Lil Wayne leads pack

The Baltimore Sun

For years, the occasion wasn't much of a big deal. When the Recording Academy announced Grammy nominations, it was usually done in a nondescript room in either New York or Los Angeles. A small, diverse group of pop stars would read off the names of nominees, throwing in corny asides here and there.

But last night, the academy changed up an old, rather boring tradition with a concert dubbed The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! -- Countdown to Music's Biggest Night.

The hourlong show with the clunky title, which was broadcast from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, was an obvious attempt to drum up attention for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards show airing Feb. 8.

The idea for the nominations concert was undoubtedly born out of desperation, given that last year's Grammy telecast was the least-watched ever with 17.2 million viewers. But the new format largely fell flat. Much like the Grammy telecast itself, the nominations concert - live!! - was somewhat listless with wooden banter from the hosts, country-pop sensation Taylor Swift and hip-hop veteran LL Cool J.

Idiosyncratic New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne, whose latest album Tha Carter III was this year's biggest seller, led the nominations with eight, including one for album of the year.

British super group Coldplay was right behind Wayne with seven nominations for its album Viva La Vida. Perhaps one of the band's strongest releases, the CD was a huge seller when it was released in the summer. Viva La Vida is also up for album of the year.

Grammy rap darlings Kanye West and Jay-Z each garnered six nods. Hit R&B; singer-songwriter Ne-Yo, who also wrote Jennifer Hudson's ubiquitous smash "Spotlight," received six nominations. His latest CD, the tepid Year of the Gentleman, is up for album of year.

The opening of this yawn-inducing show couldn't have been cheesier. There stood Mariah Carey, stiffly belting a Phil Spector-inspired Christmas ditty as go-go dancers, decked out in white boots and fur-trimmed plastic-looking red dresses, shimmied behind her. The performance was apparently a nod toward the holiday season, but it was still pointless.

Afterward, the academy continued an unfortunate Grammy trend: Instead of featuring the freshest sounds from some of pop's biggest names, the young stars sing faithful covers of yesterday's classics. In last night's show, the old songs were inducted into this year's Grammy Hall of Fame.

Swift, 18, sang Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry," a song that was a hit 30 years before she was born. Her pitch problems aside, the leggy star sounded as if she couldn't relate to one line in the song.

Celine Dion was appropriately subdued on Janis Ian's "At 17," quietly rendering the song in much the same way Ian did more than 30 years ago.

Not known for holding back on the melisma, Christina Aguilera paid tribute to Nina Simone's 1959 version of "I Loves You, Porgy." Aguilera, looking refined in a simple ivory dress, crooned the Gershwin tune mostly in her attractive midrange. But toward the end, she couldn't resist grandstanding with needless trills upon trills.

The Foo Fighters, whose latest music has been evenly divided between unplugged acoustic ditties and paint-by-number hard rock, settled somewhere in the middle last night with a rather limp cover of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain."

In the obligatory duet between a legend and a youngster, blues great B.B. King traded guitar licks with by pop-rock star John Mayer on a ho-hum, brassy version of Louis Jordan's "Let the Good Time Roll."

Presenting the nominations with a concert was certainly a more expensive event than reading off names in a banquet hall before the press. But all the glitz and flashy staging still did little to reverse the fading relevance of the Grammys.


Nominees announced in top categories for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards:

Record of the Year: "Chasing Pavements," Adele; "Viva La Vida," Coldplay; "Bleeding Love," Leona Lewis; "Paper Planes," M.I.A; "Please Read The Letter," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss.

Album of the Year: Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss; Viva La Vida, Coldplay; Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne; Year of the Gentleman , Ne-Yo; In Rainbows , Radiohead.

Song of the Year: "American Boy," William Adams, Keith Harris, Josh Lopez, Caleb Speir, John Stephens, Estelle Swaray & Kanye West, songwriters (Estelle Featuring Kanye West); "Chasing Pavements," Adele Adkins & Eg White (Adele); "I'm Yours," Jason Mraz; "Love Song," Sara Bareilles; "Viva La Vida," Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, & Chris Martin (Coldplay).

New Artist: Adele, Duffy, The Jonas Brothers, Lady Antebellum, Jazmine Sullivan

Pop Vocal Album: Detours, Sheryl Crow; Rockferry, Duffy; Long Road Out Of Eden, Eagles; Spirit , Leona Lewis; Covers, James Taylor.

Rock Album: Viva La Vida, Coldplay; Rock N Roll Jesus, Kid Rock; Only By The Night, Kings Of Leon; Death Magnetic, Metallica; Consolers Of The Lonely , The Raconteurs.

R&B; Album: Love & Life, Eric BenDet; Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, Boyz II Men; Lay It Down, Al Green; Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Hudson; The Way I See It, Raphael Saadiq.

Rap Album: American Gangster, Jay-Z; Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne; The Cool, Lupe Fiasco; Nas , Nas; Paper Trail, T.I.

Country Album: That Lonesome Song, Jamey Johnson; Sleepless Nights, Patty Loveless; Troubadour, George Strait; Around The Bend, Randy Travis; Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love, Trisha Yearwood.

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