Controversy over rapper's lyrics overshadows other nominees, new categories
(CNN) -- The nominees for the 2001 Grammy Awards are marked by diversity, but one artist is standing out for his apparent aversion to tolerance: hard-core rapper Eminem.
The Detroit rapper has been dogged by protest and publicity ever since the release of his album "The Marshall Mathers LP." The furor was ratcheted up further after he received Grammy nominations for album of the year, best rap album, best rap solo performance and best rap performance by a duo or group.
Eminem's lyrics, which his critics have called violent, homophobic and misogynistic, are at the root of the controversy. A group of organizations led by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Organization for Women plan to lead a protest outside Los Angeles' Staples Center before the February 21 live broadcast of the ceremonies.
"Our coalition's presence at the Grammys will send a powerful message that hate in any medium will not go unchallenged," said GLAAD Executive Director Joan M. Garry in a statement announcing the protests.
An Eminem-Elton duet
Further confounding the controversy is the announcement that Eminem will perform a duet at the Grammys with Elton John, who has championed many gay causes. John told the Los Angeles Times that he is a big fan of Eminem's and that the rapper suggested the idea of a duet.
"If I thought for one minute that he was (hateful), I wouldn't do it," John said.
Garry released a statement saying that GLAAD was "disappointed" and "appalled" that John would perform with the rapper. GLAAD honored John last year with an award for his efforts to fight homophobia.
"We believe John's actions today violate the spirit of this award," she said.
"The Marshall Mathers LP" sold 8 million copies in 2000 -- more than any other artist except 'N Sync -- and garnered its share of critical acclaim. Eminem's lyrics feature degrading references to homosexuals and include graphic depictions of violence against women, including a fantasy about raping his own mother. Some of his lyrics were read aloud in a Senate hearing in September as a prime example of lewd entertainment targeted at youthful audiences.
Of the protests, Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, said, "It's always something," noting that the ceremony was protested by nuns four years ago because of the song "One of Us" by Joan Osborne.
"There's always a community, or in this case, a whole country that gets perturbed about extreme art," he said. "There's no doubt about that. It's like Lenny Bruce said at the end of his concerts, 'Is there anybody out there I haven't pissed off?' "
'Defending the indefensible'
Greene said that "extreme music" of the past usually focused on the protest of injustice, such as the Hollywood blacklists of the 1950s, the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War. "We were always screaming about the right stuff, and all of sudden, you've got this blond-haired punk screaming about the wrong stuff," he said.
But Greene said that the debate over Eminem is focusing on how wrong homophobic and misogynistic behavior is and that drawing attention to these issues ultimately advances the cause of tolerance.
"That's certainly what we're trying to do with it. Defending the indefensible is certainly an interesting proposition," he said.
Eminem appears not to be too worried by all the protests, saying at the MTV Video Music Awards in September that the more he's attacked, the more records he sells. He plans to attend the Grammy Awards ceremony, even though he ridiculed the awards in his single "The Real Slim Shady," which includes the line, "You think I give a damn about a Grammy?" Ironically, that song is nominated for best rap solo performance.
Eminem already has two Grammys. He won the awards last year for best rap album and best rap solo performance.
Best album nominees go beyond best sellers
But all controversy aside, the nominations for best album focus more on critically acclaimed works rather than conventional pop records and best sellers.
Beck's "Midnight Vultures," Radiohead's "Kid A" and "The Marshall Mathers LP" were hailed by critics, but the Beck and Radiohead albums did not get a lot of airplay or rack up multiplatinum sales. The other two nominees -- Paul Simon's "You're the One" and Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature" -- also weren't mega-sellers, although both were generally received favorably by critics.
In the other high-profile categories, the nominees tend to be artists and their hit singles, or key tracks on big-name albums, such as U2's "Beautiful Day" or 'N Sync's "Bye Bye Bye," both nominated for record of the year.
In another difference with previous Grammys, there are more than two dozen acts that have been nominated for three or more awards. In years past, there tended to be a focus on multiple nominations for one artist, such as Santana last year or Eric Clapton, who won multiple Grammys in 1992 for his "Unplugged" album, which included the song "Tears in Heaven."
Multiple nominees include country singer Faith Hill; 'N Sync; rapper Dr. Dre, who was nominated in performance and production categories; and Beyoncˇ Knowles, a member of the R&B trio Destiny's Child.
Hill and Destiny's Child will perform at the ceremony, along with U2, Madonna, 'N Sync, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Christina Aguilera and others.
Two new categories added
The Grammys also added two new categories this year, best pop instrumental album and best Native American music album.
Greene said the academy had been studying the addition of the Native American category in response to this growing field of musicians. But the process took several years so the academy could recruit enough members to have a voting electorate.
He cited the addition of the hard rock/heavy metal category in 1991, which he said was added before there was enough of a membership. The result was Jethro Tull as the category's first winner.
"The only thing metallic about Jethro Tull is Ian Anderson's flute," he said, referring to the band's lead singer.
Greene said the response from the Native American musical community has been enthusiastic.
"I think we forget how important this is to these communities in terms of getting recognition in front of these 200 countries across the world," he said. "Even though there won't be a performance necessarily, we will show the winner. It'll be a real important moment for them."
Greene said he is also looking forward to the nominees attending the ceremony. "They will come dressed, many of them, in their Native American ceremonial outfits, and I think it's going to be so cool to see that in the midst of all the rockers and rappers and everybody else."
As far as the pop instrumental album category, Greene said the awards have always recognized single pop instrumental tracks but nothing for a body of work by an instrumentalist. The new category is aimed at instrumentalists like smooth jazz artist and nominee Kenny G.
"They have been petitioning for years to give them a place where their music could be considered," Greene said.
But the category also includes nominees from the field of electronic music, including the influential producer and ambient music pioneer William Orbit, who produced and helped co-write the 1998 Grammy-winning "Ray of Light," Madonna's venture into the world of electronica.
An even more eclectic nominee is the Blue Man Group, a troupe of three enigmatic and bald male performance artists who do award-winning theatrical productions while painted blue.
While mainly a theatrical outfit, the group's Grammy nomination is for its debut album, "Audio," which features the music performed onstage using invented instruments such as one constructed of polyvinyl-chloride plumbing pipes.
William Orbit: From Madonna to Maurice Ravel, this William is in Orbit
Grammy.com: The Recording Academy
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