Scripps Howard News Service
The Grammys have gotten better. Really.
Ever since new nominating rules and committees were instituted in the 1990s, the nominations have been far more in touch with artistic merit and have gotten away from past problems of cronyism, schmaltz and just plain stupidity.
That said, this year's nominees make it look like those reforms never happened.
Consider the names announced Thursday for the 48th annual Grammy Awards, which will be held Feb. 8 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on CBS.
Mariah Carey is amply rewarded for her hype-inflated chart showings with "The Emancipation of Mimi" -- a return to form, yes, but still a shallow bit of Mariah-lite that somehow got a mind-boggling eight nominations, including album of the year.
It gets worse.
Does anyone really think Gwen Stefani made the best album of the year?
Or that Eric Clapton's dull ""Revolution" is the best rock vocal?
And if "Candy Shop" is truly among the best rap songwriting we have to offer, the genre is officially bankrupt.
Paul McCartney is rewarded for being Paul McCartney and making a passable album in "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard" -- hardly album-of-the-year material, yet there you are.
Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt and Seal are nominated for work far inferior to what made them Grammy favorites. Ever since her stunning debut album, Crow's career plan seems to have been "Hmm ... how do we make this new album more bland than the last one?"
And -- yeow -- the best-new-artist category is populated by the likes of Keane and Ciara, showing what a paucity of new talent is out there (at least on the Grammy voters' radar).
The White Stripes' lavishly praised "Get Behind Me Satan" is nowhere to be found in the top categories, settling for a best-alternative-album nod.
Surprisingly, new darlings Coldplay are shut out of the top categories as well, settling for nods like best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal (rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?).
Some categories, the greatest beneficiaries of the 1990s reforms, have much more prescient nominees. Voters dug out such obscurities as Robert Plant's great "Tin Pan Valley" for best hard rock performance of the year.
Most of the R&B nods are well-chosen, from John Legend to Stevie Wonder. And, fortunately, the Grammys did leave themselves some credible choices in each of the major categories that could help them avoid total embarrassment at the awards ceremony in February.
They can go with Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" or West's "Gold Digger" for record of the year; U2's "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" or West's "Late Registration" for album of the year (though West also wins if Mariah gets album of the year, as he produced some tracks for her along with nearly a dozen other producers); Bruce Springsteen's "Devils & Dust" or U2's "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" for song of the year; and John Legend for best new artist.