The Grammy Awards: A Preview

grammygt.jpgThese things don't actually play records, do they?

It's finally on. After months of speculation and ridicule and intense campaigning from Kanye West, the 48th Annual Grammy Awards will finally be on TV tonight. The Grammys never mean anything, exactly; an award doesn't go far toward building an artist's reputation or even giving her a sales boost for more than a week or two. The awards are chosen by people within the music industry itself, so they don't reflect what's actually happening in music so much as the way the industry would like to see itself represented. And the music industry would like to see itself represented as a haven for slick, unthreatening, middlebrow virtuosity, the sort of place where pianos are everywhere and Southern rap means Outkast. There's inherent condescension going on there, of course, and it takes a long time for new ideas in music to entrench themselves enough that Grammy voters feel comfortable recognizing them. The voters also have a sad record of refusing to reward the people who actually pay their bills; in 2001, Steely Dan beat Eminem for Album of the Year even though Em was pretty much singlehandedly keeping the music industry afloat. (Music critics do the same thing, too, but whatevs.) And there's a certain general cluelessness on display, like the year India.Arie got nominated for a million awards based on the misconception that she was "critically acclaimed" when most critics just sort of tolerated her.

But for sheer spectacle, the Grammys' only real competition is the VMAs. This year, planners seem to realize this, and so we've got a truly bizarre and vaguely exciting lineup of superstar stunt-pairings and could-work ideas. Jay-Z and Linkin Park will reprise the old-ass "mash-up" album that everyone's already forgotten; that should be fun. The musical tribute to New Orleans is an obvious idea, but that doesn't mean it won't work, especially since they found the right people in Allan Toussaint and Irma Thomas. (It's a shame, though, that it also includes Grammy-staple jokers like Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt instead of, like, Lil Wayne, someone from New Orleans who's making great music now as opposed to thirty years ago.) Madonna is doing something with hologram images of the Gorillaz, and I'll be amazed if it's anything other than a deeply entertaining train-wreck. Christina Aguilera will be making a gratuitous cred-grab by performing with Herbie Hancock; I wonder if she'll bust out the fake 20s jazz-clothes from that one Nelly video. U2 and Mary J. Blige will once again run through their unbelievably great duet of "One." Sly Stone will apparently emerge from decades of reclusion only to be greeted with the ghastly spectacle of an all-star tribute featuring Will.I.Am, Ciara, Steven Tyler, Maroon 5, Robert Randolph, and professional tribute-givers John Legend and Joss Stone, both fresh off the well-intentioned but embarrassing Super Bowl pregame Motown tribute. Coldplay, Mariah Carey, Bruce Springsteen, and Kelly Clarkson will all perform; all are predictable choices, but that doesn't mean they won't be good. And, of course, Kanye West will have to top his amazing angel-wings thing from last year.

And some awards will be handed out. This Grammy-prediction thing is a perilous game because I'm never especially good at predicting anything and because Grammy voters have long proven themselves to be batshit-ass crazy (Jethro Tull best metal, Young MC best rap). But here go a couple of guesses.

Album of the Year: Kanye West, Late Registration This could be wishful thinking, but I think Kanye has a good shot at winning the big award this year. He may have sabotaged himself by giving interview after interview about how he deserves to win, but this is an album with strong sales and enormous critical acclaim, and voters run a substantial risk of looking old and out of touch if they don't give it to him. There's some precedent for a rap album winning, since both Outkast and Lauryn Hill got this award. But most of all, Kanye doesn't have any strong competition; there's no consensus middlebrow album of the year. U2's album didn't come with any of the return-to-form hype that their previous one did, and it's more than a year old by now. The voters would sooner die than give the award to a teenpop album like the Gwen Stefani joint. Nobody heard the Paul McCartney album. So Kanye's only real competition is Mariah Carey. The Emancipation of Mimi is about as strong an album as 00s R&B has produced; it restarted her career and sold more copies than anything else released last year. But her recent meltdown is still going to be fresh in voters' minds, and she still has a lingering rep for being a pop lightweight who doesn't write her own songs etc. She could win, but I'm saying Kanye gets it.

Record of the Year: Green Day, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" Grammy voters are probably still feeling dumb for not giving these guys Album of the Year last year, which should've been the total no-brainer consensus pick. Voters love heart-tugging power ballads with string sections and vague lyrics that could be about pretty much anything, and this fits the bill on all counts. And all the other nominees are either fluffy pop jams ("Hollaback Girl," "Gold Digger") or slightly portentous and angsty pop jams ("Feel Good Inc.," "We Belong Together"), so Green Day wins this one easily despite having possibly the worst of the five nominated songs.

Best New Artist: John Legend Country artists don't win this one unless they have massive, overwhelming crossover success, so there goes Sugarland. The guy from Fall Out Boy said he'd tell some dumb jokes in his acceptance speech if he won, so that's not going to happen (plus: too peppy). Ciara is too teenpop, and Keane is too British, so that leaves Legend, someone who was built for shit like this. He's clean, preppy, and good-looking. He loves appearing in all-star tributes to whatever. He plays piano. He's got a Kanye endorsement. It'll be a major upset if he loses.

Best Rock Album: Coldplay, X&Y Ha! The Rolling Stones got nominated! Um, Coldplay wins.

Best Alternative Music Album: White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan The Arcade Fire and Death Cab and Franz Ferdinand all have plenty of press. Beck is established. The White Stripes have plenty of press and are established. They win.

Best Solo Rap Performance: ? "Gold Digger" would be the obvious choice here, but they gave this fucking thing to "Men in Black," so who even knows; I'm not going to try.

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