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Grammys 2014's Strangest Nominations: Did Kurt Cobain Score a Rap Nod?

How Jay Z's six-hour art gallery performance is up for a trophy and more bizarre factoids

Jay Z performs in London, England.
Neil Lupin/Redferns via Getty Images
December 9, 2013 12:30 PM ET

Every year, the Grammy voters manage to stun us with their surprise nominees and snubs. And we're not even talking about Sara Bareilles beating out Kanye West for an Album of the Year nom. A deeper look into the Grammy nominations — specifically in the categories that won't be televised on Music's Biggest Night — always reveals an unlikely mix of nominees that has us either rejoicing or scratching our heads, and the 56th annual Grammy Awards are no exception. From Nirvana getting a nod in the Best Rap Song category to recognition for Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin to tips of the caps to Primus and Brian Eno, these are our biggest surprises from Grammy nomination night.

Our picks for 2013's 100 best songs

As we mentioned in Sunday night's Grammy wrap, Kurt Cobain is sort of nominated in the Best Rap Song category. Because nominee Jay Z's "Holy Grail" borrows some lyrics from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic are listed among the track's songwriters. That doesn't mean Nirvana would get a Best Rap Song Grammy if Jigga's track wins, but it's still a strange sight: Cobain's name in a category alongside Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and Drake.

Here's a Grammy scenario you likely never envisioned: Metallica, Jay Z, and David Bowie fighting it out for the same trophy. It's a battle only the Best Recording Package can produce, and it's where Jay's Magna Carta... Holy Grail, Metallica's Through the Never, and David Bowie's The Next Day are all competing. And while Paul McCartney ("Cut Me Some Slack") and the Rolling Stones ("Doom And Gloom") duke it out in the Best Rock Song category, they'll also meet each other in the Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package category as Wings Over America challenges the Stones' The Brussels Affair.

Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" (Best Pop Duo Performance) and "Mirrors" (Pop Solo Performance) were both nominated from JT's The 20/20 Experience — The Complete Experience, even though were both initially released on the first 20/20 Experience back in March. Which makes you wonder: Did the decision to let Grammys voters include on the Complete Experience — with its acclaimed original LP but its maligned September arrival 2 of 2 — perhaps cost Timberlake an Album of the Year nod? Because the initial installment of 20/20 seemed like a Grammy lock.

If you perform the same song over and over again for hours what do you get? Well, if you're Jay Z, a Grammy nomination: The superstar's six-hour performance at the Pace Gallery — directed by Mark Romanek, edited down to a succinct ten minutes, and transformed into the HBO special Picasso Baby — scored a nod in the Best Music Video category. Jay Z also appeared in Justin Timberlake's David Fincher-directed "Suit & Tie" video, which was also nominated, thus pitting two of the greatest music video directors of the 1990s — Fincher and Romanek — against one another. Either way, Jay Z is winning.

Wilco didn't release anything during this year's Grammy eligibility window but voters managed to find a way to honor Jeff Tweedy: a Producer of the Year nomination. The Wilco frontman was recognized for his work on Mavis Staples' One True Vine, Low's The Invisible Way and Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion's Wassaic Way. Tweedy's an underdog, however, in a category packed with industry heavyweights like Rob Cavallo, Pharrell Williams, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Dr. Luke.

The 50 Best Albums of 2013

Led Zeppelin is nominated twice, for Best Rock Performance ("Kashmir") and Best Rock Album (Celebration Day), even though the legendary act technically disbanded in 1980 and haven't performed together since their one-off concert in December 2007 (which Celebration Day documents). Even stranger is a nomination for Bob Marley, who died in 1981. In the Best Remixed Recording, Photek's work on "One Love/People Get Ready" for Marley's recent greatest hits comp Legend Remixed help score the reggae icon a nomination.

Conspiracy theory time! The 56th Grammy eligibility period was from October 1st, 2012 to September 30th, 2013. Yet, Coldplay's "Atlas" was nominated in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category, even though the soundtrack on which the song is featured, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, wasn't released until November 19th, a good month and a half after eligibility closed. Is a conspiracy afoot? Settle down: Because "Atlas" was released as a single in early September, it managed to sneak in under the deadline.

Going back to reggae, Snoop Dogg's rastafied reincarnation as Snoop Lion garnered a nomination in the Best Reggae Album category with Reincarnated. Snoop is up against the likes of Sizzla, Sly & Robbie, and Ziggy Marley. The Doggfather is a Grammy Susan Lucci: He's been nominated 13 times since 1994 and never won. Maybe Snoop Lion will have better luck. 

Producer extraordinaire and Ambient music godhead Brian Eno has frequently been recognized by the Grammy voters for his work in the studio with other artists, namely U2 and Coldplay. But Eno was never won a Grammy for his own extensive and brilliant recordings. That could change this year as Eno's Lux has been nominated for Best New Age Album at this year's ceremony. Sticklers may protest that Eno's music is Ambient — the genre he helped pioneer — and not "New Age," but no matter the classification, it's just nice to see the man recognized for his own music.

The degree to which you love angular alt-funk-metal will affect the degree to which you see this as an oversight, but Primus had never been nominated for an award until last night. A reissue of the band's 1991 classic Sailing the Seas of Cheese was nominated for Best Surround Sound Album. Finally, "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" might get the Grammy recognition it has long deserved! Unless, that is, Paul McCartney wins in the same category for Live Kisses

Despite killing a beloved cartoon dog on national television, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane notched a Grammy nom in the Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist category. Anyone who has followed MacFarlane's careers knows he loves all things Big Band and Sinatra, so it's no surprise to see his love of this music rewarded with a Grammy nod, especially considering that he frequently broadcasts this near-extinct genre to the millennial masses.

Tune in to the Grammy Telecast on January 26th to see how this all shakes out!

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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