By DAN AQUILANTE
GRAMMYVILLE, brace yourself. Because tonight, an 800-pound, broom-toting gorilla named U2 is out of its cage, and it's gonna sweep all seven of the awards it's up for.
That's right. No question, no doubt - all seven:
Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance, Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song (for which the band comes up against itself with the tunes "Elevation" and "Walk On").
The path to the podium - a street with no name - should be marked by a sign that says U2 Way.
And the really strange thing about a U2 sweep is that the band isn't going to dominate because everyone else is terrible, but because it is so good. The whys of a U2 win are easy.
The Irish quartet is the last of the great rock bands.
It appeals to the Academy's geezers and kids alike. Its 2001-02 tour was the hottest ticket in music. And when lead singer Bono wasn't making music, he was trying to save the planet - or at least make it a better place by lobbying anyone who'd listen about international debt relief.
The man and band have been everywhere defining pop culture. This week, Bono's kisser is on the cover of Time. Last month, U2 headlined the Super Bowl halftime show with a whiz-bang performance. Bono even made high-profile visits to the Vatican to give the dope to the Pope on world debt. In New York, he was allowed to address the World Trade Organization on the same subject.
And if there are still any doubts about whether the boys from Dublin, who have remained musically relevant for more than 20 years, have the horses to pull a seven-Grammy load, remind yourself that last year, on the strength of just one song - "Beautiful Day" - the band won in three major categories.
Still, U2's strength doesn't undercut the artistic achievement of its challengers this year. Everything that is right about the Grammys is illustrated in the top prize, Album of the Year, where U2 faces off against great music by India.Arie, Bob Dylan, OutKast and the artists featured on the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. Although there's been a heap of hoopla about Arie and her finely crafted R&B record, "Acoustic Soul," she has zero chance of snagging the award here. Still, just being included with the big boys pushes her into a spotlight that is usually reserved for veterans.
"O Brother" is a collection of country and sweet bluegrass that ignited an unexpected revival of old-time music. The disc is wonderful - it introduced a lot of kids and adults to bluegrass and stands a man-of-constant-sorrow's chance.
Dylan is U2's stiffest competition. His new album, "Love and Theft," is better than his last disc, "Time Out of Mind," which won Best Album in '97. Still, despite its strength, "Love and Theft" has fought a losing battle to get airplay and wide audience recognition because it was released on Sept. 11. U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind," on the other hand, has gotten nonstop radio and video play for more than 18 months, and after 9/11 was embraced by Americans as a spiritual stepping stone. And inclusion of OutKast's "Stankonia" says the Academy doesn't want the Grammys to be perceived as a geriatric event. OutKast is how the Academy is planning to keep young 'uns tuned in to the end of the broadcast. But you might recall that was the same position U2 was in way back in 1987, when it startled the Grammys by snagging the trophy for Album of the Year for "The Joshua Tree."
That win was obviously pivotal for the band, but even more so for the awards telecast, which had become stodgy and almost unwatchable.
True to form, while accepting that Grammy that year, Bono joked about his political activism. "It's really hard to carry the weight of the world on
your shoulders," he said, later making a more serious statement about apartheid in then-segregated South Africa. Bono took his rebel-with-a-cause a step further at the '93 ceremony. When the band won Best Alternative Music Album or "Zooropa" - as opposed to winning in a rock category - Bono gave an acceptance speech that was simple and shocking.
At the podium, he lit a cigarette and faced down the cameras, saying, "We should all continue to abuse our position and f- - - up the mainstream." Later, he admitted to reporters backstage that he was drunk. Drink often loosens truths. Tonight Bono will probably save his toasting for the after-show sweep celebration, but expect the man and his bandmates to use their position and turns at the podium to make their political and musical points - and maybe even f-- - up the mainstream just a little.