The Grammy Awards on Sunday will highlight performers from across the spectrum of both sound and age.
As rock star grandpas refuse to fade away, the Grammy Awards and the pop music the show celebrates are ever less the exclusive province of the young, and increasingly an opportunity to celebrate the all-ages appeal of three generations of rock and roll.
The mainstream music industry’s top annual showcase Sunday is set to be an object lesson on rock’s half-century long transformation from rebel yell to cultural staple.
Performers lined up for the three-hour awards ceremony include AC/DC, who formed in 1973, and Madonna, whose career is its fourth decade, as well as award nominees Common, John Legend, Miranda Lambert, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.
The generation gap is often thrown into high relief by the event’s “Grammy moments”, the sometimes forced May-December duets that are a staple of the night.
This year’s line-up of odd couples includes soul singer Jessie J (26) with 1960s sex symbol Tom Jones (74) as well as Irish singer-songwriter Hozier (24) with 60-year-old Scottish siren Annie Lennox.
Fashion and dance music icon Lady Gaga (28) will perform with 88-year old crooner Tony Bennett – a pairing that wins the prize for the evening’s largest generation gap, even if it isn’t exactly new. The two released a duets album, Cheek to Cheek, in 2014.
Rihanna (26) will debut her new single, FourFiveSeconds, produced with Kanye West (37) and former Beatle Paul McCartney (72).
The Recording Academy’s 57th celebration of the year’s best music will award winners in 83 categories from classical to pop to gospel to children’s songs.
The evening’s biggest prize, album of the year, is contested by a diverse group of musicians in genres from R&B to pop to alt-rock. Even here, the nominees span more than a generation in age, from In the Lonely Hour, the first album from 22-year old Sam Smith, to Morning Phase, the 12th for 44-year-old Beck.
They’re up against Beyoncé (by 33-year-old Beyoncé), x by 23-year-old Ed Sheeran and Girl by Pharrell Williams (41) – who as a producer on x has two chances to win.
Williams won album of the year and record of the year in 2014 for Random Access Memories and its chart-topping single Get Lucky – another intergenerational collaboration with 39-year-old French techno robots Daft Punk, 62-year old guitarist Nile Rodgers and 74-year-old producer Paul Williams.
In this year’s record of the year category, for the industry’s favorite single recording, 39-year-old Australian singer Sia and her song Chandelier face off against a baby-faced new guard of pop: Smith for Stay With Me, Iggy Azalea (24), and Charli XCX (22) for Fancy, Meghan Trainor (21) for All About that Bass and Taylor Swift (25) for Shake it Off.
The song of the year category, which honours songwriters, is almost identical: Trainor, Sia, Swift, Smith and their collaborators compete against Hozier and his Take Me to Church.
While the best new artist category is by definition the province of the next generation, one of them this year isn’t so young: 38-year-old country singer Brandy Clark, a Nashville songwriter for more than 10 years, is up against Azalea, Smith, 20-something Los Angeles sisters Haim and British millennial rockers Bastille.
Perhaps the evening’s greatest testament to the Grammys’ cross-generational powers comes in the competition for best spoken word recording, which honours documentaries, speeches, poetry, story-telling and audiobooks.
At 37, actor and star of The Interview James Franco is the spring chicken of the category. He’s nominated for the audiobook of his 2013 novel Actors Anonymous.
He’s up against a cohort of senior citizens: 1970s disco diva Gloria Gaynor (65), US Senator Elizabeth Warren (65), indie director John Waters (68), US ex-president Jimmy Carter (90) and comedienne Joan Rivers, who died last year at 81.
The Grammys’ oldest-ever winner was Pinetop Perkins, who won the award for best traditional blues album in 2011.
Last year’s double win by then-17-year-old New Zealand singer Lorde made her one of the youngest-ever winners. But the record is held by the Peasall sisters Sarah, Hannah and Leah, who won for their contribution to the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack when they were 13, 9 and 7.