It was a night that also saw the academy honor one of the year's most profane but infectious hits: Cee Lo's "(Expletive) You," so foul it had to be changed for radio to "Forget You," was nominated for both record and song of the year.
"It wasn't meant to be a radio song," said Cee Lo after the nominations. "It was meant to be something with flair and first impression and it really took on a life of its own, and I had no idea it would become what it is today."
That song was co-written by Bruno Mars and helped him garner seven nominations, the second-highest tally. Other top nominees included Lady Antebellum, Jay-Z and Lady Gaga, who were all nominated for six each. Gaga also was nominated for album of the year - the second straight nomination in the category for her.
The nominations were announced as part of an hourlong CBS special from Club Nokia in Los Angeles that featured performances by nominees such as Mars, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Train and Miranda Lambert.
"It's just been a great year, incredible, incredible year, and I can't believe this is happening to me," said Mars, who was also nominated for best male pop vocal for his own hit, "Just the Way You Are."
"We've worked so hard trying to make a living doing music and the fact that we're here right now is incredible, incredible."
For Eminem, "Recovery" was a critical and commercial triumph. It became the best-selling album of the year so far, with more than three million copies sold, and spawned top hits like "Love the Way You Lie" featuring Rihanna, which was nominated for song and record of the year.
But it was also a mark of personal redemption for Eminem, and came almost 10 years after he was first nominated for album of the year for "The Marshall Mathers LP." Since then, Eminem has become one of the top-selling artists in the world, but also struggled through prescription drug addiction that led to lags between albums and sub par material. With "Recovery," his status as the best rapper - and pop's top artist - was restored.
Country trio Lady Antebellum couldn't be more opposite than Eminem, but their album "Need You Now" was the second-best selling album of the year, doing almost as well as "Recovery," with almost 3 million albums sold and fueled by the lovelorn title track - a huge crossover hit for the band. Grammy voters rewarded that success, nominating them for album of the year and also record and song of the year for the hit.
Only last year, they were celebrating their first Grammy win.
"It's been a wild and crazy year; it definitely feels like Christmas came early for us," said Lady A's Dave Haywood in a telephone interview after the awards were announced. He wasn't watching with his bandmates, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott, but they watched the special and texted each other with amazement.
"It's just kind of complete shock that we'd be recognized, especially to be recognized in some of these all-genre categories," Haywood said. "It's pretty bizarre for a couple of rednecks from Tennessee and Georgia."
Other nominees for record of the year included the rap hit "Nothin' On You" by newcomer B.o.B and featuring Mars, and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' anthem for New York, "Empire State of Mind." Rounding out the nominations for song of the year were Ray LaMontagne's "Beg Steal Or Borrow" and Lambert's hit "The House that Built Me," written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin.
Perry's "California Gurls" was one of the year's top hits but was shut out of the record and song of the year categories. Yet Perry, who performed the hit on the live nominations broadcast, was far from disappointed: Her album "Teenage Dream" was nominated for album of the year, along with Gaga's "The Fame Monster," "Recovery," "Need You Now" and Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs."
"It's amazing. It's like no other award show because I feel like you're being recognized by your peers," she said. "And there's so many fantastic performers and artists that could be in this category, so when they nominate you, it feels like a win."
Bieber appeared on the show from wee-hours London and the 16-year-old was rewarded for staying up: he was nominated for best new artist in a category that also included Drake, Florence & the Machine, Mumford & Sons and jazz artist Esperanza Spaulding. "It feels amazing. I can't believe I'm in this position. Thank you to the fans," he said. "I don't know what to say."
The evening's biggest snub may have belonged to Ke$ha. Even though the party girl singer had a top-selling debut and several hit songs, she was not nominated for any awards.
Entertainment writer Sandy Cohen contributed to this report.