It was a difficult year for hip-hop star Kanye West and British soul revivalist Amy Winehouse, two of 2007's most visible artists. One is still grieving the sudden death of his mother while the other -- dogged by rumors of severe drug abuse -- has been battling health issues that forced her to cancel several shows.
But at least professionally, the two will end the year on a good note as each garnered multiple Grammy nominations yesterday. West leads this year's nods with eight, followed by Winehouse with six. Veteran rockers Foo Fighters, celebrated rapper Jay-Z, quirky rapper-producer Timbaland, pop superstar Justin Timberlake and R&B singer-songwriter T-Pain all received five nominations.
Given that those acts scored some of the most ubiquitous hits this year, it's no surprise they lead the nominations. The industry seemed desperate for relevance in 2007 as the traditional model for record labels all but imploded and few albums reached multiplatinum sales.
The much-ballyhooed Sept. 11 sales battle royale between West and 50 Cent was perhaps the biggest industry "event" of the year. Ultimately, West won, in one week selling nearly a million copies of his latest set, Graduation, which is up for album of the year. The famously bratty Chicago rapper-producer almost single-handedly resuscitated the industry by driving so many fans to CD shops during the week his mostly solid third album hit the streets.
A star in her native England, the beehive-sporting Winehouse became a sensation shortly after the March release of Back to Black, her charming but uneven American debut. With its hip-hopped mash-up of Brill Building melodies and slurred, jazz-kissed vocals, the CD became 2007's biggest cross-generational hit, reaching platinum sales. Throughout the year, though, reports of erratic behavior, shots of her emaciated appearance and allegations of drug abuse filled tabloids. Her ironic hit "Rehab" garnered record and song of the year nominations, and Back to Black received a nod for album of the year.
Baby boom performers were largely passed over, with Paul McCartney earning three nominations and Bruce Springsteen shut out of the marquee categories, netting four nominations overall.
The 50th annual Grammy Awards will air live from Los Angeles' Staples Center on Feb. 10. But while we wait for that glittery evening when the industry celebrates itself, here are my picks in the general categories.
The Record of the Year nominees are Beyonce's "Irreplaceable," with its "To the left" mantra; Rihanna's summer staple "Umbrella," featuring Jay-Z; Winehouse's hypnotic "Rehab"; Timberlake's "What Goes Around ... Comes Around"; and the sole rock entry, the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender."
My pick for winner is "Irreplaceable." Beyonce is a shoo-in for this one. The song, a rather cold-hearted kiss-off, became an unlikely anthem and one of the year's most memorable hits.
The Album of the Year entries are more varied, ranging from rock with the Foo Fighters' Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace to country with Vince Gill's These Days to jazz with Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters to hip-hop with West's Graduation to Winehouse's soulful Back to Black.
My pick for winner is Graduation. Although it's not the best CD in the bunch (that would be the wondrous River), the academy will probably give West this one as a thank-you for selling so many CDs during the first week of release.
The Song of the Year is awarded to the songwriter(s), and nominees are "Before He Cheats," Carrie Underwood (written by Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins); "Hey There Delilah," Plain White T's (Tom Higgenson); "Like a Star," Corinne Bailey Rae (Corinne Bailey Rae); "Rehab," Winehouse (Winehouse); and "Umbrella," Rihanna (Shawn Carter).
My pick for winner is "Rehab." The instant-vintage production and Winehouse's smart-aleck delivery make this one of 2007's best hits. But it's a salty, dark tune -- something the academy usually shies away from. The real competition may be between the luminous Underwood and picture-perfect Rihanna.
In a Best New Artist field that apparently can't afford many names, the entries are Feist, Ledisi, Paramore, Taylor Swift and Winehouse.
My pick for winner is Winehouse. Although Ledisi, the thrilling Oakland, Calif.-raised jazzy soul singer-songwriter deserves this one, I doubt she will win it because not enough people know her name (Le-de-see). And her Verve debut, Lost & Found, was one of the year's most overlooked albums.
Selected nominees announced yesterday for the 50th annual Grammy Awards:
Record of the Year:
"Irreplaceable," Beyonce; "The Pretender," Foo Fighters; "Umbrella," Rihanna featuring Jay-Z; "What Goes Around ... Comes Around," Justin Timberlake; "Rehab," Amy Winehouse.
Album of the Year:
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters; These Days, Vince Gill; River: The Joni Letters, Herbie Hancock; Graduation, Kanye West; Back to Black, Amy Winehouse.
Song of the Year: