Published March 01, 2002
Britney Doesn't Know Yoko
You may wonder what the real Britney Spears is like. Or you may not. But in case you do, I now have something of a report.
You could guess that a girl without much of a formal education is no rocket scientist. She's not going to know much about the history of civilization, world economics, or how to split an atom. What you might expect is that she'd know something in the category of pop music, enough to play Rock and Roll Jeopardy on VH-1.
But here's some upsetting news. Brit was stymied on Tuesday night when presented with a pretty easy question. Here's what it was: "Who is Yoko Ono?"
The question came up because this reporter was having a congenial talk with the members of 'N Sync and some of their parents at the J Records pre-Grammy dinner. The gang was sitting at a round table front and center in the Beverly Hills Hotel ballroom. Britney was sitting with the group, between Justin Timberlake and his mom. I asked Justin, as I had asked him about a year ago, whether 'N Sync identified more with the Beatles or Rolling Stones, and where that might leave their rivals, the Backstreet Boys.
Timberlake replied, "Beatles! Beatles! Beatles!" Did that mean the Boys were the equivalent of the Stones, I wondered? "No, the Osmonds!" he laughed.
But immediately following this happy exchange, I queried the couple: "Does this mean Britney is Yoko Ono?"
Spears responded: "Who?' Her potential mother-in-law, Mrs. Timberlake, jumped right in and explained that Ono had been John Lennon's widow and broken up the Beatles. (This was strictly her opinion, this last modifier.)
But Brit didn't know what anyone was talking about. To save her, I said: "You're probably more Linda McCartney. You know her name, don't you?"
Spears again gave a question mark expression. "I'm sorry," she said in her rich Southern accent. "I'm very young."
Justin's mom, ignoring this exchange on purpose, then told us a story. "You see, you have to know who Pete Best is." Best was the original drummer for the Beatles, replaced by Ringo Starr before the band became a sensation. "Lance only became a member of 'N Sync the day we signed our contracts, because the original bass singer quit. So we call him our Pete Best!"
Granted, Spears has a great little body and has done much to show it off in her videos and concerts. So let's give her credit where credit is due. But a future member of the Rock Hall of Fame? Just as in her MTV diary, she showed no interest in music or in singing at the J Records bash. When most of the performers including Timberlake hit the stage for a final jam session, Spears avoided the chance to show off her vocal talents in front of the room and sat on her hands.
Timberlake, however, jumped on stage, took the mike, and worked hard to show that he is more than a flash in the pan. He was impressive. Afterwards, I was told that he is hard at work on a solo album, which may be more than halfway completed. "It's going to be huge," said one music insider who's heard some of the results.
How different is the record industry from the movie business? Plenty. And Grammy night vs. Oscar night tells the story so well.
If it's possible to find a group of tackier dressers than the Grammy attendees, I'd like to see them. As Wednesday night wore on, the number of breast implants, cheap dresses, and nose jobs became impossible to count as the record labels threw their various celebratory parties.
As one wag quipped, "It's hard to tell the literal prostitutes from the figurative ones."
The least objectionable group seemed to center on the Warner Music Group festivities at the Mondrian Hotel's Sky Bar. It was there that most of the AOL Time Warner hierarchy convened, including incoming chairman Richard Parsons and retired chairman Gerald Levin. Michelle Phillips, the still gorgeous Mama of the Mamas and Papas, and now grandmama of two courtesy of daughter Chynna and actor Billy Baldwin, took a position by the entrance, and she was a welcome relief from the studpendous awfulness of the night. God bless Michelle Phillips, I say, who doesn't seem to have aged from her days on TVs Knots Landing.
But the rest of the Warner party, while lacking in tackiness, also lacked in buzz or excitement. Without Warner's Linda Moran running the show, the party kind of flatlined —even with the omnipresent Pam Anderson and Kid Rock trying to make some waves. Atlantic Records co- founder Ahmet Ertegun made the scene with his wife Mica and famed New York art dealer Earl McGrath — staples from the Warhol days of the late '70s — but otherwise the room was corporate and not particularly bubbly.
And where oh, where was Kid Rock's label chief at Warner/Atlantic, Jason Flom? According to one very good Warner source, Flom — who was supposedly getting $40 million for his successful Lava Records label — boycotted the event because negotiations had hit a snag. "Jason thinks the Warner people are disrespecting him," said our insider. "And he's right."
Down Sunset Boulevard, between the Mondrian and the Argyle — where BMG Music was busy eating crow and celebrating the 5 Grammy victory by Clive Davis's J Records and Alicia Keys — the House of Blues restaurant and nightclub did something unusual to fetch customers.
Co-owner and Saturday Night Live original cast member Dan Aykroyd stood outside the club and invited four young women in right off the sidewalk. He asked their names as he escorted them down the House of Blues's front path and ushered them into his place of business. It was clear that the four had no idea who Aykroyd was — and missed the whole meaning of what was going on.
Later, at Morton's, Sony Music entertained Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Jennifer Lopez and members of the group Train. By design, the Sony group decided to keep the party small — only 300 people on the guest list — and while that idea may have been prudent, it also meant that the party was over fast. Tommy Mottola — who also was missing from Monday night's tribute dinner for Billy Joel — either never showed up or bugged out when things got slow.
"It's not like last year, when there were so many celebrities here," said one Sony insider. "They made it too restrictive. I bet they're regretting that now."
Nevertheless, getting Bob Dylan to do anything is something of a miracle, so we'll give them credit for that. And the guys from Train — who won two Grammys — were very nice.
Toward the end of the evening, actor Ryan Phillippe turned up with USA Films's honcho Scott Greenstein, who produced Gosford Park — which Phillippe is in. Ryan, who's 27, is married to Reese Witherspoon, and is producing movies as well as starring in them, gave the party a much needed boost, then headed off for a night cap at the Four Seasons with Greenstein. The pair was last seen climbing into a Cadillac Escalade driven by Benicio Del Toro around 1:30 in the morning.
The betting is off on Russell Crowe for best actor. As Oscar ballots arrive at voters' mailboxes, word is spreading fast about Crowe's short-tempered remarks following the British Academy Awards last weekend.
So now what? Denzel Washington and Tom Wilkinson are suddenly looking a lot better, my sources say, with Wilkinson possibly surprising everyone with a last minute surge. Washington, of course, could get the Oscar for his career work. His performance in Training Day is showy but not political, which is always the way to go if you want to win.
On the other hand, Tom Wilkinson doesn't much care whether he wins, and that attitude might work with the over-saturated Academy. He simply did his job, did it great, and moved on to new matters. He won the New York Film Critics Award, Denzel won Los Angeles. So now the vote comes down to the two of them, and either man is an acceptable winner at this point.
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