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Lauryn Hill's Gram Slam
The Grammy Awards broke their own mold February 24 by throwing a few curve balls into the mix. The unexpected happened, some underdogs actually won.
Traditionally the Grammys have achieved the reputation of being ultra-conservative in their award distribution - and as a result have shouldered a bit of disdain over the years. Conservative and careful to the point that a few years back, Jethro Tull beat out Metallica, who was riding the enormous popularity and acclaim of their 1991 Black album, in the Metal category. Until this year, the Grammys became synonymous with everything that was wrong with the music industry. Nothing but a joke.
Lauryn Hill, the 23-year-old R&B singer formerly with the Fugees, changed all that by leaving the auditorium with an armful of shiny metal. Five tiny gold phonographs to be exact. Even Hill was amazed, stating, "This is crazy because it's hip-hop music." So crazy that Hill broke a 17-year-old record for most Grammys by a female artist. She was only six-years-old when Carole King pulled off the feat in 1971 for her "Tapestry" album.
Hill's remarkable accomplishment says almost as much about the landscape of modern music as it does for her own abilities. With some many diverse acts recording albums, the lines are blurred and once shunned styles of music are riding in the drivers seat. Hill didn't just win, she won in the categories that matter most: album of the year and best new artist. Never before has a rap artist won in either of those categories. So, fasten your seat belts as music pushes into the year 2000, with rap and R&B leading the way it's sure to be an interesting ride.
The surprises didn't end there. Newcomers The Dixie Chicks (right) stunned the crowd and themselves by beating out perennial favorite Garth Brooks and country pinup Shania Twain for best country album. This is the equivalent to Matchbox 20 beating the likes of U2 or Pearl Jam in the modern rock category, which rest assured will never happen. To their credit, the trio of blondes was humble in the face of beating out superstars. They admittedly didn't prepare anything to say because they were so sure Shania would win. The Dixie Chicks also won for best country group with vocals. Any tears Twain shed were short lived as she took home two Grammys herself for best Country song and best Female vocals.
A few clouds remained however, as the Grammys slipped back into the comfort zone by awarding the over-played Titanic theme song "My Heart Will Go On" four Grammys. Interestingly enough, Titanic was released in 1997 and both the movie and the soundtrack were eligible for last year's Oscars but didn't make an appearance until this year's Grammys. Credit should go to Rosie O'Donnell for proving that the song could have been worse when she attempted to sing a new verse herself. Ms. O'Donnell, the fact that you were invited to the Grammys doesn't make you a music star.
Thankfully, the real artists put on some good performances in what is quite often a case of just going through the motions. Sheryl Crow, sporting a new look, played a spirited set that saw her playing the bass instead of her normal accordion. Eric Clapton and B.B. King were simply phenomenal and inspirational to watch during their duet together. They love to play guitar and it showed. Aerosmith, particularly vocalist Steven Tyler, was a disappointment. Tyler never found his voice in a too slow, lifeless version of the Armageddon theme song. At times Tyler actually sounded worse than Rosie.
So the 1999 Grammys were, for the most part, drenched with hope and an optimism that a revitalization of the industry is underway. The show has mirrored the industry and while no one likes a predictable awards show, certainly no one has liked the predictable, rehashed music scene of late. Now, fittingly given the title of Madonna's first Grammy winning album, we see a ray of light. Proof that positive change and spontaneity is just around the corner.
To bring the whole affair in a complete circle - almost symbolically, if the Grammys are capable of such outside the lines thinking - Metallica finally won their Grammy. Good thing Jethro Tull didn't put out an album this year.
KEVIN RIDOLFI of Pawtucket, RI, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org