was easy to tell from the very beginning that this would be a
very different Grammy Awards show. Following an exhilarating opening
performance by U2 ("Walk On"), host Jon Stewart walked through
an archway which immediately beeped. He was immediately told to
walk back through by "security" (a gentleman who looked suspiciously
like comedian Jimmy Kimmel of Comedy Central's inane The Man
Show and Fox's NFL pre-game show). By the end of the skit,
two burly football-sized "guards" had stripped Stewart to his
noted, "Remember the days when we only had to worry about security
because Eminem and Elton John were singing together?"
was, of course, just last year — and that had been the main
controversy and "hook" for the telecast: Allegedly homophobic
white rapper dueted with the flamboyant and openly gay '70s pop
superstar on the song, "Stan" (no relation to recently famous
siblings Afghani-, Uzbeki-, Paki-, or Turkmeni-).
lot has changed in that year.
Grammys showed the difference. In the main, this was a rather
tasteful, restrained affair. A bit long (it went 30 minutes over
its scheduled three hours). It nonetheless accomplished its mission
— showing off the best in contemporary popular music, with
several touching tributes to the 9/11.
never as over-the-top offensive as its younger, hipper, and definitely
more crass rival, MTV's Video Music Awards, the Grammys have suffered
in recent years with an identity crisis. It always tried to juggle
its role as the "official" arbiter of authentically good music
while being so stodgy that it missed good music by contemporary
artists. Famous Grammy miscues included the Beatles only winning
three Grammy awards while they were an active band; Jethro Tull
winning a Best Hard Rock Performance award and, of course, ersatz
group Milli Vanilli winning a Best New Artist (an "honor" that
has spelled career doom for more than one "winner").
so it has gone.
the last couple of years, head of the National Academy of Recording
Arts & Sciences (NARAS) Michael Greene has worked to bring
the show stylistically into the 21st century — with some
success, as the "buzz" surrounding the aforementioned Eminem/Elton
John duet demonstrated. The price of this, unfortunately, has
been Greene's insisting that he insert himself into a prominent
role each year — when the time would be better given to
another performance or someone with actual talent.
does he think he is? Spike Lee?)
year was no different, but we'll get to that shortly.
was a good, solid show. The producers just pushed the music. The
awards almost seemed to be an afterthought to showing performers,
thus it was almost a lengthy concert with an award presentation
and acceptance slipped in here and there. Generally speaking,
said, U2 was a solid opener. They were also the guys to beat with
eight nominations, including the coveted record and album-of-the-year
nods. Well, it turned out, the guys to beat were: Neo-soul
rookie Alicia Keys beat them for total wins (five to four) and
the out-of-nowhere O Brother, Where Art Thou bluegrass
soundtrack pulled the biggest upset, nudging out "All That You
Can't Leave Behind" for Album of the Year.
non-American sick of the U.S. military hegemony and near-clean
up at the Olympics must have been even further disgusted as not
even the Best Band in the World — God's gift from Ireland
— could stop America's current hegemony from extending into
the prime music-awards shoe.
they (the anti-American crowd) will get over it. U2 has always
had a true love for America — warts, right-wing politicians,
That's why the Lefty-leaning band has fans right
here at NRO. This particular writer is a big U2 and gave a favorable
review to the current album (which can be found here.
Yesterday, Terry Mattingly gave an honest exploration of the band's
spirituality. Awards' show watchers should hope and pray that
Bono — with or without his bandmates — will continue
to make appearances. Whether a presenter or a recipient, U2's
charismatic lead singer always manages to give an eloquent statement.
He was somewhat subdued last night though, demonstrating thanks
that his best friends had been his bandmates for 20 years. And
Record of the Year for "Walk On" is a pretty cool consolation
to 9/11, that was the general tone of the entire show: Tasteful
and displaying a gratitude that married the personal with the
music honored was, in a sense, timeless. The O Brother
music was, of course, classic bluegrass. But a clear line could
be drawn to Alicia Keys from Stevie Wonder. One of the biggest
crowd-pleasers was the appearance of ultra-diva Patti LaBelle
at the conclusion of the hip-hop remake of her classic "Lady Marmalade."
Patti LaBelle, as usual, screamed as much as sung — and
the crowd loved it. Only question was, why didn't she come out
earlier. It would have been no great loss if Christina Aguilera,
L'il Kim, Mya, or Pink had gotten less airtime. While Train's
"Days of Jupiter" (Best Rock Song) may not be original, you can
hear echoes of early U2 earnestness in the melody.
course, a major awards hazard is the pretentious — or just
plan dumb — speech. This show was pretty much devoid of
them. Except for the aforementioned Mr. Greene.
felt the need to lecture the audience — including those
at home — on how illegal downloading from the Internet is
the biggest threat to the music industry. Greene earnestly stated
how they had hired three college students just to download music
over the few days before the show. He pointed to the hardworking
kids: They downloaded 6,000 songs!!!! Outrageous.
course, Greene didn't say how much he paid the students for this
exercise (did they get to keep the downloaded tunes?). Greene
pays himself a shade under $2,000,000 for running NARAS plus a
$1 million-home and Mercedes Benz that the association provides
for him. The New York Post reported over the weekend that
much of the industry is not exactly thrilled with size of Greene's
compensation. So, his lamentations of industry poverty were amusing
on their face.
the shrinking profit margins on kids trading songs, right? Even
though: CDs are incredibly inexpensive to produce — yet
cost nearly $20 for a new disk; the companies have phased out
the entry-level "singles" over the years and continue to pump
out lengthy, banal product. Yet, Greene wonders why young people
are trading songs with the technology available to them. (Maybe
Greene got a hint with the scattering of boos that his speech
is Greene's solution? "We need leadership from Washington." Oh,
right that's going to solve everything. By "leadership," don't
be surprised if Greene demands that anti-copying chips be placed
in PCs, to make CD-burning as difficult as possible. The record
companies have tried this before. In the'80s "home-taping" was
allegedly "destroying" the industry. They ended up bullying Congress
into adding extra taxes on blank cassettes that would be supposedly
redirected to artists and songwriters. The war with Napster was
only the beginning — and all of us may be paying the price
for the music industry's bad business decisions.
enough, not even Greene could drag the show down. Country superstar
Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning"
was a moving elegy to September 11. It also probably carries the
distinction of being one of the few hit contemporary songs (outside
of gang-banging rap) that contains a lyric about reaching for
show ended with an all-star group of gospel singers — including
the legendary Al Greene, who was honored during the show.
too much boorish behavior, a lot of good music, and only one insufferable
speech: Why can't more awards shows be like this?