Chris Willman
January 14, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Cher pulled a lazarus on us. As did the E Street Band, Grammy sweepstakes winner Carlos Santana (see page 14), and the mambo, for that matter. But when we look back on the great musical comebacks of 1999, one resurrection will tower above all others: the return, with a vengeance, of the generation gap.

Many record execs swear pop music has never been healthier. ”Despite the mergers at Seagram’s, and the Clive Davis rumors, and whatever else has happened, it’s been one hell of a year for the industry,” claims Sony Music chairman Thomas D. Mottola — and few of his colleagues would disagree. According to SoundScan, album sales were up a robust 5.5 percent from ’98 to ’99. A healthy 843 albums were certified gold (sales of 500,000) or platinum (sales of one million) last year, up from 797 the year before. Concert grosses nationwide rose to a record $1.5 billion. And all this before the online music explosion gets under way. What’s not to be bullish about?

But others smell a bullish waste product. Talk to fans over the age of 25 and they’ll tell you there’s never been a worse time for music. The acts driving the business provided either lighthearted fluff — be they boy bands, navel-flashing teen floozies, or Latin poppers — or the most extreme hip-hop and rap-rock. What these opposites had in common was kid appeal, and post-adolescents perusing the charts might’ve heard the ghost of fellow old fogy Eddie Vedder, 35, taunting, This is not for yooouuu!

Don’t worry, say some executives; be happy that Junior is at least familiar with a CD sans ROM, and maybe he’ll grow up to reinvigorate the art. ”If you look at a lot of the top 10 albums critically, they aren’t the ones that really sold massively,” concedes Interscope Records co-chairman Jimmy Iovine. ”But what you have right now is a massive audience of teens and pre-teens being turned on to music, rather than just videogame, videogame, videogame, videogame, then maybe buy a record, which is what went on for a while. That’ll get them into the habit of buying records, and they’ll make it part of their lifestyle like it was part of ours. And we’ll bring more people into our industry rather than lose all our great executives to the Internet.”

Here’s the most startling thing about today’s kids: They aren’t genre snobs. ”The good news to me is that there’s such open-mindedness now across the board,” says Mottola. ”The Korn buyer will buy a Lauryn Hill album.” And the Limp Bizkit fan shall lie down with the Jessica Simpson devotee. It’s a Total Request Live teen melting-pot world, and we just cast votes in it.

A few of 1999’s most significant ups and downs:

WINNER|HIP-HOP ROCK Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, Kid Rock…this isn’t your grandfather’s rock, but neither is it dead. The bands that rocked this year were young ones that made rap part of their equation. ”It’s only happened 10 times in the last 30 years, you know what I mean?” says Iovine. ”It’s a very natural course for young kids in rock music to be influenced by black music and culture.”

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