Stars roll dice for Grammys gold in Vegas, Batiste wins three early
The music world's A-listers hit the red carpet in Las Vegas Sunday as the Grammy Awards got under way, with jazzman Jon Batiste -- the overall top nominee -- grabbing three awards in the pre-gala ceremony.
The US gambling capital is hosting the ceremony for the first time ever, after organizers postponed the original January 31 event over a surge in Covid-19 cases and then moved it out of Los Angeles.
The timing of the Grammys just one week after Will Smith stunned the world by slapping Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars has added an extra layer of unpredictability to what is already usually one of the edgier nights on the showbiz awards circuit.
During the pre-ceremony at which most awards are doled out before the televised gala, Batiste jumped out with an early win for his work on the soundtrack for the animated film "Soul," and two more in the American roots category.
The 35-year-old artist born into a prominent New Orleans musical dynasty wowed by accruing 11 chances at Grammy gold, making him one of the red carpet's top attractions.
He lost out in two jazz categories, but Batiste is still up for record and album of the year, as well as other genre awards in R&B and contemporary classical composition.
He appeared briefly on the red carpet at a pre-Grammy gala Friday, hamming it up for photographers before telling AFP he was feeling "great" ahead of Sunday's awards.
"I'm so happy," he said with a loud whoop. "My granddad came to town!"
- Pop on top -
Big-budget pop records Justin Bieber will vie for eight trophies at the ceremony hosted by late night television personality Trevor Noah, as will R&B favorite H.E.R. and singer-rapper Doja Cat.
Grammys darling Billie Eilish, fresh off her Oscars win for the theme song to Bond flick "No Time to Die," is in the running for seven prizes.
The same holds true for Olivia Rodrigo, a former Disney channel actress who exploded onto the pop scene last year with her breakout smash hit "drivers license."
The 19-year-old Rodrigo landed expected nods for her much-touted debut album "Sour," and is a near shoo-in for the Best New Artist prize -- she is up against Eilish's brother Finneas, rapper Saweetie and experimental pop act Japanese Breakfast, among others.
Like Eilish in 2020, Rodrigo has the opportunity to sweep the top four categories on the same night, which would make her only the third artist to do so. The first was singer-songwriter Christopher Cross in 1981.
- 'Work in progress' -
The Grammys field is wide open -- especially after the Recording Academy expanded the top four categories yet again, this time to include 10 nominees, in a bid to improve diversity.
"I guess in this instance, expansion of the categories does mean more women, more marginalized people getting recognized," said Brandi Carlile, who is up this year for five gramophones.
"Some things improve in certain areas, they slip in other places," she told AFP, but added: "I'm watching it change and evolve and get better every year, and I'm heartened by it."
The expansion has also resulted in one of the most eclectic crops of Best New Artist nominees in recent memory, even if Rodrigo is widely tipped to win.
"Pop just has a bigger footprint, but I love that they're diving into other genres," country singer Jimmie Allen, a nominee in the category, told AFP.
"Win or lose, I'm just happy to be nominated."
Angelique Kidjo, who has four past Grammys under her belt and notched an early win Sunday for Best Global Music Album, said the Recording Academy had made strides in recent years but that there was a "long road" ahead.
"It's a work in progress," she told AFP earlier in the weekend. "There's goodwill on their part. How do we bring that into action?"
The Brooklyn-based Pakistani vocalist Arooj Aftab -- who is also vying for the Best New Artist trophy -- meanwhile won her first Grammy ever for Best Global Music Performance for "Mohabbat."
Korean pop juggernauts BTS scored one nomination in the pop categories for the huge commercial hit "Butter" -- less than expected for the massively popular boy band that has struggled to make inroads at the Grammys.
But BTS is slated to perform at an event watched as much for its staging as the actual awards, as will Rodrigo, Eilish, Batiste, H.E.R. and Lil Nas X.
The Recording Academy will also include a special segment on Ukraine, in partnership with Global Citizen, encouraging awareness of the war as well as fundraising efforts for humanitarian aid.
Among Sunday's presenters will be folk icon Joni Mitchell, who was honored at a moving tribute gala Friday.