Eminem rocks, Shelby Lynne pouts, and Jon Stewart flops, says David Browne

By David Browne
Updated February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Shelby Lynne: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com

EW.com rates the Grammy winners and losers

Quick, what’s more offensive: Eminem’s lyrics or the fact that Steely Dan strolled away with the Album of the Year award for ”Two Against Nature” at this year’s much anticipated Grammy Awards?

If you picked the latter, you’re right. In what amounted to the strongest indication yet that Grammy voters essentially hate just about all contemporary music, the mostly dreary and listless televised ceremony tossed most of its major awards to boomer acts like U2 and Steely Dan (whose ”Two Against Nature” didn’t even jazz most of their longtime admirers).

Eminem didn’t walk away empty handed, of course — he swept the rap categories, for his own album and his collaboration with Dr. Dre. His scheduled performance of ”Stan” with Elton John was the moment everyone was waiting for, and it lent the CBS telecast a sense of drama and tension that it hasn’t had since — well, ever. The rapper didn’t disappoint, either: Stalking the stage while spewing his cautionary parable about obsessive fans, his voice growing more intense with each verse as a polka dotted John sang the Dido sample behind him, Eminem gave the most electrifying, shut up and watch performance of the evening.

I must admit to being suspicious of John: Whether it was dueting with reputed homophobe Axl Rose in the ’90s or singing at Princess Di’s funeral, he seems to have an uncanny, perhaps calculating knack for being in the right media moment at the right time. Still, the sight of him scurrying over to Eminem for a postsong hug was unexpectedly moving.

Moments later, presenters Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler announced Steely Dan had won in the Album category that many hoped Eminem would claim, and you could practically hear the disappointment in Los Angeles’ Staples Center — from an audience that had just given Eminem a standing ovation. It was a buzzkill that made the 1989 Grammy mistake of awarding Jethro Tull a hard rock / metal award seem like a minor screwup.

The power of Eminem’s ”Stan” also made the rest of the evening’s overstaged, blaringly lit live performances suffer by comparison, as if all the anticipation drained every bit of energy from the rest of the broadcast. Madonna’s show opening ”Music” was garish and inanely choreographed. A seemingly lip synching Destiny’s Child appeared to be under the mistaken impression that they were part of a circus act. Jon Stewart, a seemingly inspired choice to emcee the show, was instead a disaster: His jokes, many of them on dated subjects like Ally McBeal, Benetton, and comedian Gallagher, went over like Eminem at a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new GLAAD office. (”I suck!” Stewart admitted at one point, and even THAT wasn’t funny.) The entire show was a train wreck with a beat.

Some newcomers did walk with statuettes: D’Angelo for R&B Album, Destiny’s Child for R&B Performance by a Group, the Deftones for Metal Performance, Foo Fighters for Rock Album. But the major awards were handed over, with a palpable sense of industry relief, to veterans (U2, Sting) or relative youngbloods like Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, and Shelby Lynne who suggest the past more than the future.

Lynne thankfully trumped Sisqó in the Best New Artist category, but nearly ruined the vibe when she sourly remarked, ”I stand here tonight to represent nothing but music” — a putdown of current pop that didn’t quite jibe with her ample display of cleavage. U2 walked away with Song of the Year and Record of the Year for the deserving ”Beautiful Day.” But Bono nearly blew whatever good will he had left by claiming they were back to reapply for the ”’Best Band In The World’ job.”

Even though he lost out for the evening’s most prestigious award, Eminem still emerged a winner. (In his usual contradictory way, he also emerged more of a puzzle than ever, politely thanking his industry advisors during an acceptance speech, giving a shout out to his daughter, and, in best music biz fashion, plugging the upcoming album from his group, D12.) And the Grammys once again emerged as losers: a voting body that’s frighteningly conservative. Since U2’s ”All That You Can’t Leave Behind” album was released after the deadline and therefore couldn’t qualify for this year’s awards, want to bet what wins Album of the Year in 2002?

Get a second opinion from critic Chris Farley of Time.com