The lasting impact of Lilith Fair may be debated well into the next century, but one thing’s for certain: The entire Grammy-nominating body must have scored tickets to that tour. By coincidence or not, this year’s major categories are dominated by Lilith-associated acts, from Sarah McLachlan and Paula Cole to up-and-comers Abra Moore and Meredith Brooks. Is it another victory for women, or merely proof that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences breathed a collective sigh of relief at the return of good old-fashioned singer-songwriters? – As with the last few ceremonies, this year’s Grammys include a few tentative lurches forward — the first-ever dance music and best remixer categories — as well as a few exasperating steps back. Why is Bruce Springsteen nominated for a six-year-old live track? Here’s a quick swing through the leading categories — and those that promise at least a few surprises Feb. 25. Speaking of which, don’t count on many shockers in 1999: Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love and the Titanic soundtrack, both released after this year’s Sept. 30, 1997, deadline, are already frontrunners for next year’s prizes.
Record of the Year
Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? Paula Cole; Sunny Came Home, Shawn Colvin; Everyday Is a Winding Road, Sheryl Crow; MMMBop, Hanson; I Believe I Can Fly, R. Kelly
WHO WILL WIN For suave studio craft, the complex arrangement of Cole’s hit is bound to strike a chord.
WHO SHOULD WIN An infectious hook isn’t the only factor that makes you hum “MMMBop” a year after its release — it’s also the Dust Brothers’ hip-pop gleam.
Album of the Year
The Day, Babyface; This Fire, Paula Cole; Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan; Flaming Pie, Paul McCartney; OK Computer, Radiohead
WHO WILL WIN Given its critical acclaim, healthy sales, and healthy star, expect visions of hosannas for Dylan.
WHO SHOULD WIN Okay, compute this: a semi-concept album about societal restraints and nonconformity, sung by a gnomelike singer with an eye disorder, scoring the big one.
Song of the Year
“Don’t Speak,” Eric Stefani and Gwen Stefani, songwriters; “How Do I Live,” Diane Warren; “I Believe I Can Fly,” R. Kelly; “Sunny Came Home,” Shawn Colvin and John Leventhal; “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” Paula Cole
WHO WILL WIN Voters always embrace schmaltzy odes that promise to endure in piano bars — hence a win for Warren.
WHO SHOULD WIN With her postfeminist angst and ambiguities, Cole ropes in the zeitgeist.
Best New Artist
Fiona Apple, Erykah Badu, Paula Cole, Puff Daddy, Hanson
WHO WILL WIN Voters will ask themselves, “Where have all the earnest, piano-playing songwriters gone?” and check off Cole’s name.
WHO SHOULD WIN Talented wacko Apple wins, if only so we can hear what leaps out of her mouth during this acceptance speech.
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
“Butterfly,” Mariah Carey; “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” Paula Cole; “Sunny Came Home,” Shawn Colvin; “Foolish Games,” Jewel; “Building a Mystery,” Sarah McLachlan
WHO WILL WIN Count on voters to toss the otherwise neglected Jewel a jewel of her own, even if it’s for this florid track.
WHO SHOULD WIN Cole tends to overemote throughout This Fire, but the freshness and fluidity of her “Cowboys” vocal deserves to score.
Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals
“Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees),” Aerosmith; “The Chain,” Fleetwood Mac; “Push,” matchbox 20; “Crash Into Me,” Dave Matthews Band; “One Headlight,” The Wallflowers
WHO WILL WIN The Wallflowers’ success and vaguely familiar sound — is it live or is it classic rock? — should dominate.
WHO SHOULD WIN In this uninspiring category, at least Aerosmith’s contrived track has some rock & roll verve.