Black Eyes Peas and Lady Gaga lead the Grammy charge -- Music's megastars get ready to face off, and we analyze the field

With the Grammy race officially under way (nominations were announced Dec. 2), we pick the biggest — and most surprising — musical cage matches shaping up for the Jan. 31 awards ceremony.

· The Hitmakers
The Black Eyes Peas vs. Beyoncé
Quick, name a TV event where the Peas didn’t play this year. Can’t do it, can you? So you might expect the group to have received the most Grammy nods — but that honor goes to Queen B, with a total of 10, compared with the Peas’ 6. Now they’ll face off in a pair of big-ticket contests: Record and Album of the Year. Our money’s on the Peas taking the first (”I Gotta Feeling” was way more ubiquitous than ”Halo”), while the second is a toss-up. Still, the Peas are just happy to be nominated. ”Grammys are really hard to win,” says Fergie. ”If I get to take home one that night, I will be floored.”

· The Pop Stars
Lady Gaga vs. Taylor Swift
The envelope-pushing diva and the Nashville sweetheart-turned-pop phenom join the hit-makers in the fight for Record and Album of the Year, where they seem about equally matched (though Swift has a slight edge in Album). They’ll also battle it out for Song of the Year. ”I get nerves at awards shows big-time,” Swift confides. ”It’s such a nerve-racking situation, being nominated for things and performing.” Would it help you relax if we said ”You Belong With Me” feels close to a sure thing to take home the Song trophy, Taylor?

· The Two-Timer
Colbie Caillat vs. Colbie Caillat
She’s up in Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals for guesting on Jason Mraz’s ”Lucky”…and again in the same category for her work on Taylor Swift’s ”Breathe.” So who’s she rooting for? ”I don’t know who I want to win,” admits Caillat, ”because I love both songs.” Still, she thinks ”Lucky” has a better shot since it got more radio exposure. We’re inclined to agree.

· The Left-Field Choices
MGMT vs. Hall & Oates
MGMT’s ”Kids” and a live version of Hall & Oates’ ”Sara Smile” are the surprise standouts in a field of more predictable contenders for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals. In all likelihood, neither will win, but the psychedelic jesters of MGMT have nothing but love for their competition. ”It’s pretty awesome to be in the same category as Hall & Oates,” says singer Andrew VanWyngarden. ”’Sara Smile’ is a really great song!”

· The Shutouts
Whitney Houston vs. Kanye West
Call this one the battle of the snubbed. Six-time winner Houston was entirely shut out this year, a stinging put-down for her lackluster comeback effort I Look to You. West fared better with six noms — but his 808s & Heartbreak was noticeably absent from Best Rap Album and Album of the Year. ”That’s a big surprise,” says Common, who did get a Best Rap Album nod for Universal Mind Control. ”808s is an innovative album. I really don’t know why they didn’t nominate it.” We have an idea, and it’s called unfortunate timing: West’s run-in with Swift at the MTV VMAs happened just three days before Grammy’s first-round ballot for nominations went out on Sept. 16.
Additional reporting by Adam Markovitz