PEOPLE's music critic breaks down the list of contenders

By Chuck Arnold PEOPLE Music Critic
December 07, 2013 12:55 PM
Cindy Ord/Getty; ABACA

Justin Timberlake was the biggest snub and Sara Bareilles was the biggest surprise in the top categories of the nominees for the 56th annual Grammy Awards, which were announced Friday night in conjunction with a concert special televised from Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.

Timberlake was expected to make the cut for album of the year for his hit comeback The 20/20 Experience, and was also a likely contender for both record and song of the year for “Mirrors,” but was shut out of all of those categories.

Perhaps Timberlake’s decision to release a second part of The 20/20 Experience in September backfired on him. With both installments counting as one album, he might have diluted the strength of the first half with the voters.

Meanwhile, Bareilles was the real shocker of the Big Four picks with her album of the year nod for The Blessed Unrest. She will face off against Daft Punk for Random Access Memories, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for The Heist, Taylor Swift for Red and rapper Kendrick Lamar – another somewhat surprising (although much-deserving) finalist – for Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.

Like Timberlake, Bruno Mars is another unexpected album of the year omission for Unorthodox Jukebox, but he did pick up nominations for both record and song of the year for “Locked Out of Heaven.”

Best new artist also produced some surprises with the inclusion of electronic musician James Blake and Ed Sheeran – who was inexplicably nominated after already being up for song of the year at the last Grammys – and the exclusion of Lorde and alt-rock band Imagine Dragons.

It’s especially puzzling about Lorde and Imagine Dragons because they both scored record of the year nominations for “Royals” and “Radioactive,” respectively. They will compete against Mars, Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams for “Get Lucky,” and Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams for “Blurred Lines.”

Jay-Z leads the nominations with nine, although none of them are in the top categories, while Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Williams, and Timberlake each earned seven nods. So even though JT didn’t get any love in the Big Four, there’s a good chance he won’t go home empty-handed when the winners are announced on Jan. 26.

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