The Grammys have been around only eight years longer than the Superbowl, and looked at objectively, both fetes bear a strange resemblance. Few really care who wins. They’re mostly about spectacle and disappointment. And Prince rules both. What follows is Line Out’s color commentary, brought to you by red wine and a friend’s TV in Fremont.
8:17 p.m.: The reunited Police just kicked off the 49th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony and sounded like they haven’t missed a beat since ‘84. Music and visuals didn’t match so well, though: Sting looked like a smugger version of his bleached, spiky-haired Feyd-Rautha character from Dune, while Stewart Copeland — killing it behind the kit — could’ve walked onto the “Sprockets” set and petted Dieter’s monkey. Andy Summers was the only Policeman who wore his age with dignity and sorta faded into the background because of it. But the band’s dubby, extended version of “Roxanne” proved that the infighting, the Tantric sex, and the partying with Trey Anastasio only intensified the trio’s tension and made for a helluva micro-comeback. We’re officially psyched for the full tour to come.
8:23: Accepting the award for “Best Collaboration” alongside Stevie Wonder for their version of “For Once in My Life,” Tony Bennett just plugged Target. Classy. Come to find out that Target is one of several official sponsors of the Grammys. Stevie, I’d bet, didn’t see the point.
8:27: What the hell is wrong with Fergie’s eyebrows?
8:38: Justin Timberlake introducing his performance of “What Goes Around… Comes Around”: “It’s the best song I’ve ever written.” And there’s JT at the piano, like, playing. Who knew? I had some idea — the kid’s a real talent, don’t doubt it. And the song? Backed by a full band, backup singers, and that old Grammy standby, a string section, it sorta sounded like “Man in the Mirror” era MJ. The XXXtreme closeup/Justincam was pretty gratuitous, even for me.
8:40: Stats on this year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards:
1. Booker T.
2. The Doors
3. The Grateful Dead (!)
4. Mariah Callas
5. Ornette Coleman
8:56: John Mayer, your serial dating of numbskull starlets and bad stand up comedy have rendered your soul sterile. If Eric Clapton quit today you’d be his de facto stand-in, minus Clapton’s real-deal early days. Somehow you just beat Alan Toussaint for Best Pop Vocal Album, dammit. This roomful of friends finds you douchey, but with a dark side. I bet you can live with that.
9:01: And Of Montreal make it to the Grammys! Unfortunately it’s as the soundtrack to an Outback Steakhouse commercial.
9:05: Draped in a gold lame dress and brass brassiere, Shakira just about hip-swung Wycleff Jean off the stage. Rowr.
9:09: Burt Bacharach + Seal = WTF? Says Burt to Seal, “Could we write a song together in this lifetime?” We’re not holding our breath. The second time James Blunt is mentioned is twice too many.
9:13: Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” wins Song of the Year. I blame Rick Rubin. Dressed as the cast of Back to the Future, Gnarls Barkley sits stewing in the second row.
9:49: While the Grammys veer into the flyover states to celebrate “The Roots of Country Music,” we’ll recap what the last half-hour:
Gnarls Barkeley, mysteriously robbed of Song of the Year by the Dixie Chicks, showed up in Pan-Am Airline regalia for a half-time version of “Crazy,” abetted by, you guessed it, a string section. Lackluster, sad to say.
(Meanwhile, Rascal Flatts covering “Hotel California” represents everything that’s wrong with country music today. No wait — it’s a full-on countrypolitan tribute to the Eagles! We have veered into truly laughable/groanable territory.)
Most spot-on comment of the evening came from Common to Kanye: “We got tired of hearing you complain about not winning.” And then the pair presented the Best Rap Album award to Ludacris, who’s far-from-his-best album Release Therapy won out over true brilliance in the form of the Roots’ Game Theory and Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. In a characteristically clever turn, Luda shouts-out Oprah and Bill O’Reilly in his acceptance speech.
With all the celebs in the house tonight, why’s the camera magnetized on the three cardboard goddesses competing to win 15 seconds on-stage with Justin Timberlake? Such obvious self-promotion, along with Carrie Underwood winning Best New Artist and thanking Simon Fuller of “American Idol,” spotlight the faux import of this year’s Grammys.
After four Dixie Chicks mentions in two hours, nobody I’m watching with ever wants to hear of them again. And then they win out over Willie Nelson for Best Country Album. Yes, the industry wants keep country music contemporary, but the audience has now been officially oversaturated with Chicks. And when the one who looks like Sarah Jessica Parker quotes Nelson’s taunting “ha ha,” it’s so much easier to shut them off.
Chris Brown’s trampoline-enhanced step spectacle overshadowed solid performances from Smokey Robinson and — I hate to say it — Lionel Richie. Brown danced with a pair of seven year olds! Hello, that’s what we’re looking for. Looking a bit Nosferatu, Robinson still sounded like sugar, and Lionel has been back on track for a couple years now.
And Jamie Lidell makes it to the Grammys! Unfortunately it’s in ad for Target.
10:20: You knew it had to happen, but this is sorta surprising: The inevitable James Brown tribute comes from Xtina singing “It’s a Man’s, Man’s World.” Overwrought, but with her aerobic dance moves and breath-defying vocals, somehow appropriate. But is that all JB is worth to the industry?
10:32: No, James gets the final spot and an extended tribute during the dead rock stars retrospective. Even that’s appallingly insufficient — half of these Grammy artists wouldn’t exist without the Godfather. But really, nothing in this Hollywood spectacle could possibly add up to props for JB.
10:40: It’s Mary JFest. Blige’s second performance of the night comes with Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire on a rendition of Ludacris’ “Runaway Love.” Sorry, but this has nothing on Luda’s VMA awards performance of “Pimpin’ All Over the World” last year.
10:44: James Blunt must die. Case in point: He dedicates his performance of “Beautiful” to Ahmet Ertugen, the groundbreaking Atlantic Records exec. Taaaaaacky to the max. Even my mom finds the croaky Brit insufferable. But in just a few moments America will meet the first ever “My Grammy Moment Winner!”
10:50: The most memorable part of the night, after the Police reunion, comes during a commercial break. Prince Rogers Nelson must’ve paid dearly to take out a personal ad thanking his fans for watching his Super Bowl performance. Now that’s class.
10:53: It’s her Grammy moment, but what about the rest of us? Skinny chick Robin Troupe (sp?) joins Justin Timberlake on-stage for a strummy version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” that bleeds into a dance-happy “My Love.” As much as I’d like to care (after all, this moment was crafted to maximize viewer sentimentality), I don’t. Homegirl shows up on stage with in-ear monitors — this stunt must’ve been preordained, at least before the last commercial break.
11:00: It’s officially a bad year for the Grammys. Dixie Chicks win again over Gnarls Barkeley, this time for Record of the Year. If anyone can tell me how this differs from Song of the Year or Album of the Year, please let me know. And if anyone can tell me why it’s the freakin’ Dixie Chicks again, seriously, let me know.
11:08: Chris Rock summing up the Chili Peppers: “The next band had their jocks in socks way before Justin put his dick in a box.” That nudie stunt, back in ‘89 or so, was one of the last things RHCP did before settling into the radio-friendly, melodic rut they now occupy with relish. Wait, the song “Snow (Hey Oh)” just ended before I even noticed it started. Wish they still funked it up with the socks on their jocks. Best bit — the band’s spray-painted backdrop banner reading “Love to Ornette Coleman.” And here’s Al Gore and Queen Latifa announcing RCHP’s victory for “Best Rock Album,” another mediocrity we should hold Rick Rubin responsible for. Keep it up, Rick, and the tide will turn against you. And is it just me or is Chili Peppers’ drummer Jack Irons Will Farrell’s spitting image?
11:24: Shocker: Rick Rubin wins “Non-Classical Producer of the Year,” awarded by the spectacular Scarlett Johansson and the greasy Don Henley. And immediately after, Dixie Chicks win Album of the Year. They accept the award accompanied by Rick Rubin. And so ends the 49th Annual Grammy Awards.
Post game: Everyone can appreciate the Dixie Chicks and their refusal to be goaded by industry influence, and the rockist apologist in me likes variety in the major awards, and on top of that, the Chicks’ politics stray far leftward from the rest of mainstream country music. But still, it’s the Dixie Chicks. Their album was not the best of 2006.
As far as the ceremony goes, this was one of the weakest in recent memory. When the reunion of a 30 year-old band in the first five minutes of the program is the highlight of the whole shebang, you’ve got problems. Chris Brown’s dance moves and Shakira’s belly button gave the only other dynamic performances of the night.Gnarls proved underwhelming, Timberlake’s duet with Wassername contrived, and… that’s about all I can remember. A limp, irrelevant country tribute to the Eagles consumed 10 minutes of prime time that should’ve gone to a full-blown James Brown dedication. That’s a travesty. If only his last album was produced by Rick Rubin.