For the first time in their 51-year history, Grammy sponsors the Recording Academy announced the nominees for 2008 not at a boring, overblown press conference -- but during a boring, overblown television special that aired live Wednesday night from Los Angeles.
Leading the pack with eight nominations was the filthy-minded dirty South rapper Lil Wayne. Moody rockers Coldplay garnered seven nods, and rap and R&B stars Jay-Z, Ne-Yo and Chicago's Kanye West claimed six each.
West's nods were all for productions for or collaborations with other artists, including Lil Wayne and R&B chanteuse Estelle. Because of the odd way the Grammys define "a year," West's 2008 release "808s & Heartbreak" will not be eligible for consideration until 2009.
Following on his mentor West's heels, South Side rapper Lupe Fiasco was honored with four nods for best rap/sung collaboration and best rap song ("Superstar" with local singer Matthew Santos), best rap album ("The Cool") and best rap solo performance ("Paris, Tokyo").
In the major categories, vying for the album of the year are Coldplay ("Viva La Vida"), Lil Wayne ("Tha Carter III"), Ne-Yo ("Year of the Gentleman"), Robert Plant and Alison Krauss ("Raising Sand") and Radiohead ("In Rainbows").
Nominees for record of the year, which honors the best single recording, were Adele ("Chasing Pavements"), Coldplay ("Viva La Vida"), Leona Lewis ("Bleeding Love"), M.I.A. ("Paper Planes) and Plant and Krauss ("Please Read the Letter").
Nominees for song of the year, which honors the songwriters, were "American Boy" (recorded by Estelle, featuring Kanye West), "Chasing Pavements" (recorded and co-written by Adele), "I'm Yours" (recorded and written by Jason Mraz), "Love Songs" (recorded and written by Sara Bareilles) and "Viva La Vida" (recorded and written by Coldplay).
Those three of the "big four" categories boast the usual mix of super-popular, super-predictable and genuinely worthy. But the best new artist slate for 2008 was particularly embarrassing, with nominees Adele and Duffy, two British singers working variations on the Amy Winehouse formula; teen-pop hypes the Jonas Brothers, who actually released their third album this year; the glossy Nashville act Lady Antebellum and Philly soul singer Jazmine Sullivan.
Though the winners often fail to reflect the most artistically significant or innovative recordings each year, the Grammy remains the music industry's most prestigious annual award. Yet while sponsors the Recording Academy bill it as "music's biggest night," the award telecast has been suffering from a sharp decline in ratings.
Last year, the 50th annual award show was down 2.5 million viewers from the 2007 telecast. Before that, the 2006 show suffered an infamous defeat in the ratings to "American Idol," and it drew the show's smallest viewership in 11 years.
In a misguided attempt to drum up interest for this year's telecast, which will air on CBS on Feb. 8, the Recording Academy for the first time announced the 2008 nominees -- or at least a small fraction of them-during a live TV special hyperbolically entitled "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! -- Countdown to Music's Biggest Night." Tied to the opening of a new Grammy Museum, the show featured a selection of ultra-mainstream pop stars performing "classic songs from Grammy history," with little thought given to the pairings.
The Vegas-glitzy Celine Dion blustered through Janis Ian's nakedly soulful "At Seventeen"; the self-obsessed Foo Fighters demolished Carly Simon's "You're So Vain;" the young country ingénue Taylor Swift added nothing to Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" and Christina Aguilera hammed it up through "I Loves You Porgy" from "Porgy and Bess."
On the list of other Chicago honorees, Jennifer Hudson was nominated for best R&B album ("Jennifer Hudson"), best R&B vocal performance ("Spotlight") and best R&B performance by a duo or group ("I'm His Only Woman" with Fantasia) and former Chicagoans Ministry got a nod for best metal performance ("Under My Thumb" from "Cover Up").
The local Latin music group Alacranes Musical were nominated for best banda album ("Tu Inspiracion"), and several honors in the classical category went to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including best engineered album, producer of the year and best orchestral performance.