When Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler announced the winner for Album of the Year at last night’s 43rd Annual Grammy Awards, the real Slim Shady was not asked to stand up. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan were, after which they were handed the coveted award for Two Against Nature, their first new studio album in two decades.
The pair accepted Grammy’s highest honor with characteristic nonchalance, thanking their families, band members and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, but saying not a word about the anti-climatic controversy surrounding this year’s Album of the Year category courtesy of Eminem’s nomination for the hot button The Marshall Mathers LP. In the weeks leading up to the awards ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, much ado was made over the Recording Academy’s decision to nominate Eminem despite protests from gay and lesbian, women’s and religious groups over the themes of violence and hate implied in his lyrics. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s fury was piqued even more at the news that openly gay rock legend Elton John would participate in the rapper’s performance.
Host John Stewart made light of the issue at the start of the show, remarking, “I don’t know what all the controversy is about — I just met Eminem backstage, and he is really gay!” But prior to Eminem’s performance nearly three hours later, NARAS president Michael Greene delivered a lengthy speech about the necessity of “tolerance to teach tolerance,” explaining, “We can’t edit out the art that makes us uncomfortable — remember, that’s what our parents tried to do.” Eminem himself adopted a cautionary tone in his performance, steering clear of his contested hate rhymes in favor of “Stan,” in which he portrays a doomed, obsessed fan. Elton John, standing apart from Eminem on his own dais, played keyboards and sang the chorus of Dido’s “Thank You” that serves as the song’s haunting hook. At the end of the song, they shared a hug to considerable applause.
But despite all the advance fuss about the Eminem, this ended up being Steely Dan’s night. And U2’s. In addition to Album of the Year, Steely Dan also won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for the song “Cousin Dupree” (which dodged controversy despite being a tongue-in-cheek ode to lecherous incest) and Best Pop Vocal Album, bringing their total Grammy winnings for their twenty-eight year career to three. “Thanks very much,” Fagen dryly enthused after receiving their first award of the evening. “We’ve been around a long time. It’s nice to get one of these.” U2 tied Steely Dan with three wins for the evening, taking Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group for “Beautiful Day.”
“I think Macy Gray really should have some of this,” said Bono as the group accepted their Record of the Year Grammy. He professed a “rare feeling” of humility, and gave props to Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and fellow Record and Song of the Year nominees Destiny’s Child, then hoisted U2’s Grammy and concluded, “but right now, it’s our night.”
Although they lost out in the night’s biggest categories, Eminem and Destiny’s Child both fared well in the Rap and R&B categories, respectively. Destiny’s Child won R&B Song of the Year and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group for “Say My Name,” while Eminem beat out heavy hitters
and his own mentor
in the Best Rap Album category. He also won Best Rap Solo Performance for “The Real Slim Shady,” and shared a Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group win with Dre for “Forgot About Dre,” from Dr. Dre: 2001.
Not every artist who began the night with odds seemingly in their favor received consolation prizes, however. Triple nominee Madonna, who opened the show with a performance of “Music” replete with a glittering Cadillac, scores of dancers and a cameo by Lil’ Bow Wow, went home empty-handed, as did ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, Erykah Badu and Don Henley. Sisqo, tapped by many as a shoo-in for Best New Artist on the strength of his inescapable “Thong Song,” lost out to country/soul crooner Shelby Lynne, who racked up considerable critical acclaim last year for her album I Am Shelby Lynne. “Thirteen years and six albums to get here,” the Alabama-born singer-songwriter said from the podium. “I stand here and represent nothing but music.” She looked more defiant than elated, like a woman who would break Sisqo in two if he asked to see her thong.
The evening’s other big winner was Faith Hill, who tied Steely Dan and U2’s three wins with awards for Best Country Album (Breathe), Best Country Female Vocal Performance (“Breathe”) and Best Country Collaboration with Vocal (“Let’s Make Love,” with her husband Tim McGraw). Dr. Dre nabbed Producer of the Year, while Macy Gray won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (“I Try”).
Think NARAS played it safe by not awarding Eminem Album of the Year? That’s not the half of it. Sting, Sheryl Crow and Lenny Kravitz each took home the exact same award they won last year — Best Pop Male Vocal Performance and Best Female and Male Rock Vocal Performance, respectively. Kravitz at least has a current hit — “Again” — to back up this year’s win, compared to Sting, who won his for the obscure song “She Walks This Earth (Soberana Rosa)” from the various artists album A Love Affair — The Music of Ivan Lins, and Crow, claiming victory with a recycled song, “There Goes the Neighborhood,” featured on her 1999 live album. The deja-vu doesn’t end there, either — Eminem won Best Rap Album and Best Rap Solo Performance last year, too.
Other winners this year included: Joni Mitchell (Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album); D’Angelo (Best R&B Album and Best R&B Male Vocal Performance); Toni Braxton (Best R&B Female Vocal Performance); Creed (Best Rock Song); Foo Fighters (Best Rock Album and Best Music Video); Radiohead (Best Alternative Music Album); the Deftones (Best Metal Performance); Rage Against the Machine (Best Hard Rock Performance); Metallica (Best Rock Instrumental Performance); Johnny Cash (Best Country Male Vocal Performance); Emmylou Harris (Best Contemporary Folk Album); Dolly Parton (Best Bluegrass Album); Asleep at the Wheel (Best Country Duo or Group Performance); Dave Alvin (Best Traditional Folk Album) and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (Best Contemporary Jazz Album). Blues legend B.B. King picked up a pair of awards, for Best Traditional Blues Album (Let the Good Times Roll) and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocal (“Is You Is, Or I You Ain’t My Baby,” with Dr. John), and the inaugural Best Native American Music Album Grammy went to Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, produced by Tom Bee & Douglas Spotted Eagle.
Apart from Eminem’s appearance with Elton John, the evening’s most memorable performance was the bizarro combo of Moby, Jill Scott and the Blue Man Group for Moby’s “Natural Blues.” The song lost in the Best Dance Recording category to the Baha Men‘s “Who Let the Dogs Out,” but the eclectic performance won a standing ovation from the audience. Less successful were ‘N Sync, who unwisely bypassed their upbeat side in order to slog through a terminally slow “This I Promise You.” Christina Aguilera went for broke by patterning her energetic Spanish-language performance on Ricky Martin‘s star-making turn two years ago, complete with a horn section, dancers and flashy pyrotechnics, but regrettably lacking a comparably memorable song. She subsequently lost her bid for Best Latin Pop Album to Columbian singer Shakira.
Other performance highlights included Bono’s now customary stroll through the audience and camera mugging during U2’s “Beautiful Day,” Destiny’s Child’s strip-down to sparkly blue bras and short-shorts during “Say My Name” and the matching purple wigs worn by everyone on stage during Macy Gray’s over-the-top run through “I Try.”