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Grammys: The races to watch

December 1, 2011 |  6:00 am

Lady GagaCowgirl Gaga in the wings?

Lady Gaga might be showing signs that she wants to add a little country sugar to her pop-star glitter. Pairing with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland during Wednesday's Grammy nomination broadcast for the closing ballad “You and I,” Gaga lustily slammed on the piano in her black eye makeup, seeming more like a caffeinated raccoon than an outre pop monster. Weird cosmetics aside, she seemed delighted to take a little roam in the country. Could a Lady Gaga number with cowgirl boots and lasso be far behind?

That big news? Never mind

Where was the announcement of a legendary band reunion promised during the February awards broadcast? CBS and the Recording Academy had publicized that Wednesday's broadcast would disclose the name of a historically significant band that would reunite for the upcoming show, but that never happened. Producers were mum, but sources close to the show said that talks with the band — reportedly the Beach Boys — fell apart in the 48 hours leading up to the nomination show.

Minaj a shoo-in, or maybe not

Judging by applause only, Nicki Minaj is the crowd favorite for best new artist. If she wins, it'll be the first time since Lauryn Hill won in 1999 that a female MC takes the trophy. But it's possible that one of the dark horses could take the race, like Esperanza Spalding did last year. Sonny Moore, an L.A. native known as Skrillex, has taken dubstep-enhanced dance music to the public, with high-profile remixes for Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars. If Moore wins, that'll be the first time a dance-music producer has won best new artist.

This year's Arcade Fire?

Indie folksters Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Fleet Foxes released albums in the last year that nodded toward the soft rock of the '70s like Loggins and Messina and Michael McDonald. But Vernon fared better with that recipe than Fleet Foxes. Though the reclusive Seattle crew was nominated in the best folk album category for “Helplessness Blues,” Vernon received four nominations, including best new artist and record of the year. If Vernon wins record of the year, that'll make him something like the Arcade Fire of 2011.

Bait taken with Beck's tribute

It seems a shame that Paul Simon, who made his most critically lauded album since the '90s with “So Beautiful or So What,” didn't get any nominations. But veteran Jeff Beck got nominated for best rock album for his tribute to the late guitarist Les Paul (traditionalist Grammy bait if it ever existed).

Ebony and Ivory forever

Remember when Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney made a couple of songs together and it blew everyone's minds? Nowadays collaborations are everywhere and in fact it may be the easiest way to score a nomination. And all the more points if you cross genre lines. In the song of the year category, “All of the Lights” has Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi and Fergie in the mix.
For best rap performance, three of the five songs are collaborations of one kind or another, like the Chris Brown comeback vehicle “Look at Me Now,” indebted to electrifying contributions from Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes.

And who would get top billing?

The nominees for best traditional pop vocal album could make a heckuva reality show if they wanted to. There's ratings queen Susan Boyle, from “Britain's Got Talent”; Harry Connick Jr., a veteran of “Will & Grace”; Barbra Streisand, actor-singer-millionaire extraordinaire; and Seth MacFarlane, hilarious mastermind of “Family Guy.” Only problem: Could they all play nice when recording the show's theme song?



Grammys: Is a Beach Boys reunion in the works?

Critic's Notebook: Your Granny's awards

Grammys: Adele may sit this one out despite six Grammy nominations

-- Margaret Wappler & Geoff Boucher

Image: Before she went country, Lady Gaga went zombie at the Grammy nomination concert. Credit: Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images