1. Sara Bareilles' 'Blessed' Album Of The Year Nod
Released last summer following a three-year break since her last album, Sara Bareilles' "The Blessed Unrest" continued to display the 33-year-old's reliability as a pop singer-songwriter, with a No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 chart and a durable radio hit with "Brave" (which just reached a new Hot 100 peak, at No. 26, in its 28th week on the chart). However, very few expected Bareilles' third studio effort to be in the running for album of the year and edge out heavy favorites like Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" and Bruno Mars' "Unorthodox Jukebox" in the process. Bareilles -- who scored a song of the year nomination with her breakout hit "Love Song" at the 2009 Grammys -- will compete against Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Taylor Swift, Daft Punk and Kendrick Lamar in the category, while "Brave" is also up for best pop solo performance.
2. Kendrick Lamar's Big Night
Speaking of K. Dot, the Compton MC managed a massive haul with seven nominations, including a coveted album of the year nod. Lamar's lauded debut, "good kid, m.A.A.d city," was expected to land him a best new artist nod, but a gritty rap opus is by no means a sure thing in the album of the year category, no matter how well it's reviewed or how much it sells (ask Drake, whose "Take Care" and "Nothing Was The Same" albums were shut out of the top album category in back-to-back years). Along with the album of the year, the 26-year-old will compete for best new artist, best rap album, best rap/sung collaboration (for "Now or Never" with Mary J. Blige) and best rap performance (for "Swimming Pools (Drank).") If "good kid, m.A.A.d city" snags the top album prize, the LP would be the first debut full-length to come out on top since Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" in 2003.
3. James Blake Sneaks Into The Best New Artist Running
James Blake's "Overgrown" album surprisingly snagged the U.K.'s Mercury Prize in October, edging out artists like David Bowie, Disclosure and the Arctic Monkeys. The soul-influenced electronic artist just pulled off another unlikely nod in the best new artist category at the Grammys, joining more mainstream-accepted artists like Lamar, Kacey Musgraves, Ed Sheeran and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Blake's "new artist" nomination arrives after the release of his sophomore album, and while the 25-year-old has commanded large audiences at U.S. festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, his sumptuous arrangements have yet to bowl over U.S. retailers, as "Overgrown" only peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard 200 chart.
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4. Smaller Artists Are Recognized In Big Categories
Among the Taylor Swifts and Justin Timberlakes in this year's crop of Grammy nominees are artists like Australian psych-rockers Tame Impala, whose best alternative album nod for second album "Lonerism" is a major coup for the band and its label, Modular Recordings; U.K. electro-funk siblings Disclosure, who will compete against their idols, Daft Punk, in the bets dance/electronica album category with debut LP "Settle"; and Mack Wilds, the 24-year-old hip-hop artist who played Michael Lee on "The Wire" as a teenager and now has a Grammy nod for best urban contemporary album for his debut, "New York: A Love Story." This set of nominations ensures that the little guys will have a big voice come Grammy night.
5. Ariel Rechtshaid Joins Heavy Hitters In Producer Of The Year Running
Competing for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical -- along with veteran maestros Rob Cavallo, Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, Jeff Tweedy and Pharrell Williams -- is Ariel Rechtstaid, a California-born producer who has not-so-quietly reshaped indie-pop music over the past year. The 34-year-old contributed to projects like Vampire Weekend's "Modern Vampires of the City," Charli XCX's "True Romance," HAIM's "Days Are Gone" and Solange's "True" EP, among others, and could receive a huge honor next month because of it. Fun fact: Rechtshaid already owns a Grammy for co-writing Usher's "Climax," which won the best R&B performance award last year.
FIVE HEAD-SCRATCHING SNUBS
1. Justin Timberlake Gets Shut Out Of The Big 4
JT will still be donning a suit and tie come Grammy night, with seven total nominations tying the pop superstar with artists like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Kendrick Lamar (Jay Z leads all nominees with nine). Still, "The 20/20 Experience" was considered a heavy favorite for an album of the year nod, while "Mirrors" looked like a safe bet for both record of the year and song of the year. Timberlake's first two albums, "Justified" and "FutureSex/LoveSounds," were each nominated for the album of the year, and the blockbuster "20/20 Experience" earned JT some of the best reviews of his career. Heads: continue getting scratched.
2. Lorde Will Not Rule The Best New Artist Category
The 17-year-old has enjoyed one of the biggest breakout years out of any artist after being a complete unknown to U.S. listeners in 2012, thanks largely to "Royals," her nine-week Hot 100 champ. "Royals," which Lorde performed at the "Grammy Nominations Concert Live!!" on Friday night, scored nominations for record of the year and song of the year, but the New Zealander could not extend her reign to the best new artist category. Despite prognosticators putting her as a favorite in the best new artist pool, Lorde will not be able to live that fantasy.
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3. Florida Georgia Line Can't "Cruise" To Major Nods
Another best new artist snub was Florida Georgia Line, the captivating country-pop duo who scored a Top 5 Hot 100 hit with the summer anthem "Cruise." Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard couldn't slide into the category (Kacey Musgraves will have to represent the genre), while perhaps even more surprisingly, the group's debut LP, "Here's To The Good Times," couldn't muster a best country album nod.
4. Bruno Mars' "Jukebox" Stops Playing In Album of the Year
Two years ago, Bruno Mars' debut album "Doo Wops and Hooligan" was nominated for the album of the year Grammy; his follow-up, "Unorthodox Jukebox," spawned two more No. 1 singles ("Locked Out of Heaven" and "When I Was Your Man") and made the singer-songwriter and Super Bowl-ready artist thanks to a slew of slickly produced pop tracks. So where's the AOTY love for "Unorthodox Jukebox"? This year, Mars will have to be satisfied with record of the year and song of the year nods for "Locked Out of Heaven."
5. J. Cole Left Outside Of Major Rap Noms
There were so many strong hip-hop contenders this year -- Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Drake, Jay Z -- that J. Cole, who snagged a best new artist nomination two years ago and released a hit album last June, seemed to be the odd man out this year. "Born Sinner" surprisingly did not make the grade for best rap album, and although his Top 20 smash "Power Trip" earned a best rap/sung collaboration nomination, Cole was unable to make the leap into categories like album of the year or record of the year.