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Sunday, February 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Do CDs still register? Tonight's Grammy Awards may be the last hurrah

By Patrick MacDonald
Seattle Times music critic

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Tonight's Grammy Awards promises the usual flash and glamour, along with suspense and surprises over who's going to win or lose. But while it may look like any other recent Grammy telecast, this one will be historic. It will be the last to be driven by MTV music videos, compact-disc sales and broadcast radio.

Technology is going to change the Grammys, just like it's changing everything else about the recording industry. By this time next year, legal music downloading, music DVD sales and Internet and satellite radio stations will greatly influence the Grammys. There may even have to be some new categories, like best music downloading site and best band in cyberspace.

When MTV debuted in 1981, it changed the way pop stars are made. It shifted emphasis from the aural to the visual. There soon emerged the first great star of the MTV era: Madonna.

The MTV influence still impacts the Grammys. This year nominees for the top two awards — record and album of the year — are among the most-played artists on MTV or MTV2: Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Eminem, OutKast, Missy Elliott, Evanescence, Coldplay and the White Stripes.

The 46th annual Grammy Awards

8 to 11:30 tonight on CBS, KIRO-TV (Channel 7)
When compact discs overtook vinyl in the late '80s, that changed the Grammys, too. Every veteran rock act re-released all its albums on CDs, which boosted the careers of many of them. That was a factor in why so many established stars dominated the Grammys in the late '80s and through the '90s, when Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan were big winners.

With legal downloading, music DVDs and Internet radio edging into the industry, it will mean that more new, young acts will be heard — a welcoming and promising development for the future of pop music. Just as the last great cultural shift in our country — the emerging of the alternative, hippie culture in the '60s, and the new music that came with it — the current great cultural shift we're now in the middle of — the technology revolution and the world of cyberspace — will also change society and develop its own music scene.

One thing that may change is the whole album concept. So far, most legal downloaders are opting for singles rather than albums. Today's albums are often padded with filler. When buyers can pick and choose the songs they want, the album may become a thing of the past. Artists will release a few or many songs at a time, and let downloaders buy what they want. Artists won't have to compile a bunch of songs before they can release them in album form. As soon as a song is done, it can go on sale on the Internet.

Andre "Andre 3000" Benjamin, left, and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton of OutKast, which could be the big winner tonight for its highly entertaining, diverse, two-disc album, "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below."
But first, this year's Grammys will catch up with, and hopefully honor, some deserving artists who have been neglected: OutKast, Missy Elliott and the White Stripes. All are up for top awards.

One of the last TV events to feature live performances, tonight's 3-1/2-hour broadcast on CBS offers some intriguing prospects, including the White Stripes, OutKast, Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Celine Dion, Prince, Alicia Keys, Sting and the Black Eyed Peas. Christina Aguilera is scheduled but will probably lip-synch, which doesn't count (viewers will only notice what she's wearing, or not wearing, anyway). CBS has also announced it will delay the live broadcast by as much as five minutes to avoid any Janet Jackson-like "costume reveals." (West Coast feeds are delayed anyway.)

This year there isn't a great new artist to celebrate across the board — like last year, when Norah Jones won an armful of awards. There aren't any must-see performers, like Michael Jackson or Eminem. And Madonna probably won't kiss anybody.

Bet on OutKast to be the big winner tonight, for its highly entertaining, diverse, two-disc album, "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." It's "safe" hip-hop, far from the dangerous overtones of gangsta rap, so it's appealing to a wide range of Grammy voters. It's also a bit of a throwback, with heavy pop and R&B influences, which also helps.

Rapper 50 Cent was aced out of major categories but will probably be named best new artist.

50 Cent, whose "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " was the biggest-selling CD last year, was aced out of the major award nominations (his CD would have been a more credible best-album nominee than Evanescence's "Fallen") but will probably get his due by being named best new artist.

The gifted Missy Elliott, the most adventuresome artist in hip-hop, who tries to do something different in each of her albums, deserves to win multiple awards for her fourth release, "Under Construction." It produced the invigorating, dance-oriented singles "Gossip Folks" and "Work It."

The White Stripes may not win any awards, but just the fact that their fourth CD, "Elephant," was nominated in several categories, including album of the year, is enough. The challenging, talented alternative band's acceptance in the mainstream means that creative, forward-thinking rock is still alive.

Inventive Missy Elliott deserves to win multiple awards for her work in "Under Construction."
Other performance highlights tonight will include a tribute to Luther Vandross, the R&B singer who is recovering from a stroke. Celine Dion, Alicia Keys and Richard Marx will sing some of Vandross' hits. He's nominated for best song, R&B song, male R&B vocal performance, R&B album (all for "Dance With My Father") and R&B duo (for "The Closer I Get to You" with Beyoncé).

The Beatles will also be the subject of a tribute, featuring Sting, Dave Matthews, Vince Gill and Pharrell Williams. Warren Zevon, who died in September, will be remembered with a tribute featuring Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Timothy B. Schmit, Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam and Jorge Calderon, as well as the late singer-songwriter's children, Arial and Jordan.

The Foo Fighters will join jazz pianist Chick Corea for the kind of cross-category performance the Grammy show is known for.

Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312,


Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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