(For a complete list of 53rd GRAMMY Award nominees, click here.)
Minutes after learning he had received seven GRAMMY nominations, the boyish and beaming Bruno Mars stepped to a microphone positioned too high for his frame and attempted to sum up his feelings in a rarefied moment. His smile indicated he was emotionally overwhelmed and incapable — at first — of summarizing the road that brought him to the place where he stood.
A reporter began to ask, "Now that you have seven GRAMMY nominations…" and he seemingly did not hear the question.
"Could you repeat that?" he asked.
Once the reporter rattled off the tally for a second time, the grin on Mars' face told everyone he was experiencing an ecstatic moment, keenly aware that he was now in new esteemed company.
This was one of the pleasures of witnessing the youth movement reflected by the nominees for the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, some of which were announced during The Recording Academy's third annual live special, "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night." It's a collection of nominations that arguably celebrate young people making music for young people. Seeing first-time nominees such as Mars, B.o.B (who garnered five nominations) and producer Alex Da Kid (four nominations) address the media in dizzying moments of their respective careers felt special.
In contrast, Cee Lo Green and Monica, gracious yet not jaded from previous experiences at the awards podium, reacted palpably different in greeting the media. The three rookies basked in honest reactions, unaware of how to assimilate emotion into a sound bite. That's how you spell charming.
The dominating force this year is Eminem, leading the way with 10 nominations. No complaints greet his place at the table. His peers can cheer his creative risk-taking; the industry can applaud his unique commercial power; and fans can celebrate his story and artistic instincts. Eminem stands a chance to make history, too, as he could become the first rapper to secure Record or Song Of The Year.
At 38, Eminem also may well represent a new veteran face. He is one of the biggest artists of the first decade of the 21st century, winning nine of his 11 total GRAMMY Awards since 2000. Other veteran acts — artists with enough credits to get them into various halls of fame — and other previous GRAMMY winners, including Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Paul McCartney, and Kanye West, among others, are spread across the 108 categories.
Youthful female pop royalty was also represented with the likes of Lady Gaga, who received six nominations, and Katy Perry, who scored four. Lady Antebellum, one of the fresh faces of country music featuring another female, Hillary Scott, received six nods.
But aside from age, this year's GRAMMY Fields celebrate music that is long on hybrids: rap and pop; dance music and rap; bluegrass and English rock; and modern music that tips its cap to vintage soul (John Legend), country (Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert) and '70s rock (the Black Keys, Jamey Johnson).
While the four General categories are ripe with these hybrids, Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons, two wonderful indie rock success stories of 2010, represent the only rock bands up for awards in these categories. In another nod to a veteran, venerable guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck, a guitarist with a 40-plus-year career, received the most nominations of any rock artist with five.
The Best Americana Album category is a Mount Rushmore of musical figures — Rosanne Cash, Los Lobos, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, and Mavis Staples. Even more veterans are represented, with Neil Young picking up three nominations, and 2011 MusiCares Person of the Year honoree and eight-time GRAMMY winner Barbara Streisand making the cut for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Peel the curtain back, though, and we start to see similarities between the new artist nominees and the legends — these acts are defining themselves by creating unique hybrids of rock, country, blues, and other musical forms.
"It's cyclical," GRAMMY-winning producer and Recording Academy Chair Emeritus Jimmy Jam said backstage after the announcements, indicating that commercial rock music is poised for a revival in the near future and that the artists who will lead the charge are already active.
The sounds heard onstage Wednesday night — especially from B.o.B and Mars — indicate a commercially viable blend of rap and pop is still in its infancy. That sound may have miles to go before it ends its journey.
Tune in to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. For updates and breaking news, please visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.
(Phil Gallo is editor-at-large at Soundspike.com. He has been reporting on the GRAMMY Awards for more than 25 years.)
(Photo information: Bruno Mars backstage at "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!!" at Club Nokia on Dec. 1 | Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images)