Last night was a big one for fun. The New York indie poppers nabbed nods in six categories at the Grammy nominations concert in Nashville, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist. “We want them all,” singer Nate Ruess joked in a press conference backstage.
With the exception of neo-soul sensation Frank Ocean – who also scored six nominations – each Best New Artist hopeful showed up to celebrate their nomination. And each was shocked, honored and humbled at the accolade.
“I had to cancel my Facebook because so many people were talking about it,” the Lumineers cellist Neyla Pekarek said. “We made an album without thinking anything about this,” she told Rolling Stone. “We’re just super happy to be here.”
Despite fun.’s seemingly inevitable anointment, and despite the fact that the band was one of six artists performing at the event, guitarist Jack Antonoff told Rolling Stone that he and his bandmates weren’t thinking about whether they would be nominated.
“People have said a lot of stuff to us this year about a lot of crazy things – some of them have happened, some of them haven’t,” Antonoff said. “We just put all the stock into the show; that’s the only thing we’ve ever been able to count on as a band, is getting up there and playing for people and having control over what we do, so these things that we have no control over, we try not to think about them, and if they do happen, like tonight, it feels that much better because we didn’t plan in any way.”
Taking that control onstage, the band opted to strip things down on their breakout hit “We Are Young,” turning in an acoustic, baroque-pop rendition of the song that featured a string sextet, trombones and an appearance from singer Janelle Monáe, who guests on the original track. It was easily the most rousing moment of the show, which was broadcast live from Music City’s Bridgestone Arena and co-hosted by LL Cool J and Taylor Swift.
The performance was a feat for Ruess, who said he’d had more vocal problems in the last week than ever in his career. “All I wanted was to just get up tonight for this and be able to give it and fortunately my voice worked,” he said, “I think that it’s a culmination of the hard work the three of us have put, not only in this band, but in other bands before that.”
Perhaps a new pre-show ritual also helped get the singer out of his bind.
“We did a prayer before the show, which is weird because we’re not really religious,” he explained. “Janelle pulled us aside and we all kind of sat together. It was on one hand, like, so not us, and I think, on the other hand it just shows how inspiring and positive that she is.”
He joked, “We’re gonna start doing the prayer service that we did with Janelle before other things,” to which Antonoff replied, “Which is awkward for me as a Jew.”
Like Ruess, Lumineers frontman Wesley Shultz noted how long it’s taken for his band to break as a “new” artist. “We’ve been working on music for seven or eight years now, so, you say it’s new, I’ve been workin’ on it,” he said.
Alabama Shakes, on the other, played their first-ever road gig less than two years ago. The newest of Best New Artist nominees, Shakes drummer Steve Johnson giddily chuckled while soft-spoken singer Brittany Howard appeared almost in a daze. “I’m just happy [that] my Nanna’s happy,” she said. “If I was on the other side of the fence I’d vote for Frank Ocean, personally,” Johnson added.
So would R&B star Ne-Yo, who also gave Ocean a shout-out.
“[I] love what Frank is doing with R&B right now,” Ne-Yo said. “Frank is the kind of guy that’s gonna do what he likes, do what he wants to do and you’re either gonna like it or you’re gonna not. Well, Frank, they like it. Six nominations? I think they like it, so congratulations.”
Rivaling Alabama Shakes for newness, fresh-faced pop-country crooner Hunter Hayes, 21, garnered three nominations, including one for Best New Artist. “To wave the country flag in that category means a lot to me,” he said.
And though country star Dierks Bentley is no Grammy greenhorn (he racked up his 12th career nomination with his hit “Home,” which is in the running for Best Country Solo Performance), he says it’s still thrilling to get a nomination. “It doesn’t wear off,” he said. “It’s just always nice to be invited to the party.”
To open the show, Bentley joined the Band Perry in a tribute to Johnny Cash with a cover of “Jackson.” “That was the biggest part of my night, for sure, was singing that song on the stage,” he said, “and the nomination is just something I’ll process tomorrow.”
Other performances included Ne-Yo, Luke Bryan and Maroon 5 – who played a mid-show medley of their hits “One More Night,” “Moves Like Jagger” and the recent single “Daylight” and later closed the show performing their hit “Payphone.”
And, rather inexplicably, what was billed as an appearance by the Who was actually just a shamefully incomplete recorded clip of the band playing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” three nights earlier at the same Nashville arena. Either the band is on deck to win a Grammy lifetime achievement award or that was a de facto commercial for their current Quadrophenia and More Tour.