Even before winning the first of his three Grammys, Eminem was the hot topic backstage Wednesday at the Grammy awards show. As Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters put it, “He seems to be the theme of the evening.”
And in keeping with the public’s split opinion, there’s apparently no consensus in the music community about Eminem either.
Just about every artist who made the walk across the stage at the Staples Center was eventually asked about the controversial rapper.
When questions were slow in coming to Taj Mahal, he joked, “Maybe I should put my cap on sideways and start throwing (gang) signs.”
Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker came down on the side of … Steely Dan. “We’re pro our lyrics,” Fagen joked, adding that he listened to a bit of Eminem’s first album, and it sounded “like a novelty record.” But then Fagen added, “everything sounds like a novelty record to us.”
Tom Morello of political rockers Rage Against the Machine took a balanced view. While saying he personally detests Eminem’s lyrics, Morello allowed that the rapper “has every right to say what he wants, and the people in the streets have every right to protest what he says.”
Presenter and jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater claimed that the controversy was nothing more than a “marketing ploy,” saying the attention paid to Eminem “takes away from other artists.”
Otis Williams of the Temptations took the opposite tack, commenting that freedom of speech is “what America is about” and that it’s Eminem’s right to rap about whatever he wants.”
The least expected endorsement of the night came from the winners in the gospel categories.
Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay, who won for contemporary gospel album, saw Eminem’s music in a positive light. “Kids need heroes,” he said. “Anything that gets them interested is worthwhile.”
Mary Mary, winner of the contemporary soul gospel statuette, were magnanimous in victory. “He’s talented, we’re talented, and the Grammys are celebrated because of our music.”
With all the adults commenting on Eminem’s influence on kids, 13-year-old Lil Bow Wow had a remarkable perspective.
A self-professed “big fan” of Eminem, Bow Wow had no problem with other kids listening to the Grammy-winning rapper. “It’s about trust,” he said. His parents don’t mind him listening to Eminem records because “they know I’m a smart kid, and I won’t do all the stuff I hear.”
Techno artist Moby, who performed “Natural Blues” was a lone voice actively decrying Eminem.
“He’s very good at what he does, but he’s an anti-Semite, a homophobe and a misogynist, and I can’t support that,” the bald-pated musician said, adding emphatically that he is a member of the ACLU and would never censor anyone. Asked about Elton John and Eminem’s duet performance, he said he “hopes they make out at the end of the song.”
Not everyone took the controversy so seriously.
Dave Alvin, winner of the traditional folk award, said of Eminem, “I hate the brown ones.”
And strangely, not everyone had even heard of the rapper.
Country artist Ricky Skaggs said he knew nothing of “the Marshall Mathers album,” although he was sure his children had heard of it. “They’re not allowed to listen to it,” he quickly added.
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Three of the five album of the year nominees won awards in their specific genres — Radiohead for rock, Eminem for rap and Steely Dan for pop. Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien said he thought one win was probably going to be it for his band at the awards this year, but Fagen wasn’t sure it would make a difference. Either way, he said, he would ask for a recount.
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Asked why it took more than 25 years for Steely Dan to win a Grammy, Becker saw it as a result of the band’s fans “at least those that have survived,” gaining positions of “power and influence.” Fagen dryly commented that “it gave us time to work on our speeches.”
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R&B diva Toni Braxton quipped that it was “a double stick (tape) night,” referring to her revealing Richard Tyler dress.
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Jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon praised Ken Burns Jazz series on PBS for “bringing a new audience to the music.” “Now people have a context in which they can place me,” she said.
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U2 frontman Bono reflected on the band’s triumphs on the night, saying, “A lot of rock band have burnt out by our age and I’m not buying into that. … If we were photographers or writers, we’d just be coming in to our prime.”