Grammy voters go eclectic: Babyface leads pack with 12

A hefty contingent of top-selling artists mixed with critical favorites to round out the nominations for the 39th annual Grammy Awards, announced Tuesday in New York.

The diversity in the noms, in which excellence was recognized alongside popularity, perhaps demonstrated that the revamped voting process – instituted two years ago by National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences execs – is working. In addition, triple-threat Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds tied Michael Jackson’s record for most nominations in one year.

Alternarock gods Beck and Smashing Pumpkins nabbed noms in key categories, rappers the Fugees challenged established songstress Celine Dion, and the Whitney Houston-led “Waiting to Exhale” disc nabbed more nominations than any soundtrack in the Academy’s history.

Edmonds, who produced the “Exhale” disc, racked up 12 nominations, including nods in the coveted best record, best album and best song categories. His showing tied Jackson’s record set 14 years ago with “Thriller.” Jackson went home with eight trophies that year, including a Grammy for record of the year.

Eleven of Edmond’s nominations were for records and albums he produced – most notably the “Exhale” soundtrack and Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” cut from the “Phenomenon” soundtrack.

Edmonds also picked up noms for songs he wrote and was nominated in the best R&B performance by a duo or vocal group category as well, marking his lone performing nomination.

“I never expected this,” Edmonds told Daily Variety. “Even though its about the music and not about awards, it makes you feel good that people think highly enough of your work to nominate you. I guess it means you’re appreciated.”

Women top the lists

Women dominated many of the categories, including the top four lists and also best pop album.

In the record of the year listing, three of the five nominees were women, including Alanis Morissette who nabbed four trophies last year for her Maverick/Reprise disc “Jagged Little Pill.” “Ironic,” a track from the disc, is nominated this year.

“It’s wonderful that people are still thinking about the song so long after we made the album,” Glen Ballard, who co-wrote and produced the album and the nominated track, told Daily Variety.

Virgin Recording artists Smashing Pumpkins nabbed seven nominations, while Elektra Records singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, MCA Nashville artist Vince Gill and LaFace/Arista’s Toni Braxton tied for third with five nominations each.

Tied for fourth with four nominations apiece were Duck/Reprise Records guitarist Eric Clapton, Epic’s Dion, producer David Foster, classical conductor Pierre Boulez, LaFace R&B artist Tony Rich and Houston.

This was the second year that the nods in the big four categories – album, record, song and best new artist – were decided by a 25-member panel of music industry execs. The panel culled its choices from the top 20 artists selected in these categories by Grammy voters.

“It’s very gratifying to see our outstanding artists and the dedicated executives at our labels receive the peer recognition they so richly deserve,” Bob Daly, co-chairman and co-CEO of Warner Music Group, told Daily Variety.

New artist contenders

Vying to be named the year’s best new artist are Atlantic singer Jewel, Rich, Alamo/Geffen alternarockers Garbage, Trauma/Interscope’s No Doubt and Curb Records’ 14-year-old country artist LeAnn Rimes.

“It’s a top-quality group of nominees that indicates to me that our membership is continuing to get younger and continuing to remind themselves that they are voting for excellence and not just popularity,” Michael Greene, prexy/CEO of NARAS, told Daily Variety.

Greene also said he was “not overly pleased” with the country nominations and was considering establishing panels in that genre as well as R&B, to make the nominations in those categories “more representative” of the marketplace.

Mixed bag

The nominations for album of the year were a mixed bag that spoke to the diversity of albums in the marketplace during the eligibility period, which ran from Oct. 1, 1995, through Sept. 30, 1996.

Beck’s “Odelay” will challenge Celine Dion’s ”Falling Into You,” the Fugees’ “‘The Score,” Smashing Pumpkins’ ”Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” and the soundtrack album for “Waiting to Exhale.”

Beck’s disc, clearly the category’s dark horse, has sold more than 500,000 copies and was also honored by several magazines and newspapers as the year’s best.

But voters are likely to split their vote between the “Exhale” disc and Dion, partly because both offerings boast tracks that can become standards and best represent what the Academy strives for.

Four of the five albums were also sales chart and radio staples through much of the period, with Smashing Pumpkins and Dion both logging 7 million copies sold.

Competing for record of the year – an award that goes to the producer and artist – are Clapton’s “Change the World”; Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason”; Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” the theme from the film “Up Close and Personal”; Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979”; and Morissette’s “Ironic.”

In previous years, the love song “Because You Loved Me” would have been considered a shoe-in. But with Clapton in the mix, combined with Babyface producing a track that spent much of the year in heavy rotation on radio and vidchannels, “Change” could pick up the trophy.

Morissette’s “Ironic” and the Smashing Pumpkins “1979” are attached to hugely popular albums, though voters may feel Morissette’s victories last year were sufficient.

Song of the year nominees are Clapton’s “Change the World,” Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” Dion’s “Because You Loved Me,” Rimes’ “Blue” and Houston’s “Exhale.” The award goes to the songwriter. Each track was a sales and radio chart staple.

The lines were particularly blurred in the male pop vocal performance category, where four of the five artists nominated – Bryan Adams, Sting, Clapton, John Mellencamp – used to be called rock stars. The fifth, Tony Rich, is a throwback to ’70s R&B.

Life in them yet

Of the four big-gun artists, discs from Clapton, Mellencamp and Adams are still charting and have sold more than 500,000 copies.

Sting’s disc is also the lone male entry in the best pop album category, competeing with discs from Chapman, Dion, Braxton and Shawn Colvin.

The Beatles are considered a shoe-in for a Grammy for their first new song in more than two decades. The Fab Four were nominated for best pop performance by a duo or group for ”Free As a Bird,” the first single off “Anthology Volume I.”

Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti received a nomination in the best pop collaboration with vocals category for their performance on the “Sinatra 80th – Live in Concert” album and will compete against another unlikely duo – Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello’s “God Give Me Strength” from the “Grace of My Heart” soundtrack.

The Grammys, voted on by 8,000 of the 12,000-strong NARAS membership, will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres and telecast to 170 countries on Feb. 26 from New York’s Madison Square Garden.

This is the first time the Grammys have been held in a sports arena. A portion of the 450 nominations in 89 categories were announced at the Ed Sullivan Theater by B.B. King, David Sanborn, Jewel and Steven Curtis Chapman.

A complete list of nominees follows:

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