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A wild bunch

Grammy loves the problem kids this time: Unruly Amy lands six nominations and boisterous Kanye has eight.

December 07, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

The news that Amy Winehouse will be the dominant figure for the 50th Annual Grammy Awards presents a tricky proposition for the producers of the broadcast -- should they view the shot glass as half-full or half-empty?

While Kanye West (the hip-hop firebrand who seems positively safe by comparison) has the most nominations with eight, Winehouse is the only artist whose name appears in all four of the marquee categories for record, album, song and new artist. That has her poised for the sort of Grammy newcomer surge that sent three other soulful women -- Norah Jones, Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill -- home with armfuls of trophies over the past decade.

Winehouse is certainly a compelling figure, but her recent public appearances have ended badly (her muttering performance of the song "Back to Black" at an MTV European award show) or before they even began (her just-canceled tour). There also have been entanglements with her visa, a jailed husband back home in London and, according to visual evidence in the British tabloids, a reckless party lifestyle.

West, meanwhile, has had his own tribulations. His mother, Donda West (also the chief of his charity foundation and onetime manager), died on Nov. 10 following elective plastic surgery, and the rapper has been reeling since. The voting cutoff for nominations was Nov. 7, so "Graduation" earned its nominations before the news of the tragedy.

West's album has sold 1.8 million copies in the U.S. alone, making it the bestseller in the album of the year category. It's also the sort of nonviolent rap collection that Recording Academy voters feel comfortable embracing, much the way they did "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below," the 2003 OutKast album that is the only pure rap project to have won an album trophy.

It's West's third nomination in the category and despite his past tantrums over not winning the award, voters may feel it's time to acknowledge the consistently acclaimed 30-year-old rapper and producer.

Winehouse's album and her retro-soul hit "Rehab" are nominated in the record and song of the year categories (the former is an award for the best single, the latter goes to the songwriter) and in the closely watched new artist category she joins four other female voices: Tennessee pop-punk group Paramore (led by singer Hayley Williams); Bay Area-based R&B singer Ledisi, 17-year-old country newcomer Taylor Swift and Canadian singer-songwriter Feist.

The album of the year category is a study in eclecticism, continuing a trend of recent years that shows the influence exerted by the Grammy blue-ribbon selection committee, created in 1995 to vet the final nominations in the top categories.

In addition to Winehouse's "Back to Black" and West's "Graduation," that panel selected the mainstream rock of the Foo Fighters and their sixth studio album "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace"; country stalwart Vince Gill and his wildly ambitious "These Days," a four-CD collection of new material; and jazz icon Herbie Hancock and his "River: The Joni Letters," which may set a new academy standard for putting art above commerce -- the CD has sold just 30,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan sales data.

It's notable who the panel left out: Bruce Springsteen's album "Magic" was seen as a strong contender by many in the industry, but (in much the same way that Bob Dylan was passed over last year) the veteran rocker didn't hear his name called out on Thursday in the top categories during the nomination press conference at the Music Box @ Fonda Theatre. Springsteen did get four nominations in other categories, however.

While Hancock and Gill took the album category into meritable niches away from the mainstream, the record of the year -- considered in the industry to be perhaps the most illustrious Grammy -- went in the direction of pure radio hits. "Umbrella," the ubiquitous hit by Rihanna (and featuring Jay-Z), is there, as is Justin Timberlake's "What Goes Around . . . Comes Around," Beyonce's "Irreplaceable," the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender" and Winehouse's "Rehab."

For song of the year, the nominated writers are Winehouse for "Rehab," Corinne Bailey Rae for "Like a Star," and the team of Jay-Z, Kuk Harrell, Terius "Dream" Nash and Christopher Stewart for "Umbrella." Country songwriters John Kear and Chris Tompkins are also nominated for penning the Carrie Underwood hit "Before He Cheats," and Tom Higgenson, the singer in the Illinois punk-pop group Plain White T's, is nominated for his band's breakthrough, "Hey There Delilah."

The nominees for producer of the year are Howard Benson (who worked on projects by Daughtry, Relient K and the Starting Line), Joe Chiccarelli (the Shins, Oxbow, Burden Brothers), Mike Elizondo (Maroon 5, Rilo Kiley), Mark Ronson (Winehouse, Lily Allen) and Timbaland (his own album as well as M.I.A. and Fabolous).

The 50th Annual Grammy Awards will be handed out Feb. 10 at Staples Center and broadcast on CBS. All nominations were for recordings released between Oct. 1, 2006 through Sept. 30, 2007. There are 110 categories, although only about a dozen are given out during the television broadcast. The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences has 11,000 voting members.

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