Since Eminem and his fellow enfants terribles rose to prominence in the music biz, one question has been bandied about more than any other: What's the matter with kids today? Yet as far as we could tell from last night's live telecast of the Grammys, the answer is... absolutely nothing. In fact, if you'll join TV Guide Online in reviewing the 45th annual kudofest in New York for the first time in five years and emcee-free for the first time in eons we bet you'll agree that, although they're often poorly dressed and worse spoken, the kids are all right. Yep, when the chips were down, they kept up just fine with their elders.
Granted, Dustin Hoffman set the bar pretty low for the gray-haired set with his show-opening speech. First, the tongue-tied master thespian cross-pollinated Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band by calling everybody's all-American Bruce Springstreet. Then he introduced "Hey Baby" group No Doubt by misquoting the hit's chorus as "Say baby, say baby." (Avril Lavigne, you are hereby forgiven for having mispronounced David Bowie's name at the nomination ceremony. Your off-key yowling yesterday is another matter... )
Shortly thereafter, poor Tony Bennett tripped over his words, too, as he noted that golden girl Norah Jones would be around for ages because "you the public has already sold... bought millions of her records." Uh, yeah. Later, when Paul Shaffer took to the mike, he spoke with his hands, which would have been all well and good had he not insisted on gesturing as if he held a martini in each one. And what was up with Trustee Award recipient Royal Blakeman? The geezer attorney looked about as happy to be getting a shout-out from Vince Vaughn as he would've been to hear Lavigne do "Sk8er Boi" again.
Thankfully, the more mature performers on the bill fared better than the erstwhile Rain Man. For starters, a reunited Simon and Garfunkel delivered a spellbinding, minimalist rendition of "The Sound of Silence." Although we can't condone Sheryl Crow's midlife metamorphosis into Pamela Anderson, neither would we deny that she sounded swell getting into the nitty-gritty of "You're an Original" with the blonde bombshell's fiance, Kid Rock. Two hours in, Springstreet... er, Springsteen finally sent us into ecstasy by singing "The Rising" with such passion that he appeared to be in agony. That seems to happen a lot with the Boss; as the program went past our bedtime, he also joined E-Street neighbor Steve Van Zandt, Elvis Costello and Dave Grohl in a spirited tribute to the Clash.
For their part, try as we assume they did, the brat pack couldn't help but evince the drawbacks of being raised on a steady diet of Beavis and Butt-head cartoons. First, Justin Timberlake asked fellow presenter Kylie Minogue, "Can I grab your butt again?" Very suave, dude... not! While trying to pull a Susan Sarandon, unlikely political pundit Fred Durst said, "I hope we're all in agreeance that this war should go away as quickly as possible." (Heh-heh. He said agreeance.) Most embarrassing of all, Erykah Badu brought the proceedings to a dead halt while she instructed the TelePrompter operator to scroll back down her lines. "That's what I get for not coming to rehearsal," she quipped before being distracted by familiar faces in the crowd. "The Roots! What's up, man?"
Still, it was the whippersnappers who really made the evening crackle and pop. John Mayer showed up forebear James Taylor by crooning "Your Body Is a Wonderland" with a sexy swagger that Sweet Baby James never dreamt of. No Doubt delivered a striking, stripped-down version of "Underneath It All" that incidentally served to illustrate how little the band needed orgiastic rope-climbers to pump up "Hella Good." (Gwen Stefani could stand to learn a less-is-more lesson from Jones, captivating with only candles to compete with her warm voice.) 'N Sync received a well-deserved standing O for their glorious a cappella Bee Gees tribute. And you know Coldplay, the English alterna-rock outfit featuring Gwyneth Paltrow's latest beau? They held their own with the New York Philharmonic, for Pete's sake!What really put the youngsters over the edge, though, was the artist formerly known as Marshall Mathers. Turns out, he can still shock us. Not only did he electrify Madison Square Garden with "Lose Yourself" no surprise there but get this: He seemed to put a measure of forethought into his best rap album acceptance speech! Rather than mutter thanks to his label and posse, he announced that he'd compiled a list of acts, from Run DMC to Dr. Dre, that had inspired him. Was it just another case of a kid saying the darndest things? Or could it be that Slim Shady, hip-hop's pissed-off Peter Pan, is finally growing up?