Every year's Grammy Awards
telecast and its corresponding slate of key nominees seems to have a theme,
and this is the year that the music industry's most prestigious awards fully
recognized the chart supremacy of hip-hop and R&B.
Never mind that the prizes' sponsors, the National Academy of Recording
Arts & Sciences, are arguably about eight years late. This well-meaning but
often slow and clueless group is always a decade or so behind the times.
Each February, those of us who care passionately about popular music
kvetch and moan about the Grammys' musical conservatism and tendency to
ignore their allegedly key criteria -- to honor musical excellence -- in
favor of bowing to the industry's primary yardstick: moving a massive amount
Nevertheless, the golden statues -- which are handed out by NARAS'
incredibly diffuse membership of more than 18,000 music-industry
professionals (from hip young DJs to crusty commercial recording engineers
to veteran music teachers) -- remain America's most credible music awards.
At the very least, they're a welcome alternative to the American Music
Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards -- prizes where the voting process is
more suspect than elections in the state of Florida.
Is there a better model? Heck, yeah, and all we have to do is look across
the pond. In England, the annual Mercury Prize winner is selected by an
independent panel of judges with representation from critics, artists and
the industry, and it does a much better job of honoring groundbreakers and
trendsetters. (This year's big winner, rapper Dizzee Rascal, beat out other
short-list contenders Radiohead, the Thrills, Floetry and Coldplay, to name
a few of the excellent contenders.)
Something similar could be done on these shores by combining the Grammys'
selection process with the annual Pazz and Jop Poll (which finds New York
alternative weekly the Village Voice polling hundreds of American rock
critics), then hiring the producers of the MTV Video Music Awards to stage a
really entertaining show (which is what they do best). But there's no sign
of that happening any time soon.
Until then, we're left with handicapping the Grammys, which are
notoriously hard to predict. The aforementioned diversity of NARAS --
coupled with the myriad political factions, pet causes and internecine feuds
common to any such body -- combine to make Grammy-guessing a fool's game.
But that has never stopped me from trying.
Here, then, are some predictions for the key categories (out of a total
of 105) for the 46th annual Grammy Awards, which will be presented Feb. 8 at
the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Record of the Year
(Awarded to the performer and producer of a single track)
The nominees: "Crazy in Love," Beyonce featuring Jay-Z; "Where Is
the Love?" the Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake; "Clocks," Coldplay;
"Lose Yourself," Eminem; "Hey Ya!," OutKast.
Predicted winner: Beyonce. She's got major star/celebrity appeal,
she and her beau Jay-Z are the music industry's couple of the year, and
there's the made-for-"Behind the Music" back story of her triumph
post-Destiny's Child. She could sweep many of the categories in which she's
Most worthy: OutKast, for one of the catchiest and most creative
singles in recent memory.
Sadly overlooked: "Milkshake," Kelis. After "Hey Ya!," this is the
single of the year, irresistibly catchy and undeniably sexy. Come on, now,
everybody, let's sing: "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard /
And they're like, 'It's better than yours / Damn right, it's better than
Album of the Year
The nominees: "Under Construction," Missy Elliott; "Fallen,"
Evanescence; "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," OutKast; "Justified," Justin
Timberlake; "Elephant," The White Stripes.
Predicted winner: There will likely be a big push for Timberlake
-- the music industry desperately wants him to be the new Michael Jackson,
and he's not undeserving of praise for a surprisingly strong solo debut --
but OutKast has made one of the most ambitious albums in hip-hop history,
and even Grammy voters can't ignore that.
Most worthy: OutKast -- though I bet you thought I'd say the White
Stripes. Sorry, but the rock-crit consensus is wrong, and "Elephant" simply
isn't as strong as its predecessor, "White Blood Cells."
Sadly overlooked: "Sumday," Granddaddy. An exquisite
psychedelic-pop masterpiece that was my choice for album of the year.
Song of the Year
(Awarded to the songwriter)
The nominees: "Beautiful," Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera);
"Dance With My Father," Richard Marx and Luther Vandross (Luther Vandross);
"I'm With You," Avril Lavigne and the Matrix (Avril Lavigne); "Keep Me in
Your Heart," Jorge Calderon and Warren Zevon (Warren Zevon); "Lose
Yourself," J. Bass, M. Mathers and L. Resto (Eminem).
Predicted winner: This is a tough one. Grammy voters love to honor
ailing or recently deceased giants, and this category includes two of them
-- Vandross, a longtime Grammy favorite, and the late Zevon. I'm guessing
those two will split the vote, and the prize will go to Eminem/Marshall
Mathers for his admittedly gripping track from the "8 Mile" soundtrack.
Most worthy: In this company, Eminem. But only in this company.
Sadly overlooked: "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes, a
killer single. Oh, and "Milkshake." Come on, everybody: "Damn right, it's
better than yours / I can teach you, but I have to charge ..."
Best new artist
The nominees: Evanescence; 50 Cent; Fountains of Wayne; Heather
Headley; Sean Paul.
Predicted winner: Often a major disappointment, this key category
is especially weak for 2003 -- voters never seem to have their fingers on
the pulse to the extent where they're really qualified to name the best
up-and-comers. I'll go with the predictably mainstream-friendly Headley, a
Northwestern University alum and a not-bad Broadway-style belter.
Most worthy: I suppose it's the power-pop band Fountains of Wayne,
though it's hardly a new group -- the New York combo has been recording
Sadly overlooked: Though New Jersey's "screamo" punk band Thursday
isn't a new group, either -- last year's "War All the Time" was its third
album -- it would certainly be new to Grammy voters' ears, and the disc was
one of the strongest of the year.
Pop vocal album
(There is no award this year for best pop song)
The nominees: "Stripped," Christina Aguilera; "Brainwashed,"
George Harrison; "Bare," Annie Lennox; "Motown," Michael McDonald;
"Justified," Justin Timberlake.
Predicted winner: Uh-oh: a dead Beatle, two much-lauded
platinum-selling youngsters, and two old favorites. This one could go in any
direction, but I'll take a guess and say that 'N Sync vet Timberlake is
going home with the prize.
Most worthy: Justin. He really is very, very good, as dance-pop
artists go. Honest! Hey, stop laughing.
Sadly overlooked: "Try This," Pink. When it comes to slick
mainstream pop, this kicks the butt of every other nominee here, except
perhaps for Timberlake.
The nominees: "Bring Me to Life," David Hodges, Amy Lee and Ben
Moody (Evanescence featuring Paul McCoy); "Calling All Angels," Charlie
Colin, Pat Monahan, Jimmy Stafford and Scott Underwood (Train); "Disorder in
the House," Jorge Calderon and Warren Zevon (Warren Zevon and Bruce
Springsteen); "Seven Nation Army," Jack White (The White Stripes);
"Someday," Chad Kroeger, Mike Kroeger, Ryan Peake and Ryan Vikedal (Nickelback).
Predicted winner: I'm going with the sympathy vote for Zevon here,
coupled with the Grammys' enduring fondness for all things Bruce -- though
"Disorder in the House" is far from one of the best tunes by the Boss or the
late Excitable Boy.
Most worthy: The White Stripes.
Sadly overlooked: The irresistible "Tidal Wave" by the New York
dream-pop band Longwave.
The nominees: "Audioslave," Audioslave; "Fallen," Evanescence;
"One by One," Foo Fighters; "More Than You Think You Are," matchbox twenty;
"The Long Road," Nickelback.
Predicted winner: Having singled out the mainstream goth-punk-pop
band Evanescence with five nominations -- most in categories where it won't
stand a chance -- I'm betting that Grammy voters won't let the group go home
completely empty-handed. But then, it's not performing on the show, so maybe
it will be ignored, in which case the supremely inoffensive Nickelback will
Most worthy: Audioslave, but only because of the sorry company
here; the post-alternative supergroup fell far short of its promise on its
Sadly overlooked: Wow, where the heck to start? How about with
Granddaddy's "Sumday," Longwave's "The Strangest Things," the Strokes' "Room
on Fire," Thursday's "War All the Time" or Neil Young's "Greendale," all of
which made my list for the year's 10 best albums.
Alternative music album
The nominees: "Fight Test," the Flaming Lips; "Hail to the Thief,"
Radiohead; "Untitled," Sigur Ros; "Elephant," the White Stripes; "Fever to
Tell," Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Predicted winner: The White Stripes, who are playing on the show.
(It might have played out differently if Radiohead had decided to cross the
Atlantic to perform.)
Most worthy: Given that "Fight Test" is an EP, not an album -- the
Flaming Lips should have gotten this prize last year for "Yoshimi Battles
the Pink Robots" -- I'll say the White Stripes.
Sadly overlooked: See my list for the last category above, minus
that crotchety but lovable old geezer Neil.
The nominees: "Comin' From Where I'm From," Mark Batson and
Anthony Hamilton (Anthony Hamilton); "Crazy in Love," Shawn Carter, Rich
Harrison, Beyonce Knowles and Eugene Record (Beyonce featuring Jay-Z);
"Dance With My Father," Richard Marx and Luther Vandross (Luther Vandross);
"Danger," Erykah Badu, J. Poyser, B.R. Smith and R.C. Williams (Erykah Badu);
"Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)," A. Douglas, I. Lorenzo and A. Parker (Ashanti).
Predicted winner: Vandross, who, once again, can count on the
sympathy vote, coupled with a large body of older, more conservative voters
who remain in the R&B category, sneering at edgy younger artists.
Most worthy: That great new age/stoner chanteuse, Badu -- though
once more, this is far from her best work.
Sadly overlooked: "She Ain't Right for You," Macy Gray. Grammy
voters loved her 1999 debut, "On How Life Is," though they've unjustly
ignored last year's "The Trouble With Being Myself," which should have made
the cut, because it was released in July.
(This brings up another Grammy problem that I've yet to mention: NARAS
defines the year 2003 as Oct. 1, 2002, to Sept. 30, 2003. The stated reason
is that voters allegedly can't keep up with releases in the last three
months of the year in time to weigh them thoroughly, but this is a ludicrous
notion in the age of instant communications. For the rest of us, the year
runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.)
The nominees: "Worldwide Underground," Erykah Badu; "Bittersweet,"
Blu Cantrell; "So Damn Happy," Aretha Franklin; "Body Kiss," the Isley
Brothers featuring Ronald Isley a k a Mr. Biggs; "Dance With My Father,"
Predicted winner: Hmm, it's likely that Vandross and Franklin will
split the old-time/honor-the-legend vote here, so this one is anybody's
guess. My prediction: Badu.
Most worthy: Badu, with the caveat mentioned above for R&B song.
Sadly overlooked: Macy Gray -- see previous category.
The nominees: "Beautiful," Calvin Broadus, Chad Hugo and Pharrell
Williams (Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell & Uncle Charlie Wilson); "Excuse Me
Miss," Shawn Carter, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams (Jay-Z featuring
Pharrell Williams); "In Da Club," M. Elizondo, C. Jackson and A. Young (50
Cent); "Lose Yourself," J. Bass, M. Mathers and L. Resto (Eminem); "Work
It," Missy Elliott and Tim Mosley (Missy Elliott).
Predicted winner: It's interesting to see platinum-selling phenom
50 Cent competing with his mentor Eminem, and that may divide the vote. But
there's no way the Grammys can ignore more than 6 million albums sold, so
I'll go with 50 Cent.
Most worthy: The consistently freaky (and wildly creative)
Sadly overlooked: "Gracefully" by Cherrywine, the new hip-hop crew
started by Digable Planets veteran Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler.
The nominees: "Under Construction," Missy Elliott; "Get Rich or
Die Tryin'," 50 Cent; "The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse," Jay-Z; "Speakerboxxx/The
Love Below," OutKast; "Phrenology," The Roots.
Predicted winner: If there is any justice in the universe, OutKast.
Most worthy: OutKast, though the Roots are also deserving of
serious props for "Phrenology" (which came out in November 2002, so we don't
have to feel guilty about ignoring it here).
Sadly overlooked: Cherrywine, "Bright Black"; Michael Franti and
Spearhead, "Everyone Deserves Music."
Picks in the following two categories come courtesy of my colleague,
country-roots music writer Bobby Reed:
The nominees: "Beer for My Horses," Scotty Emerick and Toby Keith
(Willie Nelson and Toby Keith); "Celebrity," Brad Paisley (Brad Paisley);
"Forever and for Always," Robert John "Mutt" Lange and Shania Twain (Shania
Twain); "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," Jim "Moose" Brown and Don Rollins
(Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett); "Wave on Wave," Pat Green, David Neuhauser
and Justin Pollard (Pat Green).
Predicted winner: Jackson and Buffett's duet had an incredible run
atop the country charts. Futhermore, Buffett is a hero to middle-aged
academy voters, and Jackson is probably the most dominant force in country
Most worthy: Mutt and Shania aren't great wordsmiths -- note the
redundancy of the song's title -- but their ability to craft melodic hooks
Sadly overlooked: Patty Loveless, "Lovin' All Night.'' Her sexy,
twangy, hip-shaking rendition is even better than Rodney Crowell's original.
The nominees: "Cry," Faith Hill; "My Baby Don't Tolerate," Lyle
Lovett; "Run That by Me One More Time," Willie Nelson and Ray Price; "Live
and Kickin'," Willie Nelson; "Up!" Shania Twain; "Livin', Lovin', Losin':
Songs of the Louvin Brothers," Various Artists.
Predicted winner: The two Willie Nelson titles could cancel each
other out. The academy leans more toward traditionalism when handing out
country Grammys, so the critically acclaimed Louvin Brothers tribute could
get the prize here.
Most worthy: Lyle Lovett delivered another stellar collection of
Sadly overlooked: Although Brad Paisley is nominated in other
categories, Grammy voters should have honored "Mud on the Tires'' with a nod
for top country album. A consistently rich and rewarding listen, it's the
best country disc of 2003.
to expect at this year's Grammys
For the second consecutive year, the National Academy of Recording Arts &
Sciences, sponsors of the Grammy Awards, are going without a host for the
live telecast. Instead, they will rely on the presenters to keep the usually
endless show (which begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 8, on WBBM-Channel 2) flowing.
Thankfully, this will also be the second year without the controversial
former president of the group, Mike Greene, making his traditional long,
boring and sanctimonious speech. Unfortunately, the new president, Neil
Portnow, will be speaking, and sources say he will once again decry the
issue of downloading music off the Internet.
NARAS has been unusually tight-lipped about who'll be performing this
year -- it won't start promoting the show until this evening, with ads timed
to run during the Super Bowl -- but sources said a big show-opener is
planned, courtesy of Prince.
The rock/pop/funk/R&B legend is nominated for best pop instrumental album
for "N.E.W.S.," which didn't make many headlines at all. But it will be nice
nonetheless to see His Royal Purpleness once again on network TV.
There are two other live performances of note scheduled by multiple
nominees. Detroit's blues-rock duo the White Stripes are set to play, and
the Atlanta hip-hop duo OutKast will perform along with members of two of
the greatest bands in funk and R&B history, George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic
and former Chicagoan Maurice White's Earth, Wind & Fire.