LOS ANGELES: Socially conscious rapper Kendrick Lamar leads nominations going into the Grammy Awards on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) but he faces tough competition led by pop superstar Taylor Swift.
A diverse array of artists is in contention at the music industry’s premier awards ceremony, an action-packed evening that will feature performances by leading stars and tributes to deceased legends.
Nominees for Album of the Year, the most prestigious award, include Lamar’s experimental rap opus To Pimp a Butterfly and Swift’s pop blockbuster 1989.
Other albums in contention are Sound and Color by acclaimed bluesy indie rockers Alabama Shakes, rising Canadian R&B star The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness and Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, the first solo album by a long behind-the-scenes country songwriter which he released at age 37.
Lamar is nominated in 11 Grammys, the most for any artist in a single night except Michael Jackson in the era of Thriller, the top-selling album of all time.
To Pimp a Butterfly breaks free from commercial formulas by running for nearly 80 minutes with a jazz backdrop and lengthy interludes of spoken word.
Much of the album is a rumination on the state of US race relations, with “Alright”—nominated for Song of the Year—an unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality.
Lamar’s hometown of Compton, the notoriously rough Los Angeles County city that gave birth to gangsta rap, on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) presented the 28-year-old rapper with an honorary key.
“Through all the pain and hardship—losing family members, losing homeboys—for some reason we always still love Compton because we have faith,” he told students who danced to his songs.
Swift in top categories
The gala, which will be broadcast live from Los Angeles, will notably include a performance by British ballad singer Adele, whose record-shattering album 25 came out too late for this year’s Grammys.
Lady Gaga will honor late rock icon David Bowie in a “multisensory” show designed with chip-maker Intel that Grammy producers have billed as one of the awards’ most ambitious ever.
While Lamar leads in nominations, many pundits are betting on a successful night for Swift, whose 1989 was by far the top-selling album in the qualifying period.
1989 marked the full metamorphosis of the teenage country prodigy into pop, with pro-duction by the Swedish hit machine Max Martin.
Swift, 26, also made waves in the rapidly evolving music industry by becoming the pre-eminent critic of leading streaming site Spotify, objecting to its free tier.
Singles on 1989 include “Blank Space,” a dark pop song that plays on gossip about Swift’s dating life and whose video, in which the star brawls in a castle, is the second most watched clip ever on YouTube.
“Blank Space” is nominated both for Record of the Year, which recognizes singles, and Song of the Year, which awards songwriters.
Also in the running in both categories is English singer Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” a love ballad backed by acoustic guitar that has quickly become a favorite at weddings.
But a leading contender for Record of the Year is “Uptown Funk,” the breakthrough single by veteran British producer Mark Ronson with vocals by Bruno Mars.
Rising fame for The Weeknd
Swift and The Weeknd each have seven nominations, tying for second place after Lamar.
The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye and was born in Toronto to Ethiopian immigrants, has enjoyed a rapid career rise since his start uploading songs on the Internet in near anonymity in 2010.
The 25-year-old, whose falsetto voice and pop R&B sound have invited comparisons to Michael Jackson, is nominated for Record of the Year for chart-topping single “Can’t Feel My Face.”