When Eminem was first nominated for album of the year some 10 years ago for “The Marshall Mathers LP,” it marked a milestone for the Grammys as it chose to honor an album that was considered masterful in its artistry yet morally bankrupt in its values.
On Wednesday, as the Recording Academy once again nominated Eminem for album of the year along with nine other bids, it again gave accolades to a foul but genius piece of work – Cee Lo’s “(Expletive) You,” an infectious retro groove with an unforgettable, unprintable chorus.
The tune, which is so profane it had to be changed to “Forget You” for radio play, was nominated for two top Grammy honors: record and song of the year.
“It wasn’t meant to be a radio song,” said Cee Lo after the nominations. “It was meant to be something with flair and first impression and it really took on a life of its own, and I had no idea it would become what it is today.”
It’s a sign of how much times, and Eminem himself, have changed that his leading nominations were not controversial, but expected and respected.
The person with the second-leading tally, Bruno Mars with seven, was not without his own drama this year, after being arrested in Las Vegas in a cocaine possession case, which is pending. It was the only negative in a brilliant year for Mars, who co-wrote “(Expletive) You” and was also featured on B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You,” also nominated for record of the year.
“It’s just been a great year, incredible, incredible year, and I can’t believe this is happening to me,” said Mars, who was also nominated for best male pop vocal for his own hit, “Just the Way You Are.”
“We’ve worked so hard trying to make a living doing music and the fact that we’re here right now is incredible, incredible,” he added, speaking from Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles, where the nominations were announced as part of an hourlong live special on CBS.
Other top nominees included Lady Antebellum, Jay-Z and Lady Gaga, who were all nominated with six each. Gaga also was nominated for album of the year – the second straight nomination in the category for her.
For Eminem, “Recovery” was a critical and commercial triumph. It became the best-selling album of the year so far, with more than 3 million copies sold, and spawned top hits like “Love the Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna, which was nominated for song and record of the year.
It also marked a stark contrast between the Eminem nominated 10 years ago and the one today. Back then, he was a stunning yet divisive figure whose violent imagery and slurs against gays and women outraged as many people as he entertained. Eminem would become one of the best-selling artists in the world and arguably rap’s greatest artist, but his stature was diminished as his battle with prescription drug addiction led to lags between albums and sub-par material.
With “Recovery,” an album that detailed his battles and how he overcame them, his status as the best rapper – and pop’s top artist – was restored.
Country trio Lady Antebellum couldn’t be more opposite than Eminem, but their album “Need You Now” was the second-best selling album of the year, doing almost as well as “Recovery,” with almost 3 million albums sold and fueled by the lovelorn title track – a huge crossover hit for the band. Grammy voters rewarded that success, nominating them for album of the year and record and song of the year for the hit.
Only last year, they were celebrating their first Grammy win.
“It’s been a wild and crazy year; it definitely feels like Christmas came early for us,” said Lady A’s Dave Haywood in a telephone interview after the awards were announced. He wasn’t watching with his bandmates, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott, but they watched the special and texted each other.
“It’s just kind of complete shock that we’d be recognized, especially to be recognized in some of these all-genre categories,” said Haywood. “It’s pretty bizarre for a couple of rednecks from Tennessee and Georgia.”
Other nominees for record of the year included Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ anthem for New York, “Empire State of Mind.”
Rounding out the nominations for song of the year were Ray LaMontagne’s “Beg Steal or Borrow” and Miranda Lambert’s hit “The House That Built Me,” written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.
Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” was one of the year’s top hits but was shut out of the record and song of the year categories. Yet Perry, who performed the hit on the nominations broadcast, was far from disappointed: Her album “Teenage Dream” was nominated for album of the year, along with Gaga’s “The Fame Monster,” “Recovery,” “Need You Now” and Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.”
“It’s amazing. It’s like no other award show because I feel like you’re being recognized by your peers,” she said. “And there’s so many fantastic performers and artists that could be in this category, so when they nominate you, it feels like a win.”
Justin Bieber appeared on the show from London and the 16-year-old was rewarded for staying up: He was nominated for best new artist in a category that also included Drake, Florence & the Machine, Mumford & Sons and jazz artist Esperanza Spaulding.
“It feels amazing. I can’t believe I’m in this position. Thank you to the fans,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”
The evening’s biggest snub may have belonged to Ke$ha. Even though the party-girl singer had a top-selling debut and several hit songs, she was not nominated for any awards.
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen contributed to this report.