The most infamous Grammys moment ever? Bob Dylan and the soy bomb invader

The 1998 Grammy Awards stood out as more intriguing than usual. It marked the year when Ol’ Dirty Bastard from The Wu-Tang Clan unexpectedly took the stage to protest his group’s loss in the ‘Best Rap Album’ category and Fiona Apple reportedly said “you got fucked” to 15-year-old LeAnn Rimes after she lost to Trisha Yearwood in the ‘Best Female Country Vocal Performance’. Additionally, it was the year when Aretha Franklin delivered a memorable rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’. Even with all that going on, the 40th annual event also marked the year of the infamous soy bomb incident during Bob Dylan’s performance.

Dylan had received nominations in three categories in 1998, sweeping each one with his album Time Out Of Mind winning ‘Album Of The Year’ and ‘Best Contemporary Folk Album’ from the previous year. With that, his song ‘Cold Irons Bound’ secured the ‘Best Male Rock Vocal Performance’ award. To round off a momentous event, Dylan concluded the event with a performance of ‘Love Sick’.

To add energy to the event, the show’s casting director hired extras, compensating them $200 to dance in the background while Dylan and his band performed. The dress rehearsals proceeded smoothly without any issues. However, things panned out a little differently when it finally came to the performance itself. “We were tested on our ability to sway arrhythmically to the beat,” one of the dancers, Michael Portnoy, told Billboard. “We were instructed, and this is a direct quote, ‘to give Bob a good vibe.’ If you watch us in the background, you can see how liberally this was interpreted.”

During the live performance, Portnoy decided to inject some of his own excitement into the show, much to the bewilderment or delight of both the attendees and an estimated television audience of 25 million people. Portnoy took to the stage around the two-and-a-half-minute mark, shirtless, with the words “SOY BOMB” prominently displayed on his chest in bold black letters.

Despite the intrusion, Dylan appeared more puzzled than frightened, maintaining his composure without missing a beat. It took around 30 seconds before event staff intervened, swiftly removing the spirited Portnoy to the wings. Dylan proceeds with a solo, the band eases into a relaxed groove, the dancers display a more purposeful sway, and for a moment, it almost feels as if Portnoy contributed to the liveliness of the performance.

“It was such a perfect format to do something inscrutable,” Portnoy told the Hollywood Reporter in 2018. “To inject some confusion into the mainframe. It felt like I couldn’t get on that stage and not do something else. And at that point in my life, I was working as a comedian. It was almost like telling a joke with my body.” However, after the chaos and backlash, he explained the reason behind his choices, stating that “Soy represents dense nutritional life” and “Bomb is, obviously, an explosive destructive force”.

Interestingly, Portnoy went on to build a lengthy career in the arts, diversifying his talents to encompass installation, sculpture, and painting. In 2016, he orchestrated Relational Stalinism – The Musical in Rotterdam. Despite the moment itself going in history, Portnoy remains uncredited and unpaid for his Grammy gig.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *