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Will the Real Slim Shady Show Up at Grammys?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“You think I give a d--- about a Grammy?”

That oft-quoted phrase in Eminem’s hit song “The Real Slim Shady” is now being put to the test.

Sources in the rapper’s camp confirmed Monday that the controversial and crude singer has been invited to perform on the global Feb. 21 broadcast but has yet to answer. The reason, they say, is he is apparently conflicted about appearing on a show he has mocked in his lyrics and music videos.

Eminem’s four Grammy nominations announced earlier this month, including one in the marquee category of best album, have created a flash flood of criticism--and the prospect of him taking the stage could have network censors quaking and VCRs rolling nationwide.

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The performance would be an opportunity for the Detroit rapper to prove his artistic heft and infuriate his critics. It could also deliver a sizable spike in his album sales and fame, as it has done in past years for acts such as Ricky Martin, Lauryn Hill and Carlos Santana.

So why would Eminem even consider passing on the invite?

The rapper and his manager have been mum on the topic, but insiders at Interscope Records, Eminem’s label, say that the singer may be worried about risking his street credibility by playing an establishment show he has derided as meaningless.

Eminem reportedly met late last week in Los Angeles with label brass and his mentor, rapper-producer Dr. Dre, to discuss the matter. On Monday, all Interscope Records chief Jimmy Iovine would say is that no decision has been made. “There’s nothing definite yet,” he said, adding that it should be resolved “sometime next week.”

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Rap fans are notoriously harsh on acts that aren’t “keeping it real"--in other words, acts that sell out or forget their roots. Industry consultant Bill Adler, a longtime publicity director for rap-pioneering Def Jam Records, says that will be on the minds of Eminem and his handlers the next few days.

“These are the problems that come with success: It’s hard to be a rebel in America, to become successful without becoming co-opted,” Adler says. “You’ve got to walk a razor’s edge, and it ain’t easy. Street cred is complicated. . . . What you want to do is sell a zillion records and still seem underground.”

Much of this year’s Grammy show remains in flux (although Grammy officials will announce today that Madonna and U2 are confirmed performers). C. Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, says Eminem is among approximately 30 artists who have been approached as prospective performers for the gala, even though the show will likely feature only 13 or 14 full performances.

“We’re talking daily to [Eminem] and his folks, but we’re also talking with a lot of artists,” Greene said. “We are talking to him about what he would do and who would be included in that performance. . . . We’re very interested in doing something important with those [best album] nominations.”

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The best album category pits Eminem (who won two Grammys last year in rap sub-categories, but did not attend the show) against Beck, Radiohead, Paul Simon and Steely Dan, and the rapper’s inclusion in that eclectic field has been a matter of both angst and excitement.

Talk-show hosts, activists, culture critics and music industry types have been debating whether the nod is an inappropriate accolade given to a hateful thug or a bold acknowledgment of an edgy, watershed album. Either way, the music is laced with obscenities and graphic sexual and violent images, along with lyrics viewed by many as misogynistic and anti-gay.

Protests are already being planned for the gala. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, for instance, has pledged to have a strong presence outside Staples Center during the show. That type of heat may deter Eminem from performing, and it certainly may deter Grammy voters from handing him the best album trophy.

“Since the nomination, Eminem has just been pummeled,” says Thomas O’Neil, author of “The Grammys,” a history of the music industry’s awards. “It may scare the voters away. He clearly deserves to win if we apply the criteria that go back to the Beatles and up through Alanis Morissette and Lauryn Hill: If the artist has achieved two things--they topped the sales chart and they topped the critics’ top 10 lists for the year--they usually win, and rightfully so. Eminem has done that. . . . All of this is an interesting drama for the Grammys.”

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A drama that will be far more vivid if its lead character takes the stage to perform the cartoonish “The Real Slim Shady,” the haunting “Stan” or another song from the best-selling “The Marshall Mathers LP.” The fact that every track on the album has explicit language presents another problem.

The show airs live on the East Coast but with an eight-second delay to allow control-room staff to bleep out obscenities--such as the f-word that Morissette left in the lyrics of her “You Oughta Know” performance in 1996.

“It’s complicated,” Greene said. “It’s inherent in the discussion that we’re having in regard to what we would do and how we would do it and being responsible. . . . I would never want a performer to come on and edit themselves. Yeah, we may have to bleep some stuff, but I don’t ask the performers to come in and do a cleanup version of anything . . . [but] there are certain broadcast standards and we will adhere to those.”

That’s not to say Eminem can’t be ready for prime time. In the past year he performed at the MTV Video Music Awards (again, with protesters outside) and on “Saturday Night Live” he performed a truncated, “clean” version of “Stan.”

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Still, those shows have a healthy history of being somewhat anti-establishment--unlike the Grammys, which strive for a stately image and, after all, have handed top awards to artists such as Celine Dion and Tony Bennett in the past decade. Eminem gives a boost to the show’s push to be edgier and more credible, but it may come at a cost.

While a CBS official has been quoted as saying Eminem would be a ratings boon to the show, Greene says giving the Grammy imprimatur to Eminem may hurt the academy’s efforts to be a force in Washington politics, social services and education, realms where the rapper is often despised. Greene is also not so sure Eminem is a sure-fire jackpot with viewers.

“I think we would lose as many 34- to 54-year-old viewers in Dubuque and Ames, Iowa, as we will gain in a more hipper audience,” Greene says. “I think it would be an interesting performance, I think it will be provocative . . . but take a look at the real angst that goes with giving this kind of recognition to one of more abhorrent combinations of words that has come out of a mouth in some time. Make no mistake about it: Eminem being on the show will drive as many people away from the show as it will bring to it.”


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