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Grammy Awards

Often but not always the most deserving, U2 and Alicia Keys are likely to snag the top honors.

February 24, 2002|ROBERT HILBURN

The Grammy Awards show producers should open the telecast Wednesday with U2's "Beautiful Day," because there's no real suspense when it comes to naming the best album this year.

The Irish quartet's "All That You Can't Leave Behind," which includes the song, is the runaway favorite to win in the most prestigious Grammy category, which would make it the first rock band to win the best album award twice. "The Joshua Tree" was named best album in 1988.

A victory would climax a remarkable 15 months for the band, whose album and world tour not only reestablished it as a critical and commercial cornerstone in rock, but also helped restore confidence in rock music's ability to inspire a mass audience.

That kind of momentum could lead to a sweep of the top Grammy categories most years, but it's not likely this time because 21-year-old Alicia Keys generated considerable momentum herself. The singer-songwriter, who was the Cinderella story of pop last year, is nominated in six categories and she stands a strong chance of winning in most of them.

Here's a guide to some of the most interesting Grammy matchups. Wednesday's ceremony will be held at Staples Center and broadcast on KCBS-TV at 8 p.m.

Album of the Year

The nominees: India.Arie's "Acoustic Soul," Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft," OutKast's "Stankonia," U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack.

Ever since the Grammy brain trust gave final responsibility for choosing nominees in the top categories to a blue ribbon committee in 1995, the best album nominees have been impressive.

"All That You Can't Leave Behind" isn't as inspiring as "The Joshua Tree," but it is a passionate and well-crafted work and it would be a popular choice in this category. But "Love and Theft" and "Stankonia" were even more acclaimed, and a victory by either would also be hailed by many pop observers.

The OutKast collection would be the first hard-core rap album to win in this category, while "Love and Theft" is even more ambitious than Dylan's 1997 Grammy winner "Time Out of Mind."

The remaining albums are respectable, but a notch or two below the other choices. The longshot would be "O Brother," which could emerge on top if Dylan draws enough votes from U2. The soundtrack will draw a lot of support from Nashville and fans of the Coen brothers movie.

Likely winner: U2.

Most deserving: Bob Dylan.

Record of the Year

The nominees: India.Arie's "Video," Alicia Keys' "Fallin'," OutKast's "Ms. Jackson," Train's "Drops of Jupiter" and U2's "Walk On."

India.Arie picked up more nominations (seven) than Keys, which was a surprise because Keys got more radio play, more enthusiastic reviews and more sales during the year. But while the screening committee put Arie in this field, the full academy membership, which now exceeds 13,000 will likely side with Keys. If for no other reason, she has greater name recognition, often an important factor in a lengthy Grammy ballot (101 categories this year).

U2 is also a force, but "Beautiful Day" won last year in this category (which honors a single track rather than an entire album), so it's unlikely voters will honor the band two years in a row for best record, especially when "Beautiful Day" was a more compelling track.

Key's "Fallin'," a soul-accented expression of being helplessly in love, brings a modern sensibility to the classic soul tradition. "Video" is a liberating expression of self-affirmation, but it wasn't as big a hit, so it probably won't be as familiar to the mass membership.

Likely winner and most deserving: Alicia Keys.

Song of the Year

The nominees: Train's "Drops of Jupiter," Alicia Keys' "Fallin'," Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird," U2's "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," India.Arie, Carlos Broady and Shannon Sanders' "Video."

The wild card here is U2. If there is a U2 sweep, "Stuck" could be carried along. It's a moving statement of emotional disconnection. But there is usually a correlation between this category, which is for the songwriter only, and the best record category, which considers all the elements in a single recording, including song, vocal and instrumentation. Because different U2 works were nominated in the categories, it suggests that neither was dominant in voters' minds. The Keys song has more of a universal feel--it's the kind of song that could have been sung in the '60s by Aretha Franklin or be revived 30 years from now by a new generation of soul artists.

Likely winner and most deserving: Alicia Keys.

Best New Artist

The nominees: India.Arie, Nelly Furtado, David Gray, Alicia Keys and Linkin Park.

Linkin Park's "Hybrid Theory" was the biggest-selling album of 2001, but the rap-rock group's appeal is almost exclusively to teens, and there is little reason for adult Grammy voters to identify with it. Besides, this award usually goes to a solo artist. Keys and Arie are worthy, but Keys has the wider range and more striking ambition.

Likely winner and most deserving: Alicia Keys.

Pop Vocal Album

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