DeRogatis' Grammy Predictions


February 1, 2004


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 of units.

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 nominated.

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 yours."


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 since 1996.

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.


Rock song

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.


Rock album

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 win.

Most worthy: Audioslave, but only because of the sorry company here; the post-alternative supergroup fell far short of its promise on its self-titled debut.

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.

R&B song

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.)

R&B album

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," Luther Vandross.

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.


Rap song

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) Elliott.

Sadly overlooked: "Gracefully" by Cherrywine, the new hip-hop crew started by Digable Planets veteran Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler.


Rap album

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:

Country song

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 radio today.

Most worthy: Mutt and Shania aren't great wordsmiths -- note the redundancy of the song's title -- but their ability to craft melodic hooks is undeniable.

Sadly overlooked: Patty Loveless, "Lovin' All Night.'' Her sexy, twangy, hip-shaking rendition is even better than Rodney Crowell's original.


Country album

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 original material.

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.


What 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.

Jim DeRogatis