The 1998 Grammys were the most action-packed ceremony in the show’s soon-to-be-60-year history. Aretha Franklin pinch-hit for Luciano Pavarotti at the last minute on a performance of aria “Nessun Dorma,” often ranked among the greatest in award-show history. Shawn Colvin saw her song of the year win interrupted by a just-snubbed Ol’ Dirty Bastard, memorably declaring in protest of his group’s hip-hop loss: “Wu-Tang is for the children!” And two versions of the same country song, released simultaneously as singles by LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood, were nominated in the same Grammy category -- and the version performed on the show wasn’t the one that ended up winning.
All of that, plus, well, SOY BOMB. That was the message inscribed in big black letters on the chest of experimental artist and comedian Michael Portnoy, as he interrupted Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick” performance to gyrate sans shirt alongside the rock legend for a full half-minute. While the event was confounding to those in attendance, and remains largely unexplained 20 years later, it stands as a pre-Nipplegate, pre-Kanye moment of amusingly harmless award-show anarchy, one which might never be possible in the same way again.
The seemingly non-stop chaos of the ‘98 Grammys stands alone 20 years later as the gold standard for unforgettable unpredictability on music’s biggest night. “We've had equally interesting things happening during a show [since],” recalls longtime producer Ken Ehrlich. “But probably not so many.”