When it comes to the
Grammys shaking their notorious conservatism and breaking free of their
tendency to honor commercial success rather than the stated "musical
excellence and innovation," it is often two steps forward and one step back.
In 2004, the sometimes
staid voters of the Recording Academy surprised many music lovers and
veteran Grammy handicappers by honoring Chicago producer and rapper Kanye
West with a nearly unprecedented 10 nominations for his debut album, "The
Alas, when the awards
were handed out, West claimed only three of those golden gramophones, and he
lost the major prizes for best new artist and song, and album of the year.
Two steps forward, one back.
Among the 2005
contenders, West and John Legend, the R&B singer he produced, are two of the
top three multiple nominees, with eight Grammy nods each. But industry
insiders say the Recording Academy seems poised to ignore the Crazy 8s and
give many of its top honors to longtime Grammy favorite Mariah Carey for her
much ballyhooed comeback album.
and riddled with cliches, it's difficult to hear the musical excellence and
innovation in "The Emancipation of Mimi" -- I gave it 1-1/2 stars upon its
release last April -- but for reasons beyond my comprehension, it has sold
phenomenally well, standing at more than 5 million copies in the United
It would be nothing
short of a travesty for the Grammys to heap honors on Carey's disc while
ignoring West's "Late Registration," an even more inventive and challenging
effort than his debut. But as I point out every year around this time, the
Grammys have given us plenty of travesties since the awards were established
in 1957 by the music industry's old guard as a reaction to that horrible new
scourge of rock 'n' roll.
Examples? How about the
academy dumping Grammys on the likes of Perry Como and Doris Day through the
late '50s while shutting out those rock hooligans Chuck Berry, Little
Richard and Buddy Holly, or ignoring Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones when
they were at the height of the talents in the '60s, or taking nearly a
decade to recognize the importance of hip-hop?
For these reasons,
Grammy-bashing is a tried and true pursuit for hard-core music fans. But for
all their flaws, the awards remain the most credible in popular music. So
every year, we hope that the more than 10,000 musicians, educators and
music-industry professionals who comprise the voting members of the
Recording Academy will remember the organization's ideals, and maybe get
Predicting the final
decision of this large and diverse group is famously difficult, and probably
a fool's errand. But I've never let that stop me before. Here, then, is my
annual look at some of the key categories for the 48th annual Grammy Awards,
which will be presented Wednesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
the year (awarded to the performer and producer of a single track)
Mariah Carey, "We Belong Together"; Gorillaz featuring De La Soul, "Feel
Good Inc."; Green Day, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"; Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback
Girl"; Kanye West, "Gold Digger."
Carey, for commercial rather than artistic accomplishments, for the reasons
Most worthy: In
terms of its sheer creativity, the playfulness of its lyrics and its
irresistible hooks, West had the record of the year.
LCD Soundsystem, "Daft Punk Is Playing in My House."
Mariah Carey, "The Emancipation of Mimi"; Paul McCartney, "Chaos and
Creation in the Backyard"; Gwen Stefani, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby."; U2,
"How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"; Kanye West, "Late Registration."
Conservative voters may be split here between Carey and paying homage to
those old warhorses McCartney and U2. I'll go out on a limb and say that
will clear the way for West to claim a prize he clearly deserves.
Hometown hero West.
Our other Chicago superstar rapper, Common for "Be."
(awarded to the
Rascal Flatts, "Bless the Broken Road" (Bobby Boyd, Jeff Hanna & Marcus
Hummon, songwriters); Bruce Springsteen, "Devils & Dust"; John Legend,
"Ordinary People" (W. Adams & J. Stephens, songwriters); U2, "Sometimes You
Can't Make It on Your Own"; Mariah Carey, "We Belong Together" (J. Austin,
M. Carey, J. Dupri & M. Seal, songwriters).
This is the saddest of the major categories this year: We have U2 and
Springsteen going through the motions, a token nod to a country act and
Carey raking in the cash. She will probably win.
Red-hot R&B comer Legend.
The Black Eyed Peas, "My Humps." Yes, it was a guilty pleasure, but the
emphasis is on the pleasure.
Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane, John Legend, SugarLand.
Another rather pathetic slate. In this company, there's no question that
Legend is the most significant artist -- and that's no slight to suburban
Chicago pop-punks Fall Out Boy, who were shocked themselves at this
The English New Wave of New Wave dance band, the Go! Team.
Fiona Apple, "Extraordinary Machine"; Kelly Clarkson, "Breakaway"; Sheryl
Crow, "Wildflower"; Paul McCartney, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard";
Gwen Stefani, "Love. Angel. Music. Baby."
I'm betting voters will jump at the chance to honor venerated elder Sir
Most worthy: If
we consider the disc that had the most impact in the pop world in 2005, the
prize has to go to Stefani.
The New Pornographers, "Twin Cinema" -- truly great pop music, even if it
wasn't as commercially popular as any of these discs.
Coldplay, "X&Y"; Foo Fighters, "In Your Honor"; the Rolling Stones, "A
Bigger Bang"; U2, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"; Neil Young, "Prairie
It's likely that the elders here (Young, who deserves the nod, and the
Stones, who don't) will cancel each other out, as will Coldplay and the Foo
Fighters, allowing Grammy voters to once again declare the devotion to U2.
The White Stripes, "Get Behind Me Satan."
Alternative music album
The nominees: The
Arcade Fire, "Funeral"; Beck, "Guero"; Death Cab for Cutie, "Plans"; Franz
Ferdinand, "You Could Have It So Much Better"; the White Stripes, "Get
Behind Me Satan."
This is a hard one to call, since voters will be familiar with Franz
Ferdinand and the White Stripes from recent appearances on the Grammy show,
and they probably know Death Cab from "The O.C." But Beck is the biggest
name, so I'll give it to him as their uninspired choice.
Most worthy: The
Arcade Fire -- though "Funeral" was actually released in September 2004.
(The Grammys continue to define the voting year by odd parameters; for
instance, the year 2005 was Oct. 1, 2004, to Sept. 30, 2005, but even by
their wacky calendar, "Funeral" doesn't qualify. Go figure.)
The nominees: The
Chemical Brothers featuring Q-Tip, "Galvanize"; Deep Dish, "Say Hello";
Fatboy Slim & Lateef, "Wonderful Night"; LCD Soundsystem, "Daft Punk Is
Playing at My House"; Kylie Minogue, "I Believe in You"; New Order, "Guilt
Is a Useless Emotion."
Overrated British dance diva Minogue, the only name in the field that
mainstream voters are likely to recognize.
Most worthy: LCD
Ladytron, "International Dateline."
Earth, Wind and Fire, "Illumination"; Fantasia, "Free Yourself"; Alicia
Keys, "Unplugged"; John Legend, "Get Lifted"; Stevie Wonder, "A Time to
Legend -- but that's based on the guess that Grammy voters are as befuddled
as I am about the distinction between this category and "best contemporary
R&B album" (those nominees: Amerie, Mariah Carey, Destiny's Child, Mario and
Leela James, "A Change Is Gonna Come."
Common, "Be"; Missy Elliott, "The Cookbook"; Eminem, "Encore"; 50 Cent, "The
Massacre"; Kanye West, "Late Registration."
While Elliott is a great talent, this was not her best disc, and the nods to
Eminem and 50 Cent will likely cancel each other. That leaves a duel between
West and his mentor Common, a tough call, since both artists delivered
stellar efforts. Maybe voters will honor West in the big categories of album
and record of the year, and give this award to Common. (We can hope.)
Saul Williams, "Saul Williams."