Sinead O'Connor won't be there, but much of pop's aristocracy will be when the 33rd annual "Grammy Awards" telecast takes place from Radio City Music Hall Wednesday night.
O'Connor, you may have heard, is boycotting the Grammys, having decided they represent the "false and destructive materialistic values" of the music industry. She apparently came to this conclusion after picking up several MTV Video Music Awards and being shut out at the American Music Awards, two events that celebrate the "materialistic values" of the music industry much more than the peer-driven Grammys. Perhaps O'Connor simply didn't want what she wasn't going to get: Somewhat surprisingly, her critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," didn't make the Album of the Year cut, though it did make the new alternative category.
Not that O'Connor didn't notice some of the albums that did. "It's a frightening prospect that the Wilson Phillips album was declared one of the year's best artistic works," O'Connor fumed. "That wasn't decided on how it has healed or inspired the human race, but on how many copies it sold. That just makes me puke."
Sour grapes often do, though she has at least one point that's not on her head: Grammy voters, perhaps even more than the Oscar voters, are a conservative lot who often cast their ballots for commercialism over art. Hence Wilson Phillips's competition for Album of the year is Quincy Jones's "Back on the Block," Phil Collins's "But Seriously ...," "Mariah Carey" and M.C. Hammer's "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em," all of which were less critically acclaimed than commercially validated. This year chart-topping newcomers may mingle with veteran superstars, but there's no Bonnie Raitt waiting, ready to surprise with his or her own good taste not only the public, but the 6,000 voters of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
We've asked three industry insiders -- Paul Grein of Billboard, Ken Barnes of Radio and Records, Donnie Simpson of WKYS and BET -- to do some prognosticating on the major pop races, adding an unofficial Las Vegas betting line (from Entertainment Weekly) and, at the end, The Washington Post pop critic's line. Predictions are for what will win, not necessarily what deserves to win.
Record of the Year: Along with Album of the Year and Song of the Year and Best New Artist, this single-focused award is one of the Big Four Grammys. Nominees are Phil Collins's "Another Day in Paradise," Bette Midler's "From a Distance," O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U," Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" and Carey's "Vision of Love."
The favorite: "From a Distance" (2-1 in Vegas, Barnes, Grein, Harrington), particularly since Midler won last year's Record and Song Grammys for "Wind Beneath My Wings" and is rapidly becoming typecast as a singer of sentimental and inspirational anthems.
"It fits in better with the mood and the political climate than any of the other nominees," says Grein. "Sinead's chances evaporated with the breakout of the war after she refused to have the national anthem played." Like the other prognosticators, Simpson conceded that Hammer's likely to be hurt in the pop contests by a rap backlash from conservative NARAS members, but felt that the record was dominant in sales and in presence.
Album of the Year: Collins (Barnes, Grein, Simpson) or Jones (Harrington).
A close contest, with Vegas backing Hammer 6-5, even if it's not clear what year it should be the album of since it relies on so many tunes from the '70s and '80s. "It's weak competition this year," says Grein.
Barnes votes down rookies Carey and Wilson Phillips, expects that Hammer won't be taken seriously and feels that Jones was nominated more for his Grammy track record (78 nominations and 19 awards). "There's no album last year as creative as Quincy's -- it was like a music history lesson -- but I don't know if that's enough," says Simpson. "The Academy will probably give it to Phil."
Song of the Year: Collins's "Another Day in Paradise," Julie Gold's "From a Distance," Chynna Phillips, Glenn Ballard and Carnie Wilson's "Hold On," Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" and Mariah Carey and Ben Margulies's "Vision of Love."
Favorite: "From a Distance" (Grein, Barnes, Vegas even).
This is a songwriter's award, so NARAS could conceivably reward Prince without recognizing O'Connor. Unfortunately, there's often a dovetail effect, with Song of the Year duplicating Record of the Year, as it did last year with "Wind Beneath My Wings." Interestingly, "From a Distance" is five years old and has been recorded by more than 20 artists, Nanci Griffith being the first in 1987. None of the previous artists, however, has been as radio-friendly as Midler, whose theatrical arrangement features seven backup singers and the Radio Choir of New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. Also, it went to No. 2, is one of most requested songs on Armed Forces Radio in the Persian Gulf and is the only nominee with lyrics that have been entered into the Congressional Record.
Best New Artist: Black Crowes, Mariah Carey, Kentucky Headhunters, Lisa Stansfield, Wilson Phillips.
Favorite: Carey unanimously except in Vegas, which has Wilson Phillips even, Carey at 2-1.
"Black Crowes and Kentucky Headhunters are too specialized," says Barnes, who also says no to Wilson Phillips despite Beach Boys/Mamas and Papas bloodlines ("but there's no improvement musically"). The edge goes to Carey -- "she has those vocal pyrotechnics that are so very impressive to Grammy voters."
And, Grein adds, "she's nominated in the three preceding categories, Wilson Phillips only in two, which knocks out all the others." Simpson also points out that Carey "crossed over -- she was number one on the black and pop charts simultaneously and that will give her strength."
Pop Vocal Performance, Female: Another Midler/"Distance" victory (Barnes, Grein), albeit a close one over Carey's "Vision of Love" (Vegas 9-5, Simpson) in a strong field that includes Lisa Stansfield's "All Around the World," Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" (Harrington).
Pop Vocal, Male: Collins's "Another Day in Paradise" lament for the homeless (Vegas 5-1, Grein, Simpson, Harrington) over a poor field that includes Rod Stewart's "Downtown Train," Michael Bolton's "Georgia on My Mind," James Ingram's "I Don't Have the Heart," Billy Joel's "Storm Front" and Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman."
"The Orbison sympathy vote is over with," says Barnes, who also feels the Academy may just be "burned out on Phil."
R&B Vocal, Male: Luther Vandross's "Here and Now" (Barnes, Grein, Harrington) over Johnny Gill's eponymous album, Al B. Sure's "Misunderstanding," Tevin Campbell's "Round and Round" and Babyface's "Whip It."
"Luther's never won and he should have won several by now," says Grein. "He's been the preeminent male R&B balladeer for 10 years and ... I just don't think they can deny him again."
"He's been underappreciated for many years," Barnes agrees, adding that the other young nominess will split their support, allowing the youngest, 12-year old Campbell, an outside shot.
R&B Vocal, Female: Janet Jackson's "Alright" (Barnes, Grein, Harrington) over Anita Baker's "Compositions" album (Simpson), outpacing Pebbles' "Giving You the Benefit," Patti LaBelle's "Misunderstanding" and Regina Belle's "Make It Like It Was."
Says Grein, "Anita could still win because she's perceived as being a better singer" by music professionals.
R&B Vocal, Duo or Group: Wide open, with En Vogue's "Born to Sing" album (Simpson, Harrington) and the Ray Charles/Chaka Khan duet "I'll Be Good To You" (Grein) favored over After 7's "Can't Stop," Was (Not Was)'s "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and "The Secret Garden," featuring Al B. Sure, James Ingram, El DeBarge and Barry White.
Grein insists that the Charles/Khan song will win. "Everybody loves Ray Charles. You can't vote against Ray Charles. From young voters to old voters, everybody wants to see Ray Charles win. I would win a Grammy if I was doing a duet with Ray Charles."
Rock Vocal, Female: Another weak field, and a tossup between Janet Jackson's "Black Cat" and Alannah Myles's Elvis tribute, "Black Velvet."
"Janet gets the votes for presence, but it's a stretch for some people to call this a rock vocal," says Barnes, who votes for Myles's "overwhelming" hit (as I do). Grein goes for Jackson, while Simpson passes.
The other nominees are Melissa Etheridge's "The Angels," Tina Turner's "Steamy Windows" and Stevie Nicks's "Whole Lotta Trouble."
Rock Vocal, Male: Another wide-open category, with Grein going for Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love," Barnes with Eric Clapton's "Bad Love" over his heart-choice, Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," plus Jon Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" and Joe Cocker's "You Can Leave Your Hat On." Cocker, like Tina Turner, is one of those puzzling Grammy perennials, but according to Barnes, "if you imitate Ray Charles, no matter how badly, they'll put you in the final five."
Young is considered too much of an outsider and rebel-rouser, and his rough-hewn, political song is not prime Grammy material (though it gets my vote).
Rap, Solo Performance: U can't touch the Hammer. The one Grammy lock.