The show had last-minute fill-in host Jon Stewart dropping mordantly dry one-liners, Bono of the rock group U2 invoking God almost a dozen times in one acceptance speech, comedian Ray Romano shooting T-shirts into the audience, Toni Braxton wearing a dress that looked like a silk dish towel, and a dozen or so gay rights groups, women's advocates and others outside protesting you-know-who.
But the thing everyone expected it to have namely controversy was notably absent. The show was almost, dare one say it ... milquetoast-y, especially when compared to the much rowdier MTV Music Awards but then, that's the Grammys for you. They're almost always the middle-of-the-road show in the awards-studded American music scene.
And even the controversial gay-bashing and woman-smacking (in his lyrics, anyway) Marshall Mathers himself had nothing much stirring to say. He seemed almost bashful.
"Well, what should I say first? All right," Eminem said as he accepted the "Best Rap Album" award for The Marshall Mathers LP. "I want to thank everyone for looking past the controversy to see the album for what it was and for what it isn't."
Later, Eminem performed a duet with Elton John and received a mostly standing ovation from the packed house and a hug from John, who is openly gay and a big fan of Mathers' music. Their duet, on Eminem's song "Stan," was the most anticipated performance in a show that also featured Madonna, Paul Simon, Destiny's Child and Macy Gray.
It was all a bit much for Stewart, who joked that he thought the award brouht out in Eminem a newfound maturity and humility.
"After doing the duet with Elton John, I hear that he is even going to go into the bathroom with George Michael," Stewart deadpanned.
In the major categories, Eminem was nominated for "Album of the Year," "Best Rap Album," "Best Rap Solo Performance," and "Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group." He won for all but "Album of the Year," sharing the duo award with his mentor, Dr. Dre.
Other winners include Sting and Macy Gray, who won the best male and female pop vocalists performances; Shelby Lynne, who won "Best New Artist"; and Steely Dan upset Eminem when the legendary jazz-rock band won "Album of the Year."
Steely Dan also won best pop album for Two Against Nature, the band's first disc in 19 years, as well as best pop vocal performance by a group for "Cousin Dupree."
D'Angelo, Destiny's Child and Faith Hill won two Grammys apiece. D'Angelo's Voodoo won best R&B album and his song, "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" won best male R&B vocal performance. Destiny's Child "Say My Name" won best R&B song and best R&B performance by a group.
Hill's "Breathe" won best country vocal performance and her duet with her husband, Tim McGraw, won best country collaboration with vocals.
The night's other big winners were the members of the rock group U2, which hit on the "Song of the Year," "Record of the Year," and "Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal" categories a three-for-three sweep.
It was enough to give the globe-trotting and cause-pursuing Bono cause for pause.
"It's a very unusual emotion I'm feeling right now," he said after accepting the record award. "It's called humility."
Stoic U2 bandmate The Edge gave Stewart enough raw material for a half-dozen comic riffs in another, somewhat rambling acceptance speech that must have set a record in "Most Words Said In Public" category for the normally quiet guitarist.
Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Anthony DeCurtis said he didn't vote for Eminem, but could see why others might. They might have seen it, he told CBS Radio News, as a reaffirmation of Eminem's right to say what he pleases.
"Part of the reason why music and the arts are significant is that people are allowed to say what they want," DeCurtis said. "You can attack what the artists say, but it's a big mistake to try to prevent them from saying it, whatever it is."
Not that DeCurtis supports Eminem's raunchier lyrics.
"The question here is whether Eminem's lyrics contribute to a climate that's homophobic, and I believe that they do," he said. "If Eminem's lyrics were about slicing up Jews and blacks, I wonder if the record would have made anything approaching the impact that ...it does."
By NICK SAMBIDES Jr