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Charisma will only get you so far

The Grammys have never been cool. Although it always seems to try its fuddy-duddy best, the Recording Academy has made more than its share of snubs and outright hilarious flubs.

How can we forget when flute rockers Jethro Tull beat out Metallica for an award in the heavy metal category in 1988? It was one of the most embarrassing moves the academy ever made, and they’ll never live it down.

The performances are usually a letdown too. The Grammy Awards never measure up to even the trashy-trendiest of awards shows – the MTV Video Music Awards – when it comes to pure entertainment value.

There is, however, always the potential for live chaos to ensue. The image of Bob Dylan performing as the “Soy Bomb” sabotage artist writhed next to him is unforgettably surreal. And for an artist as void of talent as Ricky Martin has proven to be, the electricity he brought to the stage the night he broke America is something I will always remember. Even Madonna was in awe of his charisma, giving him praise and a kiss in the pressroom after the show.

The one performance strength of the Grammys is its showcasing of the best of principally nonpop acts. From classical powerhouses’ mad violinists and dazzling quartets, to cookin’ jazz sets, the show always has its share of pleasant surprises.

This year, the Grammys’ 45th, has a dose of eclectic acts to match the slightly more with-it nominees. Live acts include No Doubt, James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma, Ashanti, Coldplay, the Dixie Chicks, Norah Jones, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Unfortunately, the Grammys are only able to broadcast a small fraction of the 104 winners actually receiving their awards. The rest are presented in a preceremony that takes place before the television broadcast. Many of the most interesting and diverse artists are included in that ceremony, but shut out of the real show.

The Grammys have sustained their notoriety for being stuck in the past. Last year, the soundtrack for the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” won album of the year (an award that went to Steely Dan in 2001). Although the win for bluegrass’ “O Brother” was a fantastic surprise, it showed voters couldn’t acknowledge anything truly new.

But voters have also learned they need to embrace the young critical darlings to maintain some credibility. In 2002, Alicia Keyes was the Grammys’ sultry-voiced ingenue, earning five Grammys. This year, it’s the talented, jazzy Norah Jones who’s in line to snag a number of awards with her five nominations.

Although the nominations aren’t exactly championing indie labels or breaking the mold in any real way, there is a notable shift toward youth in music – not exactly a surprise, considering the “TRL”-driven, teeny-bopper demographic is one of the strongest forces behind record sales these days. Its influence is evident in the nominations of mediocre teen acts like Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton, and Michelle “most-overplayed-song-in-public-places-and-TV-montages” Branch.

Eight artists, including Springsteen, Eminem, Sheryl Crow, Nelly and Jones, tied for the lead with five Grammy nominations apiece.

Despite a minor improvement in the choices of nominees, many mega-acts of the moment were audaciously overlooked. The White Stripes, the Hives, the Strokes and the Vines were ignored. So was the most critically praised album of the year, Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

I just hope the vacant Lavigne, who pronounced David Bowie’s name “bough-ee” during nomination announcements, will win the cursed Best New Artist award over Jones. Past winners include such shining stars as Milli Vanilli and Hootie and the Blowfish.

The 45th Grammy Awards will air at 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

Brianna Riplinger welcomes comments at [email protected]

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