New categories, bizarre matchups
No one at this year's Grammy Awards will top Carlos Santana's eight-trophy sweep of last year - let alone Jennifer Lopez's barely there dress - but the 43rd annual Grammy Awards (Feb. 21, CBS, 8-11 p.m.) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles still promise multiple accolades and outrageousness.
Including the new Best Pop Instrumental Album and Best Native American Music Album categories, a record 100 Grammys are up for grabs in 27 fields ranging from classical and polka to historical, New Age, and Latin (which now has its own separate awards show as well).
Rapper-producer Dr. Dre and R&B act Destiny's Child each could win up to five golden gramophones.
Several artists are nominated for four awards, including controversial rapper Eminem (see story, page 13), who's competing with Beck, Radiohead, Steely Dan, and three-time winner Paul Simon for the coveted Album of the Year prize.
Eminem's multiple nominations have injected great suspense into this year's awards. The rapper will perform his song "Stan" in a duet with Elton John. Also scheduled to perform are Madonna, U2, 'N Sync, Dolly Parton, and Destiny's Child.
Several organizations will be protesting Eminem, but they aren't the only ones unhappy about certain nominations.
For example, music journalist Gary Graff, a Grammy voter who also covers the awards, has problems with the Best New Artist category, which this year includes former country singer Shelby Lynne.
"Best New Artist should be for somebody whose first nationally distributed or major-label recording is released during the eligibility period," he says. "Shelby Lynne [has] had, what, four or five albums on a major label?
"Just because she was able to reinvent herself and have a big hit, and because she's really good looking [shouldn't matter]."
Rosemary Welsch, program director at Pittsburgh public radio station WYEP-FM, agrees. "If you want to have a category for the Best New Breakthrough Artist, that's a different category," she says.
Ms. Welsch also questions the Best Alternative Music Album picks. "I guess when it comes to Fiona Apple [nominated for her album "When the Pawn"], if you're looking at the way this industry looks at what's alternative, that's alternative. But I just find it bizarre to see her in the same category with Beck and the Cure and Radiohead, and then Paul McCartney, of all things." She also wonders how, if Apple's album is "alternative," the singer also got nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
Even more bizarre is the Best Male Rock Vocal category, which pits Bob Dylan against Nine Inch Nails.
Bev Paul, general manager of the Americana-bluegrass label Sugarhill Records in Durham, N.C., says contemporary folk has become too much of a catch-all category, hurting musicians who really belong there.
Sugarhill is seeking an "Americana" category for artists who aren't quite folk or country, like contemporary-folk nominees Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris.
Welsch says Joni Mitchell's nomination in the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance category - competing against Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Madonna - is a misguided attempt to atone for overlooking her in the past.
Graff says that also applies to Steely Dan.
Says singer-songwriter Christine Lavin, "I think of the Grammys as longevity awards. Or sales awards. But it's not about [the] quality [of the] music."
Michael Greene, president and CEO of the National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences, doesn't deny that commercial appeal plays a role.
"We don't live on a desert island or in a carved-up tree. So we are influenced by the things around us," he says, but adds that NARAS does strive "to look for forms of music that may not be embraced by the major record companies, by the major retailers, or played on the radio.
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