The Grammys have always been a bone of contention for music lovers. Not only do listeners not get to vote, but they're forced to watch as their favorite artists get passed over in favor of commercial successes, cookie-cutter bands and the Old Guard.| It got to be so frustrating, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which spearheads the awards, even changed its nominating rules two years back to leave room for new talent and baby bands (no, that doesn't mean Hanson), rather than just focusing on the obvious.
But change comes slowly, and since the voting committee consists of industry insiders and not music fans, rarely do the nominations reflect what's truly happening in the rock, rap, R&B and pop world. This year, the nominations are as expected as always, with only a few twists in an otherwise straight and narrow path. Radio hits "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine," Madonna's "Ray of Light" and Shania Twain's "You're Still the One" predictably received nominations for Record of the Year. (Confusingly for laypersons, that award goes to a track, not an entire record).
Swap Brandy and Monica for Kirk Franklin ("Lean on Me") and Madonna for Aerosmith ("I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"), and you've got the Song of the Year nominations. The couple tiny shockwaves came from Radiohead's Best Alternative Music Performance nomination for the EP Airbag/How Am I Driving?, and the placement of the Beastie Boys in both the Best Alternative Music Performance and the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group categories.
The biggest surprise came not in the form of genre, but gender. Nineteen-ninety-eight appears to have been the year of the woman -- in music at least.Madonna shone with her dance single "Ray of Light," which garnered thematerial girl a nod for Record of the Year. Her album of the same name is upfor a total of five nominations, including Album of the Year.
Shania Twain, with her crossover pop-country, placed in all of the four general categories for which she qualified (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year). Had she been a newcomer, no doubt the committee would have thrown Mrs. Mutt Lange in the Best New Artist category as well. Twain and Sheryl Crow got six nominations apiece, but were trumped by the high priestess of hip-hop, Lauryn Hill, who was granted a generous ten nominations. Both were granted spots in the Album of the Year category, as were -- quite surprisingly, considering slouchy sales -- the Shirley Manson-fronted group Garbage. Add it all up, and not one single Y-chromosome lurks anywhere near the Album of the Year.
Even the Best New Artist category was swarming with chicks. The Dixie Chicks, for one, as well as Natalie Imbruglia and Lauryn Hill outnumbered Andrea Bocelli and the Backstreet Boys, the only male representatives.
But even with their girl power message, the ruling powers behind the Grammys are still mostly related to commercial prowess. To wit, check out the Best Pop Album category, where perennial mega-sellers Eric Clapton, Celine Dion, Natalie Imbruglia, Madonna and Brian Setzer are all up for the same award. Where are the nominees for less commercial pop albums, like Liz Phair's whitechocolatespaceegg? And what about such stellar releases as Sunny Day Real Estate's How It Feels to be Something On or Belle and Sebastian's The Boy With the Arab Strap, which are on countless "Best of 1998" lists? Guess if they don't make the industry richer, they don't get patted on the back for a job well done.