It'll be the Boss vs. the Brat.
Bruce Springsteen and Eminem will square off for album of the year honors at the 45th annual Grammy Awards, to be held in New York next month. The lengthy list of nominees, announced yesterday at Madison Square Garden, promised some drama and a few stark choices, though none quite as stark or dramatic as the choice between "The Rising," Springsteen's critically hailed meditation on the nation's post-9/11 grief, and "The Eminem Show," the bottle-blond rapper's critically hailed diatribe about his personal problems.
The smart money is on Springsteen, who is also up for four other prizes, including best rock album and songwriting nominations for song of the year and best rock song. But the Boss is likely to yield plenty of podium time to some lesser-known artists -- among them, Norah Jones, a 23-year-old jazz-influenced singer whose debut, "Come Away With Me," will vie for album of the year, best new artist and three other trophies.
Other performers who also walked away with five nominations include R&B newcomer Ashanti, up for best new artist, best contemporary R&B album and a couple of nods for best rap/sung collaboration for "What's Luv?," with Fat Joe, and "Always On Time," with Ja Rule. Avril Lavigne, an 18-year-old Canadian packaged as the scruffy "anti-Britney," is another best new artist nominee and could also nab song of the year and best female pop vocal performance, both for "Complicated." In the latter category, her competition includes Britney herself.
It'll be tension city.
St. Louis rapper Nelly's five nominations include album of the year and record of the year. (The latter award goes to the performer, while song of the year goes to the songwriter.) Singer and songwriter Raphael Saadiq also garnered five nominations, including two in the same category: best R&B song.
Four nominations went to the Dixie Chicks for their work on "Home," up for album of the year and a bunch of country categories. That figure is matched by Alan Jackson, whose "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" is a song of the year nominee.
Other artists with four nominations include Vanessa Carlton, the white soul singer Remy Shand and -- this one is really odd -- Chad Kroeger, the lead singer of Nickelback, an alt-metal band that is about three years from a "Where Are They Now" episode on VH1. Nickelback, amazingly enough, is up for record of the year.
Some Washington area acts are in the running. Like Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters -- we claim that guy, because he grew up in this region and lives and records these days in Alexandria. The Foos are up for best hard rock performance and best rock song for "All My Life," a cut from the band's latest, "One by One." (Among those the Foos will have to beat: Chad Kroeger!) And local folk heroes Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer are nominated for a few awards, including best traditional folk album.
Overall, it was a good year for young ladies and old men. Four of the five nominees for best new artist are women -- Michelle Branch is the only one not mentioned here so far -- with hunky folk-rocker John Mayer the lone guy in the bunch. And best pop vocal album is essentially an all-female affair -- Spears, Jones, Lavigne, Pink and No Doubt, the pop-ska act fronted by Gwen Stefani.
Everyone in the best male rock vocal performance category, on the other hand, is either nearing or well past 50: David Bowie (for "Slow Burn"), Peter Gabriel (for "The Barry Williams Show") Robert Plant ("Darkness, Darkness"), Elvis Costello ("45") and Springsteen ("The Rising").
For years, the knock against the Grammys has been that they're overly influenced by sales figures and willing to garland mediocre music just because it rose up the charts (two words: Christopher Cross). But if that were still true, there would have been a lot more nominations for Creed, the much-derided grunge quartet, since the band's "Weathered" sold nearly 6 million copies. Creed is up for best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal -- and that's it. Nor would a band called Bowling for Soup be part of the race for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal. That post-punk act doesn't have the reputation or sales history of its competitors, Bon Jovi, the Dave Matthews Band, No Doubt and 'N Sync.
Plenty of underexposed, though deserving, acts popped up on the list. The best alternative-music album category does include well-known names, like Beck and Coldplay. But here, too, is Clinic, a well-regarded Liverpool punk band that performs in surgical scrubs, and the Soundtrack of Our Lives, a quirky Swedish band whose "Behind the Music" album took listeners on a psychedelic trip to the '70s, with plenty of Keith Richards-like riffs throughout the ride. The Flaming Lips, critics' darlings who've never sold well, are nominated in the best rock instrumental performance.
Not all of the Grammy thinking was so bold, however, and some of it is truly baffling. The Grammys have completely snubbed garage rock bands, the cause of all those guitars-are-back celebrations last year. The putative leaders of this movement, the Strokes, were overlooked, though the group could have been shown some love thanks to a single, "Someday," released a week before the Grammys' Sept. 30 eligibility deadline. No mention, either, of the White Stripes or the Hives. The latter's album, "Veni, Vidi, Vicious," and its U.S. tour, gave pop a refreshing jolt last year.
Also tragically overlooked: the Neptunes, the Virginia Beach production duo responsible for some of 2002's most popular singles, like Nelly's "Hot in Herre," Clipse's "Grindin,' " and Usher's "U Don't Have to Call." The Neptunes should have been in the running for producer of the year. Instead, the combatants are Dr. Dre (who worked with Eminem and Snoop Dogg), Nellee Hooper (No Doubt), Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Bryan Adams and Mariah Carey), Arif Mardin (Norah Jones) and Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash and Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Blame, as well as credit, for these choices belongs to the 12,000 members of the recording academy, who vote on names submitted by fellow members and by labels. The same 12,000 will now vote on these nominees. The winners will be announced Feb. 23 at Madison Square Garden.
In the nether categories -- there are 104 altogether -- are some well-known names. Jamie Lee Curtis and Jerry Seinfeld are nominated for best spoken-word album for children. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeve, Robert Evans, Tim Robbins and Maya Angelou are nominated for best spoken-word album. Paul McCartney has a nomination in best song written for a motion picture, television or other visual media. The song is "Vanilla Sky," from the movie of the same name. But to win, one of the people he'll have to beat is a guy who wrote a song called "Hero" for the "Spider-Man" soundtrack.
That man's name is Chad Kroeger.
A complete list of nominees can be found at www.washingtonpost.com.