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1998 Grammy Awards

By Daniel J. Katz

Well, it's Grammy time again, and as usual, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences nominee list is easily criticized. Snubbed breakthrough artists (Elliott Smith, Fat Boy Slim, and Ben Folds Five come to mind), nominees who shouldn't even have tickets to the ceremony (Brandy and Monica), and category distributions that make little or no sense (Metallica in two different genres and Propellerheads in rock.) But what can you do? Here's my take on the major categories.

Record Of The Year

€ The Boy Is Mine, Brandy and Monica

€ My Heart Will Go On, Celine Dion

€ Iris, Goo Goo Dolls

€ Ray of Light, Madonna

€ You're Still The One, Shania Twain

What's the theme of the Grammys this year? Glad you asked... female vocalists releasing new and revolutionary material. In one of the few categories where Lauryn Hill isn't nominated, the new-and-improved spiritual Madonna's new Grammy-friendly image should win her the award show's final honor, despite the brilliant arrangement of strings and acoustic and slide guitar which makes Iris so enchanting.

As for my real favorite of the year, it's way too close to call. The Rockafeller Skank (Fat Boy Slim), 16 Horses (Soul Coughing) and Rabbit In Your Headlights (UNKLE w/ Thom Yorke) are top contenders in my book.

My Prediction: Madonna

My Pick: Goo Goo Dolls

Album of the Year

€ The Globe Sessions, Sheryl Crow

€ Version 2.0, Garbage

€ The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill

€ Ray of Light, Madonna

€ Come On Over, Shania Twain

Lauryn Hill is going home with a LOT of Grammys. Hill's solo album scoops up rap and R&B, shoves them in a blender, and spills them out with twice as much soul and emotion in songs that feel disorganized but complete at the same time. While it's not my personal cup of tea, it redefines the two genres and you can dance to it, giving it mainstream appeal.

Soul Coughing's El Oso demonstrates that funky rhythms, bouncy samples, and mind-warping but strangely poetic lyrics can be fused together in more ways than you probably think.

My Prediction/Pick: Lauryn Hill

My Real Pick: El Oso, Soul Coughing

Song of the Year (awarded to songwriter)

€ I Don't Want To Miss A Thing

€ Iris

€ Lean On Me

€ My Heart Will Go On

€ You're Still The One

Basically, this category asks the voter to decide how each song would fare without its signature voice. We can either focus on the melody and vocal harmony or the instrumental arrangement. I'll take the second route, leading to my choice of Iris and my more spontaneous choice of Uninvited, two haunting orchestral tracks from the City of Angels soundtrack. Somehow I suspect the Academy will go for the catchy tune, and I Don't Want To Miss A Thing and My Heart Will Go On, are too associated with their performers to win.

My Prediction: You're Still The One

My Pick: Iris

My Real Pick: Uninvited, Alanis Morrisette

Best New Artist

€ Backstreet Boys

€ Andrea Bocelli

€ Dixie Chicks

€ Lauryn Hill

€ Natalie Imbruglia

Although I have a warm spot in my heart for Natalie, this is Lauryn's year, and she'll take this award easily.

My Prediction/Pick: Lauryn Hill

My Real Pick: Propellerheads

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance

€ My Favorite Mistake, Sheryl Crow

€ My Heart Will Go On, Celine Dion

€ Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You, Lauryn Hill

€ Torn, Natalie Imbruglia

€ Adia, Sarah McLachlan

As torturous as her song is, Celine Dion has earned some recognition for having the most popular song of the year. Natalie Imbruglia, on the other hand, released a debut single with sparkling guitar, an infectious melody, and crystal-clear vocals. She's got a terrific career ahead of her, and she deserves this Grammy. The Lauryn Hill song in question is not stellar (and why is she nominated in pop, rap, AND R&B? No wonder she leads this year's nominations...)

My Prediction: Celine Dion

My Pick: Natalie Imbruglia

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance

€ Save Tonight, Eagle-Eye Cherry

€ My Father's Eyes, Eric Clapton

€ Anytime, Brian McKnight

€ Lullaby, Shawn Mullins

€ You Were Meant For Me, Sting

Eric Clapton is a perennial Grammy favorite, but Eagle-Eye Cherry is a rookie with a big-name jazz forefather, and he also had more exposure this year than Clapton. It'll be a close race, but sadly the man who deserves this award isn't nominated; Elliott Smith put out a tuneful album that revolutionized pop, performed at the Oscars, and was snubbed for his efforts. Baby Britain is one of the more pleasant tracks on the album.

My Prediction: Eagle-Eye Cherry or Eric Clapton

My Pick: Eagle-Eye Cherry

My Real Pick: Baby Britain, Elliott Smith

Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal

€ I Don't Want To Miss A Thing, Aerosmith

€ One Week, Barenaked Ladies

€ Iris, Goo Goo Dolls

€ Crush, Dave Matthews Band

€ Jump, Jive, An' Wail, Brian Setzer Orchestra

Since they're the only ones nominated for Record of the Year, the Goo Goo Dolls should be a lock. Grammy voters don't always follow the realm of logic, however, so look for a potential upset from Brian Setzer. Personally, I'm obligated to root for underdogs Barenaked Ladies, who finally broke into the mainstream this year. Circles did well on alternative radio, and is the closest to "pop" that El Oso gets.

My Prediction: Goo Goo Dolls

My Pick: Barenaked Ladies

My Real Pick: Circles, Soul Coughing

Best Dance Recording

€ When Will You Learn, Boy George

€ Around The World, Daft Punk

€ Heaven's What I Feel, Gloria Estefan

€ Disco Inferno, Cyndi Lauper

€ Ray Of Light, Madonna

If she can win Record of the Year, Madonna can win here. French duo Daft Punk's Around The World was all over the club scene this year, and actually got some MTV exposure before fading back into obscurity. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the Propellerheads contribution to Shaken But Stirred, an album of James Bond theme covers and remixes. The end result: orchestra meets drum machines. Delicious.

My Prediction: Madonna

My Pick: Daft Punk

My Real Pick: On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Propellerheads

Best Female Rock Vocal Performance

€ Raspberry Swirl, Tori Amos

€ There Goes The Neighborhood, Sheryl Crow

€ Glass House, Ani DiFranco

€ Uninvited, Alanis Morissette

€ Can't Let Go, Lucinda Williams

Alanis is the most known name here, and as I mentioned earlier, Uninvited is the best written song of the year. Tori Amos is the real story here, however. The frenetic dance beat of Raspberry Swirl completely deviates from her standard expansive piano fare.

My Prediction: Alanis Morissette

My Pick: Tori Amos

Best Male Rock Vocal Performance

€ Everybody Here Wants You, Jeff Buckley

€ Almost Saturday Night, John Fogerty

€ Have A Little Faith In Me, John Hiatt

€ Fly Away, Lenny Kravitz

€ Your Life Is Now, John Mellencamp

Jeff Buckley, a Canadian singer-songwriter, passed away this year and will get the credit he's been due for so long.

My Prediction/Pick: Jeff Buckley

Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal

€ Pink, Aerosmith

€ The Way, Fastball

€ Celebrity Skin, Hole

€ Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve

€ Heroes, The Wallflowers

Let it be known that I would never consider Hole to be better performers than the Verve, but neither Bittersweet Symphony or The Way are really rock songs, so neither even belongs in this category. Hole outshines the legitimate rock songs in this category. This, of course, means nothing to the voters, and the Verve should pick up an easy win. For pure guitar rock, however, it was hard to beat the now-defunct band Failure's contribution to the Depeche Mode tribute album, an overdriven rendition of the classic '80s hit, Enjoy The Silence.

My Prediction: The Verve

My Pick: Hole

My Real Pick: Enjoy The Silence, Failure

Best Hard Rock Performance

€ Psycho Circus, Kiss

€ The Dope Show, Marilyn Manson

€ Fuel, Metallica

€ Most High, Page & Plant

€ Do The Evolution, Pearl Jam

Conservative voters look to conservative names. Metallica aren't actually misplaced in this category; they haven't played any metal since the early '80s, and Fuel is the essence of hard rock: breakneck riffs, belted vocals and lyrics about fire and twisted steel. It doesn't, however, have the eerie mood, agony, and dynamic contrast of my choice, the closing track on Stabbing Westward's third album.

Oh, and a reminder: NARAS doesn't like Eddie Vedder. He accepted Pearl Jam's first Grammy with the words, "I'm sorry but this means nothing to me."

My Prediction: Page & Plant

My Pick: Metallica

My Real Pick: Waking Up Beside You, Stabbing Westward

Best Metal Performance

€ Bullet Train, Judas Priest

€ Better Than You, Metallica

€ Fried Chicken And Coffee, Nashville Pussy

€ No Shelter, Rage Against The Machine

€ Du Hast, Rammstein

Maybe I just have an obsession with loud covers of synthpop songs, but I can't get enough of the new version of Blue Monday. Also impressive this year (and garnering lots of attention) were Orgy's tourmates, German industrial band Rammstein. While Engel is the best song of their album, it never caught on in the United States. Du Hast did, like wildfire.

My Prediction/Pick: Rammstein

My Real Pick: Blue Monday, Orgy

Best Rock Song (awarded to songwriter)

€ Bittersweet Symphony

€ Celebrity Skin

€ Closing Time

€ Have A Little Faith In Me

€ Uninvited

Celebrity Skin was written by Billy Corgan and Courtney Love, who will kill each other if they go on stage together. Bittersweet Symphony, the likely victor, bears writing credits from the Verves Richard Ashcroft and the Rolling Stones. They will also kill each other. This could be one of the more interesting presentations of the evening.

My Prediction: Bittersweet Symphony

My Pick: Uninvited

My Real Pick: Bittersweet Symphony or Celebrity Skin (see above)

Best Alternative Music Performance

€ From The Choirgirl Hotel, Tori Amos

€ Hello Nasty, Beastie Boys

€ Is This Desire?, PJ Harvey

€ Airbag/How Am I Driving? Radiohead

€ Adore, Smashing Pumpkins

NARAS got all excited about voting for Radiohead last year and is now addicted.

My Prediction/Pick: Radiohead

My Real Pick: El Oso, Soul Coughing

Best R&B Song

€ All My Life

€ The Boy Is Mine

€ Doo Wop (That Thing)

€ Lean On Me

€ A Rose Is Still A Rose

Lauryn Hill actually wrote two of the nominated songs; Doo Wop and A Rose Is Still A Rose. She'll win for the former, which is more recognizable, and harder to get out of your head for days at a time.

My Prediction/Pick: Doo Wop

Best R&B Album

€ Live, Erykah Badu

€ Never Say Never, Brandy

€ A Rose Is Still A Rose, Aretha Franklin

€ The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill

€ Embrya, Maxwell

We've been through this...

My Prediction/Pick: Lauryn Hill

Best Rap Solo Performance

€ Dangerous, Busta Rhymes

€ Lost Ones, Lauryn Hill

€ Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z

€ Gone Till November, Wyclef Jean

€ Gettin' Jiggy Wit It, Will Smith

Dangerous came out this year? Gone Till November is a rap song? This category is just ugly, especially since the wrong Jay-Z song was nominated... in Hard Knock Life, he manages to make a song from Annie worse than it already was. His first single was much better. From these nominees, however, Busta Rhymes deserves the nod, and Will Smith, multi-format celebrity, is the frontrunner.

My Prediction: Will Smith

My Pick: Busta Rhymes

My Real Pick: Can I Get A, Jay-Z

Best Rap Performance By A Duo or Group

Intergalactic, Beastie Boys

Money Ain't A Thing, Jermaine Dupri w/ Jay-Z

Deja Vu (Uptown Baby), Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz

Rosa Parks, Outkast

Ghetto Superstar, Pras w/ O.D.B. and Mya

Intergalactic was clearly one of the themes of the year, and this is the best place to recognize it. Ghetto Superstar has more variety, more of a rock edge, and holds up better over time.

My Prediction: Beastie Boys

My Pick: Pras and company

Best Rap Album

Capital Punishment, Big Punisher

Life in 1472, Jermaine Dupri

Vol. 2.. Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z

Harlem World, Mase

The Love Movement, A Tribe Called Quest

Supposedly, the Tribe are on their way to retirement, and the industry's aware of it.

My Prediction: A Tribe Called Quest

My Pick: Jay-Z

Best Country Album

Sevens, Garth Brooks

Wide Open Spaces, Dixie Chicks

Faith, Faith Hill

Come On Over, Shania Twain

Where Your Road Leads, Trisha Yearwood

In case you've been living under a rock, Garth Brooks has become synonymous with country. I am going out on a limb here, since Shania Twain is nominated for Record and Album of the Year, but it's on the strength of one major song, and Garth's reputation is more solid. (Plus Canada isn't exactly the country capital of the world.)

My Prediction/Pick: Garth Brooks

Best Short Form Music Video

Pink, Aerosmith

Bachelorette, Bjork

Ray of Light, Madonna

All Around The World, Oasis

Do The Evolution, Pearl Jam

Although Ray of Light picked up the most MTV Awards (and theoretically, they should know what they're talking about), in my opinion, the myriad of images that makes up Do The Evolution rivals Radiohead's Just for best video of all time. Bar none.

My Prediction: Madonna

My Pick: Pearl Jam

If just one of these predictions comes true, I'll be ecstatic. (That should tell you how much faith to have in meŠ) I suggest that, like me, you just sit back Wednesday night and enjoy the show. Then we can all complain the morning after.