Last year around this time, I filled these pages with a recap of the 51st Grammy Awards that took the group behind the awards — the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences — to task for fronting like it was young and hip, but then televising a jumbled, poorly paced mess of a show.
One year and another Grammy broadcast later, perhaps I was too harsh. Because compared to Grammy "10, held Sunday night, Grammy ‘09 was a fun and frisky affair.
The lineup of performers last year included artistically vital acts such as Radiohead, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and M.I.A. By comparison, this year’s slate was uninspired: Bon Jovi, the Dave Matthews Band, Smokey Robinson, Celine Dion, and so on.
In 2009, I struggled to pare my list of best performances to only three. In 2010, I struggled to identify two that I thought were really worthy of mention.
Last year, I thought the Grammys had achieved a high-water mark for contrived and poorly executed collaborations. This year, those kinds of performances flooded the stage.
Finally, Grammy ‘09 gave its biggest award (Album of the Year) to the one nominee — Alison Krauss and Robert Plant — with no name recognition among youngsters watching on TV. Grammy ‘10 swung too far the other direction, bestowing its highest honor on a young lady, Taylor Swift, who proved earlier in the program that she’s got a ways to go before she’s truly in the biggest of big leagues.
But more on that later. For now, here’s my take:
1. Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” These two, performing to raise money for Haiti, proved that strong, moving performances are possible on the Grammys, when NARAS puts people on stage that can actually sing. R&B diva Blige was a little overwrought, but Italian mega-tenor Bocelli surprised no one by sounding terrific. Focusing on one good song rather than a medley of hits helped their cause.
2. Maxwell, “Pretty Wings.” Music is better off when this brilliant neo-soul star is in the spotlight. Maxwell, who stayed out of sight for most of the 2000s, needed no gimmicks, no aerial tricks, no garish costumes to put on a pitch-perfect performance of the standout song from his 2009 album. Of course, he was eventually joined on stage by deer-in-headlights Roberta Flack, and the magic dissipated.
3. Pink, “Glitter in the Air.” The pop singer sauntered out clad head-to-toe in white, like some Star Wars princess. Snooze.
But then she shed the robe (leaving her nearly nude), climbed into a long white sheet draped from the ceiling and performed a full-on acrobatics routine a few dozen feet in the air, half while dripping wet. And she never missed a note. This was no joke; I actually worried for her safety, but she nailed it. Maybe she was raised in the circus. I barely heard the song, but she deserves to be here for her guts.
1. Jamie Foxx, T-Pain, Doug E. Fresh and Slash, “Blame It.” I didn’t think Jamie Foxx’s singing career could be any more disastrous, but he reached new depths with this highly Auto-Tuned performance that got worse as it went along. First, Foxx and T-Pain barely sang a note (letting the backing track do the work), before handing the chaos over to a beatboxer and an unintelligible guitar solo from Slash. Just horrible.
2. Taylor Swift and Stevie Nicks, “Rhiannon” and “You Belong to Me.” The most unnatural of all the collaborations, Swift couldn’t hit the notes in the Fleetwood Mac hit and Nicks looked appalled that she was talked into singing Swift’s smash. I’m not nearly as anti-Swift as some people, but this did not reflect well on her. She sounded like she’ll have a great career writing songs for others.
3. Green Day and the cast of the “American Idiot” Broadway musical, “21 Guns.” Lots of performances could’ve taken this spot, but Billie Joe Armstrong and company get the “win” for killing off a small part of high-school junior Ben. Punk’s not dead. It’s just being reproduced on stage by faceless, fresh-faced singers with faraway looks in their eyes.
And now, a few of our own awards
The “I know I’m groggily waking from a nap but why is my TV showing a duet between Marilyn Manson dressed as a Lucky Charm and Elton John? And why does Elton look like he’s been waterboarded with a Bedazzler?” award. There is no end to Lady Gaga’s reign of terror. And that’s OK with me. At least she’s interesting. But those glasses Elton wore looked beyond silly.
The “You need to work on your ‘surprised’ look” award. To Taylor Swift, who’s gathered too many trophies over the past year to still appear gobsmacked when her name is called. Before long, that will be annoying (if it isn’t already).
The “I wish the Lifetime Achievement award winners were the ones performing tonight” award. To Leonard Cohen, Loretta Lynn and Honeyboy Edwards.
The “Really?” award. To the Zac Brown Band, a group of hirsute country-rock pickers who won Best New Artist (and also opened their performance with a rendition of “America the Beautiful”). Their sound is generic, even for the Grammys, and they’ll be forgotten soon enough. Artists who didn’t win Best New Artist in the past decade: Kanye West, Brad Paisley, John Mayer.
The “Who’s dressed more ridiculously, the performers or the dancers?” award. To the Black Eyed Peas, who declared themselves “the future” but looked more like my fourth-grade Halloween costume, a robot made out of tin cans and duct tape. They had some dancers dressed as walking speakers and some that looked like Vienna sausages wearing popped collars. I suspect you couldn’t buy cans of black, silver and red spray paint in Los Angeles last weekend.
The “Worst third wheel in history” award. To the guy in Lady Antebellum who’s not the guy that looks like a blonde Kenny Loggins, and not the woman. While Blonde Loggins and Woman were singing about needing each other, the other guy sat at the piano all like, “Guys? Guys? I think I’m gonna head on home now.”
The “State of the music industry in 2010” award. To the car advertisement that asked, “Which band will create the hit for the next Lincoln commercial?” Apparently, you can vote on that.
The “Proof that rock ’n’ roll will never die” award. To the Best Rock Album category’s nominees: AC/DC, U2, Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, Dave Matthews and Green Day. I assume bands that peaked this century were ineligible?
The “So that’s what it takes to make Beyonce and Rihanna look goofy” award. To 3-D glasses.
And finally, the “Everything you need to know about the Grammy Awards” award. To legendary songwriter Neil Young, who won his first-ever Grammy this year. Not for his four-decade career full of amazing songs, albums and shows, but for the best art direction and packaging on a box set.
For those scoring at home, that’s Neil Young, one career Grammy, and Taylor Swift, four.