It's a classification struggle


Just because you watched the 2005 American Music Awards doesn't necessarily mean you understand the American music industry. Or perhaps even want to.

The award classifications throw me off, especially things like "alternative."

Green Day, Coldplay and System of a Down were all nominated for best alternative music artist. Coldplay an alternative act? Coldplay is challenging U2 for global pop dominance. Does that mean U2 is alternative too?

What requisite plateau of album sales must one achieve before you cease being alternative and become pop?

The rap/hip hop vs. pop/rock categories are also confusing. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson was nominated in both categories as favourite male artist. In pop/rock, "Fiddy" was up against - and lost to - the iconic Will Smith.

With 50 Cent's brand image now encompassing movies, video games and merchandising, will the Fresh Prince respond in kind by busting caps in the 'hood to re-establish his street cred and draw in a crucial, perhaps-missing demographic?

Make no mistake; sales drive the American Music Awards. Nominees are chosen on the basis of record sales, with winners selected through a survey. The process may not be wholly representative, but it arguably beats the subjectivity of a cantankerous judge with his head in the sand - some of the best entertainment writers suffer from a gritty pale face only dreamed of.

Some categories make sense, though.

Best breakthrough artist nominees, the Killers, really deserve the credit, even though they lost out to Sugarland.

The Killers' debut album, Hot Fuss, is one of the past year's best from one of the world's best new bands. They're a real talent from an artificial place: Las Vegas. By this time next year the Killers might be vying to oust the Black Eyed Peas from their pop/rock pedestal.

With multiple nominations, 2005 was Mariah Carey's year.

Her "comeback" album, The Emancipation of Mimi, has sold roughly six million copies to date. However, already being an established artist with a Phoenix-like from-the-ashes quality to her career probably made Mimi that much easier to package and sell for her label.

Carey's voice may indeed shatter glass and be beautiful, but her music is hardly mind-blowing. But she's safe, and the recording industry's upper echelons persist and depend on no-risk formula. It's worth noting that Carey lost out in 1990's AMA favourite new artist category to none other than Vanilla Ice. He can now be found bussing tables after his third-string gigs.

When it comes to establishing cred, however, a tip of the hat goes to American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, who won for adult "I don't understand this one either" contemporary and the T-Mobile text-in award (she never really stood a chance against Carey and Gwen Stefani in pop/rock). Unlike other Idols, Clarkson looks as though she's bucking the show's stigma. Ruben meet Vanilla Ice. Ice, baby, this is Ruben.

Some of my picks came up: Stefani for pop/rock female, Missy Elliott and Eminem for rap/hip hop's female and male categories, respectively. But as good as Eminem's Encore album was, compared to his previous work, it's a bit staid.

And maybe that's the story of the American Music Awards: bigger than it has any right to be, and sort of slow and tired as a result. If Cedric the Entertainer's flat hosting of the awards didn't illustrate that point clearly enough, then having has-beens like the Backstreet Boys as presenters must.