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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.

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13 Comments

So,I gathered you didn't like the Grammy's at all.

I didn't like the Grandmas either, but the riot footage during Let It Be was footage from Across The Universe, the kid was singing that during the Detroit Riots in the film. I posted on the what makes a Chicago Artist thread, but I don't think we determined. I love Kanye, but to me he is as much of a Chicago Artist as Hancock is. He dosn't really live here, I thought he was based in NYC, and Common also no longer lives here, he lives in Cali, like Herbie does. So why are they considered Chicago artists, is it because they rap about Chicago? Now Wilco was robbed by The Foo Fighters, and they are Chicago. They live and record in Chicago. But I guess I should be happy that Daughtry did not beat Wilco

To many in the media Herbie Hancock's "Album of the Year" win for "River: The Joni Letters" was considered a "shock" and an "upset". So where was the shock?? The NARAS has had that kind of thing happen in that category for years save a few exceptions (i.e. Outkast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" in 2004).
Remember Celine Dion and Steely Dan? Both got the AOTY Grammy for lackluster albums that went against critically acclaimed "cutting edge" nominees. I'd say over the last 18 years or so the AOTY Grammy goes to a veteran artist or a mainstream safe choice nominee.

I can't believe you didn't mention the best of the long evening. The
Rhapsody in Blue performance made it worth watching. Most other performances were not great, not even good. I don't believe there is anyone more high on himself than Kanye. It's a bit sickening........

I read your review of the Grammys - which I forgot was on - so I missed Tina Turner doing charity work with Beyonce, eh? I'm sure Tina was cool enough for the two of them - she always has been and always will. As for Beyonce, pretty though her face may be, I would never believe she ever spent ANY time on a Riverboat Queen.

I'm happy I didn't see the Beatles tribute. They're my favorite band and, while I'd like to see the LOVE show at some point, I was lucky enough to avoid having to see "Across the Universe" and I know that gospel version of Let it Be with the footage you described would've made a bulimic out of me. Gospel in and of itself makes me gag, but this would've really done some damage. You are so right, the Beatles do deserve so much better.

Did you happen to review "I am Sam" when that was released? I know you're not a film critic, but if a film is music-oriented, would you have been assigned that one? That's something else I think I was spared, according to what I've heard. I would guess the soundtracks to both movies would serve as a sort of a tribute album, which can get in line with the scads of others - all the noise pollution you can get at your friendly neighborhood record shop. When I used to hang out at Tower downtown at lunchtime, somebody was playing the CD for almost a week straight. At least it felt like a week.

Now that I think of it, the only really good tribute album I've ever heard, overall, was "If I Were a Carpenter".

Finally, I loved your description of Tom Hanks as a Cameo Celebrity. I guess his boat has sailed, good actor that he once was.

One more thing about the Grammys...

After I read your review and sent my first e-mail, I took a second to read the big winners and I'm glad that LOVE is getting the recognition it deserves. I know you weren't head-over-heels with the compilation, and I initially wasn't in love with the idea, but when I heard samples online, it really sounded like something and I couldn't wait for it to be released. It gave a hint of what the CD's will sound like if the remasters are ever released. While I love the sound of it, it makes me want to ask Apple when the discs are ever coming out. I also read that iTunes was supposed to carry the remaster mp3's, but I've since seen nothing of it.

I know I'm out of the loop when I haven't heard of winners like Winehouse. But I don't listen to the radio or watch videos. Clue me in to the stations to catch up.

Leon Moore

Leon: Given the fragmentation of commercial music radio -- not to mention the bounty of advertising that takes up nearly as much time as music -- it really is hard to recommend one or two stations to listen to in order to keep abreast of everything from hip-hop to emo, R&B to electronica.

But, ahem... A good start may be this show called "Sound Opinions" on Chicago Public Radio, Friday nights at 8 and Saturday mornings at 11, 91.5-FM.

That Herbie Hancock won for an album that I'll agree isn't nesessarily a great representation of his work isn't a surprise, the surprise is that guys like you have no clue regarding the man's history and what his contribution to music is/was. There have been a slew of garage bands, gangstahs and pop-totally-freaking-useless divas that have had countless 'honors' heaped on them over the years and nobody says word one. But an honestly talented, creative, HUMBLE guy wins a Grammy with a little luck/help from the music gods and you dudes are all over it. In addition, there are many very talented musicians working in Herbie's hometown, Chicago, who'll never get the recognition or money, even the little amount accorded to Herbie (and he's near the top of the least-well-known, well-knowns). They can play and write most of the pop, rock, et.al. bozos under the table. So, that one of their/our own wins one for those who didn't/won't ever and for those who came before but were never recognized isn't necessarily a bad thing, Jimbo. And for a guy, you, that's never produced even a stultifyingly mediocore piece of music, I might be a little more humble and maybe acknowledge a talented homey's good fortune. Ya, know pal?

Another Jim

this was the first time i actually sat and watched the grammys. other than a few bright spots i thought it was pretty bad. how was the ratings. how come the intros for the lifetime achievement awards was so bad. just a mere mention of the groups or persons achievements was wrong. i enjoyed the beyonce-tina turner segment was pretty good although tina does not move as she used to.it was still good to see that she still is a good looking woman. i was waiting for the john fogarty/little richard/jerry lee lewis segment. what was the matter with little richardand jerry lee.i know they are both up there in years but it looked like they were in pain doing their numbers especialy little richard.it was not a nice sight to see.

i enjoy your articles in the sun-times. keep up the good work.

mario perez

This was one of the most eclectic Grammys of all time. I an glad they focused on all types of music instead of the " rap song of the month" that the awards shows usually have. The highlight of the show was Amy Winehouse. The most annoying moment was crybaby/tiresome Kanye West,wearing a eighties like Michael Jackson type spacesuit,who always has to complain about something at the award shows.

The Grammies are more horrible than I thought. Not sure what was the worst part, the American Idol contest to play with the Foos, or the Kid Rock duet (that was painful to watch). Actually I'm sure there were worst things, but I was watching on and off thankfully. Daft Punk making a cameo was the only decent thing I saw. And Amy Winehouse is the most overrated thing in years, I mean, come on. But at least she didn't fall.

Your article had no mention of Little Richard, John Fogerty, & Jerry Lee Lewis. It was a shame. I considered that the finale. Not that stuff they call Rap. The show still glorifies Drugs, but not Rehab.
That's my view:
Ray T/Bensenville

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on February 10, 2008 11:07 PM.

I watch the Grammys (So you don't have to) was the previous entry in this blog.

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