The official Grammy story as it will appear in Monday's Sun-Times.
(Now, I'm going to the bar!)
The Grammys celebrated their golden anniversary as America’s most prestigious music awards Sunday night, and as is often the case with the live telecast from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the show seemed to drag on for at least 50 hours.
Without a doubt, the highlight was watching Chicago producer, songwriter and rapper Kanye West finally having his big night at the awards, which honored him with plenty of nominations but only a handful of golden gramophones for his first two albums.
With eight nods for his third disc “Graduation,” West claimed four Grammys, including best rap solo performance (“Stronger”), best rap performance by a duo or group (“Southside” with fellow Chicago rapper Common), best rap song (“Good Life”) and best rap album -- though once again, he failed to claim any of the “Big Four” prizes.
Edging out both West and 24-year-old British retro-soul chanteuse Amy Winehouse for album of the year was 10-time Grammy-winning veteran Herbie Hancock, who claimed the most sought-after prize for his stultifyingly mediocre tribute to Jon Mitchell, “River: The Joni Letters.”
During his big showcase performance, West started out in arena spectacle mode, looking as if he’d stepped out of the movie “Tron” while delivering “Stronger” with backing from the French techno duo Daft Punk. But then, as a string section sawed away behind him, the artist proceeded to pay tribute to his mother, the late Chicago educator Donda West, during a stripped-down and especially heartfelt version of “Hey Mama.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and things only got more emotional later on when West climbed to the podium to accept his best rap album award.
“A lot people say hip-hop is dead,” West began. “I wanted to cross the genres and show people how we can still express ourselves with something fresh and new.”
The artist proceeded to joke to Common, also nominated in that category, that he should time his albums better so they don’t have to compete. He twice chastised Grammy producers for playing music and trying to cut short his speech, thanked everyone for their prayers and support after the death of his mother and then directly spoke to her.
“I know you’re really proud of me right now and you wouldn’t want me to stop. You’d want me to be the number one artist in the world…. We won this!”
Given the Recording Academy’s unfailingly nostalgic mindset, it was no surprise that Winehouse was the night’s other big winner. If her much-publicized self-destructive behavior hurt her at all, that was offset by voters’ fondness for her beehive hairdo and black eye liner, which were both in ample evidence as she performed “You Know I’m No Good” and -- with no apparent irony -- “Rehab,” delivered by satellite from London because the U.S. government was reluctant to give her a visa.
Winehouse claimed three of the “Big Four” prizes -- best new artist, song of the year for “Rehab” (which beat “Hey There Delilah” by Chicago’s Plain White T’s) and record of the year for the same tune -- as well as best pop vocal album and best female pop vocal performance.
Rather then celebrating their big anniversary with something that might have been entertaining and educational -- say, recapping the best musical performances from the past 50 years, and rescinding some of the more boneheaded awards given out over the years (Milli Vanilli and the Starland Vocal Band, phone home) -- the show continued with the unlikely pairings that have dominated the last few telecasts, though this year was even weirder than usual.
The ever-classy John Legend was paired with the perpetually trampy Fergie; Beyonce tried to keep pace with Tina Turner and failed; Alicia Keys traded verses with the late Frank Sinatra a la the Natalie and Nat King Cole gambit of a years back; Rihanna sang her smash hit “Umbrella” while fronting the reunited Minneapolis funk band the Time and Kid Rock replaced the late Louis Prima for a romp through “That Old Black Magic” with Keely Smith.
Quite conveniently, many of the performers promptly proceeded to win Grammys.
Keys came back later in the show to perform “No One,” which won best R&B song. And the bloated and bombastic Foo Fighters brought a bit of “American Idol” to the Grammys by playing with the winner of the “My Grammy Moment” contest, then clamed the prizes for best rock album and best hard rock performance.
The shadow of “American Idol” also fell on Carrie Underwood, who delivered a bizarre performance that took place on what seemed to be the set from “Rent,” peopled with percussionists from “Stomp.” Underwood won two Grammys: best country song and best female country vocal for “‘Before He Cheats.”
There was also the inevitable tribute to the Beatles, with the cast of “LOVE by Cirque du Soleil” doing their trapeze-dangling and overwrought pantomiming thing as “A Day in the Life” played on digital audio tape, followed by Carol Woods and Timothy T. Mitchum from the movie musical “Across the Universe” doing a gospel version of “Let It Be” in front of generic images of wars and race riots.
The musicians that cameo celebrity Tom Hanks called “those four lads from Liverpool” deserved better. But then again, for the 50th year in a row, nominees and viewers at home alike all deserved better than the Grammys gave them.