No Big Winners Likely at Grammy Awards

AP Music Writer

NEW YORK – Since Santana’s Grammy sweep three years ago, nobody has dominated the awards ceremony — a trend likely to continue Sunday.

An unprecedented eight artists — among them Bruce Springsteen, Eminem and Norah Jones — led the nominations with five apiece. While some acts are favored, it’s doubtful any will outpace the pack to emerge as the night’s big winner at Madison Square Garden.

Some Grammy watchers say that’s a testament to the strength of this year’s field.

“Sometimes the competition is so keen that by necessity it gets spread around, and this year it’s very tough,” says J Records founder Clive Davis.

Steve Leeds, senior vice president of promotion at Virgin Records, says the range of nominees reflects increasingly diverse public tastes.

“The media and society has moved from an artist-driven culture to a song-driven culture,” he says. “I don’t think they’re as married to an artist.”

While Eminem had 2002’s top-selling album with “The Eminem Show,” he had just two hits: “Lose Yourself,” his first No. 1 hit, and “Without Me,” which is nominated for record of the year.

Jones sold more than 3 million copies of her debut album, “Come Away with Me,” but the song that propelled it, “Don’t Know Why,” wasn’t a major radio hit.

And while Springsteen’s “The Rising” received plenty of hype along with critical acclaim, it didn’t have a major hit either. It has sold almost 2 million copies, though.

“Even though Springsteen’s album is critically applauded and did well in terms of sales … there’s nothing off ‘The Rising that you can hum,” says Tom O’Neil, author of “The Grammys.”

In general, he says, “There was nothing that dominated the industry.”

Newcomers Avril Lavigne and Ashanti also made a major impact in 2002, while rapper Nelly had two of the year’s biggest hits — “Hot in Herre” and “Dilemma,” both up for Grammys.

All had five nominations, as did Grammy veteran Sheryl Crow (news) and neosoul singer-songwriter Raphael Saadiq.

More than a dozen artists were nominated for two or more awards, including India.Arie, Vanessa Carlton, Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello, the Dixie Chicks and Alan Jackson.

“It’s like musical democracy in action,” says Leeds.

Craig Marks, editor of Blender magazine, said: “It’s also probably a reflection of a more diverse and stronger year in music, that there are so many different candidates from so many different fields.”

Last year, rockers U2 won four awards, while R&B songstress Alicia Keys and the rootsy, country soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” each nabbed five.

The year before that, Eminem, Steely Dan, U2 and Faith Hill each took home three Grammys.

Actually, it’s not often that a Santana or Michael Jackson-like sweep occurs.

“It’s very rare,” says Davis, who produced Santana’s “Supernatural” disc, which netted nine Grammys. “Only occasionally do you get a transcendental work.”

“There needs to be sort of flukish circumstances for a person to win that many categories,” Marks agrees.

O’Neil, whose Web site handicaps the Grammy race, says the Recording Academy tends to divvy up awards among two groups: “They divide it between trying to get it right among today’s stars and passing out gold to deserving veterans.”

That’s how this year’s Grammy race will conclude, according to Marks, who expected Springsteen and Jones, both critical favorites, to be the big winners.

“I think those two people will dominate the awards ceremony, and everyone else is sort of going to be a runner-up,” he says.