The 49th Annual Grammy Awards
Empty8-11:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 11
The world of music is vast and deep, but you could be excused if, after watching Sunday night's Grammys, you got the impression that only two acts dominate the industry: Mary J. Blige and Dixie Chicks. Their multiple wins coming after well-documented personal problems (Blige) and political controversy (Dixie Chicks) turned the 31⁄2-hour broadcast from Staples Center into a testimony for redemption and survival.
But even if the award winners seemed narrowly focused, the performances reflected a wide range of music and a reverence for stars of previous generations. Whether it was Carrie Underwood with an authentic version of Bob Wills' "San Antonio Rose" or Smokey Robinson with his own "Tracks of My Tears," this year's show, under the harsh, sometimes blinding lights of Staples, was even more eager than previous telecasts to embrace the widest spectrum of musical tastes and legends.
On rare occasions, there was a surfeit of talent. A reunited Police kicked the show off with "Roxanne," and also in the opening hour, Prince stepped to the microphone and said, by way of introduction, "One word: Beyonce." For that you need Prince?
Mostly, it was a tasteful affair, from the gowns of even the sexiest artists to the acceptance speeches. The only bleep came during remarks by Chris Rock and, given the comic's reputation for blue language, that was hardly unexpected. In fact, considering the long lists of thanks brought to the stage, director Walter C. Miller would have been better off with a machine to speed things up instead of a three-second delay.
Blige, in particular, may well have set a record during her R&B album acceptance speech by ticking off 50 names from a fistful of index cards (a feat that could be fully appreciated only with the benefit of TiVo). Accepting for female R&B vocal performance, Blige said, "Let me just be brief about this," and you could almost hear a sigh of relief from the control room. Later, though, Blige encountered competition from rapper Ludacris but, with only 42 names (including Oprah Winfrey and Bill O'Reilly, both critics of his lyrics), he had to settle for second place.
In 2003, Natalie Maines of Dixie Chicks had harsh words for President Bush, and the group paid a stiff price for her blunt remark. With the passage of time and a nose dive in approval ratings for Bush, Maines' fighting words have become a badge of honor and even a marketing tool. Their defiant song "Not Ready to Make Nice" and the same-titled album, won Grammy after Grammy.
The show, though too long, stayed true to its time-honored strategy, which emphasizes performances at least as much as the awards. The list of highlights should include, at the very least, the combined performance of Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and John Mayer, the tuneful sound of the Gnarls Barkley duo, the sexy combination of Shakira and Wyclef Jean and the aforementioned Beyonce. In addition, Stevie Wonder contributed an uplifting presence.
Although it was not overtly acknowledged, the influence of "American Idol" was duly noted. In addition to "Idol" winner Underwood, who thanked "Idol" producer Simon Fuller when she picked up a Grammy, there was the whole "My Grammy Moment" campaign, an echo of the popular Fox show. Visitors to Yahoo! Music narrowed a list of 12 finalists down to three and, ultimately, Robyn Troup was selected to perform with Justin Timberlake. Her ease and talent suggested she might be back for next year's show.
Set design was not elaborate. An onstage mosh pit, designed to put performers and fans closer together, was mostly an unwelcome distraction. Direction by Miller, a veteran at these events, was sure-handed.
THE 49th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS
John Cossette Prods. in association with Ken Ehrlich Prods.
Executive producers: Ken Ehrlich, John Cossette
Producer-director: Walter C. Miller
Coordinating producer: Tisha Fein
Supervising producer: Tzvi Small
Writers: David Wild, Ken Ehrlich
Production designers: Steve Bass, Brian J. Stonestreet
Lighting designer: Bob Dickinson
Musical director: Rickey Minor