The Grammy telecast may seem like an excuse for the biggest names in popular music to congratulate one another and thank God and their fans for making them a kajillion dollars.

But Sunday night's telecast can also be good fun and a canny display of the currents running through the music industry, both in who makes it to the podium and who is chosen to perform.

Many of the 81 awards are given out in untelevised shows ahead of time, so the folk singers and classical musicians and guys who do the liner notes — many of whom seem genuinely grateful to be noticed — can make their acceptance speeches though without the benefit of a big tv audience. The pre-show streams online at Grammy.com.

This year, CBS has asked the talent to avoid untoward exposed skin, discouraging sheer tops or "crack"-baring thongs. Good luck with that.

The evening is also a celebrated venue for unusual musical pairings, tributes to dead stars and comebacks by acts who have stepped away from the limelight for any reason. For Canadians, it's also a way to see our cultural exports do well on an international stage.

Here are some things to watch for at the 55th annual Grammy Awards.

Rihanna and Chris Brown

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Chris Brown and Rihanna were seen together in late December, before she declared to Rolling Stone that she was back in the relationship. Associated Press

This is the first big event where Rihanna and Chris Brown can be seen together publicly since Rihanna confirmed she is back with the boyfriend who beat her before the 2009 Grammys. Rihanna took a defiant tone in defending the decision and the Grammys may provide the opportunity to cement their romantic status with public canoodling or a gesture toward Brown. Rihanna is set to perform in one of those unusual pairings with Sting and Bruno MarsBrown does not have a stage role, but he does have a nomination. In any case, expect to see their heads together as cameras swing round the room looking for the night's winners.

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Justin Timberlake will be looking to reignite his music career with a Grammy performance. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

Comeback No. 1: Justin Timberlake:

Timberlake has spent the last few years launching a fashion line, fostering his screen career and getting married to Jessica Biel. He hasn't recorded an album since 2006's Future Sex/Love Sounds. With his next album, The 20/20 Experience, due out in March, he's doing his utmost to grab the limelight again. His Grammy performance will be his first in four years.

Canadians up for Grammys

  • Drake: best rap album (Take Care); best rap song (The Motto); best rap performance (HYFR).
  • Carly Rae Jepsen: song of the year (Call Me Maybe); best pop solo performance (Call Me Maybe).
  • Tamia: best R&B song (Beautiful Surprise); best R&B album (Beautiful Surprise).
  • Melanie Fiona: best traditional R&B song (Wrong Side of a Love Song).
  • Arcade Fire: best song written for visual media (Abraham's Daughter from The Hunger Games).
  • Michael Bublé: best traditional pop vocal album (Christmas).
  • Deadmau5: best dance/electronic album (Album Title Goes Here).
  • Loreena McKennitt: best new age album (Troubadours on the Rhine).
  • Howard Shore: best score soundtrack for visual media (Hugo).
  • Tegan and Sara: best long form music video (Get Along).

Jay-Z, Mumford & Sons, Frank Ocean, The Black Keys and Kanye West:

These artists are the front-runners, each of them boasting six nominations. But a string of nominations never guarantees a Grammy win. Watch The Black Keys' El Camino and Mumford & Sons' Babel, from the alt-rock end of the spectrum, go up against rapper Frank Ocean's Channel Orange and iconoclast Jack White's Blunderbuss for the best album Grammy, the top honour of the night. Ocean's admission of a same-sex relationship may play into the mix — does the music industry still consider that brave or wish it would go away?

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Then there's fun., the indie pop from New York, who are Grammy newcomers and will perform during the show. The group's hit We Are Young, featuring Janelle Monae, swept categories from best new artist, to best song and to best record, with the album of the year honour in sight for Some Nights. It's the first group to receive nominations for all four of the top awards in the same year and even if it is overlooked, the Grammy attention assures it has arrived.

Two lovely ladies of Canadian R&B:

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Tamia, the Canadian R&B singer is this year's Grammy discovery. (Canadian Press)

Melanie Fiona was last year's big Grammy surprise — the Canadian singer long overlooked at home who emerged to win two awards for her soulful performance alongside Cee Lo Green. She's back again this year, nominated for best traditional R&B performance with Wrong Side Of A Love Song. This year's discovery is Tamia, the Windsor, Ont.-born singer with the three-octave range who had a big hit last year with Beautiful Surprise. Tamia is nominated for best R& B song and best R&B album for Beautiful Surprise.

Drake, steeling himself for disappointment:

The Toronto rapper and DeGrassi alum is no stranger to the Grammys, having grabbed two nominations in 2010, four in 2011 and four in 2012 without winning a single statue. This year, he's in the running for best rap album (Take Care); best rap song (The Motto) and best rap performance (HYFR). The problem is, he's up against some of the biggest names in music today — Jay-Z & Kanye West for best performance, Kanye and Snoop Dogg for best song, Nas and Rick Ross for best album. But the rapper, who has relocated to Los Angeles from Toronto, is nothing if not gracious as he's passed over. Besides, he's got an ace in the hole — the first single from his third studio album is released Sunday night.

Tribute to Levon Helm:

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Levon Helm performs at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images )

Levon Helm, drummer and singer who played with Bob Dylan and later The Band, died of cancer last year at age 71. Few musicians were as spontaneous and down-to-earth in their songwriting or performance as Helm. The Grammy tribute to him will involve an all-star lineup performing The Weight, one of his most famous songs. The big names on the stage are Elton John and new age British folkies Mumford & Sons, but the tribute will also include T Bone Burnett, Mavis Staples, Zac Brown and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes.

The 55th annual Grammy Awards air live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. ET.