After slugging it out with Everlast, Christina Aguilera, 'N Sync, Backstreet Boys, his estranged wife, his mother, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Insane Clown Posse and Canada, Eminem is now taking on Beck, Radiohead, Paul Simon and Steely Dan. Unlike the notorious rapper's other donnybrooks, however, this celebrity deathmatch will go down on national television during the 43rd annual Grammy Awards, which will be broadcast Feb. 21 on CBS (nominations were announced Wednesday in Los Angeles). The five combatants — an eclectic bunch, to say the least — will duke it out for Album of the Year honors. As usual, the controversial category has music insiders buzzing.
"No matter who wins, it will be a surprise," Rolling Stone music editor Joe Levy tells TV Guide Online. "Although Eminem's record is excellent and, to say the least, provocative, it's also offensive to many. Each of the nominations are interesting and eclectic records, and except for Eminem, they're also more critically driven than commercially driven. It's a category that's a little more intriguing than in years' past."
Despite the Grammy hype surrounding multi-nominated artists such as Dr. Dre and Destiny's Child's Beyonce Knowles — who received five nods each — all post-nomination talk revolved around the infamous Eminem. Over the course of the past several months, the outspoken artist — who received four nominations himself — has evolved from hip-hop's top-rated emcee to pop music's most controversial figure.
"The big question was whether the Academy would spank Eminem or embrace him," says Rolling Stone contributing editor David Wild. "I think they looked at his record sales and decided to give him a fairly sizeable hug." Adds Newsweek music critic Lorraine Ali: "The fact that Eminem got four nominations in top categories — including Album of the Year — is pretty amazing. The Grammys haven't always embraced controversial or even slightly edgy artists. They've always been known for being more conservative and leaning toward older, established, non-threatening artists. Even though it's supposed to be about the music, I think it's a popularity contest as well. And although Eminem's talented, he's not very likeable. I don't know if he can win."
The Grammys, which are voted on by the members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), include nearly 100 categories in all, including Record of the Year (this time pitting Destiny's Child against Macy Gray, Madonna, 'N Sync and U2), Song of the Year (U2's "Beautiful Day" vs. Faith Hill's "Breathe," Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance," Macy Gray's "I Try" and "Say My Name" by Destiny's Child) and Best New Artist (this year's field includes Shelby Lynne, Brad Paisley, Papa Roach, Jill Scott and Sisqó). The latter award is also an annual target of speculation since it usually includes artists that aren't new (such as Lynne and Sisqó). Many felt that St. Louis rapper Nelly and Dido should have been among this year's fresh talent nominees.
Controversy, however, is nothing new to the Grammys — especially when you recall past oversights such as Elvis Costello losing Best New Artist to A Taste of Honey in 1978, or when Jethro Tull beat out Metallica for Best Hard Rock/Metal performance in 1988. "NARAS has been playing catch-up for years," says Levy. "They ignored rock and roll in the '60s, they tried to ignore it again in the '70s and they ignored hip-hop in the '80s. Satisfying commercial realities is what they've always been good at. With this year's nominations, they seem to be announcing that they've caught up to critical tastes."