What’s Grammy to do when she wants to be hip and respected, yet so many of 1999’s hits were cravenly commercial? Years back, the old fashioned Grammy would’ve been happy to dole out nominations to pop balladeers who posted blockbuster numbers, saturated the airwaves and offended exactly nobody the way the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Ricky Martin and others did. But the new and improved Grammy, who was mightily impressed with herself last year when rapper Lauryn Hill walked away with Album of the Year honors, wants to prove her worth by taking some chances.
The solution? One is for Grammy to embrace Santana like the brother she never had. Santana’s Supernatural, a much-welcomed blend of commercial prowess (4.5 million copies sold, and counting, according to SoundScan), Hall of Fame respectability, as well as a classic comeback story, was showered with ten nominations. And if there were any way Grammy could’ve found room for Santana in the Best Female Rock Performance, we’re sure she would have.
And then there were Grammy’s new best friends, Diana Krall and Susan Tedeschi. Who? Exactly. The two performers — Krall, the sultry jazz singer, and Tedeschi, a blues powerhouse — scored perhaps the biggest surprise nominations in recent Grammy history. Krall’s album, When I Look in Your Eyes, somehow won an Album of the Year nod and will face-off against platinum titans BSB, Santana, the Dixie Chicks and TLC. Meanwhile, the road-tested Tedeschi’s up for Best New Artist against MTV TRL favorites Britney Spears, Kid Rock, Christina Aguilera and VH1 pet project Marcy Gray.
Not surprisingly, both Album of the Year and Best New Artist are among the select categories that Grammy assigns to a special blue-ribbon nominating panel that hand-picks the final selections. The Krall and Tedeschi nods must be applauded, but they somehow smack of tokenism, as if Grammy wanted just one Best Album nomination that never hit No. 1 on the pop charts. (BSB’s Millennium often sells more copies in one week than Krall’s album has sold in six months.) The question is why Grammy ended up picking Krall’s jazz release literally out of the blue? If Grammy was searching for critically-acclaimed, commercially-challenged artists who appeal to a more refined taste, why not tap Moby, or Beth Orton, or Ron Sexsmith, or Gomez, or Basement Jaxx, or any number of deserving artists? Chalk it up to another Grammy mystery.
Sort of like, why on earth was Tom Waits’ Mule Variations nominated in the Best Contemporary Folk album category? When, if ever, will Grammy stop nominating Sting and Melissa Etheridge for awards? (Sting’s up for two trophies this year; Etheridge three.) Since Tedeschi deserves a shot at Best New Artist, shouldn’t her house-burning rock radio single, “You Need To Be With Me,” be up for Best Female Rock Performance? (Especially considering Sheryl Crow’s dreadful reading of Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” made the cut.) If pop wonders from BSB and Ricky Martin are good enough for Pop Album of the Year, isn’t Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time? And even though BSB’s “I Want It That Way” will surely snag Record and Song of the Year honors come Grammy night, how did Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger” get shut out of those categories?
More questions persist. Like what did DMX ever do to Grammy? You might remember last year rapper Jay-Z boycotted Grammy when his bud DMX was snubbed. Well, it’s deja vu all over again. And in the rap single category, Ja Rule’s smash “Holla Holla” is nowhere to be found, nor is `99’s other party anthem, “Who Dat,” by JT Money featuring Sole. (Grammy no doubt cursed the fact that the new album from her favorite rapper, Will Smith, was released too late in the year to be considered for lots of nominations.)
Meanwhile, is Grammy still mad at Eddie Vedder for his snotty acceptance speech a few years back? Because a lingering grudge is the only logic explanation for overlooking Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss” effort for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal.
Speaking of rock, Grammy’s own nominations continue to be the best argument for scrapping the Best Metal Performance altogether. (The Hard Rock category is sufficient to honor the head-bangers.) This year Grammy tapped Black Sabbath’s twenty-nine-year-old “Iron Man,” Motorhead’s cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” as well as Nine Inch Nails, who don’t have much of anything to do with metal music.
But let’s not be too hard on Grammy. Along with her bold choices of Krall and Tedeschi, Grammy deserves credit for nominating American Beauty in the newly unveiled Best Soundtrack Album category. Unlike most soundtrack projects, the set boasts no bankable stars, just a mesmerizing mix of offerings from the Eels, Elliott Smith, Folk Implosion and Thomas Newman.
See, Grammy knows where it’s at.