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New Music Friday: What were the Grammys made for?

Will Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell win their third record of the year award at the Grammys?
Rich Fury
/
Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Will Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell win their third record of the year award at the Grammys?

The 66th annual Grammy Awards will be presented this Sunday night, Feb. 4, and there is no shortage of potential headlines that could come out of the ceremony that has dubbed itself "Music's Biggest Night." But most years, music fans come away from the show with a strange mix of befuddlement, complaints and celebration, so on today's show, Ann Powers, Stephen Thompson and Sidney Madden sift through the glitter and the self-importance to try and figure out who the Grammys might actually be for.

The nominations this year suggest the show is courting a new audience: R&B superstar SZA, whose SOS was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular albums of 2023, leads all artists with nine. She could sweep the main categories — album, song and record of the year — but she'll have to compete for those top prizes with familiar young stars who are beginning to feel like a new class of Grammy royalty, including Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Jon Batiste.

As for the scheduled performances, SZA will be on stage to sing even if she doesn't accept an award. But the biggest headlines have been about the evening's elders. Joni Mitchell will perform for her first time at the Grammys; U2 will play from within The Sphere, a new, high-concept, visually overwhelming venue in Las Vegas; and Billy Joel, who just released his first new song in forever, will play as well.

Listen as Ann, Sidney and Stephen share their guide to everything that could happen on the show. If you want to read about great music that can be found outside the general categories (and a lot more), subscribe to NPR Music's newsletter.