I haven’t watched the Grammys in years. But, this year, moved by an increase in album sales and the death of Whitney Houston on the eve of the recording industry’s annual awards show, I figured what the heck. I had loads of laundry to fold and coupons to clip so I thought watching the Grammys might alleviate the drudgery. Instead, it aggravated the culture shock.
Not severely, and I am glad that singer Adele – getting scads of awards and ovations and appearing in an early Sixties glamor get-up, looking like something out of Hairspray – is apparently admired for her vocal ability and for overcoming illness, though I can’t help wondering if the unbridled enthusiasm is for her foul-mouthed, lower class ways. She sings about pain, and to me she always sounds like she’s in pain. I like some of her songs and arrangements better than I like her voice.
At least she’s not on another booty call. That task was left quite pathetically to a blonde-haired woman mocking Catholic costumes and rituals on stage named Nicki Minaj. Katy Perry tried too hard with her blue-haired number, which felt cruel and awkward following her divorce. Rihanna was unimpressive, though upon reflection, her performances may have been affected because she had to share the stage with the man who had beaten her on the eve of this annual event two years ago, a thug named Chris Brown.
Brown’s appearances were a jarring reminder that the recording industry explicitly sanctions the degradation of women. To grant Brown permission to take the stage – after he beat his girlfriend – in the wake of the death of a music legend whose downward spiral began when she married a man she said used to beat her, was tactless at best.
Speaking of Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson delivered a tribute to her, which was not surprising; she’s represented by the man who shaped Houston’s career, producer Clive Davis, who appeared with Hudson on CNN to promote Hudson on the Grammys. Of course, this sort of thing was busting out all over, without disclosure, as CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed (if that’s the word) Adele for CBS’ 60 Minutes, which aired before CBS’ Grammys, which were hosted by CBS’ LL Cool J – this from an industry dominated by those who deride what they call crony capitalism and claim to oppose capitalists on the grounds that they get money through nefarious means.
For his part, LL Cool J – a rapper who opened the show with a prayer for Whitney Houston – was barely the master of ceremonies, popping up between live performances, most of which were lackluster. Adele fared best, singing another of her sad tunes, without apparent recorded accompaniment. Middling country singer Taylor Swift went for a Depression-era look – a rich woman singing as though she was starving in the Appalachians – singing an arguably mean-spirited song about how mean it is to be mean-spirited to…Taylor Swift.
Bruce Springsteen performed a catchy pop song. Paul McCartney played in a rock guitar segment. An electronic dance portion featured Chris Brown in sunglasses stomping around a DJ, someone with dreadlocks and a bunch of people wearing giant mouse heads that light up. It was worse than Minaj’s godawful church exorcism which featured dancing monks (with all the flames, gyrations and Catholic priests, late night comedians should have enough material for the next few weeks). Geriatric Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” performance was just sad and he deserved a better sendoff.
Where were the jazz, classical and melodic artists, performances and awards? Other than pleading Adele in her gigantic false eyelashes, the show supposedly created for awarding records came up short on rewarding recorded music that moves the soul. Certainly, there are artists making good music: James Blunt, Christina Aguilera, Alanis Morrisette, Donna Summer, Susan Boyle, Coldplay, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Stevie Nicks, Sade, Five for Fighting, Olivia Newton-John. But where are the artists comparable to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, Doris Day, Diana Ross, Elvis Presley, Glenn Miller, Burt Bacharach, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis, Jr., the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald or Whitney Houston, let alone other greats in musical performance and composition? Grammys host LL Cool J got it right when, citing Steve Jobs and the Wright Brothers, he said on CNN (watch clip here) that what makes America great is that, here, we are free to create. If only more Americans would defend that freedom, create something good, possibly great – and assert their right to keep what they create, now that would be worthy of an award.