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Indie rock wins! Arcade Fire upsets Grammys, denies Eminem to win album of the year in fun, fiery telecast

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Eminem sailed into Sunday's night's Grammy Awards on cruise control as the odds-on favorite, with 10 nominations and much love for his comeback album, "Recovery," and his appearance in a pride-swelling Super Bowl ad last week. He was the Rahm Emanuel of the Grammys. Most folks just assumed he would sweep the whole shebang.

Denied! The Detroit rapper lost most of his categories, but did win for best rap album. As the night wore on -- another three-and-a-half-hour marathon of few awards and a lot of fiery performances -- his odds worsened for album of the year. That final category shocked everyone, including the winner: Canadian alt-rock band Arcade Fire for "The Suburbs."

Again, the 53rd annual Grammy Awards ceremony continued its recent trend, going light on the trophies while packing in mashed-up collaborations that seemed contrived on paper. But they resulted in a Grammys show that was the most entertaining -- and musically rich -- in memory.

( Complete list of nominees and winners here. )

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The theme: Who can out-Gaga Lady Gaga? The Lady herself helped kick off the show with her brand-new, Madonna-aping single, "Born This Way." First, she was carried down the red carpet encased in a greenish, opaque egg. On stage, she hatched form the egg to dance in a subdued yellowish, flowy dress. Given that the last time we saw her at September's MTV Video Music Awards she wore raw meat and ended her number drenched in blood, this performance was remarkably conservative.

Even the usually bawdy Katy Perry performed a sedate, saccharine ballad ("Not Like the Movies") while perched on a leafy tuffet before easing through "Teenage Dream" complete with fully clothed dancers and a sock-hop-safe Valentine's Day theme.

That left others to go for the glam. Cee Lo Green appeared at the piano wearing a costume of bright red fur, primary-colored feathers, a silver breastplate and a bejeweled Cleopatra headdress. Surrounded by Muppets (alas, no Animal or anyone recognizable) and joined midway by actress-singer Gwenyth Paltrow (who sang the song on "Glee"), Green cooed through "the song otherwise known as 'Forget You.'" Think Elton John and Kiki Dee on "Sesame Street."

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It would have been more fun to get the real "F--- You" and just bleep it, but the censors were kept plenty busy silencing profane bits of Eminem's vein-bulging, spittle-flinging performance. Perhaps overly confident, the bug-eyed rapper shadow-boxed onto the stage after a very ill Rihanna struggled through the opening refrain of their hit duet, "Love the Way You Lie" (she's had bronchitis and laryngitis; "I'm on every med under the sun!" she tweeted Saturday). Dr. Dre joined him for the last half of "I Need a Doctor," but Dre's first TV performance in more than a decade lasted barely a minute and wound up deflating the appearance's super star power.

Other over-the-top performances included a trio of B.o.B., Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae, who exploded Monae's "Cold War" with B.o.B.'s surprisingly scorching guitar solo, Mars' lively drumming (take that, Beeb!) and the soulful Monae's slow start but spunky finish, complete with stage-diving and crowd-surfing.

A jolly Bob Dylan even went all out, growling out "Maggie's Farm" backed by Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. Dylan croaked and struck occasional Gene Kelly-esque poses through the riot of acoustic guitars and banjos, smiling and clearly having a blast. Bonus: no Soy Bomb!

Finally, you know it's a good Grammys when even the obit reel rocks. After a mercifully speedy slide show of those musicians who passed away in 2010, Mick Jagger strutted on stage wearing a cape to pay tribute to late soul pioneer Solomon Burke. Backed by Raphael Saadiq and his band, Jagger did his best Jagger -- pouting at the lip of the stage, jogging back and forth on the catwalks, generally leading what turned out to be an all-smiles, on-your-feet pep rally. Sunken cheeks and skeleton-skinny, Jagger's energy was way up, and he looked like a shaggy Blues Brother.

Lady Antebellum was among the show's sad-trombone moments. Though the country trio wound up being the night's most significant winners -- taking Grammys not only for country album but both record of the year and song of the year -- but their strange medley of soul hits (a weakly harmonized "If You Don't Know Me by Now") and their own songs (a muted, abbreviated whiff of their own mega-hit, "Need You Now") failed to show why.

grammybieber.jpgGiven his overexposure, particularly during the last week, the inevitable bubblegum medley from boy-of-the-moment Justin Bieber, joined by Jaden Smith and Usher, was anticlimactic. The thundering Goth boogie of Muse's "Uprising" didn't exactly spark a revolution. And Barbra Streisand -- what happened? Her disappointed, exasperated expression at the end of a tentative, trembling "Evergreen" at least indicated she also knew it went badly.

Only 10 of the 108 Grammys were awarded during Sunday's telecast. Living up to their reputation for baffling surprises, Grammy voters shocked everyone by not only denying Eminem but derailing Lady Antebellum's momentum, giving album of the year to critical darlings Arcade Fire. The band themselves laughed deliriously on their way to the microphone to accept the award, with singer Butler arriving and asking, "What the hell?" That was after the celebrated indie band capped the broadcast with a relentless, caterwauling pounding through "Month of May," from that winning album, and featuring a guy flying through X-Games stunts on stage on a bright green bicycle. Amazingly, the jubilant band immediately returned to the stage and played "Ready to Start" through the credits.

Weirder: Arcade Fire didn't even win their genre category. Best alternative album instead went to the Black Keys' "Brothers"; Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney also won rock performance by a duo ("Tighten Up"). Arcade Fire remains 0-3 in the alternative album category.

Voters raised some eyebrows with a few picks before the official broadcast. Best rock solo vocal performance went to Paul McCartney. If that wasn't stale enough, the performance in question was "Helter Skelter," the Beatles 1968 song Sir Mac runs through on his latest live album. Skipping Neil Young in this category was criminal, but Young's "Angry World," from his acclaimed "Le Noise" album, was named best rock song. "This is my first Grammy for music, and it's appreciated greatly," he said. His only other Grammy is for recording package.

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1 Comment

I couldn't agree more on your Grammys recap. Also, do Lady Antebellum have to share their awards with the Allan Parsons project?

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on February 13, 2011 10:35 PM.

Lady Gaga hatches from egg to express herself at Grammys was the previous entry in this blog.

'Who the hell are the Suburbs?' and other myopic inquiries from a confused, post-Grammys nation is the next entry in this blog.

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