Eminem/Elton Grab Headlines, But Night May Belong To Dre

Destiny's Child could graduate at Wednesday night's 43rd annual Grammy Awards.

Will the Dr. be in, or will Destiny's Child make us say their name on Grammy night?

More importantly, will the scandalous Elton/Eminem duet on "Stan," and the promised protests by women's and gay rights groups, explode a soy bomb on the whole event?

All we do know is that you definitely can't count on Jennifer Lopez to distract everyone by showing up in another barely-there dress; she's out of town on promotional duties.

It's anybody's guess who will steal the show, but with the ghost of last year's supernatural phenomenon, Santana, just a memory, the 43rd annual Grammy Awards is a horse race between a new generation of superstars: rapper/producer Dr. Dre and Destiny's Child singer/songwriter Beyoncé Knowles.

Both are nominated for five Grammys and each could cap a stellar year that saw their profiles rise to new heights.

And in a twist on the "I'm just happy just to be nominated" speech that artists have been giving since cavemen gave out their first commemorative stone slabs, Knowles said it's not the nominations she's most excited about.

"I think the performance means the most," Knowles said. "I can't even believe we're performing on the Grammys. I mean, an acceptance speech takes 20 seconds, a performance is four minutes."

With all the breakups and makeups over, for now anyway, Knowles and bandmate Kelly Rowland said, at the very least they're not expecting the kind of drama they had at last year's show when their tickets were snatched by a thief.

Dre, who won a Best Rap Solo Performance Grammy in 1993 for his Chronic track "Let Me Ride," is riding high on the vapors of his return-to-form album Dr. Dre 2001 as well as his work on Eminem's controversial The Marshall Mathers LP.

But it is Dre's rabble-rousing protégé who has somehow managed to steal much of the spotlight on what might be his benefactor's big night.

Add in the sticky, sweet irony that The Marshall Mathers LP's first single, "The Real Slim Shady," features a line in which Eminem disses the Grammys: "You think I give a damn about a Grammy?/ Half of you critics can't even stomach me, let alone stand me."

Despite the pre-emptive diss, last year's no-show double-Grammy winner enters tonight's contest with four nominations, as do R&B singer Joe, producer Rodney Jerkins and songwriter LaShawn Daniels. Collectively the group of young jacks serve as the antidote to last year's virtual sweep by Santana, whose career was well on its way before many of them were born.

Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas, co-author of last year's Song of the Year, Santana's "Smooth," said despite the debate about Eminem's lyrics, he's looking forward to seeing the blue-eyed devil do his thing.

"I think he's probably going to do great, because he's a great performer," Thomas said. "I think he probably deserves the controversy because he's controversial. I think you have to get the joke with Eminem."

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Family Violence Prevention Fund and the National Organization for Women have all protested the inclusion of Eminem, citing lyrics they call homophobic, hateful and misogynistic.

With two nominations this year for Matchbox Twenty, Thomas predicted that a win would be even sweeter. "I think it would be a little more personal this year, because it was me and my family, me and my guys. It would be nice if we could all share in that together," he said.

Even the list of this year's performers skews heavily toward a more contemporary vibe for the traditionally stodgy show. Last year's surprise Best New Artist winner, Christina Aguilera, will take the stage, as will pop-country singer Faith Hill, R&B group Take 6, Destiny's Child, Macy Gray, 'NSYNC and this year's most buzzed-about R&B singer, Jill Scott, joined by Moby and the Blue Man Group.

Holding it down for acts whose careers were well under way when Justin Timberlake was in short pants, U2, Madonna, Paul Simon and Sheryl Crow (performing with Best New Artist nominee Shelby Lynne) round out the list of performers who will grace the stage of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The show will be hosted by comedian Jon Stewart and broadcast on CBS. (MTVi's parent company, Viacom, also owns CBS.)

Among the more heated contests to be decided are Album of the Year and Record of the Year. The former pits Beck's funkafied Midnite Vultures against The Marshall Mathers LP, Radiohead's experimental Kid A and two albums by veteran artists, Paul Simon's You're the One and Steely Dan's Two Against Nature.

Simon, a 16-time Grammy winner and this year's MusiCares Person of the Year, has been touted in trade papers as the heavy favorite for the prize, despite his album's commercial disappointment.

Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" faces off against Macy Gray's "I Try," Madonna's "Music," 'NSYNC's "Bye Bye Bye" and U2's "Beautiful Day" for Record of the Year.

Although the recording academy's rules stipulate that a Best New Artist nominee can be someone who merely reached across to a larger audience with their most recent album, the race for that prize is anyone's guess.

Dru Hill member Sisqó has been shaking his thong since 1996, while country soul singer Lynne has been at it for more than a decade. They face off against country singer Brad Paisley, Scott and rockers Papa Roach.

Albums or singles up for this year's Grammys had to have been released within the eligibility period of October 1, 1999, to September 30, 2000. The deadline excluded such acclaimed late-2000 releases as U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind (although not the single "Beautiful Day," released earlier), Outkast's Stankonia and PJ Harvey's Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea.

In one of those only-at-the-Grammys scenarios, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney is up for Best Alternative Music Album against Beck, Fiona Apple, the Cure and Radiohead.

A closer battle might be for Best Rap Solo Performance, where conscious rapper Common ("The Light") will face off against a trio of party anthems in DMX's "Party Up," Nelly's " Country Grammar" and Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" and Eminem's multiple-personality tour de force, "The Real Slim Shady."

So sit back, shake out a handful of Viagra, grab some Jergens and get ready for a disco ball-covered Cadillac, because it's gonna get ugly.

(MTVNews.com will offer complete coverage the night of the awards show, including up-to-the-minute news, Grammy-related feature interviews and a place for users to share their thoughts on the show with the rest of the world.)