Grammys Night Was One For The (Older) Ages

After vets Steely Dan and U2 trounced 'NSYNC and Britney, could it be the beginning of the end for teen pop?

You had a Material Girl disco workout, 8,451 promos for the Elton/Eminem duet, Bono interpreting God's A&R sensibilities and poor Macy Gray getting trapped in her seat by a fur coat. One thing the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards didn't have, though, was a runaway winner — at least not one you'd trust with your teenage niece.

In fact, your niece might have been sort of bored, since none of her peeps made it onto the winners' list, which looked more like it was from 1981 than 2001.

Democracy returned to the Grammys after 2000's Santanaslide, but in a year when artists who knew Paul McCartney as that guy from Wings were expected to clean house, it was the same old story: age before beauty.

Just one year after Christina Aguilera "oh my God"-ed her way to a Best New Artist win, the 800-pound teen-pop gorilla was shoved back in the closet for a night. And, according to a few industry observers, that thumping sound you heard wasn't just those blue guys pounding on PVC pipe during Moby's performance — it may just have been the first teen-pop shoe hitting the ground with a thud.

Dirty old men Steely Dan were the big winners Wednesday night, taking home three Grammys, including the night's biggest honor — Album of the Year — for their first studio record in two decades, Two Against Nature.

For jaded music industry insiders and a few Grammy voters, it was business as usual: a tipping of the cap to "heritage" artists who may have been ignored in their prime but have given the members of the Recording Academy a chance to repair the damage. It happened with Santana last year and Bob Dylan in 1997. Given that timetable, 2020 could really be Radiohead's year.

Music consultant and Grammy voter Tom Vickers said the growing sense among radio programmers that the teen phenomenon has peaked likely led to the unexpectedly strong showings by Steely Dan and U2, who also took home three awards.

"I think there was also a sense that they wanted to reward something that was for real, as opposed to here today, gone tomorrow," he said.

Aside from 'NSYNC's sedate "Pleasantville"-esque performance and Aguilera's Spanish-language shimmy-fest, the night belonged to the grown-ups. The 12,000 Grammy voters even managed to throw a pail of water on the distracting debate about 27-year-old Eminem by creating a bigger controversy in the Steely Dan coronation.

Steely Dan beat a group of young guns including the Backstreet Boys, 'NSYNC, Barenaked Ladies and the Corrs for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal for a song that would make Eminem proud: their ode to lechery and kissing kin, "Cousin Dupree." The pair, who looked like the accounting firm of Sour & Dour, also took Best Pop Vocal Album.

Even if it was the triumph of "good over big," as suggested by Sky Daniels, general manager of radio trade magazine Radio & Records, there was a certain disconnect to a number of the wins.

"I can see U2 and Shelby Lynne winning," Daniels said of the veteran country singer who took home Best New Artist, "but why not 'NSYNC for Best Pop Vocal? That would have been legitimate; those are great pop vocals. And who would have guessed a standing ovation for Eminem?"

One of the surprises surely was U2. Their album All That You Can't Leave Behind came out too late to compete for a Grammy, but the band still managed to take home awards for the single "Beautiful Day" (Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals).

Vickers and Daniels said U2 — who've won three previous Grammys — got the "pure" vote for a single that is widely regarded as one of their strongest in years.

U2 singer Bono said winning a Grammy means more at this stage in the band's career. "This period in music seems to be so dominated by pop, to have a band winning a Grammy feels really good," he said. "There is some exciting music that has been made by advertising executives in the last couple of years. But it is not the stuff. It's not what we want."

Joking that U2 see themselves as just another Irish boy band, the 40-year-old singer said he sees today's boy and girl bands as part of a tradition dating back to the 1950s. "Let somebody who's brilliant at producing take care of that; let someone who's great at songwriting take care of that, let someone sing," he said. "It's really hard to get four people this good-looking who write and produce."

It wasn't all bad news for the under-40 set, though.

Hip-hop heavyweight Dr. Dre — who was tied with Destiny's Beyoncé Knowles for the most nominations with five — took home only two awards, bested by his protégé, the most hated (and loved) man in the room, Eminem.

Dre, 36, looked downright respectable as he took a bow during a standing ovation spurred by National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences head Michael Greene's onstage props.

But 'NSYNC, who were up for three awards, went home with goose eggs, despite having one of the biggest albums of last year and topping all comers in tour revenue. They were beaten by Steely Dan, whose Two Against Nature has sold 803,000 copies since last February, according to SoundScan. That's just a third of what 'NSYNC sold with No Strings Attached in its first week of release.

The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, 98 Degrees and Christina also got shut out, perhaps lending proof to those murmurs that the teen pop bubble is ready to burst.

Not so fast, says Lori Majewski, entertainment director for Teen People magazine.

"Grammy voters happen to be older and have older music tastes," Majewski said. "But Christina had a huge performance, in Spanish, with dancing. 'NSYNC showed they can really sing. Grammy voters have never gone for the flashy pop thing, so I don't think it's a sign of anything. I think they showed their faith in pop by inviting Christina and 'NSYNC to perform."

Oh yeah, and that Eminem and Elton John thing — which garnered a standing ovation — ended with a touching hug and some hand holding between the unlikely couple. Although he restrained some of the lyrics to his stalker tale, "Stan," Eminem topped off the performance with what might have been a message to his detractors, delivered with two raised middle fingers.

Of course, he could have just been saying hi to those two accountants holding the Album of the Year trophies. Or maybe he was simply crowing about his dreams coming true: "You little girl and boy groups/ All you do is annoy me/ So I have been sent here to destroy you" ("The Real Slim Shady").