`Slim' Grammy chances
February 18, 2001
BY JIM DEROGATIS pop music critic
In the last two years, we have seen the Grammy Awards honor the Year of the Woman (with
Lauryn Hill, Shania Twain, Sheryl Crow, Madonna and others getting multiple nods in 1998)
and the Year of Santana (with the Latin guitarist claiming a record-tying eight awards in
Neither resulted in much excitement over the course of the endless three-hour
telecasts. While the Grammys stand as the music industry's most prestigious and credible
annual awards, the broadcast itself is almost always dreadfully dull.
Now comes the 43rd annual show and the controversial Year of Eminem. For all of the
sanctimonious hand-wringing and mock outrage by Mike Greene, president of awards sponsors
the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, one thing is certain: The
hate-spewing rapper could be the most exciting thing to happen to the Grammys since the
half-naked Soy Bomb tried to mosh with Bob Dylan.
Well aware of the ratings bonanza that can be generated by controversy, NARAS jumped at
the chance to have four-time nominee Eminem perform on the telecast, which airs at 7 p.m.
Wednesday on WBBM-Channel 2. But the organization is also extremely conscious of political
correctness, and the show is pairing Eminem with pioneering gay rocker Elton John for a
duet on the rapper's song "Stan," a portrait of a crazed fan who imitates Eminem
by murdering his wife and child.
The motives for all concerned are obvious. Eminem gets to claim that he doesn't really
hate homosexuals, despite his frequent slurs against "fags" and the threats of
violence in his lyrics. Princess Di's biggest fan and the author of "Candle in the
Wind" gets tons of publicity and some much-needed street cred with Generation Y. And
NARAS gets to have its cake and eat it too, taking advantage of both artists to hype its
broadcast, while appearing to take the high road of "stimulating debate."
"There is no question that the prospect of Eminem performing on the Grammy
telecast has been greeted with a great deal of interest, heat and controversy,"
Greene said, smacking his lips in the press release announcing the duet. "The
addition of Elton John--always the musical adventurer himself--joining Eminem onstage will
no doubt generate further debate and comment. But we view this moment not only as
musically significant, but also as an opportunity to help tear down some of the
unfortunate walls of division that Eminem's lyrics have built."
Hey, Mike: Get serious! Do you really think that pairing Em 'n' Elton erases the
offense of lyrics that even you've deemed morally reprehensible? Can't you just be honest
with us? As another hip-hop sage once put it, this is all about the Benjamins.
This should come as news to no one. Since their inception, the Grammys have been torn
between their stated ideal of honoring artistic excellence and their actual role of
celebrating the industry's commercial accomplishments.
Every year, Greene gives a long and boring speech about the many worthwhile activities
by NARAS, an organization of some 17,000 artists and recording industry professionals.
There are the efforts to fund music education in the schools, and the work by MusiCares,
the group's charitable
arm devoted to providing assistance to indigent musicians in need of health care.
But the actual Grammy broadcast--and to a large extent, the awards that are presented
during it--is about big business. It's right up there with the Super Bowl in terms of ad
revenues and ratings pressure, and it has very little to do with art or charity.
Simply put, with sales of more than 7 million, there was no way the Grammys could
ignore "The Marshall Mathers LP," regardless of any real consideration of its
As always, the rest of Wednesday's live broadcast (7 p.m., Channel 2) from the Shrine
Auditorium in Los Angeles will be a mixed bag. The show tries to be all things to all
people, and as a result, it pleases pretty much no one.
Also slated to perform are veteran superstars Madonna and U2; teenybopper favorites 'N
Sync, Christina Aguilera, Destiny's Child and Take 6; country performers Faith Hill and
Brad Paisley (who's doing a duet with Dolly Parton), and, in the token bids for hipness,
Macy Gray and joint appearances by Moby and the Blue Man Group and Beck and D'Angelo.
As for the awards themselves, predicting the Grammy winners is a notoriously dicey
business. Because it is such a large and disparate group, it's impossible to accurately
read how NARAS will vote in any given category. Nonetheless, I'll gamely take a stab at
the biggest prizes--and stand prepared to be contradicted three days hence.
Record of the Year
(Awarded to the performer and producer of a single track.)
The nominees: "Say My Name," Destiny's Child; "I Try," Macy Gray;
"Music," Madonna; "Bye Bye Bye," 'N Sync; "Beautiful Day,"
Predicted winner: U2. I'm betting that all the controversy about Eminem will
spur many voters to side with old favorites. Plus, U2 has the edge on moral superiority.
Most worthy: Not much here to get excited about; Macy Gray's song is probably
Sadly overlooked: "The Light," Common.
Album of the Year
The nominees: "Midnite Vultures," Beck; "The Marshall Mathers
LP," Eminem; "Kid A," Radiohead; "You're the One," Paul Simon;
"Two Against Nature," Steely Dan.
Predicted winner: Simon. Conventional wisdom holds that Beck and Radiohead will
split the hipster voters and Simon and Steely Dan will split the old-timers, allowing
Eminem to claim the prize. I think too many conservative NARAS members will be outraged by
the prospect of that and will vote for the guy with the best chance of blocking it.
Besides, NARAS loves Simon--he has 12 previous awards for his solo work.
Most worthy: Radiohead. Though I don't think that "Kid A" is nearly as
innovative as many of its champions claim, it's the best of a mediocre lot.
Sadly overlooked: "Voodoo," D'Angelo, the most inventive album of the
Song of the Year
(Awarded to the songwriter.)
The nominees: "Beautiful Day," U2; "Breathe," Faith Hill
(Stephanie Bentley & Holly Lamar, songwriters); "I Hope You Dance," Lee Ann
Rimes (Mark D. Sanders & Tia Sellers, songwriters); "I Try," Macy Gray;
"Say My Name," Destiny's Child.
Predicted winner: U2. The country voters will split between Hill and Rimes, and
the rest of NARAS will go with an old faithful. I'd say Simon again, but he isn't
nominated in this category.
Most worthy: Macy Gray; "Beautiful Day" is just U2 by numbers.
Sadly overlooked: "Devil's Pie," D'Angelo.
Best New Artist
The nominees: Shelby Lynne, Brad Paisley, Papa Roach, Jill Scott, Sisqo.
Predicted winner: This one is tough. We have two country-ish artists, one
rap-rock band, one R&B artist and one poppy rapper. I'm gonna say Brad Paisley, just
because he's performing on the show and Nashville loves him.
Most worthy: Nobody; this is one of the sorriest slates in recent history.
Sadly overlooked: P.J. Olsson, Neko Case, Guster, Kittie, North Mississippi
Allstars, Shivaree . . . I could go on and on.
Best Pop Album
The nominees: "Inside Job," Don Henley; "Music," Madonna;
"No Strings Attached," 'N Sync; "Oops! . . . I Did It Again," Britney
Spears; "Two Against Nature," Steely Dan.
Predicted winner: Britney and 'N Sync will split the teenyboppers, Steely Dan
and Henley will divide the geezers, and Madonna will take the prize.
Most worthy: Madonna.
Sadly overlooked: Veruca Salt, "Resolver."
Best Dance Recording
The nominees: "Who Let the Dogs Out," Baha Men; "Blue (Da Ba
Dee)," Eiffel 65; "Be With You," Enrique Iglesias; "Let's Get
Loud," Jennifer Lopez; "Natural Blues," Moby.
Predicted winner: Lopez. She's hot, hot, hot.
Most worthy: Moby (though last year should haven been his year).
Sadly overlooked: "Original Motion Picture Score for `The Virgin Suicides,'
Best Rock Album
The nominees: "Crush," Bon Jovi; "There Is Nothing Left to
Lose," Foo Fighters; "Mad Season," Matchbox 20; "Return of
Saturn," No Doubt; "The Battle of Los Angeles," Rage Against the Machine.
Predicted winner: Matchbox 20. They move units, as the industry says, and Rob
Thomas had that hit with last year's Grammy god, Santana.
Most worthy: Another pathetic roster of nominees. Best of an awful lot: Rage.
Sadly overlooked: Where the heck are the Smashing Pumpkins?
Best Rock Song
The nominees: "Again," Lenny Kravitz; "Bent," Matchbox 20;
"Californication," Red Hot Chili Peppers; "Kryptonite," 3 Doors Down;
"With Arms Wide Open," Creed.
Predicted winner: Creed, one of the best-selling rock bands in rock-starved
times. I'm surprised they didn't get more nods in other categories.
Most worthy: The Red Hot Chili Peppers, although again, this is a sorry list of
Sadly overlooked: "Feelgood Hit of the Summer," Queens of the Stone
Best Alternative Music Album
The nominees: "When the Pawn . . .," Fiona Apple; "Midnite
Vultures," Beck; "Bloodflowers," the Cure; "Liverpool Sound
Collage," Paul McCartney; "Kid A," Radiohead.
Predicted winner: Radiohead, because it won't win album of the year.
Most worthy: Radiohead, but that's relative to a list that is proof positive
that alternative is dead.
Sadly overlooked: "The Post Wave," the Blue Meanies.
Best R&B Album
The nominees: "Nathan/Michael/Shawn/Wanya," Boyz II Men; "The
Heat," Toni Braxton; "Voodoo," D'Angelo; "My Name Is Joe," Joe;
"Who Is Jill Scott?," Jill Scott; "Unleash the Dragon," Sisqo.
Predicted winner: Jill Scott; the best new artist nomination says she's on
Most worthy: D'Angelo.
Sadly overlooked: "Mama's Gun," Erykah Badu--but that's because it
wasn't eligible because of the weird way the Grammy defines the year 2000 (the cutoff is
Best Rap Album
The nominees: ". . . And Then There Was X," DMX; "Dr.
Dre--2001," Dr. Dre; "The Marshall Mathers LP," Eminem; "Vol. 3 . . .
Life and Times of S. Carter," Jay-Z; "Country Grammar," Nelly.
Predicted winner: Eminem. Seven million record buyers can't be wrong. Or can
Most worthy: Nelly.
Sadly overlooked: "Like Water for Chocolate," Common.
Best Country Album
The nominees: "Let's Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye," Vince Gill;
"Breathe," Faith Hill; "Under the Influence," Alan Jackson; "I
Hope You Dance," Lee Ann Womack; "Real Live Woman," Trisha Yearwood.
Predicted winner: Faith Hill; she's performing on the show, and that's always a
Most worthy: Yearwood, the least plastic of these performers.
Sadly overlooked: "Furnace Room Lullaby," Neko Case & Her
Grammy info you need to know
1. The Grammys remain the most credible awards in popular music.
The music industry's Oscars, the Grammys are determined by the voting members of the
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, an incredibly diverse professional
organization composed of 17,000 people from all corners of the music industry. These range
from the hippest young techno DJs to the crustiest old recording engineers who only work
on commercial jingles or polka records.
There are problems with the voting system--primarily in the way that select committees
winnow down the thousands of artists into a short list of those who are then eligible to
be nominated--but it is at least democratic and conducted in a serious and credible
fashion, as opposed to the dubious methodologies of the MTV Video Music Awards and Dick
Clark's American Music Awards.
2. The Grammys are slowly and steadily improving.
When the awards originated in the '50s, the recording academy was devoted to placating
the old guard in shutting out the dire new scourge of rock 'n' roll. Through the '70s and
'80s, it spent most of its time trying to make up for everything that it had wrongly
dismissed in the previous decades, as well as making some infamous mistakes (among them:
the coronation of forgettable acts like the Starland Vocal Band and Christopher Cross,
Jethro Tull's 1988 award for the best metal performance, and the rescinded Grammy for
lip-synchers Milli Vanilli).
Over the last decade, the Grammys have been steadily improving, albeit at a glacial
pace. Where once they were as hip as the ancient nun who taught third-grade Catechism,
they have now morphed into Richard Dreyfuss as Mr. Holland. It's better than it was
before, but. . . .
3. The Grammys still aren't as good as they should be.
The academy as a whole still seems overly impressed with commercial success at the
expense of musical excellence and innovation. While the genre awards have become more
credible, the "big four" prizes of record, song and album of the year and best
new artist tend to hone closely toward the top of the pop-sales charts. And when in doubt,
NARAS' membership will always throw the prize to a venerated geezer.
4. Instead of complaining, you could actually join NARAS and work to change it.
Membership in the group is open to any musician or studio engineer who has worked on
six tracks, as well as to some educators and other music industry professionals; for
eligibility, check the NARAS Web site, www.naras.com, or call the Chicago branch
office at (312) 786-1121. There is an annual membership fee of $65, but there are also
fringe benefits: You'll be eligible to buy many CDs at a discount that's better than the
Columbia House Records Club, and you'll be able to vote on next year's Grammy nominees
instead of just whining about them.