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Grammy’s Golden Age of Parity

The Grammys, like the National Football League, have achieved their
own blissful state of parity. Eminem, far and away the year’s most
visible artist, received a once-hefty total of five nominations
yesterday, and so did Bruce Springsteen, rock’s largest living icon
who released his most acclaimed album in almost two decades. Oh
yeah, also receiving five nominations were pop newcomers Norah
Jones, Avril Lavinge and Ashanti, as well as hip-hop heavyweight
Nelly, rock’s all-time leading collaborator Sheryl Crow, and
R&B vet Raphael Saadiq.

So, how did eight artists tie for the most Grammy nods?
Well, for the same reason as the NFL: In an age of unparalleled
splintering demographics, nobody wants to see one team dominate.
This year, there are 104 categories with five artists (sometimes
more — remember those duets!) facing off in each. That’s 620
chances for your team to make the playoffs.

In addition to Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album, Best
Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best Male R&B Vocal
Performance, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal,
Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, the Academy has added
Best Contemporary R&B Album and Best Urban/Alternative
Performance (where, apparently, ordinary, non-city-dwelling folk
are ineligible). If you make R and/or B music, you have forty
opportunities.

And then there are the subdivision categories. Within Rock (not
to be confused with Pop), there are separate Rock, Hard Rock and
Metal categories (this year, the latter two both feature P.O.D.).
However, the apparently more distinct Alternative (whatever that
means in 2003) gets its own category separate from Rock, but Elvis
Costello is featured in both.

All of this means that more or less any recording artist
(except, apparently, Wilco) can get a nomination: commercial and
critical successes (Eminem), commercial successes and critical
misses (Nickelback), critical successes and sales misses (the
Soundtrack of Our Lives), and even critical and commercial misses
(Bowling for Soup). And just because an artist doesn’t release an
album in a given year, doesn’t mean it can’t get in on the action.
The Academy has taken the title of U2’s 2000 album All That You
Can’t Leave Behind
quite literally, as material from it
(though pre-/re-released in alternate versions and formats) has
grabbed Grammy nominations three years in a row.

The names on the once-tired Grammy ballot haven’t so much
changed — they’ve expanded. So masked alterna-rockers Clinic get
to hang with Kenny G. And, like another televised sport, as long as
everybody believes that anybody can win, everybody wins.

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