Grammy nominees younger, hipper (slightly) even if Eric Clapton, 47, got nine

January 08, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Even though the music industry has been rock-dominated for some 35 years now, the Grammy awards have always seemed to reflect the taste and thinking of rock-hating old fogeys. So a few years ago, the bigwigs at the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) began adding categories, courting younger voters, and generally trying to make the Grammys a whole lot hipper than they used to be.

And there was, indeed, a perceptible change in the ranks when this year's Grammy nominees were announced yesterday in Los Angeles. (The awards show airs Feb. 24 on CBS). With multiple mentions made of Eric Clapton, Billy Ray Cyrus, Vanessa Williams and the "Beauty and the Beast" soundtrack, the list was clearly not the work of old fogeys.

It was the work of middle-aged fogeys.

This year's roster may be more rock-oriented than Grammy lists of years ago, but it remains as middle-of-the-road as ever. Rather than take risks with rap or alternative rock, most of the major nominations emphasized songs that are slow, sentimental and safe. Apart from Cyrus' mildly chugging "Achy Breaky Heart," all the nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year went to ballads: Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," the Celine Dion-Peabo Bryson duet "Beauty and the Beast," k.d. lang's "Constant Craving" and Vanessa Williams' "Save the Best for Last."

Pleasant? Sure. Tuneful? You bet. Exciting? Zzzzzzz.

With a list of nominees that's more VH-1 than MTV, you'd almost think the folks at NARAS had changed the award's name from Grammy to Boomie. After all, most of the artists included here appeal more to that 40-ish baby boomer demographic, from Clapton (who earned a total of nine mentions), to Cyrus (with five, though two are song categories which, technically, belong in "Achy Breaky" writer Don Von Tress' pocket), to Williams (four).

Even the "Beauty and the Beast" sweep -- the soundtrack took eight mentions, including two for the Bryson/Dion duet -- is essentially a boomer phenomenon, since they and their spawn comprise the album's entire audience.

Country's boom was mostly a bust with the NARAS nominators. Apart from Cyrus, none of Nashville's big guns made any noise outside the traditional country awards -- not even Garth Brooks, who toted up a paltry two mentions, in the male vocal and vocal collaboration categories. By comparison, Mary-Chapin Carpenter clobbered Brooks, earning mentions under country female vocal, vocal collaboration and best country song.

There wasn't much youth to be found in the rock categories. None of the nominees in Rock Vocal, Male -- Bryan Adams, Eric Clapton, Tom Cochrane, Peter Gabriel, Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen -- is under 30; most, in fact, are on the far side of 40. And is there a rule somewhere that Tina Turner has to be nominated every year? Aren't there other women who sing this music?

Things get a bit better in rap and R&B, but not much. Instead of Mary J. Blige or Cece Peniston, the R&B female vocal nominees are Oleta Adams, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Shanice and Vanessa Williams -- great singers, but not exactly cutting-edge talent.

TLC wasn't nominated, but a song they sang was ("Ain't To Proud To Beg"). Boyz II Men got two nods (with one belonging to "End of the Road" writers Babyface, L.A. Reid and Daryl Simmons), and Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" merited one. Jodeci, Das EFX, and Keith Sweat were ignored entirely.

Marky Mark was nominated, and not for Best Underwear Ad, either. He's a contender in the Rap Solo Performance (it's nice to know somebody bought his record).

Many artists that might appeal to a younger, hipper audience were included, but ended up marginalized or misfiled.

For instance, what is En Vogue's "Free Your Mind" doing in the Rock Vocal, Duo or Group category, competing against Little Village, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2?

Why have alternative idols Nirvana been nominated in Hard Rock (with Alice in Chains, Faith No More, Guns N' Roses, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and not in Alternative Album (with the B-52's, the Cure, Morrissey, Tom Waits and XTC)?

And since when are industrial acts like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails considered "metal"?

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