There’s no sport music-industry insiders have traditionally enjoyed quite so much as Grammy bashing. This year, though, the usually gleeful derision has been strangely muted. Chalk it up to a brasher set of nominees that promises to make the annual awards show almost, well, relevant. Rookie Alanis Morissette is up for six statuettes, and Joan Osborne for five, reflecting a year in which women and newcomers were the big news. Gangsta rappers too are finally getting their props. And chart lightweight PJ Harvey got as many nominations (two) as the 12-million-selling Hootie & the Blowfish.
How’d the Grammys get cooler? Thanks, in part, to the threat of a cold shoulder from the major labels. Last year’s ballot — notable for multiple nominees Tony Bennett and the 3 Tenors — was deemed so embarrassing that industry bigwigs David Geffen and Tommy Mottola publicly joined the usual critical outcry. Privately, labels threatened to withdraw financial support for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. NARAS president Mike Greene heard the message loud and clear, he says, and developed a plan to ”do something about getting rid of — or at least mitigating — two things: popularity and sentimentality” in the voting process. The immediate solution was to add a middle step to the nominating process, by appointing a select 25-person committee to each major category. These committees would then whittle 20 top nominees down to the 5 that the entire membership would vote on. The result: a ballot weighted more toward — what a concept! — artistic excellence.
Osborne, whose star was just beginning to rise when the nominations were announced, has benefited most from the newly hepper Grammys. If she or Morissette knocks aside Mariah Carey and sweeps the top categories Feb. 28, it’ll mark the first time a new artist has pulled off such a feat since that Grammy credibility booster of 15 years ago…Christopher Cross.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
”One Sweet Day,” Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men; ”Gangsta’s Paradise,” Coolio; ”One of Us,” Joan Osborne; ”Kiss From a Rose,” Seal; ”Waterfalls,” TLC
WILL WIN: Mariah, the Boyz, and a No. 1 hit about a dead friend — how can that lose?
SHOULD WIN: TLC’s slinky ode to ghetto life flowed as beautifully as a waterfall.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Daydream, Mariah Carey; HIStory, Past, Present & Future — Book 1, Michael Jackson; Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette; Relish, Joan Osborne; Vitalogy, Pearl Jam
WILL WIN: Hipper factions voting for Morissette or Osborne could cancel each other out, leaving chart queen Carey the belle of the ball. A tough call.
SHOULD WIN: We’d relish a victory by dark horse — and thoroughbred — Osborne.
SONG OF THE YEAR
”I Can Love You Like That,” Maribeth Derry, Steve Diamond, Jennifer Kimball; ”Kiss From a Rose,” Seal; ”One of Us,” Eric Bazilian; ”You Are Not Alone,” R. Kelly; ”You Oughta Know,” Glen Ballard and Alanis Morissette
WILL WIN: Seal lets the voters have it both ways: a ballad, but by an ”edgy” act.
SHOULD WIN: The Osborne-sung ”One of Us” is spiritual and sacrilegious — a songwriting feat.