Regardless of who wins, substance beats commerce

Cover Story : The Grammys

February 24, 2002|By Patrick MacDonald | Patrick MacDonald,Knight Ridder / Tribune

For veteran Grammy watchers, this is a great year.

The annual awards presentation has often been disappointing in the past, because sales seemed to be the deciding factor, rather than art or craft. Challenging, creative artists were often ignored while one-hit wonders and flavors-of-the-month walked away with the trophies.

Not so this year, as least in the major pop categories. None of the formula, business-as-usual megastars -- the Britneys, the Backstreet Boys, the 'N Syncs and the like -- were nominated for the top spots, and neither were any of the multimillion-selling, morally bankrupt rappers, or angry, macho rockers like Linkin Park, whose Hybrid Theory was the best-selling album of 2001.

Instead, the nominees for the top categories of album, record and song of the year are worthy, substantial works by artists who are either well established or are going to be around for a while. It's likely that the big winners at the ceremony Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (to be broadcast at 8 p.m. on CBS) will be veteran rock band U2 and exciting newcomer Alicia Keys.

U2 leads the field with eight nominations, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Irish band won seven of them (in one category, for best rock song, it's competing against itself). Keys is nominated in six categories, the most important being best new artist, which she should win. Here's a look at how some other key contests should go:

Album of the year

It should go to U2 for its great All That You Can't Leave Behind, because of the quality of its music and the fact that the band was the biggest thing going in 2001. Not only did the CD go triple platinum, but the band mounted the biggest tour of the year, playing 80 shows in 56 cities. The tour sold 1.4 million tickets and grossed $109.7 million.

Bob Dylan is U2's main competition. Love and Theft is Dylan's worthy follow-up to Time Out of Mind, which won for best album in 1999. That brilliant disc had Dylan contemplating his own mortality, as he turned 60. The new disc examines a wider variety of issues, and isn't as accessible, so it may be a long shot.

The phenomenal O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack could also win most of the 12,000 NARAS members' votes in the album category, because it, along with the movie, re-established old-timey, traditional country music as a potent force in American culture. It would be a credible, worthy victor.

Also nominated is Stankonia, by melodic, clean-cut rappers OutKast -- a win for them would elevate and honor quality hip-hop -- and Acoustic Soul by newcomer India.Arie, an appealing if sometimes a too-precious artist.

Best new artist

Keys and India. Arie are both nominated in the prestigious category, along with Linkin Park, Canadian singer Nelly ("I'm Like A Bird") Furtado and singer David Gray. Keys seems a shoo-in, although the likable Furtado may edge her out. Or maybe this category is where voters will revert to their old ways and honor Linkin Park for its commercial success.

Male, female country vocals

Because of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? effect, some of the most intriguing contests are in the country-music categories, with slick country stars pitted against cutting-edge traditionalists. Lucinda Williams and Sheryl Crow are nominated for female country vocals, along with Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood and Jamie O'Neal. In the male-vocal field, multi-talented newcomer Ryan Adams -- primarily a rock singer -- is nominated, along with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Ralph Stanley and Lyle Lovett.

Country album

O Brother cuts show up in several country categories, but it's not nominated for best country album. Big sellers Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood and Diamond Rio are nominated, along with the veteran Willie Nelson.

Best rap album

Jay-Z's The Blueprint.

Jay-Z has the critical / popular combination going for him in a lackluster year for hip-hop. OutKast's Stankonia is better -- and whole lot more fun -- but nobody ever accused the Grammys of being too jolly.

Best R&B album

Aaliyah's Aaliyah, over Keys' Songs in A Minor.

Keys' record was good from start to finish, but voters won't want to miss the chance to reward Aaliyah's talent one last time.

Best metal performance

System of a Down should win for "Chop Suey!," but Tool will take the trophy for "Schism."

Tool is still the progressive creepy metal favorite, mostly because it's still so different as to be irresistible to voters.

THE SHOW

* What: The 44th annual Grammy Awards, presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences at the Staples Center in Los Angeles

* When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

* Where: CBS (WJZ, Channel 13)

WANNA BET?

The odds as of Thursday on the Grammys, according to Intertops.com:

Album

All That You Can't Leave Behind (U2), 1-2;

Love and Theft (Bob Dylan), 5-2;

Acoustic Soul (India.Arie), 3-1;

Stankonia (Outkast), 8-1;

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Various Artists), 10-1

Song of the year

"Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" (U2), 4-5;

"Fallin' " (Alicia Keys), 3-2;

"Video" (India.Arie), 4-1;

"Drops of Jupiter" (Train), 11-2;

"I'm Like a Bird" (Nelly Furtado), 10-1

New artist

Alicia Keys, 1-2;

India.Arie, 3-2;

Linkin Park, 6-1; Nelly Furtado, 8-1;

David Gray, 12-1

Record of the year

"Fallin' " (Alicia Keys), 1-1;

"Walk On" (U2), 5-4;

"Video" (India.Arie), 7-2;

"Drops of Jupiter" (Train), 6-1;

"Ms. Jackson" (Outkast), 10-1

Duo or group pop vocal

"Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" (U2), 1-2;

"Superman [It's Not Easy]" (Five for Fighting), 5-2;

"Imitation of Life" (R.E.M.), 7-2;

"Gone" ('N Sync), 6-1;

"Shape Of My Heart" (Backstreet Boys), 10-1

Female pop vocal

"There You'll Be" (Faith Hill), 1-1;

"Someone to Call My Lover" (Janet Jackson), 3-2;

"I'm Like a Bird" (Nelly Furtado), 9-2;

"By Your Side" (Sade), 9-2;

"Essence" (Lucinda Williams), 6-1

Male pop vocal

"I Want Love" (Elton John), 1-1;

"You Rock My World" (Michael Jackson), 3-2;

"Fill Me In" (Craig David), 7-2;

"Still" (Brian McKnight), 6-1;

"Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" (James Taylor), 6-1

-- Associated Press

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