Forever Old

NARAS Sifts Through an Arty Bunch in a Don't-Miss Year

So a little after 7, I put on the MTV preshow. Jill Scott wore Patti LaBelle's jewels and suggested that Eminem's critics "listen a little bit harder," Kid Rock brought a mom he evinced no interest in raping, and Eminem told the camera, "When I find out I'm nominated for a Grammy, I'm like—don't you hate me?" Meanwhile, over on VH1, the ever more gargoyle-like Donald Fagen explained his belatedly newsworthy "Janie Runaway": "Every once in a while you need to write a dirty song." Nonfeatured winners scrolled along the bottom of the screen: Radiohead alternative, Foo Fighters rock, Dr. Dre producer, Baha Men dance (philosophical in defeat, Moby cited Milli Vanilli, whom in fact the junkanoo heroes predate). This was fun, but all too soon it was showtime, as Lil' Bow Wow opened the limo door for a Madonna suddenly as reputable as Miss Daisy. "Music," she sang, writhing youngly and thematically.

Rosie O'Donnell had been a passable MC two years running, so naturally Jon Stewart replaced her. Like so many Grammy hosts, he seemed ignorant of music. Coming from Chris Rock, the Puffy dis "I'm sure Sean would want everybody to know that it's an honor just to be indicted" might have been a howler; from Stewart it was just contemptuous. He was more apropos warning, "If there are any kids watching, I wanna tell ya, no matter what it says in the song, Saturday night is not all right for fighting." Macy Gray beat out five white women for female pop vocal, which made Eminem beating four black guys for best rap solo easier to take, as did the fact that it was the best. Although I'd hated the red plastic snakeskin encasing the newly shorn Justin Timberlake and will always love the sexual politics of Donald Fagen's totally unpedophilic line about a lech's mind turned to applesauce, I moaned when "Cousin Dupree" beat "Bye Bye Bye" for the pop group award—at the Grammys, rooting young is as noble a lost cause as rooting avant-garde, only sometimes you win. Usually not, though. Maybe "Say My Name" and "Bye Bye Bye" split the youthsymp vote, but I bet "Music" finished just behind U2's "Beautiful Day" for record of the year. How the latter—about which a passing-for-humble Bono reported God had said, "Don't thank me for that song—there's no hook, the chorus is weak, and they'll never play it on the radio"—defeated the literally inspirational "I Hope You Dance" as song of the year is for NARAS and the CMA to thrash out.

Finally the big moment arrived: Mike Greene's apologia for Eminem's "Stan," the song someone in GLAAD's clod squad went so far as to observe "contains misogyny and images of violence and murder," clearly all a decent person need know. No no no, the big-moment joke was Stewart's, and it stopped being funny once Greene passed the 60-second mark. The real big moment was The Duet, with Elton, in a polka-dot blouse-and-pants that evoked Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, singing "Stan" 's Dido sample soulfully rather than ethereally, and Eminem proving to millions who'd never heard a minute of his music that he was at least, as first-timer Fagen has allowed, a good actor. Eminem later said he believes The Duet, which after all climaxed with The Hug, absolves him of homophobia. As we who love him know—a few of us, anyway—he has a great deal to learn.

In this, he is totally unlike Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who know everything, and were rewarded for it when Steely Dan's Two Against Nature was voted album of the year. Hey, I like Two Against Nature. It's smarter than Kid A, not to mention jumpier than Aja. And it's a hell of a lot more vital than Paul Simon's limp, picked-to-click You're the One, aptly described by Eric Weisbard as "sort of like spending a social evening with your boss." It's riskier, too—watch for the exegeses on "Janie Runaway" coming to an op-ed page near you. Kudos to NARAS for brushing Simon off. And for giving Eminem three Grammys—rap single, album, and, with Dr. Dre, duet. He didn't lose the big one because the voters considered him morally reprehensible. He lost because they considered him young.

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