A run down of the award nominees -- The strange mix of artists includes Lauryn Hill, Shania Twain, and Garbage

By Rob Brunner
Updated January 15, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

That the Grammys have often been off base is a given: A running gag on a recent Sports Night episode pointed out that the Starland Vocal Band once won Best New Artist. But recently, the Grammys have tried to be hipper, adding more categories and nominating edgier artists. The result: This year’s nominees, announced Jan. 5 at L.A.’s Beverly Hilton, are a strange mix of safe pop and quizzical attempts at credibility.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences did reward the consensus artist of the year, Lauryn Hill, with 10 nominations — more than anyone else. And it resisted chart-topping sensations the Backstreet Boys, who are up only for Best New Artist. But market-friendly popsters remain well represented: Shania Twain racked up six nominations, including Record, Song, and Album of the Year, and Celine Dion got four nods, including Record and Song of the Year. Yes, we’ll likely hear that Titanic song again when the awards are presented Feb. 24. ”You can’t have an awards ceremony without Celine,” says Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies (up for Best Pop Performance by a Group). ”They’re actually not allowed to air it without her. It’s a rule.”

As for NARAS’ attempts to get hip, the results were, well, curious. A Best Album slot went to alt-rockers Garbage, whose Version 2.0 had little commercial or critical impact, while the Beastie Boys’ much-lauded Hello Nasty was virtually ignored. ”That really surprises me,” says Chris Schwartz, CEO of Ruffhouse Records, home to Lauryn Hill. ”Hello Nasty is a really stupendous record.” Still, he adds, ”the Grammys are going in the right direction.” Maybe, but you’d never know it from the Dance category — added last year to boost credibility — whose nominees read like the Wedding Singer soundtrack: Madonna (whose Ray of Light earned five nominations), Cyndi Lauper, Gloria Estefan, and Boy George. What, no rappin’ granny?