LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rehabbed rapper Eminem will likely seal his comeback on Sunday with a slew of Grammy awards at a ceremony dominated by hip-hop stars and pop singers.
Now, it might be rock ‘n’ roll’s turn to seek treatment.
Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire are the sole standard bearer for rock in the album of the year race, the event’s top prize.
No rock acts made the cut for the similarly coveted song and record of the year categories. The best new artist competition features two genre-spanning British groups with rock elements: Mumford & Sons, and Florence + the Machine.
Grammy organizers do honor rockers in specific categories, and artists such as veteran British guitarist Jeff Beck and blues-rock duo Black Keys received multiple nominations.
But the field is headed by Eminem who received 10 nominations, largely for an album detailing his recovery from a near-fatal addiction to prescription medication. Grammy voters love these sorts of comeback stories.
Top contenders also include pop/R&B hitmaker Bruno Mars with seven nominations; and rapper Jay-Z, pop singer Lady Gaga and country group Lady Antebellum with six each. Beck received five nominations and the Black Keys four.
Rock is not exactly dead, as pundits occasionally declare during low points in the cycle. Kings of Leon, Coldplay and Green Day won key Grammys in recent years. Bon Jovi, AC/DC and U2 were the world’s biggest concert draws in 2010. Newer groups such as Muse and Vampire Weekend are enjoying commercial and critical acclaim, along with Grammy nods.
But neither is rock capturing the Zeitgeist in the same way as colorful pop singers like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, and popular TV shows like “American Idol” and “Glee.”
“The public is using music differently, or liking it for different reasons,” said producer Bill Bottrell, who worked on hits for Sheryl Crow and Michael Jackson. “It’s lighter, less profound. It’s just something to dance to, or wash dishes to.”
Bottrell said Eminem has “the rock ‘n’ roll spirit,” writing provocative lyrics and casting himself as an outsider in the same way that canny rock heroes of yore did.
But for the most part, the biggest selling songs last year were breezy dance-pop confections like Perry’s “California Gurls,” Kesha’s “Tik Tok” and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”
Indeed, pop tunes were the most popular downloads in the United States last year, accounting for 33 percent of sales among tracks released in 2009 or 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Rock (17 percent) came in at No. 4 behind R&B/hip-hop (27 percent) and rap (20 percent).
The most popular rock band last year broke up in 1970: the Beatles, who ranked No. 10 among U.S. album sales. No rock releases made the 10 biggest selling albums.
Beck said there is “some truth” in the old saw that rock died with Buddy Holly in 1959, a few years before the Beatles formed. He said too many rock acts have no appreciation of the “nuclear explosion” that occurred during the mid-1950s with the emergence of acts like Gene Vincent and Little Richard.
He, paradoxically, could be on the same page as younger songwriters who say rock needs to break out of its stale mold.
British producer Alex “Da Kid” Grant, a Grammy-nominated collaborator with Eminem, said he is on a mission to get rock bands — his wish list includes U2 and Coldplay — to incorporate elements of hip-hop, albeit carefully.
“Rock definitely is due a comeback in some form or another. We just need to get the sound right,” he said. “I don’t think it can sound the same as, like, Led Zeppelin in the ‘70s. It needs to evolve, but I think if we get the evolution right, it could be huge.”
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Jackie Frank