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Last year, it was all about Santana, but this year’s Grammy Awards are a little tougher to handicap.

A GRAMMY WAY OF KNOWLEDGE

Our Fearless Forecasters Handicap Next Month’s Nominations
Last year, it was all about Santana, but this year's Grammy Awards, to be held at L.A.'s Staples Center Feb. 21 and broadcast live on CBS, are a little tougher to handicap. The nominees for the 43rd annual Awards ceremony will be announced Jan. 3.

Controversy swirls around Eminem, who copped a pair of statues in rap categories last year but is now making a play for Record of the Year with his hit single, "The Real Slim Shady," and Album of the Year for the multi-Platinum "The Marshall Mathers LP."

Will the notoriously conservative voting membership get behind a record that drew the ire of almost everyone except the 7.5 million fans who snapped up copies?

Aside from "The Real Slim Shady," Record of the Year candidates include Madonna's "Music," Sting's "Desert Rose," NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye," Faith Hill's "Breathe," U2's "Beautiful Day," Vertical Horizon's "Everything You Want," D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," Dr. Dre's "Forgot About Dre," 3 Doors Down's "Kryptonite," Creed's "Higher," Sisqo's "Thong Song," Dido's "Here With Me," Macy Gray's "I Try" or even Nelly's smash, "Country Grammar," a sing-song anthem that captured the zeitgeist in the same way Bobby McFerrin's '88 winner, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," did. The U2 album is ineligible, because it was released after the Sept. 30 cutoff, but the single is eligible. Outkast's "Stankonia" and R. Kelly's "TP-2.com" were also released too late for consideration this year.

Album of the Year possibilities include Madonna's "Music," D'Angelo's "Voodoo" and Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP," along with Radiohead's "Kid A," Dido's "No Angel," Dr. Dre's "Dr. Dre 2001," 3 Doors Down's "The Better Life" and Grammy faves B.B. King & Eric Clapton's "Riding With The King." Critical darlings that could sneak in via NARAS' special selection committee, which picks among the top vote-getters, include Shelby Lynne's "I Am Shelby Lynne," Jill Scott's "Who Is Jill Scott?" and David Gray's "White Ladder." Veteran rockers and perennial Grammy nominees Paul Simon's "You're The One," Neil Young's "Silver And Gold" and Don Henley's "Inside Job" remain long shots.

The Best New Artist category, won by Christina Aguilera and Lauryn Hill the last two years, could turn into a five-way horse-race. Top candidates include Sisqo, the Dru Hill alum who became a soul icon seemingly overnight on the heels of the chart-busting "Thong Song"; Dido, whose haunting sample on Eminem's "Stan" helped boost her own album past Platinum; Nelly, the St. Louis hip-hop star who dominated the charts; Papa Roach, Sacto rap-rockers whose "Infest" sold 2.5 million copies; and Shelby Lynne, a country crooner who crossed over to pop-rock to rave reviews. Jill Scott, David Gray and A Perfect Circle are also strong possibilities in this category, while teen stars Billy Gilman, Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore could be in the hunt as well.

Of course, the only thing Mike Greene and company are hoping is that Baha Men's ubiquitous "Who Let The Dogs Out" doesn't win in any category, but don't bet against it.

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