What were those Grammy voters thinking? They were thinking young and telegenic, that's what, explains David Browne
Norah Jones
Credit: Norah Jones: Debbie VanStory/ImageDirect

What were those Grammy voters thinking?

These are not your parents’ Grammy Awards. In fact, they’re your younger sister’s, the one who stakes out the same spot in front of ”TRL” after school every day.

Grammy nominations always raise an eyebrow or three. But the leading contenders for the 45th annual awards show (airing Feb. 23) make it look as if the notoriously sedate and serious-minded Grammy voters had tapped into their inner musical adolescent. Sure, Bruce Springsteen and Norah Jones received five nods each, but so did Eminem, Nelly, Ashanti, and Avril Lavigne, and in major categories. Nickelback is up for Record of the Year. Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton are there, too.

Why the sudden youthful slant of a voting body that’s been openly skeptical of pop and hip hop in the past? It could be an indication that voters are loosening up or getting younger. Or, to be cynical, maybe the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Grammy governing body, wants to put a stop to its faltering TV ratings, and it doesn’t take a Nielsen household member to see that Lavigne, Nelly, Nickelback, and Eminem will rope in the young viewers in ways Alan Jackson singing his low-key Sept. 11 tribute (a Song of the Year contender) won’t. Or it could just be business as usual: Grammy never met a million-selling album it didn’t like.

Of course, many of these nominations are moot. Springsteen is a virtual lock for Album of the Year, as is Jones for Best New Artist; they’ll leave the building with at least two awards each, I’d bet. Maybe the voters are so sure who will win that they figured, what the hell — let’s nominate Lavigne’s ”Complicated” for Song of the Year to get a few more ratings points. How ELSE can one explain anyone thinking of that Alanis-lite mewl as worthy of a writing award?

As always, veterans who didn’t do their best work within the last year (Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Johnny Cash) received the usual kneejerk nominations. And as in the past, the categories are growing increasingly splintered and bizarre: India.Arie is up for Best Urban/Alternative Performance and Best R&B Album, but NOT Best Contemporary R&B (which goes to sassier homegirl types like Brandy and Faith Evans).

Beyond the MTV-set influence, there were plenty of other surprises, both good and bad. How pleasantly shocking to see Sweden’s The Soundtrack of Our Lives and England’s Clinic up for Alternative Music Album. How laughable to see the not-quite-hard Foo Fighters competing against Godsmack and P.O.D. in Best Hard Rock Performance.

And while I’m not as infatuated with Wilco’s ”Yankee Foxtrot Hotel” as other critics, I would have put money on the year’s most acclaimed album getting a few nods, even in the token dark-horse slot that has previously gone to Radiohead and Beck. But it was shut out entirely.

Maybe if Wilco had been on ”TRL” at least once….

P.S. to Lavigne: In case you ever have to announce nominees again, the ”Bow” in David Bowie’s last name rhymes with ”beau,” not ”cow.” To bolster your integrity, you may want to remind your handlers to make sure you don’t make such gaffes (rhymes with ”laughs”) in the future.