Before Whitney Houston's sudden death Saturday afternoon, Sunday's Grammy Awards was already promising plenty of intrigue and drama -- much of it having little to do with the competition for awards.
Adele -- one of the key nominees with six nods -- is performing for the first time since having surgery on her vocal chords. A group of musicians upset that the Recording Academy has cut the number of awards have vowed to protest outside the Staples Center, where the ceremony will be held. Chris Brown and Rihanna will perform on the same stage -- although at different times -- for the first time since Brown attacked her before the 2009 Grammys, forcing both to drop out the show.
And the remaining Beach Boys will reunite onstage for the first time in years.
But Recording Academy President and CEO Neil Portnow says that music will still be paramount once the show, which airs live on CBS, kicks off on Sunday.
"This was a really terrific, exciting year for music, so it will give us a tremendous canvas to paint on," said Portnow on Thursday.
Kanye West is the top nominee with seven, including a best song nomination for his "All of the Lights." But his highly acclaimed "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and "Watch The Throne," his collaboration with Jay-Z, are not among the nominees for best album, nor is he up for record of the year.
Adele is nominated in all top categories. "21," the year's best-selling album, is up for album of the year, and her "Rolling in the Deep" is up for song and record of the year. Bruno Mars is also up for best album for "Doo-Wops & Hooligans," and his "Grenade" is a contender for record and song of the year as well; he too has six nominations, along with the Foo Fighters, whose "Wasting Light" is up for album of the year.
Other album of the year candidates are Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" and Rihanna's "Loud"; for record of the year, Bon Iver's "Holocene" is in the mix with Mumford & Sons "The Cave" and Katy Perry's "Firework." For song of the year, all the same nominees appear except "All of the Lights" replaces "Firework."
Adele's performance promises to be among the night's highlights. She had to cancel her tour and undergo surgery after persistent throat problems, and has kept a low-profile for months. Other key performances are to include the Grammys first-ever dance-electronic music segment featuring the Foos, David Guetta and others, and Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney are to take the stage. Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj and Coldplay also are set to perform.
Brown's presence is notable considering what happened before the telecast three years ago. Brown pleaded guilty in the attack on Rihanna and has been on probation. Last year marked an incredible comeback for the young star, and he was rewarded with time on the Grammy stage. There had been a restraining order in place that prevented Brown and Rihanna from being close to one another, but it was lifted last year.
Portnow said the decision to have Brown on the show was an artistic one.
"Our approach to the Grammy telecast and Grammy week is it's all about the music," he said. "We feel as individuals, they (Rihanna and Brown) have a place in what we're doing so that's really the judgment."
Another key moment will be the reunion of the Beach Boys, who are scheduled to go on a tour this year. The group was set to announce their reunion at the Grammy nominations special last fall, but Portnow said "the timing just didn't work."
"We're delighted all the details have been worked out (now)," he said.
The Grammy telecast lasts three and a half hours and about 10 awards are given out; the bulk of them are doled out during a pre-telecast. This year, the total number of Grammys was cut from 109 to 78 after a major overhaul last year. Some specific categories were deleted and put in new, broader categories, to the outrage of some who have said the move disenfranchised them. A lawsuit has been filed and a protest is planned outside the Staples Center while celebrities file inside.
The Foos' Dave Grohl called the cuts "unfortunate."
"I don't know why they did it. It's unfortunate. Everybody is downsizing everything these days," he said in an interview last month. "I don't know why they cut so many."
Still, there hasn't been a huge outcry about the changes, which include the elimination of separate vocal categories by gender, from mainstream stars. The Academy hasn't budged in its position on the cuts and Portnow said a Thursday protest outside the academy offices shows the lack of general support for the protests.
"I think the most significant info I can give you from the protest today was the number of participants," he said, citing what he called a small crowd. "I don't know that there's anything more to say than that."