyish, Bon Iver has the most other big nominations, and Skrillex … well, there’s never really any telling with Skillex, is there? Who would’ve guessed he could even scare up a nomination?
8. Who will be this year’s Mumford and Sons?
Despite having no obvious point of comparison on last year’s Billboard charts (or any other year’s for that matter), Mumford and Offspring ran a well-timed Grammys performance last year to a couple million copies sold of their “Sigh No More” album, ultimately benefiting more from the ceremonies than even Album of the Year winners (Who The F*** Are) The Arcade Fire did. Will another up-and-coming artist strike platinum with a performance at this year’s awards? If so, it’s probably not any of the previously announced performers, nearly all of whom are too established to be helped out all that much be Another Grammys Performance. (Though maybe it’s not too late for Paul McCartney to have his “Believe” or “Smooth”-type late-career renaissance. Stranger things have happened.)
9. Will the Foo Fighters again be rock’s greatest representatives?
They certainly wouldn’t want to hear it. But nothing has represented rock’s stagnancy as a genre these past 12 months than the way the mediocre-for-a-decade Foo Fighters have been the genre’s most visible representatives, topping the rock charts for 28 (!!!) of 52 possible weeks in 2011, winning Best Rock Video at the VMAs and now being the only rock album nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. If they own the rock categories again here, along with performing – or worse, if they somehow stage an Album of the Year upset – it might take a long time for the genre to recover.
10. Will we finally be able to remember what song Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” reminds us of?
With Bruce and the E Street Band – minus Clarence, sadly – due to perform Sunday, we’ll undoubtedly get a run through new single “We Take Care Of Our Own,” a song that’s driven us half-mad by reminding us of a very specific song that we just can’t put our finger on. (Pepper us with your suggestions if you want, but we’ve already gone through about all of ‘em – Lightning Seeds’ “Life of Riley,” Lifehouse’s “First Time,” even A Flock of Seagulls’ “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” – and none of ‘em are quite right.) But you never know which listen will finally cause the light bulb to go on for us, so we’ll be listening with rapt attention just in case.
11. Will Kanye West cancel himself out?
Most people would probably have guessed Adele, but it’s actually Kanye West who’s the most nominated artist at this year’s Grammys – problem for ‘Yeezy is, a bunch of those nominations come in overlapping categories. The 14-time Grammy winner (that’s a lot of Grammys) is nominated twice for both Best Rap Song (“All of the Lights” and The Throne’s “Otis”) and Best Rap Album (“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Watch The Throne”), possibly splitting the vote and hurting his chances of winning at either. His best chance at winning might come with “All of the Lights” for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, just because at least 25% of the category’s voting poll was probably featured on the song in some capacity.
12. Will Taylor Swift finally be denied?
Last time Taylor released an album — 2009′s “Fearless” — she got nominated for eight Grammys and won four of them, including Album of the Year. Since then, she’s seemingly won at least one award at every major award show, including a couple that had nothing to do with music, probably. But this year, Taylor got shut out of the Big Four categories and scared up only three nominations total, for Best Country Solo Performance, Best Country Song (both “Mean”) and Best Country Album (“Speak Now”), in which she’s going up against such other potential Grammy heavy-hitters as Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum. Could this finally be the year that Taylor retires the “Oh My Gosh You Guys I Can’t Believe I Won” face and breaks out the “Oh My Gosh You Guys I Lost and You Are All Going to Die” face? Exciting.
13. What will LL Cool J do to prove that he’s “still got it”?
As a 43-year-old award-show host no longer representing Queens but rather a TV station watched by only a handful of people under the age of 65, James Todd Smith will undoubtedly have to do something to show that he’s still LL from the Block. We just hope that it’s in the form of a high-spirited version of “Mama Said Knock You Out” that changes the lyrics to be about the nominees and such. “Adele makin’ tears rain down like a monsoon / Listen to her heart go BOOM!”
14. Will we get to see Chris O’Donnell rap (or at least beatbox)?
No chance in hell that LL’s “NCIS: LA” co-star gets shut out of the proceedings. The question is just whether he will be shoehorned into an awkward sketch where he has to prove to his cooler cohort that he can get down with the best of ‘em. We wouldn’t bet against it.
15. Will we hear from Lady Gaga at all?
This time last year, with Gaga set to release the biggest album of 2011 and days away from delivering one of the most-hyped performances in recent Grammy history. No way would you believe that she’d be so completely overshadowed at this year’s ceremonies by a pale, reclusive British woman. But indeed, Gaga is a very distant No. 2 this year, if even that, and without an announced performance or a likely win in any category – she’s up for only three awards, and all three are heavily favored to be Atkins’d – who knows if we’ll even see all that much of her this year?
16. Why was Jack Black invited?
Seriously, guys. Tenacious D’s first album was 11 years ago, “School of Rock” seven years — even “The Pick of Destiny” is a half-decade old now. How long do we have to keep pretending this guy is at all musically relevant (or funny, for that matter)?
17. Does Chris Brown stand a chance against the old folks?
Look at the nominees for Best R&B Album and see if one of ‘em doesn’t stand out the tiniest bit. Chris Brown is the only nominee who wasn’t of legal drinking age when the award was first introduced in 1995, going up against genre vets like Kelly Price, R. Kelly and (seriously?) El DeBarge. Needless to say, Chris is the most commercially successful and contemporarily (totally a word) relevant of the artists nominated, but when the award has gone to the younguns in the past, it’s been more traditionally soulful artists like Alicia Keys, India Arie and D’Angelo rather than an explicit pop crossover artist like Young Breezy. (Indeed, Brown has never won a Grammy in his eight times nominated, so he probably faces an uphill battle with this one.)
18. Does Tony Bennett stand a chance against the kids?
Bennett has won 15 Grammys over the course of his illustrious 132-year career in popular music, but to add a 16th to his mantle in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category, he’ll have to hope that the kiddies can’t hang in the deep end. His and Amy Winehouse’s “Body and Soul” packs all the prestige you could ask for from a Grammy nominee but will have to defeat a couple megahits in Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera’s “Moves Like Jagger” and Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” (both shut out in the major categories), as well as a couple more critically acclaimed artists in Coldplay’s “Paradise” and the Black Keys’ “Dearest.”
19. Will anyone flip the bird live on stage?
Maybe better not to invite M.I.A., just in case. She’s incorrigible, that one.
20. What songs will Adele sing in her performance?
Adele has options like few other artists when it comes to which songs she wants to own the Grammys with. Does she go with proven award-show favorite “Someone Like You,” with which she nearly stole the VMAs away from preggo Beyoncé? Most recent single “Set Fire to the Rain,” which has a pretty good chance of being the No. 1 song in the country at the time of her performance? Maybe a new single (say oh I don’t know “Rumour Has It”), using the performance as a launching pad for her potential fourth No. 1? Or does she just go classic with it and play the song that’s nominated for all the awards, the song that everyone wants to hear just one more damn time, “Rolling in the Deep”? Or does she sign on for the Etta James tribute and duet with Flo Rida on a cover of “Good Feeling”?
21. Is Adele really gonna win it all?