“There are so many women nominated this year, Fox is backstage filming their own TV special — ‘When Divas Attack,’” host Rosie O’Donnell joked early in her first appearance as a GRAMMY host. In truth, this GRAMMY night at the Shrine Auditorium would turn out to be a big night for female artists. Most notably, Lauryn Hill won five GRAMMY awards — Album Of The Year (a first for any hip-hop artist), Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best Rhythm & Blues Song and Best R&B Album — and delivered a stunning version of “To Zion” (with a little help from Carlos Santana) from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.
Hill had plenty of female company at the top of the world. Coming off a Titanic smash, Celine Dion won Record Of The Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for “My Heart Will Go On,” which was also honored as Song Of The Year for songwriters Will Jennings and James Horner. And Madonna — who won three awards herself during the night — opened the televised festivities with her first GRAMMY performance, singing “Nothing Really Matters” from her acclaimed Ray Of Light album with a decidedly Asian look.
O’Donnell followed suit, entering along with two sushi chefs who eventually revealed themselves to have written “Soy” and “Sauce” on their chests — a sly reference to the previous year’s Soy Bomb disturbance. O’Donnell then introduced Alanis Morissette’s performance of “Uninvited” from the City of Angels soundtrack — which won Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song — by saying, “Some of us take our broken, obsessive relationships to therapy, she’s taken hers to number one.”
Other standout performances by women included a rocking performance of “There Goes The Neighborhood” by Sheryl Crow, whose The Globe Sessions then took home the award for Best Rock Album. Country diva Shania Twain — who won two awards — made a vivid impression in an ultra-sexy black outfit that didn’t exactly conjure up images of the Grand Ole Opry. It was the Dixie Chicks, however, who received the award for Best Country Album for Wide Open Spaces, a fact that seemed to totally surprise them. “We thought for sure Shania got it,” Dixie Chick Martie Maguire explained. “We’re freaking out.”
For the record, there were men on the show too. In fact, for many, the 41st Annual GRAMMY Awards will be remembered as the night that Ricky Martin became a star in any language with a completely winning performance of “The Cup Of Life.” O’Donnell jokingly translated the title as “I Survived Menudo” before Martin’s performance, but spoke for millions afterwards when she sang his praises. Moments later he won the award for Best Latin Pop Performance for “Vuelve.”
Aerosmith — winner of Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for “Pink” — performed their Armageddon soundtrack smash ballad “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” Director George Lucas introduced a segment on the power of film music that featured James Horner and John Williams conducting selections from the scores to Titanic and Star Wars, respectively. A year after his last-minute cancellation and replacement by Aretha Franklin, Luciano Pavarotti returned to offer his “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s opera Turandot. And Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner brought the Shrine audience to their feet when they prevailed over Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, Jeff Foxworthy and the Firesign Theatre to win Best Spoken Comedy Album for The 2000 Year Old Man In The Year 2000. Of their fellow nominees, Brooks praised them as, “All good — not as good as us, but all good.” Carl Reiner then explained, “Thirty-nine years ago we were nominated for [a] GRAMMY and didn’t win. We can’t wait another 39 years — they can.”
Yet it was Will Smith who might have provided the biggest laugh of the GRAMMY night. Accepting the award for Best Rap Solo Performance for “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” Smith explained that he had been to his first parent-teacher meeting earlier in the day, and that the teacher expressed pleasure with his young son Trey’s progress...except for his rhyming skills. “That’s just pure parental neglect,” Smith joked. “So I want to dedicate this award to my son Trey. And Trey, there’s always law school, baby.”