STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's talk next about the Grammy Awards which are announced this Sunday. One year ago, Adele swept the Grammys by winning six awards. This time around, six artists are up with six nominations each. They include: Kanye and Jay-Z.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
KANYE WEST AND JAY-Z: (Rapping) (Unintelligible) let 'em know (unintelligible).
INSKEEP: Dan Auerback of the Black Keys.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT A LOVE THAT KEEPS ME WAITING")
DAN AUERBACH: (Singing) I got a love that keeps me waiting. Oh...
INSKEEP: Mumford and Sons.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTHING IS WRITTEN")
MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) And I'll kneel down, wait...
INSKEEP: Frank Ocean.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
FRANK OCEAN: (Singing) (Unintelligible) forever...
INSKEEP: And Fun, the band behind this instant sing-a-along classic.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE YOUNG")
FUN: (Singing) So let's the set the world on fire, we can burn brighter than the sun
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: (Singing) ...on fire, burn brighter than the sun.
INSKEEP: (Singing) ...on fire, burn brighter than the sun.
Yes, that would be our music critic Ann Powers and me, singing along as we talked about the Grammy Awards.
What do these six artists share in common, who've gotten so much attention?
POWERS: Well, it's an eclectic slate. You have roots, rock, hip-hop, R&B, kind of, glammy pop rock. But what they all share is a kind of integrity, I think. You know, they're all album artists. They're all artists whom I think the Academy imagines will have long careers or who have had long careers. And they're making music that not only is commercially viable, but that fulfills a certain idea of respectability.
INSKEEP: I mean somebody like Mumford and Sons seems to fit that category. I mean they're well-crafted songs, their excellent lyrics. That's the kind of thing you're talking about here.
POWERS: Absolutely. And I think as the music industry continues to go through these violent changes - having to do with, you know, music being distributed through the Internet and physical recordings, kind of, going away - people really want something solid and these artists represent them. Mumford and Sons is a great example because they're almost perceived as having been saviors of a certain kind of music, a certain rootsy folk rock that's very beloved by, you know, maybe older Grammy voters, but a lot of young ones too, so...
INSKEEP: And they're relatively young guys, aren't they?
POWERS: They are young guys and, you know, they have a huge following.
INSKEEP: (Singing) They are young. Relatively speaking.
POWERS: Those are those other young guys.
INSKEEP: Relatively speaking. Well, OK what - and don't take this question the wrong way - where's the integrity in Fun and in that song "We Are Young?" It's a great anthem, but what makes it have that quality that you're talking about?
POWERS: Well, Fun is the pop story of the years among this group of Grammy nominees. Fun is a rock band that plays around with pop influences and even uses some hip-hop influences in its music. But they have just had a commercially smash year. They've had not just one single, the monster hit "We Are Young," but three singles from their album "Some Nights." So Fun represents how you can be a band with integrity, make quality music and still top the charts.
INSKEEP: Does this collective search for integrity by the Grammy voters mean that they are less willing to take risks and honor somebody who is not entirely established yet?
POWERS: I think there's a great example of that Steve, which is Carly Rae Jepsen, whose song "Call Me Maybe" was definitely one of the songs of the year, and she's only up for two Grammys and only one in a major category. Why was someone like Carly Rae Jepsen not nominated for six Grammys? I think that's why, because she feels unproven to the Grammy artists. Also maybe because she's frankly, a young woman and it's harder still, even now, for young women to gain respect right off the bat. I mean even Adele had to make a couple records and, you know, make this classic monster hit before she had a sweep in the Grammys.
INSKEEP: Is anybody bothered that of the people in the elite group, the six who have six nominations each, that it's all men?
POWERS: Yeah. Well...
POWERS: I wish that I could say men dominating the commercial mainstream music industry as a surprise or a shock, but even today, in this era of great pop divas - and, of course, Taylor Swift and Rihanna are both nominated for three Grammys this year - and Kelly Clarkson, of course, her great song "Stronger," is going to hopefully win a Grammy - even in this day and age of great pop divas, the tradition of mainstream, rock oriented, recorded music unfortunately, it remains a boys game. And that's changing but it hasn't totally changed yet and I think this is the evidence of it, this year.
INSKEEP: Ann Powers, music critic, thanks very much.
POWERS: Thank you so much, Steve. Rock on.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRONGER")
KELLY CLARKSON: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Stand a little stronger. Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone.
INSKEEP: Many people are no doubt stronger after our singing on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.