In a year that pits Paul Simon vs. Eminem, Grammy is making a statement — but what is it?

By Chris Willman and Rob Brunner
Updated February 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

If Eminem didn’t exist, the Grammys would’ve had to invent him. In a year short on galvanizing nominees, the shock-rapper’s four NARAS nods have inspired dollops of debate and introduced much-needed suspense into the race. Will voters reward him in the key Album of the Year category, sending out a strong declaration that artful provocation is pop’s most important impulse? Or will they bypass the blond bomb thrower, making a powerful proclamation about resisting hate and homophobia? Either way, the Grammys win.

One thing’s for sure: The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences won’t be sending any messages via a sweep. This is the Year of the Toss-up, with no chance of anyone walking away with the armfuls of trophies that Lauryn Hill garnered in 1999 and Carlos Santana picked-up last year.

To get the inside track on what might happen in all these up-in-the-air categories, EW checked in with a panel of Grammy voters and NARAS committee members to get predictions for the Feb. 21 broadcast. And remember, kids, these aren’t our picks, but those of music-industry experts — all anonymous, lest either Marshall Mathers or NARAS chief Mike Greene get out a gat on ’em.

Additional reporting by Evan Serpick

Album of the Year

Midnite Vultures, Beck
The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem
Kid A, Radiohead
You’re the One, Paul Simon
Two Against Nature, Steely Dan

Survey Says Eminem’s the front-runner. ”People are gonna try to show they’re bigger than the controversy and vote Eminem, like, ‘I support the First Amendment,”’ says one voter. But playa haters may be coalescing around Steely Dan. ”This is classic Grammys: Throw in trendsetters like Eminem, Beck, and Radiohead to put on the best face, then give it to one of the old farts.” Like Simon? Nah. ”Paul’s record has barely been a blip on the radar.”

Song of the Year

”Say My Name,” Destiny’s Child
”I Try,” Macy Gray
”Breathe,” Faith Hill
”Beautiful Day,” U2
”I Hope You Dance,” Lee Ann Womack

Survey Says ”’Breathe.’ No doubt. This one isn’t even close,” says an insider. Why not? ”’Breathe’ will appeal to the mainstream people and the country contingent. ‘I Hope You Dance’ will only appeal to Nashville. ‘Beautiful Day’ didn’t get big enough to win. It didn’t connect enough. And ‘I Try’ will only appeal to cooler mainstream people.” Of course, cooler mainstream people are not pleased by this: ”If it is ‘Breathe,’ I will jump off a bridge.”

Record of the Year

”Say My Name,” Destiny’s Child
”I Try,” Macy Gray
”Music,” Madonna
”Bye Bye Bye,” ‘N Sync
”Beautiful Day,” U2

Survey Says One of the toughest to predict. ”It’s impossible to tell. The cool thing about these nominees is that they’re like the best of Top 40 radio last year. I’d love to have this problem with all the categories.” Still, Madonna and U2 look like the safest bets. ”Academy members aren’t young and they aren’t girls, so forget about ‘N Sync.” And ”Macy won’t get it because the record seems so old.”