(For a list of 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards nominees, click here.)
Let the countdown to the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards begin.
GRAMMY Sunday reigns as Music's Biggest Night, but a very close second is "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!!" — an event blending one-of-a-kind, GRAMMY-worthy performances with the official announcement of the songs, albums and artists that are in the running for music's greatest golden honor. For the fourth consecutive year, the nominations special was broadcast live on CBS, but a houseful of lucky attendees got to witness the unique spectacle in person on Nov. 30 at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles.
Just minutes before the show went live, the theater was buzzing with excitement as some of the stars in attendance took their seats. (Bruno Mars' trademark hat and Nicki Minaj's pink hair made them easy to spot in the crowd). A dapper LL Cool J again served as host, beginning with an introduction of the evening's first performance: Lady Gaga.
Gaga looked absolutely monster-esque in a black bikini and overcoat, with heavy black makeup that had her looking like a sexed-up zombie. With a stage decked out like a moonlit industrial wasteland, Gaga tore into "Marry The Night," backed by a tight, hard-rocking band. The Fame Monster was soon joined by a troupe of backup dancers who were dressed as spirits of the dead (with killer abs to boot), and when Gaga encouraged the crowd to "stand up and have a good time," the entire audience bowed to her command.
Though she wasn't physically in Los Angeles, Rihanna got the crowd moving with her performance live via satellite from the O2 arena in London. She confidently strutted her way through "We Found Love" from her new Talk That Talk album.
Back on the Nokia stage, newcomer country sensation the Band Perry followed, creating a memorable GRAMMY moment of their own by segueing from their original "Independence" into a soaring cover of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." The trio later received some news that likely caused them to literally freefall, as they learned they were among the five artists nominated for Best New Artist.
Viewers at home might utilize commercial breaks to grab a soda or a sandwich, but the Nokia crowd was treated to exceptional clips from past GRAMMY shows, including greats such as Mick Jagger and Aretha Franklin, Pink's breathtaking aerial performance of "Glitter In The Air," and Gwyneth Paltrow's duet with Cee Lo Green on "Forget You."
Country star Jason Aldean delivered a spectacularly grimy rendition of "Dirt Road Anthem," and created another "only-at-the-GRAMMYs" moment when he was joined by Ludacris for the song's rap section. Ludacris then surprised everyone by discarding his dark shades and strapping on a Les Paul guitar to jam with Aldean's band.
This year's telecast also featured a pair of phenomenal performances for the ages. First, a tribute was paid in the form of what LL Cool J described as "the greatest hip-hop song of all time," "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, which was inducted into the 2012 class of the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. The song was brought to thumping life onstage by Flash himself manning the turntables in grand fashion, and raps supplied by Common, original Furious Five members Melle Mel and Scorpio, and GRAMMY winner Lupe Fiasco. LL Cool J couldn't resist the lure of the "message" and hopped up to deliver the hip-hop classic's final lines. Next, recently deceased songwriters Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber were honored with a performance by their respective partners, Valerie Simpson and Mike Stoller. Simpson and Stoller were joined by Usher, who crooned magnificently through a medley consisting of the Ashford/Simpson gem "You're All I Need to Get By" and Leiber and Stoller's standard "Stand By Me." The crowd couldn't help but rise and sing along to these classic jewels.
In and around these spectacular performances, stars such as Minaj, Mars, TV star Taraji P. Henson, and Katy Perry — who looked radiant in a pink gown and pink hair herself — announced nominations for select GRAMMY categories. Already a 14-time GRAMMY winner, Kanye West ended up leading the 54th GRAMMY nomination field with seven nods, followed by Adele, Foo Fighters and Mars with six each.
The evening's final performance was an absolute stunner. Lady Gaga returned to team with Sugarland for an incredibly powerful version of the former's "Yoü and I." Seeing talent from two sides of the musical spectrum merge to produce a unique sonic result in many ways exemplifies what Music's Biggest Night is all about.
Cue applause. See you at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 12, 2012.
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)