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Amy Winehouse, Rihanna, Kanye West Vie for Grammys in Pop, Rock, R&B Categories


The Recording Academy is preparing to step into its second half-century of honoring the best in recorded music. VOA's Ray McDonald is here with a preview of the 50th annual Grammy Award races in the pop, rock and R&B fields.

As the new year began, two questions loomed over the 50th annual Grammy Awards telecast: Would trouble-prone singer Amy Winehouse perform at the ceremony, and would the ongoing strike by the Writers Guild of America allow a ceremony to happen at all? We have an affirmative on one front: Last month, the Guild crafted an interim agreement permitting writers to work on the show.

As for Amy Winehouse, the 24-year-old singer, who last month checked into a London rehab clinic, met February 4 with officials at the U.S. Embassy to discuss obtaining a visa. Complicating her request is an October 2007 incident in which she was arrested and fined in Norway for possession of marijuana.

Amy Winehouse is nominated in six categories, including such high-visibility races as Record, Song, and Album of the Year.

Opposing Amy in the first two categories is Rihanna, a 19-year-old native of the Caribbean island of Barbados. Discovered four years ago by vacationing music producer Evan Rogers, she subsequently became one of the rising stars on rapper Jay-Z's Def Jam label. Jay-Z made an appearance on Rihanna's hit single "Umbrella," which became the year's most successful song on the United World Chart. It nets Rihanna three of her six Grammy nominations: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

While Rihanna and Amy Winehouse compete for six Grammies apiece, the year's leading nominee is Kanye West, who already has six trophies at home. The 30-year-old rapper/producer continues to recover from the November 10 loss of his beloved mother Donda, who died one day after undergoing cosmetic surgery. A January 10 coroner's report blamed the 58-year-old woman's death on "coronary artery disease and multiple post-operative factors due to or as a consequence of liposuction and mammoplasty." Among Kanye's eight nominations is Album of the Year for his third solo set Graduation. The track "Stronger," is running in the Best Rap Solo Performance category.

In a typical Grammy twist, Amy Winehouse, who released her debut album in 2003, is running in the Best New Artist category. Grammy rules stipulate the award may apply to the year in which the artist achieves widespread fame, and U.S. listeners largely discovered the British singer in 2007. Competing against her are Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist; New Orleans R & B singer Ledisi; Tennessee punk-rock quartet Paramore; and 18-year-old country star Taylor Swift, for her crossover pop hit "Teardrops On My Guitar."

For the first time in the Grammy Awards' 50-year history, women comprise the entire Best New Artist lineup, although we should note that three of Paramore's four members are male.

The February 10 ceremony in Los Angeles occurs within a rapidly changing musical landscape. Where multiple awards once helped make superstars out of acts such as Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson, today's audiences are more likely to get their music from mp3 files, blogs, and websites such as MySpace and YouTube. Compact disc sales plummeted 14 percent in 2007, with one of the year's most successful acts, Radiohead, briefly offering its latest album online for whatever price downloaders wished to pay.

As far as Grammys go, however, Radiohead is out of luck for now. The British group's chart-topping album, In Rainbows, hit the Internet on October 10, 10 days after the cutoff date for this year's nominated releases.

This year's Grammy race features 110 categories, among them Best Pop Instrumental Performance.