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It was with nothing less than great irony that Madonna kicked off last night's Grammy Awards ceremony with a performance of her hit "Music," with its la-la-land, love-fest lyrics like "Music makes the people come together."

The ultimate pop diva even emphasized the air of all cultures and people coming together by stepping out of a flashy, silver limo that could have fit into many a Jay-Z music video. And she even incorporated another genre in her act when she had the potty-mouthed, 13-year-old rapper Lil Bow Wow open the limo door for her.

However, just moments before Madonna's let's-all-hold-hands act, hundreds had gathered outside Staples Center in Los Angeles to protest the four Grammy nominations of controversial rap star Eminem. The rapper has drawn intense criticism for his misogynistic and violently homophobic lyrics.

And despite the good intentions of Ms. Material Girl herself, Eminem's nomination for the prestigious Album of the Year Grammy laced the 43rd annual Grammy Awards ceremony with tension and controversy that even the host -- the usually funny Jon Stewart -- did not try to diffuse.

At one point, Recording Academy president Michael Greene took to the stage to address the controversy, saying: "Music has always been the voice of rebellion.

"We can't edit out the art," Greene added. "Remember, that's what our parents tried to do with Elvis, the Stones."

The conservative Recording Academy chose to anoint controversial artist Eminem with the Grammys for best solo rap performance, best rap album and best rap performance by a duo or group for his collaboration Dr. Dre. Still, Eminem wasn't able to break out of the rap category to grab the night's biggest prize. The Album of the Year award went to the graybeard band Steely Dan.

"I wanna thank everybody who could look past the controversy or whatever and see the album for what it was and also for what it isn't," a serious-looking Eminem said while accepting his award for best rap album.

Cathy Renna, spokeswoman for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which protested outside the awards venue yesterday, said she was disappointed with Eminem's wins.

"It sends a message that Grammy voters are willing to sanction disrespect," Renna said. "They're willing to put in a vote for the glamorization of violence in music and lyrics that we feel are irresponsible."

Renna said gay activists were also peeved that Elton John performed with Eminem at the ceremony. John, who is openly gay, has said he was extending "the olive branch" to Eminem. But his choice of collaboration with Eminem was puzzling -- "Stan," a song by the rapper about an obsessed fan who kills his pregnant girlfriend and then himself.

It also didn't help the hovering tension that Stewart took his own stab at finding humor in the situation with the flat quip: "I don't know what all the controversy is about. I met Eminem backstage and he's really gay."

Like, ha-ha, Jon.

Besides these failings, the other big disappointments last night included the fact that Baltimore's own Sisqo surfaced empty-handed in the four categories in which he was nominated.

Shelby Lynne deserving Best New Artist over our hometown boy? Come on. She's not even a newcomer!

OK, enough with the provincial whining -- even if Sisqo so should have gotten the Grammy over that skimpily dressed, peroxide-blonde Christina Aguilera-wannabe.

Aguilera and her teeny-popper crowd, however, did not dominate the awards ceremony last night, even if they have had a firm grip on pop music in recent times. As it turned out, age and experience edged out youth in several categories.

Macy Gray shoved aside Britney Spears and Aguilera and emerged victorious in the Female Pop Vocal Performance category for her wonderful yet way-too-overplayed song "I Try." U2 -- with two band members sporting visibly graying buzzcuts -- beat Destiny's Child and 'N Sync when "Beautiful Day" won Record of the Year over "Say My Name" and (gasp!) "Bye Bye Bye."

And Steely Dan not only nudged aside 'N Sync and Spears to win the award for Pop Vocal Album. The group also trumped boy pop kings the Backstreet Boys in the Pop Performance by a Duo or Group category. Steely Dan had never won a Grammy in its three-decade history. Last night, the group left with three.

In the words of probably many stricken 14-year-old girls across the land: "Like, OH ... MY ... GOD. Who IS this Steely Dan guy?"

Teen-age girls, however, probably were appeased by the phenomenally talented boys of 'N Sync, who took to the stage to belt out their wonderfully crafted ballad "This I Promise You." Oh wait, phenomenally talented? We meant to say U2 belting out "Beautiful Day." Really.

Besides an electrifying performance, U2 also triumphed by taking Grammys for Song of the Year and Rock Performance by a Duo or a Group.

"I have to say, I'm in the Destiny's Child fan club," U2's Bono said after beating the girl group in the Record of the Year category. "But right now, it's our night."

Destiny's Child, however, did win best R&B; performance by a Duo or a Group and R&B; Song for "Say My Name."

In the country categories, Johnny Cash took the Male Country Vocal Performance over industry favorites Vince Gill and Tim McGraw.

The female categories served up some surprises as well. Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" won both Single and Song of the Year at last year's Country Music Association awards and was viewed the critic's choice for Grammys this year. However, Womack took only the Grammy for Country Song. The award for Female Country Vocal Performance instead went to Faith Hill for her catchy crossover song "Breathe."

Some Grammy winners

Song of the year: "Beautiful Day," U2

Best female pop vocal performance: Macy Gray, "I Try"

Best male pop vocal performance: Sting, "She Walks This Earth"

Best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal: Steely Dan, "Cousin Dupree"

Best female rock vocal performance: Sheryl Crow, "There Goes The Neighborhood"

Best male rock vocal performance: Lenny Kravitz, "Again"

Best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal: U2, "Beautiful Day"

Best hard rock performance: Rage Against the Machine, "Guerrilla Radio"

Pop instrumental album: "Symphony No. 1," Joe Jackson

Pop vocal album: "Two Against Nature," Steely Dan

Traditional pop vocal album: "Both Sides Now," Joni Mitchell

Best female R&B; vocal performance: Toni Braxton, "He Wasn't Man Enough"

Best male R&B; vocal performance: D'Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel)"

Best R&B; song: "Say My Name," Destiny's Child

Best R&B; album: D'Angelo, "Voodoo"

Best rap solo performance: Eminem,"The Real Slim Shady"

Best female country vocal performance: Faith Hill, "Breathe"

Best male country vocal performance: Johnny Cash, "Solitary Man"

Best country performance by a duo or group with vocal: Asleep at the Wheel, "Cherokee

Maiden"Best country song: "I Hope You Dance," (Mark D. Sanders & Tia Sillers for Lee Ann Womack)

Best country album: "Breathe," Faith Hill

Bluegrass album: Dolly Parton, "The Grass Is Blue"

Contemporary jazz album: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, "Outbound"

Jazz instrumental solo: Pat Metheny "(Go) Get It"

Jazz instrumental album, individual or group: Branford Marsalis, "Contemporary Jazz"

Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, "Soldier of the Cross"

Salsa album: Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri, "Masterpiece/Obra Maestra"

Traditional blues album: B.B. King and Eric Clapton , "Riding with the King"

Contemporary folk album: Emmylou Harris, "Red Dirt Girl"

Reggae album: Beenie Man, "Art and Life"

Native American Music Album: Various artists, "Gathering of Nations Pow Wow"

Polka Album: Jimmy Sturr, "Touched by a Polka"

Musical album for children: Riders in the Sky, "Woody's Roundup Featuring Riders in the Sky"

Spoken comedy album: "Braindroppings," George Carlin

Classical album: "Shostakovich: The String Quartets," Da-Hong Seetoo & Max Wilcox, producers

Top winners

Record of the year: "Beautiful Day" (U2)

Album of the year: Steely Dan, "Two Against Nature"

Best new artist: Shelby Lynne

Best rap album: Eminem, "The Marshall Mathers LP"

Best dance recording: "Who Let The Dogs Out," Baha Men

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