Miseducation of the Grammys

Lauryn Hill dominates a field of women performers, but show's a snooze

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No offense ladies, but the 41st Annual Grammy Awards telecast played like a slumber party chaperoned by parents in the next room. The potential was there for a raucous night, but most of the girls never got up the nerve to get out of line.

As expected, the awards ceremony was dominated by women (Sheryl, Shania, Celine, etc.), a welcome change indeed. And naturally everyone went home happy, as Grammy followed its tradition and passed out awards evenly to all. But from the moment Madonna, the forty-year-old single mother, opened the show with a musical ode to her daughter Lourdes, to three hours later when Lauryn Hill, the twenty-three-year-old single mother, closed the show with a musical ode to her son Zion, the show seemed to be dressed up as a lullaby. (Where were the Beastie Boys and Jay-Z when you needed them?) Even the token boy band Aerosmith got in touch with its feminine side when it performed "I Don't Want to Miss A Thing," written by Diane Warren, pop's reigning balladeer.

Early on, Aerosmith began the show's longest-running theme: string sections. In fact orchestras, which were trotted out five different times, outnumbered actual drum-and-guitar bands for the night. Of course, Celine performed with a cast of hundreds, as did her Titanic partner, composer James Horner, as well as Luciano Pavarotti. But so did Alanis Morissette.

For a year dominated by hip-hop there was precious little to jump-start the night. Grammy kept Hill's performance in the can for too long, and when she finally appeared she opted for the wrong song. A sly, hot rendition of "Doo Wop (That Thing)" was what the night really needed to end on an up note.

The show did come with some welcome jolts, though. Sheryl Crow rocked out in her bad-ass bell bottoms. While Shania Twain went S&M (Nashville style, which means knee-high boots), complete with her band of boy toys, outfitted in leather pants and goggles. (Two keyboard players is acceptable, but was that steel guitar ever plugged in?) Twain was reportedly disappointed backstage for failing to win Best Country Album, which the Dixie Chicks snagged. But what does Twain expect when she spends her time seducing the Las Vegas crowd at the expense of her Iowa base?

And then there was former Menudo star Ricky Martin who was the night's bad boy, like a hungry freshman let loose in a sorority house. Oozing charisma, the Puerto Rican star's electric, circus-like production may go down in Grammy history as a defining, Star Is Born moment.

Other highs and lows:

Classiest Acceptance Speech: Sheryl Crow, who paid public tribute to her longtime professional home, A&M Records, which was recently dismantled as part of the Polygram/Universal Music merger. (Fear not for Crow, she is being absorbed within Universal.)

Most Out-of-Place Performance: Bono's awkward live appearance came during Kirk Franklin's gospel shout-out "Lean On Me." (Small consolation: the diminutive Bono actually towered over Franklin.)

Fashion Victim: Dixie Chicks. We love you girls, but that Nashville version of East Village chic (i.e. torn clothing) doesn't quite cut it.

Best Label After-Party: Sony's, no doubt, where the brass were toasting company winners Celine Dion, Lauryn Hill and Ricky Martin.

Strangest Win of the Night: John "Mutt" Lange, for writing his wife Shania Twain's country song hit, "You're Still the One." What's so strange about that? Lange, who during the Eighties was best known for producing Def Leppard and other hollow heavy metal acts, won the Best Country Song award over a fellow nominee by the name of Bob Dylan. His song "To Make Me Feel My Love," was nominated because Garth Brooks covered it last year.

Artists Most in Need of a Grammy Sales Bump: Alanis. She performed "Uninvited." Unfortunately, that song appears on the soundtrack to City of Angels, not the singer's new album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, which is currently entrenched at No. 53 on the Billboard chart.