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Hear & Now

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INDIA JONES ”India! India! India!” From the shouting, guests at the Beverly Hilton in L.A. might’ve thought war had just broken out at the Pakistani border, but it was only photographers at a Grammy press conference, desperate to get a shot of India.Arie. The neo-soul neophyte would’ve barely triggered a red-carpet flashbulb a day earlier, but that was before she became the belle of the ball by earning seven nominations, second only to U2’s eight, ahead of Alicia Keys’ six. Arie’s debut, Acoustic Soul, is even up for Album of the Year, despite selling just under a million…as opposed to Keys’ 4.1-million-selling bow, which, surprisingly, got shut out of that category. Having been invited to help announce nominees — a tip-off she’d be among them — a stunned Arie later told EW: ”I was thinking, Best New Artist, period. Being nominated for seven shows me my peers really listened and got it.”

At least the blue-ribbon committees that nominate in key categories got it. The results of the Grammys’ less populist winnowing process are evident in the top-album category, in which, for the first time, all five nominees — U2, Arie, Bob Dylan, Outkast, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? — overlap with some sort of critical consensus. For an organization as racked by scandal as the Recording Academy, it’s nice to have a year in which journalists will have to stretch to wax outraged about the awards themselves.

Who are the nominees rooting for? Four-time nominee Nelly Furtado: ”Outkast — it’s the best album of the year.” Pat Monahan of the four-times-nominated Train: ”I’m surprised but really happy for India.Arie; her record’s wonderful.” Usher: ”Outkast. Arista’s got to clean up somehow, some way, this year!” Jimmy Jam: ”One of my favorites, Coldplay, is in there.” And Arie: ”Musiq Soulchild.” Did we really hear her enthuse over ‘N Sync at the press conference? She laughs: ”I’m always saying I love Justin Timberlake’s voice.” ‘N Sync’s Celebrity is up for three awards; for Grammy, the megaseller-friendly times aren’t a-changin’ that much.

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