LOS ANGELES -- The music world will hit the red carpet on Sunday for the Grammys, with a wider selection of nominees -- led by hip-hop royalty and a bevy of talented women -- up for the top prizes.
The televised bash in Los Angeles, which kicks off at 5 p.m., is not without controversy, as the Recording Academy grapples with how to embrace diversity in its ranks.
For the second consecutive year, black hip-hop artists are leading the pack -- but observers are still wondering if nominations success can translate into wins.
Rapper Kendrick Lamar -- who won a Pulitzer Prize for his album "DAMN." but has yet to snare a Grammy for Album of the Year -- earned eight nods while Canadian rapper Drake snagged seven.
Women artists scored nominations in all of the top categories, after being largely muted a year ago: rapper Cardi B, pop diva Lady Gaga, pop futurist Janelle Monae and folk rocker Brandi Carlile are among the frontrunners.
In the Best New Artist category, six of the eight nominees are women.
'Representation is everything'
But industry drama was threatening the gala before it even began, with a number of superstars declining to take part in the show's glitzy concert portion.
Pop mega-star Ariana Grande -- who dropped her highly anticipated album "Thank U, Next" just before the Grammys -- slammed producer Ken Ehrlich over her decision not to perform, suggesting he was "lying" about her readiness.
Drake, Lamar and Childish Gambino -- the rap alter-ego of actor Donald Glover -- have also all turned down performance offers, and it was not clear if they would even attend.
Top nominees Gaga, Monae, Cardi B, Carlile and country star Kacey Musgraves are all due to take the stage at the Staples Center.
"Representation is everything," Carlile told AFP at a pre-Grammy gala honoring country legend Dolly Parton. "If there's a little girl waiting up late to see me sing on the Grammys, then I'm happy I'm here."
Praise for women 'overdue'
Women are hoping to get their due after the head of the Recording Academy -- which includes more than 13,000 music professionals -- told them last year to "step up" if they wanted to do better on Grammys night.
The brazen comment drew outrage and prompted the executive, Neil Portnow, to say he would resign when his contract expires this summer.
This year, five of the eight Album of the Year nominations went to female artists: Cardi B, Carlile, Monae, R&B prodigy H.E.R. and Musgraves.
Lady Gaga scooped up five nominations including for both Record and Song of the Year for her heart-pounding hit "Shallow," which she performed in the film "A Star Is Born" with co-star Bradley Cooper.
Songstress Alicia Keys, a 15-time Grammy winner, is set to host Sunday's ceremony -- the first woman to do so in 14 years. She vowed this year's performances would be the "sickest" yet.
In addition to performances by of-the-moment stars like Gaga and Cardi B, icons like Parton and disco diva Diana Ross will take the stage.
A performance honoring the legacy of the late "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin is also expected.
Keys told CBS news this year's greater representation from women was "far overdue."
She hailed the importance "particularly for women to have our seat at the table, to represent the fact that we are so here and so incredible and we are the creators of our music."
"There's a great respect that is deserved to women and you will see that live embodied on Sunday."
"I'M READY," Keys tweeted ahead of the gala.
© Agence France-Presse