Atlanta hip-hop duo OutKast appear to be the early favorites to take home the Grammy for album of the year when winners are unveiled in Los Angeles next month, according to experts contacted by Billboard.
“They truly change with each album,” says Tom Calderone, executive VP of music and talent programming at MTV/MTV2. “They have the most non-obvious hits. Plus, momentum for them is at an all-time high right now.”
The group’s latest opus, the two-disc Arista set “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” is currently No. 1 on the U.S. pop album charts, and its first two singles occupy the top two slots on the Hot 100 chart.
If the Grammy Awards were based on sales figures alone, Justin Timberlake’s contender “Justified” (Jive) would win. His album has sold 3.2 million copies vs. 2.2 million for OutKast. Industry observers, however, believe his boy-band association will have an adverse affect on Grammy voters.
“Justin is a household name, and he made a great record,” says Neil Strauss, the New York Times’ Los Angeles-based New cultural correspondent/pop critic. “But older Grammy voters still associate him with teen pop — not quality music.”
The other contenders are Missy Elliott’s “Under Construction” (the Gold Mind/Elektra), Evanescence with “Fallen” (Wind-up Entertainment) and the White Stripes’ “Elephant” (Third Man/V2).
The 46th Annual Grammy Awards will be presented Feb. 8 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast live by CBS.
The diverse nominees reflect the current landscape of popular music, with one obvious omission — rapper 50 Cent’s top-seller of 2003 “Get Rich or Die Tryin.”’ The final five, nonetheless, get the thumbs-up from the experts.
“It looks like what critics do with their annual top 10 lists: It covers all the genres,” says Strauss.
Veteran lineupWith the exception of Evanescence, the artists and musicians in this category have been in the limelight for several years.
“Under Construction” is Elliott’s fourth studio album. It has sold 2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and has spent more than six months on the Billboard 200, thanks to the support of four hit singles. The biggest of those hits, “Work It,” peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, Elliott’s highest-charting pop single ever.
Rock band Evanescence, fronted by singer Amy Lee and guitarist Ben Moody, debuted with “Fallen.” The disc spent 26 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard 200; it has yet to fall out of the chart’s top 40 since its March release.
By the end of 2003, OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move” had claimed the top two spots on the Hot 100. “Hey Ya!” is the act’s second pop No. 1 hit, following the breakout success of “Ms. Jackson” in 2001.
Timberlake, long recognized as the frontman of boy band ’N Sync, came into his own with the release of “Justified,” his solo debut. The album spawned four hit singles, led by “Cry Me a River,” which peaked at No. 3.
With fourth album “Elephant,” the Detroit-based White Stripes entered the mainstream. The album gave the pair a career-high debut at No. 6 last April. The White Stripes, consisting of drummer Meg White and singer/guitarist Jack White, also saw the single “Seven Nation Army” became their first Hot 100 entry. Easily the duo’s best-selling album, “Elephant” has shifted more than 1.2 million units.
Picking a winner
Though the White Stripes are certainly critics’ darlings, that may not be enough for the act to take home the best album trophy.
Strauss does not consider the duo popular enough among older Grammy voters to walk away with the prize. But, he is quick to add, “in recent years, the Grammys are favoring critical taste more and more.”
As for Evanescence, the group certainly had one of the biggest songs of the year with “Bring Me To Life,” says Jason Bentley, who hosts radio shows on Los Angeles stations KCRW and KROQ.
But Bentley wonders if this is one of those cases where the Grammys have rushed to embrace an act too soon. He asks, “Is this group really worthy of a Grammy yet — or is it still emerging?”
Elliott and OutKast create genre-blurring recordings. Neither is afraid to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in the R&B/hip-hop world.
“Elliott is so consistent,” Bentley says. “She continues to defy the odds — she’s not your conventional superstar, which is good for music.”
OutKast created the most innovative hip-hop record this year, Strauss says, though he wonders if both OutKast and Elliott may be “too out there” for older Grammy voters.