Monday, February 9, 2009

Grammy Awards, Reviewed

At last night's Grammy Awards, a small portion of the awards were broadcast on television (the remainder can be seen at the Grammy's official site at; and some of the awards were "Please Read the Letter," by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, for Record of the Year; Raising Sand by Plant/Krauss, for Album of the Year; "Viva la Vida" for Song of the Year; Adele as Best New Artist; Adele, "Chasing Pavements" for Best Female Pop Vocal; John Mayer, "Say" for Best Male Pop Vocal; Coldplay, "Viva La Vida" for Best Pop Performance by Duo or Group; and "Rich Woman" by Plant/Krauss for Best Pop Colloboration...Some of the awards we did not see on television included Duffy's Rockferry getting Best Pop Vocal Album, Alicia Keys getting Best Female R & B Vocal Performance for her song "Superwoman," and Al Green and John Legend getting a Grammy for the song "Stay with Me" (Best R & B Performance by a Duo/Group), and Al Green and Anthony Hamilton getting a Grammy for Best Traditional R & B Performance by a Duo/Group)....

The Grammy Awards television broadcast seems quite good when one considers it an industry award program: how many industry award shows could sustain interest and provide entertainment? The quality of the performances were probably better than could be predicted for a live program before millions; and I liked hearing U2, Kid Rock, Kenny Chesney, and the blues tribute featuring Keith Urban, B.B. King, and John Mayer. The u2 song captured different periods of rock history and was smartly presented with the lyrics as a backdrop. Whitney Houston received a warm welcome, a standing ovation, before she presented an award to Jennifer Hudson, for Best R & B album. (The audience may have been in a generous mood: others would get ovations--not only U2 and Houston but also Coldplay, Jennifer Hudson, Radiohead.) Justin Timberlake's performance with Al Green struck me as energetic but less good than Timberlake's later performance with T.I. (Green's voice seemed a little rough to me, though it smoothed a bit as he went on). I found the rock/rap colloboration between Coldplay and Jay-Z to be incongruous, though the song's third-part uptempo movement was an improvement. Carrie Underwood, performing in a short dress that showed her great legs, did some kind of noisy, soulful country thing that seemed both bad taste and very effective. Kid Rock, in dark glasses and a black suit, generated energy and interest with a song mixing rock, gospel, and rap and various contemporary references, before sequeing into two other songs; and it was a fun (and swaggering) performance, which ended with his taking his jacket off and walking off the stage. I thought the duet performance of Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus was just bearable, though I sympathize with the subject of the song (a young woman's vulnerable years). Jennifer Hudson's appearance was dramatic in many ways; it was among her first performances following the death of several family members, and she began singing offstage; and she sang something that seemed a love song that could be interpreted as a spiritual, and she was helped by a choir. It was odd to hear Stevie Wonder perform with the Jonas Brothers and to hear them repeatedly call him Stevie (was Diana Ross in the house? She could have instructed: that's Mr. Stevie to you). Metrosexual late night talk show host Craig Ferguson introduced Katy Perry, who performed "I Kissed A Girl" with costumes, dancers, and props, the kind of performance that goes back through Madonna and Cher...all the way to Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. Estelle has a good voice though her duet with Kanye West was lost on me (also, her dress was little more than a glittery bag), just as the Paul McCartney/Dave Grohl performance didn't mean much to me. The female rapper M.I.A, performing with famous rappers, was a sight for sore eyes--and might have caused the sore eyes (I don't think I want to see a nine months pregnant woman perform again in such a transparent and clinging outfit, though I recognize this might have been some kind of transgressive breakthrough: score one for women; score ten for bad taste). I'm not a fan of Radiohead but I liked their performance. I like Smokey Robinson and wished he had been a bigger part of the Four Tops tribute that he, Jamie Foxx, Ne-Yo, and Duke Fakir participated in. Neil Diamond's performance was oddly paced, and brought to mind the Jewish Elvis moniker I used to hear (Diamond seemed pleased by the audience's attention and they seemed glad to give it but there wasn't a lot of energy: there was mostly nostalgia). One of the oddest combinations wasn't bad at all: featuring Lil Wayne, Robin Thicke, Allen Toussaint, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Terrence Blanchard. These award shows, such as the Grammys or Oscars, are interesting often for reasons that have nothing to do with art, but to do with business and popularity and social values; but last night there were some good musical performances and the presentation of some attractive performers repaid some of one's attention--but, at three and a half-hours, it is still hard not to argue that time could have been better spent.