Top artists at the Grammys

The music industry was set Monday to recognize its top artists at the Grammys, with socially conscious rapper Kendrick Lamar and pop superstar Taylor Swift leading nominations.

The music world’s annual extravaganza in Los Angeles kicked off with a gala late Sunday that brought a rare performance by the surviving members of Nirvana.

Lamar, whose experimental rap opus “To Pimp a Butterfly” reflects on the state of race relations in contemporary America, stands to dominate the Grammys with nominations in 11 categories.

The Grammy haul is the largest number of nominations for a single artist in one night since Michael Jackson following his massive “Thriller.”

Lamar’s “Alright” has emerged as an unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality. Another track on the album, “How Much a Dollar Cost,” a meditation inspired by a panhandler in South Africa, was named by President Barack Obama as his favorite song of 2015.

But Lamar faces tough competition from his sometime collaborator Swift, whose album “1989” was by far the best-selling album for the period.

The 26-year-old, who with “1989” fully transformed from country prodigy to pop superstar, is up for seven awards including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for her chart-topping single “Blank Space.”

Tied with Swift at seven nominations is Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd, who began his career in near anonymity in 2010 as he posted songs on the Internet but rose to fame last year with “Can’t Feel My Face.”

– ‘Uptown Funk’ –

But a favorite for Record of the Year — which recognizes overall singles, whereas Song of the Year awards writers — is “Uptown Funk,” which spent a near-record 14 weeks at number one of the US chart.

With vocals by Bruno Mars set to a funky beat reminiscent of early Prince, the song marked a breakthrough as a solo artist by 40-year-old veteran British producer Mark Ronson.

In a sign of the wide appeal of “Uptown Funk,” among those rooting for it to win is glam metal pioneer Alice Cooper, who said he was astounded by the production.

“It’s not my kind of music, but it’s the best record of the year easily,” Cooper told AFP.

“Ronson did an amazing job on that record. He’s the next big guy,” Cooper said.

Cooper will perform at the Grammys in his group The Hollywood Vampires that features both Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and actor Johnny Depp on guitars.

Cooper — who described Depp as a “killer guitar player” despite being better known for movies — promised a loud rendition of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” in memory of the metal band’s late frontman Lemmy.

The Grammys will pay tribute to a number of artists who recently died, chief among them the rock icon David Bowie.

Lady Gaga, whose glittery outfits and sexual frankness bear a clear influence from Bowie, has promised a “multisensory” tribute to the Starman who died last month from a publicly undisclosed battle with cancer.

– ‘For two geniuses’ –

Bowie was also honored on the eve of the Grammys at an annual party thrown by veteran music executive Clive Davis, with alternative rock great Beck playing with surviving members of Nirvana.

“This is for two geniuses who are no longer with us,” Beck said as he opened “The Man Who Saved The World” — a Bowie song famously covered acoustically by Nirvana shortly before frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide.

Beck, who won Album of the Year in 2015, led the song with touches of both versions as Nirvana’s Dave Grohl, now singer and guitarist of Foo Fighters, returned to drums.

Grohl and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic played a one-off show together at a New York bar in 2014 following Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but talk of a broader reunion by the grunge icons has remained speculation.

Other performers included the 70-year-old Carly Simon, who has played sparingly in recent years. She offered a spirited performance of her signature song, “You’re So Vain,” with her son Ben Taylor on guitar.

Simon flew to Los Angeles at the last minute in anticipation of filling in for soft rock crooner Barry Manilow, who was rushed to a hospital last week for complications from oral surgery.

But Manilow nonetheless performed at the party, appearing in good form and spirits.

“We had no way of knowing until this very day, today, that he would be able to perform,” Davis told the crowd.

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