The Grammys' top 10 story lines


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Who's going to take home the Grammys on Sunday night?

Given the way this ceremony has played out in recent years -- with Herbie Hancock and Arcade Fire pulling major upsets at 11:25 p.m. -- it's anybody's guess.

What we do know is that the 55th annual Grammys is filled with intriguing storylines, many of them involving Chris Brown.

1. Return of rock: The last time there were three rock bands in the Album of the Year category? You have to go back to 1990 when it was The Traveling Wilburys, Fine Young Cannibals, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

55th Grammy Awards

Where: Staples Center in Los Angeles.

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, CBS.

Bonnie Raitt saw to it that they didn't win.

This year, we have The Black Keys ("El Camino"), fun. ("Some Nights") and Mumford & Sons ("Babel"), and if you want to throw in Jack White, who's as loud or louder than any of them, that's four. Rounding out the category is Odd Future singer Frank Ocean, who's kind of in his own odd category.

How have rock bands done? Since 2000, this top prize has been won by four of them (Santana, U2, Steely Dan and Arcade Fire) and plenty of solo artists, including Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Taylor Swift, Norah Jones and Adele. In 2011, Arcade Fire topped bigger sellers like Katy Perry, Lady Antebellum and Lady Gaga, opening the door for bands from the indie scene.

Other breakout bands popping into the top categories are the Lumineers and Alabama Shakes (Best New Artist) and Gotye for "Somebody That I Used to Know" (Record of the Year). So this year, the rock bands definitely pushed past the dance-pop solo acts and country artists, although it wouldn't be a surprise for Ocean to come out on top.

2. Chris Brown vs. Frank Ocean: You may have heard that these two met outside a Los Angeles recording studio late last month, and it wasn't exactly brotherly love. Mr. Brown, already on probation for assaulting Rihanna, allegedly punched Ocean in a dispute over, of all things, a parking space. Now, they meet again, in the category of Best Urban Contemporary Album, with Miguel stuck in the middle. Aside from the fact that they'll be in the same building and there will be a Kanye-style unpredictability to it, the speech (let it be on TV!) couldn't help but be entertaining.

3. Bringing Sexy back: Justin Timberlake hasn't performed at the Grammys in four years, and that last time, it was all Chris Brown's fault. The Grammy production crew got word around 1 p.m. that Rihanna had been in a car accident. Soon after, it learned that Chris Brown wasn't going to make it either. You all know that story ... That left two holes in the schedule. The former 'N Sync frontman was pressed into action, and the result was a joyous duet with Al Green on "Let's Stay Together." Now, all eyes will be on JT as he sings again, this time a month before releasing his long-awaited comeback album, "The 20/20 Experience."

4. Young fresh faces: The top categories (Album, Song and Record of the Year) are often dominated by old, established artists (you know, like Taylor Swift). This year, the Grammys have skewed younger, with Frank Ocean and Ed Sheeran both breaking into those ranks with their first major-label releases, and Mumford, fun., Miguel, Carly Rae Jepsen and Gotye on their second or third albums. With no Hancock, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett or Robert Plant in the picture, Jack White (37) and The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach (33) are actually the oldsters in the top categories.

5. Wiz at a 'Payphone': For the second straight year, hometown rapper Wiz Khalifa is nominated for a pair of Grammys, but this time he has a fighting chance. He's under Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, having teamed up with some major industry players, Maroon 5, on the No. 2 smash "Payphone." He has a tougher climb in Best Rap Song for "Young, Wild & Free," facing off against the guys he lost to last year: Kanye West and Jay-Z ("N----s in Paris"). Wiz likely will be keeping one eye on the belly of Amber Rose. She's due on Feb. 24 and he's scheduled to have a hand in the delivery (literally) at the home birth.

6. The best pairing: One of the more historic moments in Grammy history took place in 2001 when openly gay Elton John came to terms with open gay-basher Eminem on "Stan." In 2010, Elton joined Lady Gaga for dueling pianos. This year, he invites to the stage "A Team" star Ed Sheeran, who's looking to make a name for himself in the States as a live performer -- and he's a good one. Other anticipated pairings include Alicia Keys with Maroon 5, Dierks Bentley with Miranda Lambert, and the grueling prospect of Chris Brown (him again) with Rihanna.

7. Pittsburgh jazz represents: The jazz section doesn't get a whole of play on TV, but watch for the scroll. There are two hometown connections. Nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for "Blue Moon" is Ahmad Jamal, who was born here and went to Westinghouse High School as Frederick Russell Jones. If he wins, it will be the 82-year-old pianist's first Grammy. Bob Mintzer is not from Pittsburgh, but his album is. "For the Moment" -- which has nominations for Best Large Jazz Ensemble and Best Instrumental Arrangement -- was released by the Pittsburgh-based MCG Jazz label and produced by the MCG's Marty Ashby, who books the excellent jazz series there.

8. Taking care of The Boss: Bruce Springsteen has won 20 Grammy awards, but only one in a top category (Song of the Year for "Streets of Philadelphia" in 1994). This year, he's considered to be one of the top snubs, having failed to get a top nomination for the album "Wrecking Ball" and its lead single "We Take Care of Our Own." Voters have a chance to make a statement by giving him the Rock Album Grammy over The Black Keys and Jack White. He also has two nominations for the single. If nothing else, he makes his presence known in two country categories, via the fine Eric Church song "Springsteen."

9. Silence of the Lamb: The Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category contains the only nominee on trial for manslaughter, as Lamb of God is up for the typically brutal song "Ghost Walking." Instead of being there to mingle with his metal associates, singer Randy Blythe is in the Czech Republic facing charges from a 2010 incident in which he allegedly pushed a fan from the stage, leading to his death. Although Mr. Blythe could have remained in the U.S., the Richmond-based singer decided to return to Prague, where he spent five weeks in jail last summer, and face his accusers.

10. Mumford meets Avett: The two groups faced off on stage two years ago with Dylan stuck in the middle. Mumford & Sons chewed the scenery, while the more veteran Avett Brothers, who were banging on banjos long before, played it low key. The next day, Mumford had all the buzz, storming to No. 2 on the charts. Now, the bands (one from London, one from the backwoods of North Carolina) square off in the Best Americana Album category, where they better watch out for Bonnie Raitt, because she's got a lot of love among the voters.

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Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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