”There’s a wide representation here tonight,” marveled Grammy presenter Bonnie Raitt, as she passed Backstreet Boys, Soggy Bottom Boys, and ole-time boys Billy Joel and Tony Bennett on her way into the 44th Annual Grammy Awards, held Feb. 27 at L.A.’s Staples Center. Joel and Bennett, perspiring in matching tuxedos, arrived in a New York state of mind — discussing what they hope will take the place of the Twin Towers. ”It should be a memorial,” said Joel, who has not been back to the site since the week following the attacks. ”It happened, and I don’t think people should make believe it didn’t. We could always use another park in New York.”

The impact of the September attacks was present throughout the show, which, unfortunately for CBS, scored its worst ratings in five years. Along with Bennett and Joel’s ”New York State of Mind,” there were Alan Jackson’s 9/11 anthem, ”Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and Destiny’s Child joining Alejandro Sanz for an exuberant ”Quisiera Ser.” That number had been scheduled for the Sept. 11 Latin Grammys, which were canceled. ”The performance means a lot more because we were supposed to perform that day,” said Child’s Kelly Rowland, pleased that the upbeat music connected. ”America’s doing so well as far as staying up; spirits are great.”

Speaking of soaring spirits, the night’s biggest winner, Alicia Keys, held court at BMG’s after-party at the Argyle Hotel surrounded by family and bodyguards — and celeb well-wishers like The Sopranos’ Jamie-Lynn Sigler. Keys, who had changed back into her Target-by-way-of-Bollywood aquamarine ensemble, snapped up five statues. At record-biz legend Clive Davis’ annual bash the night before, the ”Fallin”’ star credited her predecessors: ”It’s actually women…like Lauryn Hill [and] Erykah Badu who really helped open that door a little bit wider. I’m very proud to be a part of that movement.”

The evening’s other fawned-over females included Mary J. Blige, who brought down the house with her performance of ”No More Drama,” and Patti LaBelle, 57, who joined ”Lady Marmalade” sirens Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and Pink on stage for a sexed-up version of the hit. ”Patti’s been giving me chills all week during rehearsal,” cooed starstruck Aguilera. ”She called us her ‘babies’ from day one and invited us to her house for some home cookin’.” Mya, finishing her role as cell-block gal Mona in the big-screen version of Chicago: The Musical, seemed most impressed by LaBelle’s fashion sense: ”I hope to be her age and still be able to wear those heels.” First-time Grammy performer LaBelle (whose billowing hot pink train was supposed to fall off during her performance) also had praise for her young admirers: ”I’ve always complimented them on having the balls to do that song.”

Besides the Girl Power motif, the Grammys were more than a little bit country. O Brother, Where Art Thou? pulled off the night’s biggest upset, snatching Album of the Year from U2. ”I don’t feel like we beat them,” said O Brother CD producer T-Bone Burnett. ”They got prizes too. They got stuff I didn’t.”