Monday, February 01, 2010

A few thoughts on the Grammys

Last night, Taylor Swift's narrow-slitted eyelids popped into Katy Perry-like wide-eyed surprise. Her numerous wins, including the top prize of Album of the Year, left me googly-eyed, too. Swift's off-key warbling during a duet with Stevie Nicks woulda got her kicked off "American Idol" in round one. At that moment, I blessed the inventor of the mute button.

Other performers opted for autotune, though worst offenders Jamie Foxx/T.Pain/Slash still managed to sound outtatune during their messy medley.

That unwieldy collaboration typified the Grammy approach: Cram as many star names onto a stage at once. As usual, the Grammys were all about selling product first and foremost. As Jon Pareles of the New York Times noted,

"The Grammys have found the right balance of performance and award — which is to say, the awards are strictly a sideshow. A recording business desperate for sales wants to expose as many items as possible, and most performers were introduced along with their song titles in case anybody wanted to download them immediately. Medleys were the rule, squeezing in more songs per minute, and as usual the Grammys featured generation-crossing duets."

Most bizarrely, Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige shuffled around a duet of "What Child Is This?" It's the worst idea for a collaboration since McCain/Palin. When Eminem, Lil' Wayne and Drake appeared on stage, it seemed like the most exciting showdown since the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It was hard to tell since CBS's censors used the mute button for large portions of the song (if only they'd done that for Taylor Swift). The Eminem, Lil' Wayne, Drake performance should have included mash-up of "Pants on the Ground." Someone please buy Lil' Wayne a belt.

Lady Gaga, meanwhile, achieved the impossible: She was more flamboyant than even Elton John during their medley of "Speechless/Your Song." Gaga was the easy winner in the most interesting race of the night: most bizarre dress. Other nominees included Imogen Heap, Pink, Katy Perry. Gaga seems to have stuck to her New Year's Resolution to dress less conservatively this year. (Ok, I made that up.) But at this point, the only way she can top herself is to arrive at an awards ceremony on a pair of stilts while wearing Big Bird's costume. At any rate, she'll never top last week's weirder than weird awards outfit worn by the infinitely more talented Fever Ray. The ever-kooky Imogen Heap, whose excellent "Ellipse" deserved more than just a win for "Best Engineer," wore a tech thingy that transmitted live photos taken by fans.

Of all the performances last night, my favorite was watching Jeff Beck playing a Les Paul (the guitarist has barely touched anything other than a Strat since the early 1970s) during a tribute to the instrument's creator. His solos during "How High the Moon" were elegant and gorgeous.

I was also surprised how much I enjoyed the Usher/Carrie Underwood/Jennifer Hudson/Celine Dion take on Michael Jackson's "Earth Song." Collectively, they deployed more melisma than an entire season of "American Idol," but it worked great and reminded one how good Jackson's pop can be.

Beyoncé, too, showed off her range. The golden goddess's medley was pure Sasha Fierce -- particularly as she channeled angry Alanis for the "You Oughta Know" segment -- with almost as much crotch crabbing as Eminem. Bizarrely, and for no apparent reason, she was surrounded by a phalanx of men dressed like a SWAT team. The only other time you'll see that many paramilitary troopers on TV is when Hugo Chavez clamps down on a protest rally on CNN. Or an in-store signing session by Justin Bieber. In a rare television appearance (cough), The Black Eyed Peas tried to outdo Beyoncé by dressing Fergie like "Tron" and surrounding themselves with a troupe of dancing robots.

Like so much of the mainstream pop on display last night, the Black Eyed Peas offered up '80s-influenced soulless plastic dressed up in substance-less style. The worst offender yet, Ke$ha's "Tik Tok," mercifully wasn't released in time for a nomination this round. But it'll no doubt be in contention for Record of the Year in 2011.

I'll have the mute button at the ready.

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