LOS ANGELES – The Grammy Awards still have the ability to surprise. The Recording Academy announced last week that Justin Timberlake would perform on the Feb. 10 telecast, his first musical appearance in support of his first new solo material in more than 6 years.
Timberlake, a six-time Grammy winner and two-time nominee for album of the year, will release “The 20/ 20 Experience” on March 19. Still a mystery – for now, at least – is whether Timberlake will use the Grammys to unveil a new song or perform his recently released “Suit & Tie,” his retro-minded soul single that features an assist from Jay-Z. “Suit & Tie” has reached the top 5 on the U.S. pop charts and has thus far sold 315,000 downloads in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The Grammy Awards will air live on CBS, except on the West Coast, where they will begin at 8 p.m.
Timberlake, in his relatively short career, has a long history with the Grammys. In 2009, he was asked to host the telecast (he declined), but he did perform that year with Al Green. The two staged a last-minute take of Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” a performance added after Chris Brown’s assault on Rihanna forced the two off the Grammy broadcast. The two were scheduled to perform separately on the telecast, leaving the Grammys with a performance hole. Brown is serving five years of probation after pleading guilty to assaulting her the night before the 2009 awards.
The Timberlake performance is a big coup for the Recording Academy.
There’s no shortage of star power slated to perform at this year’s show, with Taylor Swift, Jack White, Rihanna, Carrie Underwood and the Black Keys among those on the roster. But an appearance by Timberlake is tantamount to an awards show event, since he hasn’t recently appeared elsewhere on television.
Late last month, the Grammys also teased some of the unexpected artist mash-ups the broadcast is famous for. Elton John, whose performance with Eminem in 2001 remains a celebrated pairing, will collaborate with young British pop singer Ed Sheeran. The latter is up for song of the year with his “The A Team,” a single that has sold more than 1.4 million downloads in the U.S., according to Nielsen.
A star overseas, Sheeran is a fast-rising up-and-comer in America. He’ll be spending 2013 on the road with Swift, and his album, given the wordless title of “+.” has sold more than 378,000 copies in the U.S. Sheeran posted on Twitter that his duet with John will be “one of my songs,” meaning no doubt that he will be performing his Grammy-nominated hit.
Also performing together at Staples Center will be country stars Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert. The two are on a joint-headlining tour. Lambert’s “Four the Record” is up for country album, and with Underwood and Swift also performing on the telecast, the Grammys will have a heavy country feel this year.
The 2012 Grammy telecast drew 40 million people – its second-biggest audience behind the 1984 telecast that saw Michael Jackson sweep the awards. Interest last year was buoyed by preshow drama that can’t be replicated, as viewers tuned in to see how artists would respond to the sudden death of Whitney Houston a day earlier as well as to witness Adele’s return to the stage after vocal surgery.