Crossing over to a Grammy Award?

Many nominees this year have moved from pop niches into the mainstream, but there's no sure thing when it comes to choosing winners.

February 21, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Critics may carp that the Grammy Awards are overly commercialized and under-representative of musical quality, but one thing they're not is predictable.

Just look at this year's ballot. Even though the artists earning the most nominations were all women -- Lauryn Hill, Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain and Madonna -- this year's Grammy race is more about genre than gender, as most of the major nominees owe their success to having crossed over from a pop pigeonhole to the anything-goes mainstream.

That may be why the Grammy guessing game has grown harder in recent years. Having a huge, chart-busting hit like Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" used to be an easy way to earn the award, but not anymore. Just ask Sean "Puffy" Combs, whose productions dominated the pop charts in '97, but was shut out of the pop categories at last year's awards show. (He did at least win a rap Grammy).

Nor is being heavily nominated a guarantee of winning. Last year, Paula Cole dominated the Big Four categories -- Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist -- but only won for New Artist. The year before that, Babyface went in with 12 nominations, but went home with only three Grammys.

It's anybody's guess what this year's Grammy Awards telecast -- which airs live from Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Wednesday on CBS (Channel 13 locally) -- will hold. But this is one scenario:

Record of the Year

The Field: "The Boy Is Mine," Brandy & Monica; "My Heart Will Go On," Celine Dion; "Iris," Goo Goo Dolls; "Ray Of Light," Madonna; "You're Still the One," Shania Twain.

The Race: Dion is the odds-on favorite, given the broad appeal and incredible success of "My Heart Will Go On." But radio pretty much pounded the song into the ground, and that -- combined with the fact that "Titanic" was last year's big Oscar winner -- makes the single less of a sure thing. That's good news for Monica and Brandy, whose "The Boy Is Mine" was another mega-hit, and Twain, whose "You're Still the One" is the dark horse most likely to win.

My Bet: "You're Still the One."

Album of the Year

The Field: "The Globe Sessions," Sheryl Crow; "Version 2.0," Garbage; "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," Lauryn Hill; "Ray Of Light," Madonna; "Come On Over," Shania Twain.

The Race: Last year's Album of the Year award went to a critics' favorite, Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind." That augurs well for Hill, whose multiplatinum "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" dominated many reviewers' Top-10 lists. Question is, will that be enough to let Hill edge past Crow, a perennial Grammy favorite whose "The Globe Sessions" was also a well-reviewed commercial success?

My Bet: "The Globe Sessions."

Song of the Year

The Field: "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing," Diane Warren, songwriter (Aerosmith, artist); "Iris," John Rzeznik, songwriter (Goo Goo Dolls, artist); "Lean On Me," Kirk Franklin, songwriter (Kirk Franklin, artist); "My Heart Will Go On," James Horner and Will Jennings, songwriters (Celine Dion, artist); "You're Still The One," Robert John "Mutt" Lange and Shania Twain, songwriters (Shania Twain, artist).

The Race: No contest here. Although there's a chance that the heart-tugging "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" will attract voters who have been "Titanic"-ed out, Warren has never been much of a Grammy favorite (though performers Aerosmith are). So unless Twain is on a dark-horse streak like Shawn Colvin was last year, expect "My Heart Will Go On" to win in a walk.

My Bet: "My Heart Will Go On."

Best New Artist

The Field: Backstreet Boys; Andrea Bocelli; Dixie Chicks; Lauryn Hill; Natalie Imbruglia.

The Race: Take this one by process of elimination. The Backstreet Boys are young, popular and prefab, and those qualities should help them as much as they helped Grammy losers the Spice Girls. Bocelli may have a lock on the classical voting bloc, but that's hardly a huge constituency. The Dixie Chicks would be an easy win if this were the CMA Awards, but this isn't Nashville. And while Imbruglia is huge in Europe, here she's just another waif. That makes this category Hill's best shot at a big Grammy.

My Bet: Lauryn Hill.

Best Rock Album

The Field: "The Globe Sessions," Sheryl Crow; "Premonition," John Fogerty; "Version 2.0," Garbage; "Celebrity Skin," Hole; "Before These Crowded Streets," Dave Matthews Band.

The Race: Forget about the relatively edgy Garbage, Matthews Band and Hole; this contest is strictly between two long-time Grammy faves. Grammy voters love Fogerty much more than the public does, and that should help "Premonition" enormously. Even so, Crow's savvy, self-produced "The Globe Sessions" should still have the edge.

My Bet: "The Globe Sessions."

Best R&B Album

The Field: "Live," Erykah Badu; "Never Say Never," Brandy; "A Rose Is Still A Rose," Aretha Franklin; "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," Lauryn Hill; "Embrya," Maxwell.

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