The American music industry's annual back-slapping fest, the Grammys, may not be until tonight (21 February 2001), but that didn't stop the safer end of the pop world gathering at a top Los Angeles hotel to party away their pre-ceremony nerves.
Hosted by former Arista records boss CLIVE DAVIS, now head of J Records, the annual pre-Grammys bash has a history stretching back 35 years - events that guests like veterans TONY BENNETT, KENNY G, GLADYS KNIGHT and GEORGE BENSON might well remember.
They were joined by the barely pubescent classical singer CHARLOTTE CHURCH, faux rebels LIMP BIZKIT and the borderline old-timer LUTHER VANDROSS.
Responsible for breaking such talent as Santana, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross and Limp Bizkit, Davis justifiably has a reputation as one of music's biggest moguls.
For Davis the glamour is always secondary to the talent.
"I get a special feeling when I see a new artist," says the mogul. "There's a difference between a cutting-edge artist and there's a difference between an artist who is breaking new ground, frontiers, and there are others who have popular appeal with hit songwriting ability, so it depends upon whether you're going to look for Patti Smith or Bruce Springsteen or whether you're going to look for an entertainer like Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston - an artist who I discovered. Tonight I'm introducing Alicia Keyes and I think she is the next Lauryn Hill," says the J Records founder, clearly not afraid to shout about his achievements.
This year's Grammys ceremony boasts a host of talent spanning the re-invented Madonna, to newcomers Macy Gray and Dido. They are all being ignored, though, while the record industry wrestles with itself over what to say, think and do about the one true talent to emerge in the last year: Eminem. Unfortunately for him, his lyrics contain characters that abuse their wives, homosexuals and even their fans, something a now unashamedly corporate music industry finds hard to square with good, politically correct, PR .
But in the back of almost every artist's brain is the dim memory that rock 'n' roll started out as loud, offensive to many, and rebellious. Trying to navigate this minefield leaves even the most eloquent of stars floundering for opinions.
Unsurprisingly, it is the older stars who have more of a handle on the issues.
"Well, I think it has to be allowed. We live in a free country. If it were to be censored we'd be in a Nazi country," says ageing crooner Tony Bennett.
Gladys Knight seemed shocked that her "pal", the openly gay Elton John, is doing a duet with man accused of being homophobic. "I need the details," said Knight, "I have to talk to Elton. I have to call my buddy and say "What is going on?"
What is going on seems to be that Elton John understands the difference between hateful neo-Nazi propaganda and a talented songwriter who uses characters in his songs to discuss issues.
John has previously written, "As a gay artist, I'm asked by a lot of people, 'But what about the content of Eminem's music?' I think there is far more humour on the album than people think. It appeals to my English black sense of humour. When I put the album on the first time, I was in hysterics from laughing."
Young Welsh singer Charlotte Church planted her bottom on a nice wide fence. "What do I think about Eminem?, " she hedged. "I went through an 'I Love Eminem' phase for about two months but then after I got over the whole anger thing then it was kind of like, that's done. But, you know I think he's really really good, I think he does have a huge amount of talent and as soon as he gets over his little anger thing I think he'll be a really great artist."
Next to Church on her fence was old soul maestro George Benson who bravely stuck his head in the sand when asked about the Eminem debate.
"I prefer to use the music, the world, as a way to enhance our lives - not to get involved in the controversy. The things that keep us on the edge. I like to make people happy myself. So, I deal with the sunny side of music, the positive aspect so that's the difference I guess. I kind of shy away from artists who do it the other way. So, I don't know very much about what they do, to tell you the truth, so I wouldn't actually be a good guy for those kind of answers - but I do recommend that the positive side is the good side, because it worked well for me!"
Another Grammy nominee, Kenny G, was on hand at the party - and he made clear he just wanted to win. "Well, since I'm nominated for a Grammy it wouldn't be such a bad thing if I won one for a change!"
For those not on the planet for the last 10 years, the music world has seen a sharp rise in the number of manufactured bands who trade on the rising importance of image in the MTV led pop world.
So has image eclipsed real talent ?
Hard-core rocker Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst thinks not.
"Oh, I'm all about the substance," he said, apparently unaware of the irony, " I'm all about the meat - the music and the longevity. An image, an image is your lifestyle. If you become the person in front of the camera or in front of the media, your lifestyle and how you choose to pursue yourself and carry yourself becomes an image I guess, sometimes. In my sense, I guess a red baseball cap became an image or, I don't know. I don't think so! I think it was a connection rather than an image," he said, before posing for photographers and camera crews.
Luther Vandross was more realistic about the rise of image.
"Ask any person in the record industry and they'll tell you that the visual is as important as the musical or the vocal, that's not a bad thing. It's only bad when it's out of proportion, when the balance is off. I think you need a bit of both. These days it just characterises what it is. You know, certain things sell. Even back in the days when Frankie Avalon was big both because he sang well but because he looked like that. Fabian was a big star because he looked like that, you know. It helps."
Some are saying the Grammy voters, who failed to pick up on the birth of rock 'n' roll, the British invasion in the 1960s and punk, are out of touch with the music-buying public - but regardless of that, tonight's ceremony will still attract every big name star in the business.