This Sunday at 8 p.m. EST on CBS, the 56th Annual Grammy Awards will commence, doling out a vast trove of tiny gilded gramophones live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Until then, most media outlets will likely concern themselves with debating who will win, who should win and who got snubbed (cough cough—Janelle Monáe—cough cough).
Now, all of that is fine and dandy, but admittedly this guessing/pouting game threatens to obscure some of the most eyebrow-raising Grammy stories in recent memory. Here are some of the most interesting subplots of Music’s Biggest Night:
1. Nirvana might win for Best Rap Song
Did you know that to this day Nirvana has received only a single Grammy, honorary or otherwise? It wasn’t even for songwriting—the group won Best Alternative Music Performance in 1996 for their acoustic live album MTV Unplugged in New York. Indeed, the closest Nirvana ever came to winning a Grammy for songwriting in its all-too-short lifespan was in 1992, when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” controversially lost out on Best Rock Song to Eric Clapton’s Unplugged version of “Layla,” despite the fact that the latter was 20 years old at the time.
Ironically, the now 22-year-old “Smells Like Teen Spirit” might finally earn Nirvana an award for their writing, though not within a category most would assume. Because Jay Z paraphrased the lyrics for the bridge of “Holy Grail”(And we’re all just entertainers, and we’re stupid and contagious) from the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (Here we are now, entertain us, I feel stupid and contagious) Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic are all included as co-writers of the Best Rap Song nominee. No one can say Nirvana ever conformed to anyone’s expectations.
2. 6 Hours of “Picasso Baby” = Best Music Video?
With a Grammy-leading nine nominations, it’s almost surprising that Mr. Carter plays a role in only two of the top five most intriguing stories of this year’s awards show. But when Jay Z invaded New York’s Pace Gallery last summer to rap “Picasso Baby” on repeat for six hours, you knew something would come of it…just maybe not a Best Music Video nomination.
Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film, which debuted back in August on HBO, documents the rap mogul’s six-hour odyssey edited down to a nearly 11-minute video (approximately the last four minutes of which is credits). The somewhat bizarre video sees Hov rapping to fellow artists (“cousins”) such as Alan Cumming, Judd Apatow, Jim Jarmusch and Adam Driver, among other audience members and New York personalities. It appears that Jay Z will be taking home this award either way, as he’s also featured in Justin Timberlake’s video for “Suit & Tie,” which is the biggest threat to Picasso Baby. The nomination isn’t exactly new for director Mark Romanek either, who already has more Grammys for Best Music Video than any other director with three, the last coming 10 years ago by way of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.”
3. The Rise of Zombie Zeppelin
It’s a little weird seeing Led Zeppelin nominated more than 30 years after the band’s dissolution following the tragic death of drummer John Bonham. Yet a one-night-stand back in December 2007 at London’s O2 Arena that became the concert film and album called Celebration Day has earned three-fourths of Zep + Bonham’s son Jason not one, but two Grammy nominations for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance (“Kashmir”). Either would be the first non-honorary Grammy for the band, which has four Grammy Hall of Fame Awards to its name. And while David Bowie’s celebrated comeback album The Next Day and Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” seem to be favorites to win both awards respectively, it’s fair to say that Zep holds more than a puncher’s chance of picking up an award for “Kashmir” if the voters find themselves in a nostalgic mood—which, given that two-thirds of the nominees for Best Rock Album all began their careers in the late ‘60s, appears to be a fairly good assumption.
4. Lorde Lorde Lorde
The 17-year-old Kiwi sensation has racked up nominations in half of the ‘Big Four’ categories—Song of the Year and Record of the Year—with her smash-hit “Royals” and is honestly just short of a lock to win at least one of the two. Not to mention she’s also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Album for Pure Heroine. So how did Lorde miss out on a Best New Artist nod? By comparison, out of the five artists who did make the list, only Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have more total nominations, while James Blake and Ed Sheeran garnered exactly zero outside of that for Best New Artist. Not that Best New Artist has really meant anything—Sheeran performed at last year’s ceremony, and thus can hardly be described as “new” to Grammy voters. But it’s certainly worth pondering whether Lorde’s exclusion might indicate her likelihood to take home some of the more significant hardware Sunday night, which would make her the third-youngest winner in Grammy history.
5. Will Daft Punk finally bring an EDM Revolution to the Grammys?
The relationship between the Grammys and electronic dance music (EDM) has always been tenuous at best. Only one dance music album has ever won Album of the Year (the soundtrack for the disco-phenomenon Saturday Night Fever in 1979). An award for Best Dance Record didn’t come for nearly another 20 years, and since its inception in 1998 the nominees have generally consisted of pop artists flirting with synthesizers such as Madonna, Rihanna and Justin Timberlake (to give you an idea, the Baha Men won for “Who Let the Dogs Out?” in 2000). Likewise, the award for Best Dance/Electronica album isn’t even a decade old. You might have already forgotten about it even, as Skrillex’s acceptance of the award last year went completely untelevised.
It’s this history of overwhelming, willful dance-ignorance that makes Daft Punk’s first step onto the General Field one giant leap for EDM and positions 2014 to be a historic year for the Grammys. Never before has an electronic group been nominated for Album of the Year—which the French duo’s Random Access Memories has a very real chance of winning. “Get Lucky” is speculated to be the best contender by anyone-not-named-Lorde for Record of the Year (hell, even Wilco is up all night trying to get lucky). When Daft Punk don their robot helmets before joining Stevie Wonder for one of the most anticipated performances of the night, they will be taking the stage with a Lifetime Achievement Award having been bestowed upon Kraftwerk just the night before. Perhaps they too will get lucky and usher in a new era of EDM like their German predecessors.