Steely Dan beats rap at Grammys
February 22, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Controversial rapper Eminem claimed three of four possible trophies Wednesday night at the 43rd annual Grammy Awards, but Grammy voters reverted to form and handed its most prestigious prize to a venerable rock favorite, Steely Dan.
"Two Against Nature," Steely Dan's first disc of new material in 19 years, edged out Eminem's multiplatinum "The Marshall Mathers LP" to claim album of the year honors as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences made amends for overlooking the sardonic rock band for most of its career.
"We've been around a long time, it's nice to get one of these," said Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen as he accepted the pop vocal album Grammy during the live telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. But neither he nor his partner Walter Becker commented on the Eminem upset when Steely Dan won album of the year.
Steely Dan won a total of four Grammys, including awards for best engineered album and pop performance by a duo or group with vocal ("Cousin Dupree").
Picking up his first Grammy of the night, Detroit-based rapper Eminem said, "First of all, I want to thank everybody who could look past the controversy and see this album for what it was--and also for what it wasn't."
He took home Grammys for rap album ("The Marshall Mathers LP"), solo rap performance ("The Real Slim Shady") and rap performance by a duo or group ("Forgot About Dre" with his producer, Dr. Dre). Dre claimed producer of the year honors for his work with Eminem and for his own solo album, "Dr. Dre--2001."
Running late as usual, the telecast ended with Eminem's much-anticipated performance with Elton John. It turned out to be an anti-climax; after so much fuss, the least we could have hoped for was a big wet kiss, but Elton and Em merely embraced from a distance of what seemed about two feet apart.
Along with Eminem, U2 also won three Grammys, including the prestigious song and record of the year for "Beautiful Day."
"It's a very unusual emotion I'm feeling right now; I think it's called humility," said U2's Bono.
In a surprising turn, Grammy voters favored the veteran Irish rockers over the teen-pop heroes and heroines who have been dominating the charts.
"Everything's been going great," said guitarist the Edge. "There's been some really great breakthroughs in science: the disposable mobile phone, the three-blade razor and the female Orgasmatron. And now this."
Country's Faith Hill also won three Grammys, including country album and female country vocal performance for "Breathe," and country collaboration for "Let's Make Love," a duet with husband Tim McGraw.
Shelby Lynne, a more rough and tumble country crooner, won the best new artist Grammy, though she herself noted that she was anything but a newcomer. "It took 13 years and six albums to get here," she said.
In a veiled reference to the Eminem controversy, Lynne added that she appeared at the telecast to represent nothing but quality music. Outside the Staples Center, more than 100 demonstrators protested Eminem's lyrics, which they consider offensive toward women and gays.
Although there were almost 100 categories this year, only a handful were handed out during the typically drawn out show.
Other awards presented on air included female pop vocal (Macy Gray, "I Try"), R&B performance by a duo or group (Destiny's Child, "Say My Name"), jazz vocal album (Dianne Reeves, "In the Moment--Live in Concert"), and Latin pop album (Colombian singer Shakira, "Shakira--MTV Unplugged").
Before the telecst, R&B star D'Angelo won R&B album honors for "Voodoo" and male R&B vocal for "Untitled (How Does It Feel)." "Say My Name" also brought Destiny's Child a second Grammy for R&B song.
Performances on the show were divided between celebrations of old-fashioned musicianship and high-gloss pop production numbers of the sort that propel MTV's "Video Music Awards."
The Grammys have been trying to emulate the flashier MTV show in recent years, with minimal success. But no one got naked or climbed the scenery on the Grammys, and host Jon Stewart was no Chris Rock.
Madonna kicked things off by bumping and grinding on a top of a glittery limousine, singing "Music" while doing an aerobic workout in a tight-fitting "Material Girl" tank top.
The multiplatinum boy band 'N Sync warbled its syrupy ballad "This I Promise You" in a high-tech number that found the teen heartthrobs appearing in color while the dancers onstage seemed to be in black and white.
Though Madonna and 'N Sync each were nominated for three Grammys, both acts were shut out in every category.
In front of a giant video backdrop that flashed colorful faux-Matisse paintings, Hill sang her countrified pop hit "Breathe."
If it wasn't lip-synching, Destiny's Child was at the very least electronically augmented. And Christina Aguilera failed to claim the Ricky Martin prize for her Spanish language performance, delivering a third-rate imitation of Mariah Carey or Celine Dion.
In contrast, a soulful and musically challenging performance of "I Try" by Macy Gray was one of the show's highlights.
U2 was inspired if understated while tearing through "Beautiful Day." But veteran rocker Paul Simon seemed to have just woken up from a nap.
Besides the Em 'n' Elton pairing, the Grammys had several duos that did click, including Shelby Lynne and Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton, and R&B singer Jill Scott, techno artist Moby and performance art troupe the Blue Man Group.
Duet makes lasting impression
February 22, 2001
COMMENTARY BY JIM DeROGATIS
Forget about all of the pre-Grammy hype. When Eminem and Elton John performed the hit "Stan" at the Grammy Awards telecast Wednesday night, they only succeeded in alienating fans.
The unlikely duet brought excitement to the usually starchy Grammy Awards ceremony; not surprisingly, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences took full advantage of the spot by saving it for the telecast's last 10 minutes.
But the stilted Em 'n' Elton duet was overshadowed by politics. Once again, the Grammys Awards got to have their cake (by generating controversy) and then eat it, too (by pairing the gay-bashing rapper with the flamboyantly gay pop star so that the academy couldn't be accused of being politically incorrect).
Nominated for four Grammys, including album of the year, Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP" had been the subject of intense debate ever since this year's Grammy nominations were announced.
Detractors such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and vice presidential spouse Lynne Cheney accuse the rapper of glamorizing violence against women and homosexuals. But defenders claim that Eminem just reflects a segment of American youth, and that his critics miss his irony.
Meanwhile, the recording academy's president Mike Greene talked out both sides of his mouth during the telecast. Though he has branded "The Marshall Mathers LP" "repulsive," he worked hard to persuade the rapper to appear on the show.
Introducing the Eminem and Elton duet, he said, "It's important to remember that the academy is not here to defend or vilify, commercialize or censor art.
"People are mad and people are talking, and that's a good thing," Greene said. "It's through dialogue and debate that social discovery and progress can occur."
Outside the Staples Center, 100 people protested, but the Grammy producers didn't bother to show them on air or reflect their opinions. So much for dialogue.
Onstage, Em 'n' Elton performed a tune about a mentally disturbed fan named Stan who imitates Eminem by killing his wife. On the album, female folk singer Dido delivers the song's choruses. On the Grammy telecast, John sang her part, in his usually tuneless but typically hammy fashion.
What was in it for Elton? A ton of press, but surely no street or artistic credibility. The veteran British popster has been a sad opportunist ever since he rewrote "Candle in the Wind" after the death of Princess Diana.
"Elton John should be disgusted and ashamed of himself," said Scott Seomin, a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
As for Eminem, who has rapped scornfully about awards like the Grammys, winning a bunch of prizes and then deigning to appear on air only gives fans ammunition to conclude that he's finally been played out.
For people who actually like Eminem's artless outrage, the Grammy telecast merely served as a signal that it's time to move on to something even cruder and more offensively knee-jerk.