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The 51st Annual Grammy Awards: Wake me when they're over

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"Music's biggest night," Grammy producers called the 51st annual awards show. That claim can be debated, but one thing was sure during the live telecast Sunday from the Staples Center in Los Angeles: It certainly felt like the longest.

In the key categories, it was a great night for British artists. Multiple winners included Led Zeppelin's golden god Robert Plant, who won album of the year, best country collaboration with vocals, best contemporary folk/Americana album and record of the year for his staid and sleepy pairing with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss, "Raising Sand."

U.K. mood rockers Coldplay claimed best rock album for "Viva La Vida" and song of the year and best pop performance by a group with vocals for the title track -- even though it's become the center of a controversy since virtuosic shredder Joe Satriani sued the group for allegedly ripping off his instrumental "If I Could Fly."

And in the best new artist category, young British soul singer Adele Adkins beat teen-pop heartthrobs the Jonas Brothers. In claiming the prize, she instantly made several million young female enemies on these shores.

One of the night's most emotional moments came early on when the award for best R&B album went to the self-titled debut by Chicago native Jennifer Hudson, who can now place the golden Gramophone next to the best supporting actress Oscar that she won for "Dreamgirls."

"I would like to thank God, who has brought me through. I would like to thank my family in heaven and those who are here today," Hudson said, choking up during her first public comments since the murder of her brother, mother and nephew in October.

Later, Hudson performed "You Pulled Me Through" with backing from a gospel choir. In contrast to the Super Bowl, where she, Faith Hill and Bruce Springsteen pantomimed to pre-recorded tracks, the Grammy performances seemed to be live.

The best evidence for this was a generally dismal sound mix, most notable during Katy Perry's campy romp through "I Kissed a Girl" and U2's glossy opening with "Get Your Boots On (Sexy Boots)," the bland and tuneless single from its new album due in March.

Then, too, there was the fact that the scheduled performances by R&B star Chris Brown and his girlfriend Rihanna both were cancelled at the last minute. Shortly before the show began, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that Brown is the subject of a felony domestic violence battery investigation for attacking an unidentified woman.

Chicago's winners

Most of the local Chicago nominees already knew the results in their Grammy categories before the start of the show, since the bulk of the awards were handed out before the cameras came on.

In the producer of the year category, Rick Rubin (Metallica, Neil Diamond, Weezer) defeated Chicagoan John "Johnny K" Karkazis, who was nominated for his work with the Plain White T's, Staind and 3 Doors Down.

Hometown rapper Lupe Fiasco lost three prizes to Lil Wayne: best rap solo performance ("A Milli"), best rap song ("Lollipop") and best rap album ("Tha Carter III"). It was probably less painful to lose best rap/sung performance, however, since that one was claimed by Lupe's mentor Kanye West for his collaboration with Estelle, "American Boy."

Locals fared better in the classical categories. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra won best engineering, classical, for "Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago" and best orchestral performance for "Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4" conducted by Bernard Haitink, and the Pacifica Quartet took best chamber music performance for "Carter, Elliott: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 5."

The performances

As for the performances, the producers continued to follow the ill-advised cross-genre/cross-generational programming that has dominated the last several telecasts. These may sound like intriguing ideas on paper, but in practice, they're never as satisfying as hearing the individual artists performing on their own.

Justin Timberlake, Boyz II Men and Keith Urban only distracted from the great Al Green, and the same was true of the Jonas Brothers jamming with Stevie Wonder and Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke joining Allen Toussaint.

Country star Taylor Swift joined pop goddess Miley Cyrus for a stint as an acoustic folk duo, a genre that suited neither. And superstar rapper Jay-Z added nothing to Coldplay's "Lost." (Now if the producers had paired Coldplay with Satriani, that might have been entertaining.)

Worst of all was the attempt to remake the infamous Rat Pack as "the Rap Pack." But superstar rappers Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I., Jay-Z and a very pregnant M.I.A. succeeded only in stepping on each other's toes during an awkward medley that was a far cry from the smooth, boozy interplay of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and the gang (though this segment was broadcast in very '60s-Vegas black and white).

The best performances came from Paul McCartney--though "I Saw Her Standing There" was even older than guest drummer Dave Grohl--and Radiohead, who were augmented by a drum corps.

The British art-rockers claimed best alternative album and an award for packaging for "In Rainbows," although they lost out on the top prize of album of the year to the predictable choice of Plant and Krauss.

This was no surprise, since the initial set-your-own-price digital release and the inventive music both were radical enough to cause heart attacks among the notoriously conservative Grammy voters, who once again proved that they are sorely out of step with the times.

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9 Comments

I'm so glad to be living in a country where I didn't have to deal with all the Grammy hoopla.

The thing that irritates me most is the Li'l Wayne obsession. I guarantee that most Grammy voters never listened to the records in the hip-hop category and voted for Li'l Wayne based on the press Tha Carter III got. It's like they read the glowing reviews in Rolling Stone and Billboard and decided, "Oh, this must be the greatest hip-hop record ever!"

The Grammy voters aren't out of step with the times, I don't think. They're out of step with reality and catering not just to the lowest common denominator but to the nadir of music fans. I mean, I like McCartney as much as anybody, sans Radiohead, who performed; but how many damned times is he gonna play the same half-decade-old Beatles and Wings hits? He could've played "Ever Present Past" or "Too Much Rain" or even an upbeat arrangement of "Little Willow."

I guess it's sort of like Springsteen at the Super Bowl or a lot of these other artists who go in front of a large audience and play it as safe as possible. I don't understand why they do it. If your name is Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney, you don't have to worry about reinforcing what people think of you -- and you're not going to win any new fans by playing the songs they've heard on the radio for thirty, forty, fifty years. But if they would dare to play a deep cut or new song -- something that the majority of non-fans aren't familiar with -- they might stand the chance of winning some new people over. The play-it-safe conservative mentality just seems like a self-defeating mechanism; and it's why the Grammy performances, like the Grammys themselves, suck.

The reason Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke performed with Allen Toussaint is because Wayne is from New Orleans and the song they did is his tribute to that city. The segment was a musical tribute to New Orleans so it made sense for all of them to be there.

Also you must not listen to the records you review in their entirety because if you did you would have known that Jay Z, Lil Wayne, MIA, Kayne and TI all performed together because they have a hit song out there that was nominated and it features ALL OF THEM.

The McCartney performance was the biggest snooze of the night.

Wow. Horrible. By far the worst Grammy Awards ever... though I haven't watched them in about four years.

I had to turn the channel several times. U2 Sucked. Coldplay & Jay-Z? I can't imagine that one even looked good on paper. The "Country" music was of course awful. Katy Perry... please, I give her a playboy shoot and her career is over. Someone needs to shoot Miley Cyrus (and her dad), every time I see this girl on tv she's sticking out her tongue. Dwayne Johnson (the rock) is the new Mario Lopez... which is unnecessary to begin with. Radiohead... where to begin... that performance just needed to end. Al Green & Justin Timberlake doing Let's Stay Together? Really? That song is fucking ancient. Jonas Brothers & Stevie Wonder, I was't sure if the Jonas Brothers were performing or trying to mug Stevie Wonder.

Anyway, Dave Grohl drumming wasn't so bad.

This awards ceremony has been completely irrelevant since 1996, or was it 1997? 2009 will be a very, very, very bad year for the music industry. With Live Tickmaster Nation, shit music, and greedy executives who have no clue about anything else but the bottom line, you're better off just making your own music.

Adam

p.s. if I didn't mention a specific bad moment just rewatch the show, you'll see it... all 3 HOURS OF IT!

hey dero, bruce sang live at the super bowl. just because u praised j hudsons anthem, only to find out it was pre-recorded, don't throw the booses name in there with her. u should have the guts to say u were wrong about that. bruce had the guts to pull it off live, so give him the credit. but i doubt u will since u r a second rate critic. i don't know how u got this job, but if people want good music they should not listen to u

FYI, Local music producer and Columbia College teacher, Michael Freeman was nominated for his tribute album to Pine Top Perkins. I do believe that it was in best traditional Blues album(would have to double check). He lost to BB King.

Thanks -- Michael Kranicke

Kindly put an end to these awards shows. The public no longer buys nor accepts the phoney, melodramatic crap they are fed. Did I mention that calling most of this "music" (rather than irritating noise) does indeed push the envelope? All the truly great performers have left the stage....you know it and I know it. Put a ribbon on it. Put a bow on it. Sprinkle glitter on it. Put shades on it (the sun must be unbearably bright in the auditorium at night). The winner is "Thugs Punks and Bitches." Jimmy, do you know ANYONE who actually pulls out a wallet and spends their hard earned money on this absolute crap these animals put out?

I didn't think so. Me either.

GP --

I agree with you on the sentiment about ending the awards shows, but I have to respectfully take great issue with your statement that "All the truly great performers have left the stage." To me, that sounds like a curmudgeony Boomer cop-out (I'm not saying you are a Boomer, but that's generally the sentiment I've heard from Baby Boomers before).

For almost as long as there has been good music, there has been bad music. And although it seems like there is more bad, say, rock 'n' roll today, that's because there is more rock across the board. But there were some great acts nominated this year -- particularly Radiohead's In Rainbows and Lupe Fiasco's The Cool. Not everything was a wash-out. And yes, I pulled out my wallet and spent my hard-earned money on those albums.

The awards doled out at the Grammys, however, have never been indicative of what's really great in music. Are we really to believe the best album of 1963-64 was The Barbara Streisand Album? Or that the Beach Boys' Bruce Johnston wrote the best song of 1976-77 with "I Write the Songs," that horrid Barry Manilow tune? Or that "Bette Davis Eyes" deserved to be the best song of 1981-82, while "Radio Free Europe" wasn't even nominated?

These are the winners of yesteryear, GP. They just go to show you that the Grammys haven't simply become useless; they've always been useless. And frankly, they've at least started coming closer to getting the hip-hop category right. They haven't perfected it yet (Eminem and Kanye West have won far too often for it to be truly legit), but the voters have come a long way since the '90s, when such luminous rappers as MC Hammer, Coolio, and Will Smith were rewarded.

Out of curiosity, what would you say should've won, say, Album of the Year? I don't just mean of the nominees; do you think that all music produced now is "irritating noise?"

With all due respect to Radiohead, the Plant/Kraus album was nothing short of breathtaking, and a worthy winner. Perhaps the Coldplay & Radiohead albums cancelled each other out?

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