With most of the biz's biggest stars on the sidelines, even veteran Grammy handicappers will have a hard time auguring the winners when the trophies are handed out Jan. 26.
The nominees for the 56th annual music honors lack anything that resembles a consensus. The mixed field of rap, pop, dance, rock and country nominees in the top categories -- many of whom arrive with no track records to speak of -- guarantees that there will be no repeat of Adele's six-trophy win in 2012.
Among the album of the year nominees, seven-time Grammy winner Taylor Swift is not only the lone performer to have won the award, she is the only one to have been previously nominated for it. The other album nominees: Sara Bareilles ("The Blessed Unrest"), Daft Punk ("Random Access Memories"), Kendrick Lamar ("Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City") and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ("The Heist"), have won a total of two Grammys in years past (both went to French house music duo Daft Punk, in dance music categories).
Compton rapper Lamar, previously represented in the marketplace by an independent album, and hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who have been active in Seattle as rap indies since the turn of the millennium, both made their breakthroughs with their most recent releases, and have never garnered a single prior nomination. The acts scored a total of seven nods apiece.
Pop singer-songwriter Bareilles, who may be best known as a celebrity judge on NBC's "The Sing-Off," has scored three nominations and no wins in the past, all in niche genre categories.
Several of these comparatively obscure performers will also get a shot in two or more of the other top categories. Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," a massive radio hit during the summer, is competing for record of the year, awarded to artists, producers, engineers and mixers. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were tabbed, with co-cleffer Mary Lambert, as writers of the gay marriage-themed "Same Love." The rap duo and Lamar also will be in a runoff in the best new artist field with pop electronic artist James Blake, country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves and U.K. singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.
Inexplicably, the new artist category failed to acknowledge Lorde, the 17-year-old New Zealand performer whose song "Royals" has been one of the most downloaded tunes of 2013. However, the Kiwi teen's hit is in the running for record of the year and song of the year.
For the most part, the 2014 Grammy field is hit-driven at the top. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the record of the year category, where "Get Lucky" and "Royals" are joined by Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" -- all were massive radio hits.
On the album side, there was no bigger title released in 2012 than Swift's late-year entry "Red," which has shifted 4 million units.
But selling tonnage was no guarantee of recognition in the marquee Grammy races. Case in point: Pop renaissance man Justin Timberlake returned to the music fray after a five-year layoff with "The 20/20 Experience," which had the biggest opening week of the year (968,000 units) and has sold more than any other 2013 release (nearly 2.4 million copies).
However, none of Timberlake's seven noms found him tagged in the album, record or song of the year categories. Likewise, rap colossus Jay Z sold 1 million copies of "Magna Carta â¦ Holy Grail" and led all comers with nine noms, but was shut out of the glamour races.
So, in some ways, the 2014 Grammy nominations are representative of a typical year for the industry kudocast. Many expectations were fulfilled while an equal number of expectations were dashed, and art and commerce again made uneasy but utterly predictable bedfellows. Possibly the only eventuality observers can count on will be the post-nominations detonations of volatile rapper Kanye West, whose highly-touted "Yeezus" drew just two nods in rap categories. No crystal ball is required.