U2, India.Arie Lead Grammy Pack

Acoustic Soul songstress surprises with seven; U2 top with 8.

BEVERLY HILLS, California — U2 stand to take home the most golden gramophones at the 44th annual Grammy Awards ceremony in February, though India.Arie just might steal their spotlight.

The neo-soul songstress and her debut album, Acoustic Soul, were the buzz of Friday’s (January 4) nomination ceremony after garnering an unexpected seven nominations, including the “big four”: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best New Artist.

“I’m in shock right now,” Arie said. “I think [my excitement] is going to grow. By this evening, I will be jumping and shouting. Musicians listen to other music real close, and to have your peers say that they love your stuff, that right there is a good, good, good, good, good thing.”

Arie, who danced with Furtado near the podium as their names were repeatedly announced, also scored nods for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (“Video”), Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song.

In between posing for dozens of paparazzi who were shouting, “India! India!,” the singer equated Grammys with artistic freedom. “[Winning] will give me more freedom in how I choose to move in my career, and that means a lot to me, because there are a lot of things I want to do that would not sell albums if I didn’t have a Grammy,” she said.

U2 are a step ahead of Arie with eight nods and will compete against her in three of the big four, save, of course, Best New Artist. The group also received nominations for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal (“Elevation”), Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal (“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”), Best Rock Album (All That You Can’t Leave Behind) and two in the Best Rock Song category (“Elevation,” “Walk On”). The Irish rockers have won 10 Grammys in their career, including two last year for “Beautiful Day,” which unlike All That You Can’t Leave Behind, was released before the cut-off qualifying date last fall (see “U2, Steely Dan Enjoy Post-Grammy Surge; WWF LP Debuts Big” ).

Newcomer Alicia Keys, who was expected to be a Grammy favorite after impressive album sales and critical acclaim, follows with six nominations, including Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year (“Fallin’ “).

Outkast and Brian McKnight each have five nominations, followed by Train and Nelly Furtado with four apiece. The latter is up for Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album (Whoa, Nelly!) Song of the Year (“I’m Like a Bird”) and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (“I’m Like a Bird”).

“The nominations mean a lot to me,” said Furtado, whose glowing face was as bright as her hot pink top. “From the beginning, when my album came out, I always said it came down to the music for me. I’ve been making music, playing instruments and writing songs since I was a little girl. I feel at home at a Grammy ceremony. It’s all about the music. You can just be a nerdy musician.”

Whoa, Nelly! producers Gerald Eaton and Brian West will take on last year’s winner, Dr. Dre, and others in the Producer of the Year, Non-Classical category. Veteran production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are named in the category for the seventh time.

“It speaks to longevity,” Jimmy Jam said. “It’s 20 years of production business for Terry and I and 30 years of being friends. [Those were] a couple of milestones we were looking forward to celebrating, and now with the nomination we have another. But it’s really about the artists. When you work with Janet [Jackson], Mariah [Carey], Mary J. Blige, Sting, Yolanda Adams, you know you’re going to get some good records. You just don’t want to blow it. We were fortunate enough to win it the first time, so the pressure’s off.”

Train’s four nominations are all for their unavoidable hit, “Drops of Jupiter.” The San Francisco roots rockers are competing for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, though singer Pat Monahan said he was just happy to get a single nod.

“The [Recording] Academy has honored such great people in the past, it means a lot,” Monahan said. “I hope these people will listen to the rest of the album, which has some great songs.”

Several artists earned three nominations, including Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Coldplay, Missy Elliott, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Ja Rule, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake (two with ‘NSYNC, one for his collaboration with McKnight on “My Kind of Girl”). Aerosmith have won four Grammys in the past — all in the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal category. The rock veterans are nominated in that category again this year for “Jaded.” Dylan has won five Grammys, including Album of the Year in 1997 for Time Out of Mind.

Love and Theft, Dylan’s follow-up to Time Out of Mind, will vie for the prestigious Album of the Year title this year with U2, Arie, Outkast’s Stankonia and the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”. Competing for Record of the Year, which honors song performers, are Arie, Keys, U2, Train and Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson.” Arie, Keys, Train and U2 are competing for Song of the Year, which honors songwriters, along with Furtado.

Furtado, David Gray and Linkin Park hope their beginners’ luck will outshine that of Keys and Arie in the Best New Artist category, following in the footsteps of last year’s surprise winner, singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne, who beat out Jill Scott, Papa Roach and Sisqó.

The announcement of the Grammy nominations traditionally causes a few utterances of “Huh?,” and this year’s list is no exception. The Best Male Pop Vocal Performance category rounds up the bizarre quintet of Michael Jackson, Elton John, Brian McKnight, James Taylor and Craig David. French electronica duo Daft Punk will compete against Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan in the Best Dance Recording category (“Who Let the Dogs Out?” won last year). And pop singer Sheryl Crow is nominated for Best Female Country Vocal Performance (for a cover of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” she recorded for a Hank Williams tribute album).

Two Against Nature, by avant-funk duo Steely Dan, walked away with the Album of the Year award last year, stealing a bit of attention from controversial rapper Eminem, who performed with Elton John at the ceremony (see “Eminem, Dre And, Uh, Steely Dan Dominate Grammys” ).

Friday’s press conference was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, with the nominations announced by Destiny’s Child, producer/songwriter David Foster, Jimmy Jam, Stevie Nicks, Furtado, Arie, Ja Rule, country singer Jamie O’Neal, film/TV director Carl Reiner, Monahan and Usher. In all, nominations for 101 categories were revealed.

In December, jazz artist Count Basie, easy listening crooner Perry Como, vocalist Rosemary Clooney, soul singer Al Green and folkie Joni Mitchell were named this year’s recipients of the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Awards, and Tom Dowd and Alan Freed will receive Trustees Awards.

The Lifetime Achievement Award honors lifelong artistic contributions to the recording medium, while the Trustees Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the industry in a non-performing capacity.

The 44th annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast on CBS live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on February 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

(MTV’s parent company, Viacom, also owns CBS.)

For more Grammy news, check out the MTV News Grammy Archive .