The Recording Academy was heavily criticized for not rewarding Lemonade, an album that moved the needle and dominated pop culture in different ways than Adele's colossal sales. Critics felt the Academy failed to recognize the creative and artistic elements of an R&B-based album, in the same ways they have passed over albums by Kanye West, Eminem and Mariah Carey in past years in favour of projects by rock, country and jazz artists.
But the Grammys are almost guaranteeing that this year is different. Four of the five album of the year nominees are rap and R&B-based albums from black or Latino artists. The other big awards of the night — song and record of the year — also are dominated by hip-hop, R&B and Latin music.
Jay-Z is the star of Sunday's show, leading with eight nominations, including album of the year for his revealing 4:44, song of the year for the title track and record of the year for The Story of O.J. Bruno Mars also is nominated for the big three; Despacito, by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, is up for record and song of the year; and both Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino are nominated for album and record of the year.
"What you see in nominations is a reflection of the voting membership of the Academy. You have to remember that this is a peer award and it's unique in that way. It's not about sales or charts or popularity or fan votes or whatever, it's the professionals in the industry who are making the judgment," Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said in an interview with the Associated Press.
"So when you look at the work that's been done, and Jay would be one example, and there's that level of excellence, we have a very sophisticated voting membership that is able to recognize that. And that's how we want it to be."
No rapper has ever won song or record of the year, and only two rap-based albums have won album of the year, giving Jay-Z and Lamar a chance to have a historic night.
However, Lorde's critically acclaimed sophomore album, Melodrama, still has a strong chance in the album of the year category. And Julia Michaels, a talented songwriter who has written hits for Bieber and Selena Gomez, is nominated for song of the year for her single, Issues.
Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna to perform
Lamar will kick off the three-hour-plus show, airing live on CBS at 7:30 p.m. ET, with a performance featuring U2 and Dave Chappelle.
"Kendrick's performance will be, I think, like nothing that's been done at the Grammys before," said James Corden, who is returning to host the show for a second straight year. "It's incredible and actually it made us rethink the whole thing that we were going to do in the show."
Other performers include Fonsi and Yankee, Mars with Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Pink, Gambino, Emmylou Harris and Chris Stapleton, Elton John and Miley Cyrus, Sam Smith, Little Big Town, Rihanna with DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller, Sting and SZA, which is the most nominated female act with five.
The night also will feature some serious moments. Earlier this week, key music executives called on artists and employees to wear a white rose at the Grammys in support of Time's Up and #MeToo, the movements against sexual abuse and harassment. Singers Halsey and Dua Lipa, as well as Grammy-nominated rapper Rapsody, were some of the first to say they would wear white roses.
Kesha, who earned her first pair of Grammy nominations for an album reflecting her battle with former producer and mentor Dr. Luke, will honour victims during her performance. Maren Morris, Eric Church and Brothers Osborne, who were performers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas where a gunman opened fire on fans, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more, will honour victims killed at live music events this past year. And Patti LuPone and Ben Platt will pay tribute to Broadway as the Grammys return to New York City after 15 years for its 60th anniversary.
The Grammys will air live from Madison Square Garden.