Grammys Lag Behind the Times
World-beat music is all but ignored, as are emerging international stars
NEW YORK — THE recording industry's big bash is upon us. Tonight's Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, to be telecast live (CBS, 8-11, check local listings) from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, features comedian Garry Shandling as host and a lineup of presenters that includes Paula Abdul, Ella Fitzgerald, Meryl Streep, B.B. King, New Kids on the Block, Motley Cr"ue, and many more. Lifetime Achievement Awards will be given to Paul McCartney and Miles Davis, as well as the late Vladimir Horowitz and Nat King Cole.
As usual, the Grammys are a little behind what's happening in music. The up-and-coming trend of last year - the appearance of world-beat, or ethno-pop, music on the American scene - has been virtually ignored. Emerging stars like Israeli singer Ofrah Haza and Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour weren't mentioned, not even in the folk category.
But for Janet Jackson (Michael's younger sister), this is a landmark year. Her second hit album, ``Rhythm Nation,'' is up for five awards, as she prepares for her first tour ever.
Her success seems to be riding the wave of an upsurge in talented young black performers, despite the fact that most of the pop nominees are white. The New Artist category encompasses mostly young blacks like Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, and Tone Loc, whose music is marked by hot, danceable rhythms, sassy vocals or raps, and a hip, streetwise feel. Although it's good to see these performers receiving notice, the split between them and the top pop acts suggests a continuing segregation in the industry.
There were murmurings last year about why the rap awards weren't included in the televised portion of the ceremony - the names were just read off.
So this year, rap will be right up there on the screen. Nominees include Public Enemy, Young M.C., D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, De La Soul, and Tone Loc.
The richness and variety of the list - from the serious politics of Public Enemy to the understated hipness of Tone Loc and the imaginative ``art rap'' of De La Soul - indicate this music is really coming into its own.
Last year's Hard Rock/Heavy Metal category has been split into separate divisions, though it's hard to determine now where some of the contenders belong. Bands like Motley Cr"ue, Great White, and Guns 'n' Roses seem to straddle the headings, while groups like Metallica, Dokken, and Queensryche are clearly heavy-metal.
In the big pop categories, there's a ho-hum feeling. Right up there in the top three slots - Record of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year - are Don Henley (also nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male) and Mike and the Mechanics, both purveyors of unimaginative pop/rock.
Henley's album, ``The End of the Innocence,'' is mainstream rock with some blues overtones. Mike and the Mechanics' ``The Living Years'' is an uninspired, often depressing collection - especially the maudlin title song and video.
Two veterans - Billy Joel (with ``We Didn't Start the Fire'') and Bette Midler (with ``Wind Beneath My Wings'') are also up for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, respectively.
But the Joel song, a frenetic indictment of contemporary society, has to be one of the most irritating cuts of the year. And ``Wind Beneath My Wings,'' although a pretty ballad with a nice message about friendship (and a charming video of two little girls on the beach to go with it), is hardly groundbreaking material.
In fact, many key nominations show considerable preoccupation with '60s music. Among other veterans up for awards are Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, George Harrison, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, and James Brown.
The Fine Young Cannibals were nominated for both Record of the Year and Album of the Year - a sign of just how slim the pop pickings were. The Cannibals hit ``She Drives me Crazy'' is catchy but silly, and it owes most of its popularity to the quirky charisma of the group's lead singer, Roland Gift.
Among those scheduled to perform are the Cannibals, Henley, Joel, Mike and the Mechanics, D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, K.D. Lang, Branford Marsalis, Linda Ronstadt, Sting, and Gloria Estefan.
Chuck Berry's ``Roll Over, Beethoven,'' Ray Charles's ``I Got a Woman,'' George Gershwin's ``Porgy and Bess'' and ``Rhapsody in Blue,'' Duke Ellington's ``Black, Brown and Beige,'' and Alban Berg's ``Wozzeck'' are being inducted into the Recording Academy's Hall of Fame.
Dick Clark will be honored with the Trustees' Award.