R&B singer Alicia Keys hosts a female-flavoured Grammy Awards show on Sunday featuring performances by Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton, but which risks being overshadowed by the absence of some of music’s most influential stars.
The live ceremony in Los Angeles could see Cardi B take home her first ever Grammy and potentially become the first rapper since 2004 to win the coveted album of the year award for her “Invasion of Privacy.”
Yet Sunday’s show, billed as music’s biggest night, is going ahead without leading nominees Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Childish Gambino, the alter ego of actor Donald Glover.
Their absence is seen as a snub by the three rappers for an awards show that has shut hip-hop artists out of its top prizes for a decade, despite rap’s dominance as the biggest music genre in the United States.
Only two albums by hip-hop artists have ever won the album of the year Grammy – Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1999, and Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” in 2004.
Rappers Post Malone (“Beerbongs & Bentleys”) and the absent Drake’s best-seller “Scorpion” are also vying for the top prize. Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer,” country singer Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” eclectic musician Brandi Carlile’s “By The Way, I Forgive You,” newcomer H.E.R’s self-titled “H.E.R.”, and the soundtrack album to superhero movie “Black Panther,” which was produced by Lamar, round out the contenders for best album.
Grammy organizers this year expanded the top four categories – album, record, song of the year, and best new artist – to eight nominees from five in a bid to diversify the contest.
But the larger field makes predicting a winner harder than usual.
“I don’t think you can say anyone is a front-runner,” said Melinda Newman, West Coast editor of Billboard magazine.
“You can’t assume someone will win just because their song or their album was incredibly popular. Grammy voters are less concerned with commercial success and more concerned with the work as a whole,” she said.
Lamar, Drake and Gambino aren’t the only nominees who will be missing on Sunday night.
Ariana Grande, with two nominations in the pop field, pulled out of the show late last week after a dispute with producers over which songs she would perform.
“This is live television and things happen up until the minute the shows starts,” said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammy Awards.
Taylor Swift, who has just one nod for her best-selling 2017 album “Reputation”, is filming in London. Actor Bradley Cooper is also in London to attend the BAFTA film awards, while his “A Star is Born” lead actress Lady Gaga takes the Grammy stage to perform record and song of the year nominee “Shallow.”
Rapper 21 Savage, who is featured on Post Malone’s record of the year contender “Rockstar,” will also be absent after he was arrested in Atlanta last week on immigration violation charges.
Sunday’s show will include tributes to Diana Ross, to mark her 75th birthday in March, and to Aretha Franklin, who died last August.
The Grammy Awards will be broadcast live on CBS television starting at 8 pm ET.