Six artists -- blues-rockers The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, pop-rockers fun., indie-folksters Mumford & Sons, R&B singer Frank Ocean and hip-hop titans Jay-Z and Kanye West -- go into tonight's ceremony with six nominations apiece, showing the diversity of the current music landscape and how there is no clear favorite.
But what if there was actually an unexpected sweep of the top awards. Wouldn't that be fun? Or, more accurately, wouldn't that be fun.?
Yes, fun., the ambitious trio from New York that had an incredible 2012, thanks to its unorthodox but catchy pop hit "We Are Young," are the only artists this year in a position to pull off a sweep, with nominations in all four top categories -- record and song of the year for "We Are Young," album of the year for "Some Nights" and best new artist.
Could it happen? Well, pretty much all the successes the band -- singer Nate Ruess, guitarist Jack Antonoff and keyboardist Andrew Dost -- saw in 2012 were unexpected, so why not?
"The story of fun. over the past year has been just blowing past even our dream goals," Antonoff says. "We're seeing all these things that weren't even in the conversation."
Antonoff says being nominated in any of the categories is an honor for the band and that winning any Grammy would be nice. However, he adds that being recognized for the band's body of work in the album of the year category or as best new artist would be extra special.
"Going through the process of this album and seeing it get so big is so wonderful because nobody told us what to do," he says. "We've learned the greatest lesson in the best possible way. If we were worried about success, what the universe has told us is to follow our hearts. If we weren't worried about success, we'd just be following our hearts anyway.... It's kind of all awesome."
The band's attitude toward the Grammys matches the celebratory and supportive nature of its music, which also boasts an ambitious combination of influences ranging from Queen to hip-hop. When asked about the band's chances, Antonoff quickly adds that he always roots for Jack White and that he finds Frank Ocean "inspiring."
"I'm kind of just rooting for alternative music," he says. "I think it's been a transitional year. I think everyone feels a new tide coming, and everyone is sort of picturing mainstream music as it was in the '90s, when all these different genres existed in the mainstream.
"I don't think there's ever a bad time to be nominated for a Grammy," Antonoff continues. "But I think we're so lucky that this is the year we got to be a part of because it's a year that I'm very confident is one of the steps that will lead to a full-scale shift in music."
Many observers are putting fun. at the top of the class. While West and Jay-Z seem to be perennial top nominees, their wins are usually only in the rap categories and not in the general ones. While Mumford & Sons have quickly become Grammy favorites, even before the chart-topping "Babel" album, they haven't landed a win yet. That leaves The Black Keys, who landed three Grammys for its "Brothers" album in 2011, and newcomer Ocean -- whose stunningly soulful album "Channel Orange" was a critical favorite, though not quite a commercial smash yet -- left to tangle with fun. as forces to be reckoned with in the general categories.
Jack Osbourne, senior contributing correspondent for the newly launched "Fuse News," says he thinks fun. had a strong year. "I'm a fan of them," he says. "I think their music is good and it has a unique sound, so I'm rooting for them."
Songwriter Claude Kelly, who is up for two Grammys this year for his work with Tamia, is also proud to call himself a fun. fan. "I think the album is so perfect," he says. "I think the album and 'We Are Young' should get some wins."
Kelly says fun. and R&B singer Miguel -- who is up for five awards, including song of the year for "Adorn" -- are examples of what artists should attempt with their music. "To me, that should be the norm," he says. "You should expect people to take massive, dramatic chances. What I love about them is that it's so in your face and over the top.... Artists should be above average. You should hear a song or see a performance or a video and not feel like you can do it yourself. There's too much average now."
Kelly says he thinks this year's Grammy nominations, especially their dramatic lean toward risk-taking R&B singers like Ocean and Miguel, is a reaction, in part, to the death of Whitney Houston on the eve of last year's ceremony.
"I think Whitney Houston's death reminded people how powerful soulful singing could be and what a great voice can do for a great song," he says. "It's a shame it took her passing, but there was so much celebration of her music and of R&B as a genre that people thought, 'I want to hear a good soulful voice again.' Not everything has to be dance music."
Osbourne says it seems like this year's Grammy nominations offer a more complete picture of what music has to offer. "It's strong this year," he says. "It's not your typical bubble gum, kind of cookie-cutter pop. There's a lot of diversity. I think that's what the Grammys represent, and it's great to see it coming back to that place."
WHAT The 55th Grammy Awards
WHEN|WHERE At 8 tonight, CBS/2
INFO Performers include Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Kelly Clarkson, The Black Keys, Jack White, Elton John, fun. and Miranda Lambert. Preshow 5 p.m. on grammy.com/live. Red carpet coverage, 5 p.m. on E!
HOW THE STARS REACTED TO THEIR NOMINATIONS
Taylor Swift made a surprised face. Carly Rae Jepsen said she was "over the moon excited." And all Frank Ocean could muster was a tweet saying, "Wow ..."
Here's a look at how other Grammy nominees reacted:
"We weren't expecting to get anything, but we thought that if we would, it would be for best new artist," said Ed Sheeran, whose single "The A Team" is nominated for song of the year. "I was on the tour bus and my cellphone was losing signal, but I was trying to text my manager throughout the nominations.... When he said we didn't get best new artist, I thought, 'Well, that's OK then' and forgot about it until we got to a place where I had a cell signal and all of a sudden about 40 messages of congratulations came through. It was shocking."
"This is just incredible," fun.'s Nate Ruess said backstage at the "Grammy Nominations Concert Live" in December, adding that his biggest worry of the night was simply being able to sing after struggling with vocal problems in the week leading up to the show. "I think it's the culmination of the hard work that the three of us have put in, not only in this band, but in the other bands before that."
Kelly Clarkson learned of her nominations while on tour in England, with her friends waking her up extra early to toast her with mimosas. "10 years later and still so excited!" she tweeted afterward.
"To get nominated by our peers is the coolest part of the whole deal," said Alabama Shakes drummer Steve Johnson. "For them to recognize us as best new artist, that means a lot."
"I think the new artist category ," said country singer Hunter Hayes backstage at the "Grammy Nominations Concert Live." "To sort of wave the country flag in that category means a lot to me. There's a lot of incredible music-makers in that category that I'm a fan of, and to be included is awesome."
"There's a lot of good people making music," said The Lumineers' Wesley Schultz, backstage at the "Grammy Nominations Concert Live." "I think we feel pretty lucky to be recognized for any of this."