Following our Billboard staff-picked list of the 100 greatest songs of 2000, we’re writing this week about some of the stories and trends that defined the year for us. Here, we look back at the 2000 Grammys, to explain how a classic rocker experiencing an unlikely resurgence was able to tie a historic Grammy night record, originally set by the King of Pop.
Jackson had achieved the feat in February 1984, when he won eight Grammys: seven for his work on Thriller and one for narrating a children’s recording, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Sixteen years later, on Feb. 23, 2000, Santana tied the record with its album Supernatural — which, although a commercial smash, didn’t make nearly as big a cultural impact as Thriller did. (In fairness, few if any other albums ever have).
How was Santana able to match one of Jackson’s most famous records? Here are seven key factors.
1. Santana was seriously overdue for some Grammy love. The band had never won a Grammy before, and its leader, Carlos Santana, had won just one (best rock instrumental performance for “Blues for Salvador,” 1988). Often, artists who are overdue win big, as Grammy voters try to make up for past slights. Jackson had also won just one award before his big night: He took the 1979 award for best R&B vocal performance, male for “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Similarly, Eric Clapton had won just two Grammys prior to his six-award sweep in 1993.
2. Good timing. Santana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1998, which put the band back on music fans’ radar. Carlos Santana was featured on Lauryn Hill‘s first solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1 in September 1998. Hill and Santana performed their collab, “To Zion,” on the Grammy telecast in February 1999, where Hill picked up five awards, including album of the year.
Seeing their Grammy performance made Clapton finally agree to play on Santana’s album, then nearing completion. Santana also performed at Clive Davis’ legendary pre-Grammys party in February 1999, previewing “Smooth” and “Maria Maria.” That helped establish buzz for the upcoming album among the many industry VIPs in attendance.
3. Catching a cultural wave. Supernatural was released June 15, 1999, just three weeks after Ricky Martin was on the cover of TIME fronting a story titled “Latin Music Goes Pop!” The success of Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and other artists of Latin heritage was one of the year’s top stories in pop music. In a sense, these artists set the stage for Santana’s comeback, just as Santana had helped pave the way for them 30 years earlier with such blockbusters as Santana and Abraxas.
4. Hot guest artists. Rob Thomas, who was featured on Supernatural‘s Hot 100-topping lead single “Smooth,” had landed three top 10 hits on the Hot 100 Airplay chart with his band, Matchbox Twenty, though he had yet to release a song under his own name. Many other guest artists on the album were also red-hot at the time: Dave Matthews, featured on “Love of My Life,” led his eponymous band to its first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 in May 1998. Eagle-Eye Cherry, featured on “Wishing It Was,” cracked the top five on the Hot 100 with his debut single in January 1999. Everlast, featured on “Put Your Lights On,” cracked the top 10 on the Billboard 200 with his second solo album in February 1999.
The album even featured two past Grammy winners for album of the year—Clapton (on the closing track, “The Calling”) and Hill (on “Do You Like the Way”).
5. Everybody loves a comeback. Santana hadn’t released a studio album since Milagro in 1992 — which peaked at an underwhelming No. 102 on the Billboard 200. The band hadn’t had a top 10 album since Zebop! in 1981, nor a top 10 single on the Hot 100 since its classic “Black Magic Woman” in 1970-71. Santana was one of those groups that everyone admires, but which hadn’t been top-of-mind in a long time.
6. Clive Davis has many friends and allies in the industry. Davis, who signed Santana to Columbia Records in 1968 and to Arista Records 30 years later, had built a reputation for reviving the stalled careers of talented artists, notably Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin. Davis had a big Grammy night in 2000: He not only won his first two Grammys (album of the year and best rock album) as one of 14 producers of Supernatural, but was also nominated for co-producing Whitney Houston‘s My Love Is Your Love, a finalist for best R&B album. To top it all off, the Recording Academy presented Davis with a trustees award — the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award for non-performers.
7. There were simply more Grammy categories 20 years ago, making setting records easier than it would be today. If Supernatural came out today and got exactly the same amount of Grammy attention, it would win just five Grammys. Three of the awards it won in 2000 — best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal (“Maria Maria”), best pop collaboration with vocals (“Smooth”) and best pop instrumental performance (“El Farol”) have been consolidated into one category, best pop duo/group performance. Two others — best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal (“Put Your Lights On”) and best rock instrumental performance (“The Calling”) — have likewise been consolidated into one award, best rock performance. Along with the three other awards Supernatural won — record and album of the year and best rock album — that’s five awards.
By contrast, none of the categories that Jackson won have been combined with any other categories that he won. So he would probably still win all eight of those awards, even under today’s category structure. In fact, he would probably win nine today: The Grammys didn’t have “genre album” awards in 1984. Thriller would have been a cinch to win best pop vocal album.
Still, just as MJ’s 1984 Grammy blowout dramatized what was possible when you dominate the music world, Santana’s 2000 Grammy sweep showed that talented artists could succeed at any age. Carlos Santana was 52 on Grammy night, more than twice MJ’s age (25) in 1984. Davis addressed this issue when he accepted the Grammy for album of the year. “You’re an inspiration to every young musician throughout the globe,” Davis said to Santana. “Because when they break in, they don’t know how long a career cannot only last, but how long it can soar.”
In February 2000, at the first Grammy Awards ever telecast from the newly-built Staples Center in Los Angeles, Santana was definitely soaring.