Barring an upset of major proportions, rock veteran Carlos Santana will walk to the podium at next Wednesday's Grammy Awards to accept an armload of trophies for his best-selling comeback album, Supernatural.

He will look out at several fresh-faced Grammy nominees — the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera — who have no memory of when Santana's scorching guitar work on songs like "Oye Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman" was fresh.

None of them had been born at the time.

The Baby Boomers who once vowed never to trust anyone over 30 are now part of another generation gap — this time with their children. That musical schism will be exposed on the Grammys the way it never has before.

The three-hour ceremony at Los Angeles' new Staples Center, with Rosie O'Donnell as host, will start at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.

Bob Jamieson remembers taking Santana's first record to a party three decades ago. He played the music over and over through the night. Santana's musical resurrection brings back nothing but good memories.

"It's what makes this business exciting," he said, "that a fiftysomething-year-old can be making a great, vital statement that touches so many people right along with an 18-year-old."

Now president of the RCA record company, Jamieson is rooting for someone a lot younger on Wednesday night. RCA's 19-year-old singer Aguilera is a Grammy nominee for best new artist.

Just try to imagine Aguilera and her young rival, Spears, watching Santana from the audience. For them, it must be like their dad being up for an award. Or, in the case of nominee Cher, their mom. They'll be polite, they'll respect their elders, but they know what's cool.

THEY'RE cool.

They're the heroes of a new generation of music buyers, the ones who come home from school and check out Carson Daly on MTV's Total Request Live, and whose emergence was the most important story of the past year in music.

Teen pop accounted for three of the four best-selling albums in 1999, by the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and Spears. Shania Twain was the exception. Four other albums in the top 10 — by Ricky Martin, the Offspring, Limp Bizkit and TLC — were hits because they appealed to the same audience.

Even Carlos Santana can attribute much of his new success with Supernatural to a willingness to work with younger artists on the album, including singer Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 on the hit single, "Smooth."

Baby boomers have been baffled by new music before, when Generation X embraced grunge and it seemed like so much noise to their older brothers.

This is different. These are their kids.

The young musicians have to overcome a deep-seated suspicion that none of them are built to last like Bob Dylan or the Beatles. The feeling is that the new stars are known more for their dance steps and photogenic looks than an ability to write songs or play instruments.

Tom Calderone thinks that's unfair. The senior vice president of music programming at MTV said that whenever a new crop of artists becomes popular, there's an older group to claim they are shallow.

"Anytime there's an evolution in music, no matter what genre it goes into, you are always going to find people who are not open to change," he said.

You might expect Calderone to say that; young viewers have sent MTV's ratings soaring. Less expected is the attitude of his counterpart at VH1 — the music station for post-teens — where the Backstreet Boys, Aguilera and Spears have made the video playlist.

Back-to-back albums that each sold more than 10 million copies have put the Backstreet Boys on stronger footing than many teen acts in the past, said Wayne Isaak, VH1's executive vice president of music.

"You know what? Their songs are good," Isaak said. "The songwriting is good, the production is well done. These songs could be hits for other people."

Certainly the Backstreet Boys' album sales indicate it's not just teen-agers buying.

The downside of the teen-dominated marketplace is the ruthless rule of hit songs. The way the music business is set up now, without a top 40 hit it's difficult for any music to be heard, and hard for people who don't make hits to sustain a career.

Music fans over 40, in particular, have to really pay attention to know what's going on.

"It's gotten to the point where everybody knows about the top five artists who are big, and nobody knows about anybody else existing very much," said rock singer Matthew Sweet.

Sweet made the best-reviewed album of his career last fall, "In Reverse." But since it is a form of melodic rock 'n' roll that's not particularly fashionable right now, he's struggling to get it heard beyond a small audience of critics.

Isaak is encouraged, though, by what he sees as a greater degree of musical open-mindedness in the last several years.

You can see it every day on Total Request Live. Teen pop mingles with the rap of Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, or the metallic rap of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, or the punk rock of Blink 182. Kids listen to it all.

And while their parents, when they were teen-agers, might have been horrified to listen to the music of their own parents, that's not necessarily the case today.

Just like in the 1960s, it's the Baby Boomers who feel the gap's effect more than the generation on the other side.

"I've heard that the way the music rules apply, only 17 to 27 years old is cool. Well, surprise," Carlos Santana said on the day he received his Grammy nominations. "You know, there's a reason why teen-agers listen to '60s music, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Santana: They need to pass through us to get to their thing."