A critical look at the high points — and low notes — of this year's list of nominees. Plus, a few early predictions.

The Grammy Awards announced the nominees for its 53rd annual ceremony on Dec. 1. And, as always, there were just enough anomalies to spark speculation and debate until the actual event airs Feb. 13 on CBS.

The Surprises
Katy Perry for Album of the Year? Justin Bieber for Best New Artist? After a long run of gray-ponytail traditionalism, this year’s Grammy nominations seem to have brought the near-total domination of Top 40 over fogy. (That could be a trend: The 2010 awards telecast, featuring a Taylor Swift gold rush and Lady Gaga-led performances, yielded the show’s best ratings since 2004.) Unless his Twitter followers somehow hack the ballot box, though, Bieber probably won’t win Best New Artist; that honor leans heavily toward Drake or Florence + the Machine — even, perhaps, wild card Esperanza Spalding, the 26-year-old jazz singer and bassist (see box). Canadian rock collective Arcade Fire are also long shots in another major category, Album of the Year, but it’s a pleasure to see The Suburbs, a universally acclaimed record on a genuinely independent label, make the leap from the alternative-category margins to the big kids’ table, alongside Gaga, Eminem, and Lady Antebellum — as well as Perry, whose nomination for the manic, incohesive Teenage Dream stands as one of the academy’s more confounding choices.

The Snubs
Lady Gaga, the pop gale force powerful enough to instigate a change in the Grammy bylaws when she was deemed ineligible for last year’s Best New Artist category, is oddly absent from both Song and Record of the Year slots (the former honors songwriting, the latter rewards performance and production) for her smash ”Bad Romance,” which landed only Female Pop Vocal Performance and Short Form Music Video noms. Meanwhile, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty — the uniformly excellent solo outing from hip-hop icon Big Boi, a 2004 Album of the Year winner with OutKast — was relegated to one paltry nod in a Rap Performance category, and Sade‘s hypnotic comeback Soldier of Love was also denied any full-album honors.

Who will rule the night?
Oh, what a difference a decade makes. ”You think I give a damn about a Grammy?/Half of you critics can’t even stomach me, let alone stand me,” Eminem spat on 2000’s ”The Real Slim Shady.” Now the rapper leads this year’s race with 10 nominations, including Record and Album of the Year. And though the multiplatinum Recovery is not nearly the 38-year-old’s best work, expect him to leave the building with both hands full. As for Bruno Mars: His well-deserved seven noms — in categories ranging from Record (for a featured guest spot on B.o.B’s ”Nothin’ on You”) and Song (he co-wrote Cee Lo Green‘s ”F — – You”) to Producer of the Year (with studio triad the Smeezingtons) — don’t all come with topline billing, but he may very well end up as the stealth MVP of the industry’s starriest night.

Who’s that girl?
No one expected Esperanza Spalding (2010’s Chamber Music Society) to nab a Best New Artist nod…not even her. ”I started getting texts in the middle of the night,” she recalls. Next up: a new album, tour dates with mentor Prince, and prepping for the awards show. ”I guess I have to find a dress!”