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Grammy 2018 preview: 5 reasons this could be the most memorable awards show in recent history

The Grammys attempt to address shortcomings has resulted in a more diverse, inclusive lineup of acts.
Kendrick Lamar is an early favourite to win one of the biggest awards of the night at the 2018 Grammys. ((Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Clara Lionel Foundation))

The 60th annual Grammy Awards take place this Sunday and will feature performances from artists such as Sting, U2 and Elton John, the latter of whom just announced his final concert tour.

But despite the calibre of legacy artists, the awards show has actually been working behind the scenes to change the impression that it is, to put it bluntly, out of touch. Judging by this year's nominees, the Grammys seem to be focusing on younger and more diverse artists, a move that would reflect a number of things, including the rise (and dominance) of rap in pop music, critical consensus and actual album sales/streams, as reflected in the Billboard charts.

On top of that, a couple of up-and-coming Canadian artists are poised to take their turn in the spotlight. Also, expect a lot of reflection on the current state of the U.S. at this year's Grammy Awards, with the music community overwhelmingly at odds with the Trump administration over the past 12 months.

All of this is sure to make for one of the most memorable, emotional and historic nights in recent Grammy history. Here are five reasons why.

1. #GrammysSoWhite/Male is real

For the first time in Grammy history, a white male isn't nominated in the marquee album of the year category. In fact, all four of the big categories — record of the year, album of the year, song of the year and best new artist — are dominated by women and artists of colour. This could be due, in part, to the backlash the Grammys received in the past for their lack of diversity and inclusion in such categories. In response, Drake and Frank Ocean chose to not submit their albums for consideration this year. "I won two awards last night, but I don't even want them," Drake said last year. "I am apparently a rapper, even though 'Hotline Bling' is not a rap song. The only category they can manage to fit me in is a rap category."

This issue hit a tipping point in recent years, capped off by major upsets (usually involving Beyoncé) in the album category that have drawn heavy criticism: In 2015, Beyoncé's groundbreaking self-titled video album lost to Beck's Morning Phase (a beautiful album, but even Beck was surprised); Beyoncé lost again in 2017, this time to Adele (who called Bey the "the artist of my life" in her acceptance speech and said the award should have gone to her); in 2016, Kendrick Lamar lost to Taylor Swift, despite releasing what was largely considered by critics, and even then-president Barack Obama, to be the best album of the year.

Lamar is nominated again this year for album of the year, along with Childish Gambino, Jay-Z, Lorde and Bruno Mars. Lamar's Damn topped many year-end lists, is the odds-on favourite to win, and if he (or Jay-Z) wins, it would make the first time a rap album has won in the category since 2004, when Outkast hey-ya'd their way to the podium for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

Warning: Video includes language and content that some may find offensive.

On top of that, there are no white artists nominated in the record of the year category except Justin Bieber, who was a guest feature on the remix of "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, both Puerto Rican. It will be the first time a non-white artist has won since Ray Charles took the category in 2005 for "Here we go Again," featuring Norah Jones.

Either way, it is far less likely we'll get an acceptance speech this year where the winner declares it went to the wrong person, which in itself is a welcome change from the status quo.

2. It'll be a big night for Brampton, Ontario's Alessia Cara

The 21-year-old singer will make her Grammy debut this year for her feature on Logic's song, "1-800-273-8255." Not only is that song up for best music video (directed by Canadian Andy Heins), song of the year and best pop duo/group performance, but Cara herself is up for best new artist. Cara released her debut album, Know-It-All, in 2015 and has been slowly building momentum with a string of hit singles and features. A win in any of these categories, but especially as best new artist, which has included winners in the past such as Amy Winehouse, John Legend and Adele, could launch her to even bigger audiences. She's up against Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert, Julia Michaels and SZA.

3. Because suicide prevention will be front and centre

Even if Cara doesn't win a single Grammy (which is pretty unlikely), she is sure to be on people's minds the next day following her performance of "1-800-273-8255" with Logic and Khalid, along with a group of people affected by suicide, selected by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline number is the inspiration behind, and title of, the hit song.

The three artists did a similar performance at the MTV VMAs last year alongside suicide survivors, which caused many of the survivors, and people in the audience, to break down in tears. It was an emotional, poignant moment that actually resulted in a 50 per cent increase in calls to the Lifeline, according to MTV. It's a sensitive topic that award shows might normally stay away from.

If this performance is anything like the VMA one, don't expect a dry eye in the house.

4. Canada's next big R&B star will break out

Cara isn't the only Canadian who could come home with some major hardware on Sunday, as Oshawa, Ont., singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar, who released one of the best Canadian albums of 2017, Freudian, is up for both best R&B performance and best R&B album. The sincere, soulful debut from the 22-year-old has been earning him critical raves across the board, and there's no doubt he will be one of the next big stars out of this country. Here's hoping a win here will help him along.  

Up and coming R&B musician, Daniel Caesar, talks about escaping Oshawa, sleeping in the streets to make his record, and finding peace with his faith 24:33

5. There'll be an 'in memoriam' segment for music fans

Keeping with the theme of emotional release, the Grammys will also take some time to acknowledge victims of senseless violence. Eric Church, Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne were all part of last October's Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where a gunman opened fire, killing 58 and injuring hundreds. At this year's Grammys, they will perform a tribute to victims killed at live concerts, which the award show said is part of its commitment to focus on music from the past year.

"Although that usually means a focus on achievement and excellence, sadly, last year was marred by a number of senseless tragedies that took place at live music events," read a statement. "We didn't feel like we'd be doing our jobs if we didn't reflect on these tremendous losses."

Sadly, Route 91 isn't the only instance of violence directed at concert-goers in the past 12 months. In May, 23 people were killed when a bomb went off at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

There's no word yet on whether Jason Aldean, who was performing when the gunman opened fire from the Mandalay Bay hotel, will appear.

The 60th annual Grammy awards air Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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