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Crossing over to a Grammy Award?; Many nominees this year have moved from pop niches into the mainstream, but there's no sure thing when it comes to choosing winners.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Critics may carp that the Grammy Awards are overly commercialized and under-representative of musical quality, but one thing they're not is predictable.

Just look at this year's ballot. Even though the artists earning the most nominations were all women -- Lauryn Hill, Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain and Madonna -- this year's Grammy race is more about genre than gender, as most of the major nominees owe their success to having crossed over from a pop pigeonhole to the anything-goes mainstream.

That may be why the Grammy guessing game has grown harder in recent years. Having a huge, chart-busting hit like Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" used to be an easy way to earn the award, but not anymore. Just ask Sean "Puffy" Combs, whose productions dominated the pop charts in '97, but was shut out of the pop categories at last year's awards show. (He did at least win a rap Grammy).

Nor is being heavily nominated a guarantee of winning. Last year, Paula Cole dominated the Big Four categories -- Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Best New Artist -- but only won for New Artist. The year before that, Babyface went in with 12 nominations, but went home with only three Grammys.

It's anybody's guess what this year's Grammy Awards telecast -- which airs live from Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Wednesday on CBS (Channel 13 locally) -- will hold. But this is one scenario:

Record of the Year

The Field: "The Boy Is Mine," Brandy & Monica; "My Heart Will Go On," Celine Dion; "Iris," Goo Goo Dolls; "Ray Of Light," Madonna; "You're Still the One," Shania Twain.

The Race: Dion is the odds-on favorite, given the broad appeal and incredible success of "My Heart Will Go On." But radio pretty much pounded the song into the ground, and that -- combined with the fact that "Titanic" was last year's big Oscar winner -- makes the single less of a sure thing. That's good news for Monica and Brandy, whose "The Boy Is Mine" was another mega-hit, and Twain, whose "You're Still the One" is the dark horse most likely to win.

My Bet: "You're Still the One."

Album of the Year

The Field: "The Globe Sessions," Sheryl Crow; "Version 2.0," Garbage; "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," Lauryn Hill; "Ray Of Light," Madonna; "Come On Over," Shania Twain.

The Race: Last year's Album of the Year award went to a critics' favorite, Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind." That augurs well for Hill, whose multiplatinum "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" dominated many reviewers' Top-10 lists. Question is, will that be enough to let Hill edge past Crow, a perennial Grammy favorite whose "The Globe Sessions" was also a well-reviewed commercial success?

My Bet: "The Globe Sessions."

Song of the Year

The Field: "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing," Diane Warren, songwriter (Aerosmith, artist); "Iris," John Rzeznik, songwriter (Goo Goo Dolls, artist); "Lean On Me," Kirk Franklin, songwriter (Kirk Franklin, artist); "My Heart Will Go On," James Horner and Will Jennings, songwriters (Celine Dion, artist); "You're Still The One," Robert John "Mutt" Lange and Shania Twain, songwriters (Shania Twain, artist).

The Race: No contest here. Although there's a chance that the heart-tugging "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" will attract voters who have been "Titanic"-ed out, Warren has never been much of a Grammy favorite (though performers Aerosmith are). So unless Twain is on a dark-horse streak like Shawn Colvin was last year, expect "My Heart Will Go On" to win in a walk.

My Bet: "My Heart Will Go On."

Best New Artist

The Field: Backstreet Boys; Andrea Bocelli; Dixie Chicks; Lauryn Hill; Natalie Imbruglia.

The Race: Take this one by process of elimination. The Backstreet Boys are young, popular and prefab, and those qualities should help them as much as they helped Grammy losers the Spice Girls. Bocelli may have a lock on the classical voting bloc, but that's hardly a huge constituency. The Dixie Chicks would be an easy win if this were the CMA Awards, but this isn't Nashville. And while Imbruglia is huge in Europe, here she's just another waif. That makes this category Hill's best shot at a big Grammy.

My Bet: Lauryn Hill.

Best Rock Album

The Field: "The Globe Sessions," Sheryl Crow; "Premonition," John Fogerty; "Version 2.0," Garbage; "Celebrity Skin," Hole; "Before These Crowded Streets," Dave Matthews Band.

The Race: Forget about the relatively edgy Garbage, Matthews Band and Hole; this contest is strictly between two long-time Grammy faves. Grammy voters love Fogerty much more than the public does, and that should help "Premonition" enormously. Even so, Crow's savvy, self-produced "The Globe Sessions" should still have the edge.

My Bet: "The Globe Sessions."

Best R&B; Album

The Field: "Live," Erykah Badu; "Never Say Never," Brandy; "A Rose Is Still A Rose," Aretha Franklin; "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," Lauryn Hill; "Embrya," Maxwell.

The Race: Probably the evening's closest race. Badu did well last year, and "Live" is an even better album than her debut. But will that be enough to push her past Franklin -- a long-time Grammy favorite whose "A Rose Is Still a Rose" was exceptionally well- received -- and Hill, the evening's most-nominated artist?

My Bet: "A Rose Is Still a Rose" by a nose.

Best Country Album

The Field: "Sevens," Garth Brooks; "Wide Open Spaces," Dixie Chicks; "Faith," Faith Hill; "Come On Over," Shania Twain; "Where Your Road Leads," Trisha Yearwood.

The Race: However good Brooks' "Sevens" may be, his growing megalomania will likely cost him votes. And while "This Kiss" elevated Hill to crossover status, "Faith" wasn't quite as uplifting. So unless the Dixie Chicks ride their current buzz to an upset, it comes down to a battle between Yearwood's ballad-powered "Where Your Road Leads" and Twain's pop-smart "Come On Over."

My Bet: "Come On Over."

Here are some other likely Grammy winners:

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: "My Heart Will Go On," Celine Dion.

Best Male Pop Vocal Performance: "My Father's Eyes," Eric Clapton.

Best Dance Recording: "Ray of Light," Madonna.

Best Female Rock Vocal Performance: "Uninvited," Alanis Morissette.

Best Male Rock Vocal Performance: "Almost Saturday Night," John Fogerty.

Best Alternative Music Performance: "Hello Nasty," Beastie Boys.

Best R&B; Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal: "Stay," the Temptations.

Best Traditional R&B; Vocal Performance: "Phoenix Rising," the Temptations.

Best Rap Solo Performance: "Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It," Will Smith.

Best Rap Album: "Life In 1472 -- The Original Soundtrack," Jermaine Dupri.

Best Female Country Vocal Performance: "This Kiss," Faith Hill.

Best Male Country Vocal Performance: "To Make You Feel My Love," Garth Brooks.

Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group: "Gershwin's World," Herbie Hancock.

Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album: "The Nu Nation Project," Kirk Franklin.

Best Latin Rock/Alternative Performance: "Suenos Liquidos," Mana.

Best Contemporary Folk Album: "Mermaid Avenue," Billy Bragg & Wilco.

Producer of the Year, Nonclassical: Lauryn Hill.

Pub Date: 02/21/99

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