By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Winning a Grammy Award may be the goal on Sunday, but getting a chance to perform at the annual awards show in front of tens of millions of TV viewers worldwide could be the biggest career maker of the night for up-and-coming singers and musicians.
The Grammys, rated in a recent industry poll by Billboard magazine as the second-best promotional opportunity for an artist or group behind performing at football's Super Bowl halftime show, will offer that chance to several young singers like country music's Kacey Musgraves, Hunter Hayes and New Zealand teen pop wunderkind Lorde.
"It is a humongous opportunity," said the 22-year-old Hayes, who is nominated for best country solo performance this year after earning three nods as a newcomer in 2013.
"It's a huge introduction and endorsement, not only to get to perform in front of these pioneers and musical masterminds but to get the endorsement from the Academy in that way," added Hayes, referring to Grammy organizer, the Recording Academy, which tapped him to perform last year too.
This year's top performances include pop stars Beyonce, Katy Perry, promising rappers Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, as well as former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
Grammys can be notoriously difficult to predict and this year seems to be particularly vexing because there is no predominant genre or theme. The nominees for the top award, album of the year, represent five different sounds, from country pop's Taylor Swift to French DJ duo Daft Punk.
"I'd have to say it is a bit of an odd year in music and not necessarily in a bad way," said producer Jeff Bhasker, nominated for three top awards this year including song of the year for "Just Give Me a Reason," by Pink and Nate Ruess.
He sees a "reshuffling of the deck as far as what listeners are hungry for," noting that popular music is becoming more intimate and slowing down from the up-tempo dance music of years past.
In the end, the awards could easily be eclipsed by performances and the kind of spontaneity that tends to make the Grammys one of the most surprise-filled nights in show business.
"The thing to remember with the Grammys is that it's not necessarily about who's going to be the biggest winner of the night," said Keith Caulfield, the associate director of charts at Billboard.
"It's going to be about those moments on TV that you won't see anywhere else that will resonate with the public and move them to go stream or buy a song or an album," he said.
TWERK AND SOY BOMB
Caulfield tabbed Musgraves as a candidate to benefit greatly from the exposure. The critically acclaimed 25-year-old country singer-songwriter has yet to break out commercially.
"That could change because suddenly people who don't know who she is will be seeing her perform, and it's on the music awards show that has the highest ratings of all music awards shows during the year," he said.
Another example is Canadian pop singer Robin Thicke, whose performance of his Grammy-nominated song "Blurred Lines" with pop singer Miley Cyrus "twerking" (a sexually explicit dance) at MTV's Video Music Awards (VMA) in August overshadowed the ceremony and dominated television chatter the following week.
A performance or provocative stunt that generates water-cooler buzz is also likely to live on longer in public memory than whoever takes home top awards for best record, best album and song of the year, said Lyndsey Parker, managing editor for Yahoo Music.
"It seems like with any musical award show now, no one seems to pay that much attention, especially in the long term, to who won anything," Parker said.
She noted how the 1998 Grammys are best remembered not for Bob Dylan winning the album of the year award but for when artist Michael Portnoy, who was hired as a background dancer, tore off his shirt and started his own impromptu dance behind Dylan with the words "soy bomb" drawn on his torso.
Since Portnoy's stunt, the "soy bomb" moment and the phrase has been widely referenced and parodied, including by comedian Will Ferrell on "Saturday Night Live."
"When you talk about big Grammy moments and big VMA moments, you're always talking about great performances, surprise performances or train wrecks, crazy performances," Parker said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken; Editing by David Gregorio)