Chad Batka for The New York Times
So does this year’s show run the risk of being a snooze? Fear not, music fans, there are plenty of minidramas to watch for that could make the evening’s proceedings, to be broadcast on CBS at 8 p.m. Eastern time from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, interesting.
For starters the pop-rock trio Fun. is the first act since Amy Winehouse in 2007 to have a shot at sweeping all four of the prestigious general awards. This Brooklyn group, whose “Some Nights” album spun off the smash hit “We Are Young,” is nominated for record, album and song of the year, as well as best new artist. The only artist in the 55-year history of the awards to win all four awards was Christopher Cross in 1980. (The feat seemed to be a kiss of death for Mr. Cross, whose career has sputtered since.)
Can Fun. do it? “It seems like a long shot,” said Nate Ruess, the band’s frontman. The group faces stiff competition for record of the year (which is for a single) from Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” the best-selling single of the year. In the contest for song of the year, an award for songwriters, Fun.’s “We Are Young” must outpoll the British newcomer Ed Sheeran, whose song about a drug-addicted prostitute, “The A Team,” was a sleeper hit, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s ubiquitous summer anthem “Call Me Maybe.”
Still, Fun. has a fighting chance to take the coveted album of the year award. That contest seems dominated by rock of various flavors — poppy, bluesy, folksy — and is notable more for what is not there than what is. There are no female artists, no pop divas, no rappers, no country crooners.
Instead the category has groups heard frequently on alternative rock stations: Mumford & Sons, the Black Keys and Jack White. Mumford & Sons have yet to win a Grammy, even though their stomping folk style has spearheaded a revival of folk-rock. The Black Keys and Jack White both produced howling blues-rock records that typically do well with Grammy voters.
The last contender is Frank Ocean, the R&B singer whose debut solo album, “Channel Orange,” was on many critics’ Top 10 lists for the year. Mr. Ocean gained importance as a public figure when he broke an unspoken code in the R&B world and announced before the album was released that his first love had been a man.
“Frank Ocean has become a really strong dark-horse pick,” said Bill Werde, editorial director of Billboard. “He’s a fashionable artist in the music business these days, because he has that great mix of critical respect and commercial appeal.”
Also nominated in the album and song of the year categories, Mr. Ocean will probably be Fun.’s closest rival in the best new artist category as well. Two of the other hopefuls for that prize are darlings of the alt-rock world: the folksy Lumineers and the R&B-inflected Alabama Shakes. Hunter Hayes, a country wunderkind, rounds out the list. “It’s beyond flattering,” Mr. Ruess said. “Win or lose it’s just great and cool to be nominated with that group.”
Another closely watched artist will be Nas, the veteran New York rapper, who has never won a Grammy, despite nine previous nominations and six No. 1 albums that each sold more than a million copies, starting with the classic “Illmatic” back in 1994. This could be the year the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which bestows the Grammys, finally recognizes his contributions. He is nominated in every rap category — song, album, rap-sung collaboration (with Amy Winehouse) and performance — for his album “Life Is Good,” which explored middle-age themes like fatherhood and divorce.