Handicapping The Grammys

Handicapping The Grammys

or have they already done it to themselves?

I have a love-hate relationship with the Grammys. Every year, the music industry falls all over itself to pat itself on the back, and despite how frustratingly irrelevant the awards are, as a hardcore music geek, I tune in year after year, bound to be disappointed.

As if the Recording Academy knows how irrelevant it has become, it’s spent the last few years trying to update its image, nominating a steady stream of younger, “hipper” acts for awards. But the morning after is almost always as disastrous as waking up with a bad one-night-stand: messy, ugly, and a big mistake. With the exception of Lauryn Hill’s big night a few years ago, the Grammys almost always play nominating lip service to younger artists, then go back to the same boring old fogies year after year after year. How else do you explain how one of 2000’s most talked-about, best-selling, and consistently intriguing albums, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, got passed over for Album of the Year in favor of a Steely Dan album that nobody bought?

The Academy is up to its old tricks again this year. While making stabs at relevance with the likes of Outkast and India.Arie, the top awards are likely to go to such stalwarts as U2 and Bob Dylan. And while young upstart Alicia Keys is likely to pick up more than a few statuettes, innovative, original artists like PJ Harvey, Gorillaz, and They Might Be Giants will most likely be passed over. And that’s to say nothing of all the richly deserving records that weren’t even nominated!

So let’s break it down. Looking at some of the major categories, here’s a glimpse at my picks for which of the nominees should win, which will win, and commentary on the choices.

Record Of The Year

If some of these items seem to be more than a year old, there’s a good chance they are. The Grammys’ eligibility year runs from October 1, 2000 through September 30, 2001, so some of this stuff will require a long memory (never an asset in pop music), and none of it will seem remarkably fresh, as the newest will be five months old by the time the award is presented.

The Nominees:

“Video,” by India.Arie

“Fallin'” by Alicia Keys

“Ms. Jackson” by Outkast

“Drops Of Jupiter” by Train

“Walk On” by U2

Who should win: Outkast’s paen to baby’s grandmas everywhere, “Ms. Jackson” was fresh, relevant, and insistent — plus there’s the music industry intrigue in that the song is written for Erykah Badu’s mother (André 3000 and Badu were married, and she is the father of his son). To me, it’s a no-brainer…

Who will win: …except for the fact that the Academy is notorious for passing over rap and hip-hop for the top awards. U2 would seem likely, had they not won this award last year — the Academy rarely gives the award to the same artist two years running. But India.Arie and Alicia Keys could cancel each other out, making it a surprise runaway Train. But the smart money is on Keys, who’ll likely get the award as a statement about her being passed over for…

Album Of The Year

For all the nominations that Keys walked away with, the shocker was that her Songs in A Minor was passed over for this award. Both a critical and a commercial favorite, it seemed likely to not only be nominated, but to win. With Keys out, the field is wide open.

The Nominees:

Acoustic Soul by India.Arie

Love And Theft by Bob Dylan

Stankonia by Outkast

All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack, by Various Artists

Who should win: Stankonia requires a long memory, having been released very early in the eligibility period, and I was surprised to even see it nominated. Certainly it’s deserving, as one of the most adventurous and intriguing hip-hop albums in some time.

Who will win: The real battle here is between Dylan and U2. A lot of people felt U2 deserved this award last year, but All That You Can’t Leave Behind was released about a week too late to be eligible. They’d have been a lock last year, but Dylan’s elder statesman status and the near universal critical acclaim for Love And Theft make it tough to bet against him. The O Brother, Where Art Thou? phenomenon has an outside chance, at best — the Academy will likely love the fact that the record nearly single-handedly revived the bluegrass genre in the public eye, but they rarely vote for soundtracks for this top award, so will likely recognize it in the Country categories and pass it over here. Dylan takes it, but it’ll be close.

Song Of The Year

“Song of the Year” differs from “Record of the Year” in that it’s a songwriter’s award — the award is not based on the recording, but the quality of the composition. Interestingly, U2 were nominated for a different song that they were for “Record,” and Outkast got left out in the cold. But on the positive side, this is the first time I can easily recall that all the nominated songs were at least co-written by the recording artist.

The Nominees:

“Drops Of Jupiter” by Train (written by Charlie Colin, Rob Hotchkiss, Pat Monahan, Jimmy Stafford & Scott Underwood)

“Fallin'” by Alicia Keys (written by Alicia Keys)

“I’m Like A Bird” by Nelly Furtado (written by Nelly Furtado)

“Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” by U2 (written by U2)

“Video” by India.Arie, (written by India.Arie, Carlos “Six July” Broady, Reginald Harris & Shannon Sanders)

Who should win: Alicia Keys is head and shoulders above anything else in this pack. The U2 tune is just a little too sing-song for me — it reminds me of Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic,” and that’s never a good thing. The less said about Furtado and Train, the better.

Who will win: This is another tough one to pick. I believe Furtado’s a long shot, at best, but the other four are all strong contenders. My gut says U2, so that’s my official pick, but I won’t be surprised if it’s any of these.

Best New Artist

Traditionally, this award has been a curse. The artist chosen almost always disappears within a few years, career in ruins. In recent years, the Academy has loosened the guidelines on this category — at one time, it was meant to be for an artist’s first recorded work, but now, it’s the more nebulous “first recording which establishes the public identity of that artist,” leading to Shelby Lynne’s victory last year for her sixth album, and Lauryn Hill’s win for her first solo album, despite years with The Fugees. Some feel that Lynne’s victory as a far-from-new artist finally took that too far.

The Nominees:

India.Arie

Nelly Furtado

David Gray

Alicia Keys

Linkin Park

Who should win: Taking “the curse” into account, I’m praying for Furtado to win and go away forever. For the same reason, I wouldn’t be at all sad to see the same for Linkin Park. From a sheer talent standpoint, though, Keys deserves it — let’s hope that if she wins, she can overcome the curse!

Who will win: If Keys or India.Arie win this, there’s a good chance she will have the kind of night Lauryn Hill had a few years back, racking up a ton of statuettes. But the Academy likes to surprise in this category, within reason — they won’t go as extreme as Linkin Park, but they could pull Gray or Furtado out of left field. I have a gut feeling, though, that this one will go to India.Arie as a consolation prize for all the other awards that will go to Keys.

Other Picks

In the Pop categories, look for Furtado’s “I•m Like a Bird” to take the Best Female Vocal Performance award over much more richly deserving efforts from Sade and Lucinda Williams. Elton John will take the Male award for “I Want Love” from his critically acclaimed but commercially ignored Songs From the West Coast, over a lackluster field that includes by-the-numbers entries from Michael Jackson, Brian McKnight, and James Taylor, and a left field entry from Craig David. The Duo or Group award is tough to pick — while most of us realize that Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC don’t deserve the award, the Academy does love commercial success — which is the reason R.E.M.’s “Imitation Of Life” from the commercially disappointing Reveal will be passed over. But U2 will take the award for “Stuck,” barring a patriotic fervor that picks the post-9/11 hit “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” from Five For Fighting — which doesn’t even belong in the category, as Five For Fighting is a solo act. The Collaboration With Vocals award will be a battle between two mega-hits that duked it out on the charts early in the year: Shaggy and Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent’s “It Wasn’t Me” and Christina Aguilera, Li’l Kim, Mya, and Pink’s Moulin Rouge quartet, “Lady Marmalade,” but give it to Shaggy and Ducent — who not only deserve it more, but will get the award as payment for a single and album that were both commercially huge and ignored in the rest of the nominations. The Pop Vocal Album award will go to ‘NSYNC, to the dismay of all, over more deserving efforts from Sade and John.

In the Rock categories, prepare for your stomach to turn, as a mediocre efforts from Stevie Nicks and Melissa Etheridge are the frontrunners, and surely one of them will win over much better efforts from Tori Amos and especially PJ Harvey. The Male category is loaded with the usual suspects — Eric Clapton, John Mellencamp, Dylan, Lenny Kravitz — but a sentimental Academy will give it to the deserving upstart Ryan Adams for “New York, New York.” The Duo Or Group award should go to Coldplay for their haunting and omnipresent “Yellow,” but will instead be another victory for U2. The Hard Rock award will recognize Linkin Park’s commercial dominance over an amusing Michael Jackson cover from Alien Ant Farm and the Academy’s last chance to fete the original lineup of Rage Against the Machine. The Metal Grammy almost always goes to a geezer (remember the gasps of incredulity when Jethro Tull — JETHRO FREAKIN’ TULL — won the first one?), and this year’s geezer is Black Sabbath, who’ll get it over more popular and/or interesting efforts from Slayer, Tool, and System of a Down. Rock Song (another songwriter’s award) finds two U2 songs canceling each other out, clearing the way for Train over a more deserving Coldplay. And Rock Album is a walk for U2, beating out richly deserving efforts from Harvey and Adams.

The Alternative Music Grammy has, in the past, gone to such “Alternative” acts as U2 (who ceased to be an “alternative” when they blew up with The Joshua Tree — heck, even Bono recognized that) and Paul McCartney (who is the very definition of mainstream). Thankfully, this year’s field has no such embarrassing nominations, and is an eclectic bunch. There’s an all-covers album from Tori Amos, highly acclaimed efforts from Bjork and Radiohead, a middling album from Fatboy Slim, and the really odd duck out, Coldplay. My guess is that the Academy will go with Radiohead, the most commercially successful of the bunch, but I could see Fatboy Slim taking it just because everyone loved the video of “Weapon Of Choice.” Smart money is with Thom Yorke’s band of overrated whiners, though.

In the Rap categories, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott had one of the year’s best singles with the insistent “Get Ur Freak On,” and is the odds-on favorite to win the Solo Performance award over such also-rans as Nelly, DMX, Jay-Z, and an admittedly hilarious effort from Afroman. The Duo Or Group Award will be where Outkast finally gets some love for “Ms. Jackson,” though ironically, it’s the one category they’re nominated in where there’s actually a more deserving candidate — Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” was a better single (one of the year’s best, in fact), and frankly, should have been nominated for more than just this lonely award. The new “Rap/Sung Collaboration” award will go to the most deserving entrant, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” by Eve (featuring Gwen Stefani). And Outkast will take the Best Album award for Stakonia, the best of a field that includes Ludacris, Jay-Z, Ja Rule, and Eve.

I’m frankly not enough of an expert to comment extensively on the Country and R&B Categories — what passes for both those forms of music these days is so far from what those genres really should be that I ignore most of what’s nominated. But you can expect the late Aaliyah to get a sympathy award or two in the R&B categories, and on the bright side, look to see traditional/insurgent country to get some much-needed recognition thanks to O Brother and the Hank Williams tribute album, Timeless.

Finally, much to my chagrin, my beloved They Might Be Giants will lose the first Grammy they’ve ever been nominated for, in the relatively obscure “Best Song Written For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media” category. Their “Boss Of Me” from Malcolm in the Middle is by far the most richly deserving effort of the bunch, but in a field that includes a wretched, Dianne Warren-penned Faith Hill schlock-fest, treacly Disney fare from Sting, crap from Brian McKnight, and the closing tune from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, my boys don’t have a chance. For shame.

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