Bad Girl Makes Good Better pill: Alanis Morissette wakes the censors, then goes on a winning jag at Grammy Awards. Seal, Hootie & the Blowfish clean up, too. Sorry, Mariah.

February 29, 1996|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

You oughta know who was the big winner at the Grammy Awards last night.

Although Seal dominated the major categories, winning both Record and Song of the Year, it was Alanis Morissette who took home the most trophies: Album of the Year, Female Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song. Hootie & the Blowfish were named Best New Artist.

It would be an understatement to say that Morissette's work is not typical Grammy fare. As host Ellen DeGeneres said after "Jagged Little Pill" was named Album of the Year, "I really couldn't imagine going to my parents and playing that song for them. 'You did what in a theater? Why must you always ruin Thanksgiving?' "

Joking aside, this year's results mark a major step forward for the Grammys.

After years of taking lumps for rewarding conservatism and complacency, the members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences got hip -- or, at least, hipper than expected.

In addition to Morissette's wins, Joni Mitchell topped Mariah Carey and Madonna in the Best Pop Album category. Seal edged out Elton John and Sting to take the Best Pop Male Vocal Performance Grammy. Van Morrison and the Chieftains came out ahead of Mariah Carey with Boyz II Men and the duo of Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson.

Pearl Jam won for Best Hard Rock Performance, Blues Traveler for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, and Nirvana for Best Alternative Album. Even Nine Inch Nails went home with a Grammy, although many fans will wonder why it was for Best Metal Performance.

Still, that's better than Jethro Tull, isn't it?

Even the ". . . and the winner is . . ." segments held surprises, as when Tupac Shakur turned up onstage in full Versace, only to be joined by the original members of KISS, all in full makeup. "We need to shock the people," smirked Tupac. Of course, some of the shock may have had to do with the size of the bellies on a few of the Kiss-ers, but hey -- a shock is a shock.

Not every category delivered a surprise. Not only was Stevie Wonder last night's Lifetime Achievement Award winner, but he breezed past new jacks D'Angelo and Babyface to take Grammys in the Best Male R&B Vocal and Best R&B Song categories.

Alison Krauss added to the momentum she generated at the Country Music Association awards last fall as she won in the Best Female Country Vocal and Best Country Vocal Collaboration categories. Pierre Boulez continued his Grammy streak by taking the awards for Best Classical Album and Best Orchestral Performance. Frank Sinatra had to make room on his trophy case after "Duets II" was named Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.

Of course, most of the folks at home weren't holding their breath to see if Vince Gill would win another Grammy. (He won two, for Male Country Vocal and Country Song.) They were watching to hear this year's "Save the National Endowment for the Arts" speech by Academy president Michael Greene.

No, seriously, they watched to hear some of the biggest names in pop music perform their biggest hits. And for the most part, they were disappointed.

Sure, there were some great moments last night. Morissette offered a stately, serious rethink of "You Oughta Know," one that traded the alternarock urgency of the original with a taut and dramatic arrangement stressing strings and acoustic guitars. It was a beautiful performance, marred only by CBS' overlong bleep of the song's single four-letter word.

But for the most part, the broadcast was long on star power, but short on brilliance. You'd think a show meant to spotlight the best and brightest of the music world would be content simply to let the performers do what they usually do, but no. Instead, what we got were bloated, made-for-TV spectaculars that ended up serving neither the artists nor the material very well.

That was clearly the case with the show-opening performance of "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. Ostensibly, this was to introduce us to the first of the five Record of the Year nominees, but it quickly became an exercise in overkill. As Carey and the Boyz took turns showing how many twists and turns they could add to the melody, the stage slowly filled with choir-robed gospel singers, until it began to look like the music-biz equivalent of "Where's Waldo?" By the end of the number, neither Carey nor the melody could be found without assistance.

Robed singers were a bit of a fixation for the Grammy crowd. It wasn't just when Whitney Houston, CeCe Winans and Shirley Caesar raised the roof with a tribute to gospel music; Coolio also had a crowd of choristers behind him as he did "Gangsta's Paradise," though it was hard to say why, exactly. Maybe it was all an effort to balance out what Shania Twain and TLC weren't wearing.

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