Tonight’s Grammy Awards promises the usual flash and glamour, along with suspense and surprises over who’s going to win or lose. But while it may look like any other recent Grammy telecast, this one will be historic. It will be the last to be driven by MTV music videos, compact-disc sales and broadcast radio.

Technology is going to change the Grammys, just like it’s changing everything else about the recording industry. By this time next year, legal music downloading, music DVD sales and Internet and satellite radio stations will greatly influence the Grammys. There may even have to be some new categories, like best music downloading site and best band in cyberspace.

When MTV debuted in 1981, it changed the way pop stars are made. It shifted emphasis from the aural to the visual.

The MTV influence still impacts the Grammys. This year nominees for the top two awards – record and album of the year – are among the most-played artists on MTV or MTV2: Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Eminem, OutKast, Missy Elliott, Evanescence, Coldplay and the White Stripes.

With legal downloading, music DVDs and Internet radio edging into the industry, it will mean that more new, young acts will be heard.

One thing that may change is the whole album concept. So far, most legal downloaders are opting for singles rather than albums. When buyers can pick and choose the songs they want, the album may become a thing of the past. Artists will release a few or many songs at a time, and let downloaders buy what they want. Artists won’t have to compile a bunch of songs before they can release them in album form. As soon as a song is done, it can go on sale on the Internet.

But first, this year’s Grammys will catch up with, and hopefully honor, some deserving artists who have been neglected: OutKast, Missy Elliott and the White Stripes. All are up for top awards.

One of the last TV events to feature live performances, tonight’s 3½-hour broadcast on CBS offers some intriguing prospects, including the White Stripes, OutKast, Beyonce, 50Cent, Celine Dion, Prince, Alicia Keys, Sting and the Black Eyed Peas. Christina Aguilera is scheduled but will probably lip-synch, which doesn’t count (viewers will only notice what she’s wearing, or not wearing, anyway). CBS has also announced it will delay the live broadcast by as much as five minutes to avoid any Janet Jackson-like “costume reveals.” (West Coast feeds are delayed anyway.)

Performance highlights tonight will include a tribute to Luther Vandross, the R&B singer who is recovering from a stroke. Celine Dion, Alicia Keys and Richard Marx will sing some of Vandross’ hits. He’s nominated for best song, R&B song, male R&B vocal performance, R&B album (all for “Dance With My Father”) and R&B duo (for “The Closer I Get to You” with Beyonce).

The Beatles will also be the subject of a tribute, featuring Sting, Dave Matthews, Vince Gill and Pharrell Williams. Warren Zevon, who died in September, will be remembered with a tribute featuring Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Timothy B. Schmit, Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam and Jorge Calderon, as well as the late singer-songwriter’s children, Arial and Jordan.

The Foo Fighters will join jazz pianist Chick Corea for the kind of cross-category performance the Grammy show is known for.


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