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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's the Grammy Awards tomorrow night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG MONTAGE)

CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy...

KELLY CLARKSON: (Singing) What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller...

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) We are never, ever, ever, ever getting back together.

SIMON: Just a few of the artists who may win an award this weekend: Maroon 5, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift. So, what's in store for us at this year's Grammy Award ceremony? Who knows? Who cares? Well, millions of people. Stephen Thompson from NPR Music - one of millions...

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I care.

SIMON: ...yes - and NPR's culture critic, Linda Holmes, join us. Thanks very much for being with us.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: Stephen, let's begin with you.

THOMPSON: All right.

SIMON: Remind us what these awards mean in the industry.

THOMPSON: One way of looking at the Grammys is that it is essentially a gigantic infomercial for the music industry, that this is sort of what the music industry wants to present us as sort of its best foot forward, and not only in terms of artistic quality but in terms of commercial power. This is a somewhat struggling industry and this is sort of a way for the industry to kind of lock tens of millions of eyes on how it wants to represent itself, which is one reason that a lot of people who win Grammys tend to serve as sort of almost ambassadors for their genre.

SIMON: And, Linda, when it comes to award ceremonies, where do the Grammy stack up, as opposed to the Oscars, or for that matter, the Emmys, the Tonys?

HOLMES: The biggest difference that you'll see as an award show is how few awards they give out. The Grammys run for three and a half hours and they give out nine of their 81 awards during that telecast. The Oscars and the Golden Globes, for example, are each three hours long and they give out more like 25, 26 awards. So, the Grammys you get, as Stephen was saying, a performance showcase that is draped around a very small number of awards. So, most of what you're getting is other content and then every now and then someone wanders up and gives someone an award.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And the Grammy goes to - no surprise, "Rolling in the Deep," Adele.

HOLMES: In terms of their prominence, they are kind of the classic music award, as opposed to something like the Video Music Awards on MTV, which tend to be a little nuttier and tend to be where the scandals happen. The Grammys are sort of the more staid award show for music.

SIMON: Stephen, there's a category for Record of the Year and then there's one for Best Song of the Year.

THOMPSON: You'd like to know what the difference is.

SIMON: Well, I was too embarrassed to ask you in public, but since you phrased the question yourself.

THOMPSON: You've got Record of the Year and Song of the Year. And both categories are giving an award to a song. Record basically is for achievement in the entire package. So, it's production, it's lyrics, it's the whole enchilada. Song of the Year is supposed to be a sort of more of a songwriting award. Interestingly, in recent years, more and more they seem to be giving them out backwards. For example, Carly Rae Jepsen, whose song we heard at the top of the segment, "Call Me Maybe" - is that a towering achievement in songwriting or is it a towering achievement in the whole enchilada, those little tin, tin, ta - all these beautiful things that make that song impossible to avoid are all largely feats of song assembly. That should be a Record of the Year but it's nominated as Song of the Year as if we're hanging on her every word.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL ME MAYBE")

JEPSEN: (Singing) Your stare was holding, ripped jeans, skin was showing, hot night, wind was blowing, where you think you're going, baby?

SIMON: We can't talk to you about an award ceremony without asking for predictions. So, Stephen - put you on the spot a bit - who do you like for best record?

THOMPSON: Record of the Year, I think, is actually the trickiest one to predict. I've been on record for weeks and weeks now saying I think this is going to be a very Frank Ocean-intensive ceremony. But I am going to go out on a limb and I'm going to say that while I think Frank Ocean wins a ton of awards, I think Record of the Year is going to go to "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER")

SWIFT: (Singing) You're so soft and your friends talked and my friend talked with me. But we are never, ever, ever, ever getting back together. Like ever.

SIMON: What do you look for, Linda?

HOLMES: One of my favorite albums of last year is the Avett Brothers' "The Carpenter," which is up for Americana album, which seems just right to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE CARPENTER")

THE AVETT BROTHERS: (Singing) Once I was a carpenter and, man, my hands were calloused. I could swing a metal mallet sure and straight...

SIMON: Stephen Thompson from NPR Music. NPR's culture critic Linda Holmes. They will be live-blogging about the Grammys on our website tomorrow night. Get to work. Thanks very much.

HOLMES: Thank you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

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