Ah, the Grammys: The annual event wherein the elders of the record industry try to convince themselves for another year the whole business hasn’t gone to heck.
The show has actually improved in recent years (!) as it’s finally acknowledged the existence of black musicians under the age of 63, and rock bands besides U2. Recent shows have featured rad sets by OutKast, Kanye West, the White Stripes and, of course, Prince.
But it’s still the Grammys, for God’s sake. Weirdly, this year was blander than usual.
THE CLASSIEST MOMENT: When James Brown’s cape was draped on a microphone stand, center stage, and left alone, hanging in a kind of twilight.
I doubt there were many dry eyes in the house; there certainly weren’t in mine.
If the entire show had been directed with the heart and style of that single moment, we would have had one mother of a Grammys.
BUT THIS WAS THE GRAMMYS. And so there were three minutes for James Brown — and 143 minutes of the Eagles. Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts — whose singer looks (and sounds) like an aging Backstreet Boy — doing the Eagles, endlessly. I mean, that was just a whole lotta Eagles right there.
How do these errors happen? I’m quite certain everyone involved in the show’s production would agree the James Brown–Eagles ratio was backward, and yet… there it was. Our fallen giant, our superman, overshadowed by Don Henley.
Compensating some was Christina Aguilera’s performance of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” — one of her finest ever, even if you don’t like her. The white pantsuit alone.
MOST HUMAN MOMENT: As Stevie Wonder approached the stage to accept a Grammy for best pop vocal collaboration, he reached out for Tony Bennett, who’d gone ahead of him — and instead caught air.
TACKIEST MOMENT: Tony Bennett thanked Target® in his acceptance speech.
BEST USE OF GARDENIAS: Beyoncé has had a rough year. Dreamgirls was supposed to be her movie-star vehicle; instead, she’s been pushed aside, more or less, in the wake of Jennifer Hudson’s titanic performance. And so B. sang her Dreamgirls song, “Listen,” with a little extra urgency and commitment — and white gardenias behind her ear, denoting the cinematic lineage from Billie Holiday to Diana Ross to herself. Nice touch.
SECOND MOST HUMAN MOMENT: After Beyoncé’s admittedly triumphant performance, Smokey Robinson clapped — stiffly, with a small green mushroom cloud billowing from each ear. He’s spoken bitterly against Dreamgirls and its twisted pseudo-portrayal of Motown Records: “Motown is Beyoncé’s heritage. Motown is Jamie Foxx’s heritage.”
MOST SUPERHUMAN MOMENT: Smokey’s performance of “The Tracks of My Tears.” How does the man do that baby-lady falsetto after all these years? We must thank him, because by retaining his vocals, he enables all of us to pretend we really aren’t that old, either.
MAGNANIMOUS MEGALOMANIA: Mary J. Blige refers to herself in the third person an awful lot. At least she thanked everybody she could think of during her first acceptance speech — including, according to the local news, a tape courier.
GREATEST SELF-SABOTAGE: Justin Timberlake almost had me with that piano-man rendition of “What Goes Around” — and then he blew it with that terrible hand-held video camera bullshit, where he filmed himself up-close and creepy, like an overgrown embryo in The Miracle of Life.
CRINGE AND BEAR IT: Politically, it seems good that the Dixie Chicks won everything, but they could have prepared their speeches better. Or, failing that, taken the John Mayer route and said something like, “Shit. Thanks,” and disappeared.
ROCK & SHTUFF: Wolfmother won in the Hard Rock category, and did not appear on TV. Way to marginalize a relatively exciting new rock band, people!
Tool won a Grammy for best packaging, also did not appear on TV. For once the Grammys got it right.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers performed; Anthony Kiedis seemed extremely nervous. The “Love to Ornette Coleman” sign they’d spray-painted was slightly more lively than Kiedis.
The Police reunited, opening the show with “Roxanne,” which Sting cannot sing properly, opting out of the high notes on the chorus. This is the aural equivalent of a half-sneeze: pure anticlimax.
COMMERCIALS RAWK, DUDE!: In one ad, Claudia Schiffer said, straight-faced, “My wrinkles are filled, and my life is fulfilled.” Wow.
Another ad, for Chevy, tied in Mary J. Blige and a mess of others, singing pop songs about various Chevrolet models. Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” is, mercifully, spared.
An ad for Outback Steakhouse used a song that sounded suspiciously like one of my fave songs by indie darlings Of Montreal. A Google search confirms it. I am okay with this, as the ad is absurd.
TALKIN’ RAP: Ludacris attempted to make up for a career of booty videos and misogyny with “Runaway Love,” a Tupac Shakur–type ode to runaway girls, featuring Mary J. Blige. The stage filled with young girls holding candles, representing runaways. These girls may as well have been wearing mesh bikinis. This is the same guy who raps, on the same album (Release Therapy), “I’m looking for some girls gone wild (gone wild!)/And I’m gonna pour Patrón, till I, get ’em in the zone/Make ’em wanna bone…”
Pharrell’s solo debut, In My Mind, nominated for a Grammy? Now that’s crazy.
Speaking of crazy, Gnarls Barkley — in airline pilot outfits — had a cool show: It appeared to me that their large female choir was inspired by Robert Palmer. You know, about 30 women dressed identically (which is probably, ultimately, Grace Jones–inspired). The arrangement was off, but I thank them for trying to be interesting.
AND FINALLY: The acoustic set with John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae and John Mayer — sort of a Starbucks® Unplugged concept — was okay. A half-caf latte with a low-fat carrot mini-loaf on the side.
Burt Bacharach — who presented with Seal — has, clearly, become David Bowie.
Common has become Gordon from Sesame Street.
Quentin Tarantino is, possibly, becoming Morrissey.