Grammy Sounds Off for Newcomers

We're barely six weeks into 2005, and already the event billed as "Music's Biggest Night" is once again here. Even with the glut of award shows, the Grammys remain the ultimate barometer of artistic -- and commercial -- achievement.

The 47th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles will kick off on Sunday evening with five nominated artists -- the Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani, Los Lonely Boys, Maroon 5 and Franz Ferdinand -- performing separately across three stages.

Later in the evening, the scheduled performers will include Kanye West and Usher, who together are nominated for 18 Grammys, and a possible duet from Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.

In one special performance, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Velvet Revolver, Tim McGraw and Brian Wilson will perform the Beatles' "Across The Universe." The evening will also include a tribute to Ray Charles, featuring Bonnie Raitt and Billy Preston, and a salute to Southern rock led by McGraw, Gretchen Wilson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dickie Betts and Elvin Bishop.

Queen Latifah will host the show, which will air live on CBS beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

In the past, the Grammy Awards have been criticized for being too predictable, with established artists awarded again and again and newcomers ignored. Remember the 1988 show when Jethro Tull beat Metallica in the heavy metal category? It certainly seemed like Grammy voters were out of touch.

Nowadays, the awards reflect the year's music beat and encompass a very wide range of music genres. This year, the nominations contain a whopping 107 categories, including four new ones: best electronic/dance album, best surround sound album, best gospel performance and best Hawaiian music album.

By far, the most important categories -- and the ones that guarantee a next-day surge in CD sales -- are the big four: best album, song, record and new artist. Below is a list of the nominees and my picks:

Album of the Year

"Genius Loves Company" -- Ray Charles & Various Artists
"American Idiot" -- Green Day
"The Diary of Alicia Keys" -- Alicia Keys
"Confessions" -- Usher
"The College Dropout" -- Kanye West

This is the strongest line-up in years, with a combined 39 nominations between the five acts. Conventional wisdom suggests that leading nominee Kanye West or mega-superstar Usher will win, but in the wake of Ray Charles' passing, the music industry may be moved to give him this most-coveted and well-deserved award. In life and in death, Charles remains timeless.

Record of the Year

"Let's Get It Started" -- Black Eyed Peas
"Here We Go Again" -- Ray Charles & Norah Jones
"American Idiot" -- Green Day
"Heaven" -- Los Lonely Boys
"Yeah!" -- Usher featuring Lil'Jon & Ludacris

Green Day's politically charged "American Idiot" is arguably the best rock song of this generation. It was the soundtrack to the divisive presidential election, in addition to debuting at No. 1 in the United States and United Kingdom simultaneously. Unfortunately for Billie Joe Armstrong and his Green Day cohorts, Usher's "Yeah!" was the No. 1 song of the year, spending 12 weeks at that spot, and it blew the doors wide open for the infectious sounds of crunk-rap. One year after its release date, "Yeah" still sounds as hot as ever. If any pop artist can claim 2004 as his or hers, it's Usher. All hail the new, not-self-proclaimed King of Pop.

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