There are some people (I'm one of 'em) who probably believe that if there is such a thing as hell, then the damned will their spend their afterlives trapped at an interminable Grammy Awards ceremony, forced to endure all of eternity suffering through stale 'n' stuffy performances, overlong acceptance speeches, hours of zydeco and spoken-word awards (no offense to any zydeco and spoken-word fans reading this, of course), and detailed explanations of the Grammy committee voting procedures recited by briefcase-toting NARAS men in suits.
Let's face it, most Grammy ceremonies are just dull. But not this year, baby!
With a powder keg like Kanye West and an unpredictable tabloid queen like Amy Winehouse dominating this year's major categories, I already suspected that the 50th Grammy ceremony might the one of the more exciting spectacles since Soy Bomb bumrushed Bob Dylan in 1998. And I was right! I mean, the first half-hour alone featured presenter Prince in a raspberry-red suit (where was his beret?), Carrie Underwood in hotpants and thigh-highs, and...THE TIME! With Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis! Oh-ee-oh-ee-oh, indeed.
Morris Day was still looking mighty superfly (one coy glimpse at his reflection in his signature gilt-framed, Jerome-foisted mirror was proof of that), and when Rihanna pranced out in a feathered bird-of-paradise frock and joined Morris and Jerome in their "Jungle Love" chorus line, it was obvious that this was going to be one heckuva show. Really, the only thing that could've made the Time's comeback number even Time-lier was if the aforementioned Prince had emerged from the stage wings and joined in on all the Purple Rain-era fun (and what the heck, how about Appollonia too?; surely she would have been free). But even without Prince, this performance still had me doing the Bird all over my living room.
Kanye was amazing as well. Say what you will about the man--about his temper tantrums, his Staples Center-sized ego, his sore-loser attitude at past award shows--but there's simply no denying that Graduation was one of the best albums of '07 and deserved every nomination it received. Besides, I've got nothing but mad respect for a guy who resurrects those Venetian-blind-style sunglasses (seriously, I searched on eBay for years for a pair, to no avail, until Kanye started rocking them); introduces French metal-machine-musicians Daft Punk to the masses; and spits genius rhymes about the days when "O.J. wore Isotoners." Bow in the presence of greatness, indeed!
The Louis Vuitton don's Grammy performance started out strong with "Stronger" (I kind of wished Kanye's fellow Album Of The Year nominee Herbie Hancock had brought his "Rockit" androids to the ceremony to add to this performance's robot-rock vibe, but those TRON-style Daft Punk computer graphics sufficed). And Kanye's performance got even stronger when he dedicated "Hey Mama" to his recently departed mother, Dr. Donda West. Speaking of the afterlife, surely Donda was smiling down on her multiple-nominee son tonight when he gave his rambling but touching Best Rap Album acceptance speech.
Best Rock Album winners the Foo Fighters--accompanied by violin-bowing "My Grammy Moment" winner Ann Marie Calhoun and an orchestra conducted by Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones--rocked it too. Once again bringing up the subject of the afterlife...wonder what punker-than-thou Kurt Cobain thinks of his former stringy-haired drummer's total transformation into such a full-on arena rock god? Not even Tommy Lee was able to do that when he tried to go solo, but Dave Grohl has given hope to every frustrated skin-basher still sitting at the back of the stage, waiting for his chance in the centerstage spotlight. Though I'm not sure if this is a good thing. Because not every drummer can pull off the rock-god shtick as convincingly as Grohl.
But really, this year the Grammys were all about the laydeez, the laydeez. Feist's performance was warm and fuzzy, Alicia Keys's two turns at the mic were fiery, "still sexy" Keely Smith was cute, and Aretha killed it as always on a gospel number that'd make even the most hardened atheist believe in the afterlife. But the true showstopping number kicked off when Cher appeared onstage. She didn't sing (perhaps because she left her "Believe"-style vocoder at home?), but it was still cool enough that she was there in the (surgically altered) flesh to introduce Beyonce. And it was cool enough that Beyonce's opening number featured much-deserved shoutouts to legendary ladies like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross, Anita Baker, and Whitney Houston. But then out strutted Mizz Hot Legs herself, "The Queen": Tina Turner, looking better than any woman over age 60 ought to look in skintight silver lamé, in fact looking as good as she did two decades ago when she experienced her Grammy-sweeping Private Dancer comeback.
And it was on. Beyonce's a tough woman to upstage, but she really was upstaged this evening (especially when she misstepped and appeared to stomp on Tina's stiletto-shod foot). And the B'Day Girl was upstaged by a woman old enough to be her grandma, yet. Really now, can Tina please post on the message board below and let me know what kind of face cream she uses? Because I want to buy me a big old vat of it and bathe in it daily.
Speaking of ladies--although not everyone would label presenter Cyndi Lauper's professed favorite singer, Amy Winehouse, a "lady" in the true sense of the word--tonight Amy staged the type of Grammy comeback not witnessed, since, well, Tina Turner did it in 1985. After having her husband locked up on assault charges, starring in a viral video depicting her allegedly smoking crack, defying the "no, no, no" chorus of her biggest hit and actually entering rehab, and getting denied a U.S. visa so she could perform at the Grammys in person, Amy triumphed tonight, winning five awards--including Best New Artist, Record Of The Year, and Song Of The Year.
And she did appear on the Grammys after all, checking out of rehab temporarily to perform via satellite from a London club. It could have been a disaster (I still wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares about her mushmouthed European Video Music Awards performance), but instead she truly triumphed. Her voice was in soulful shape, she enunciated well enough that she didn't need to be subtitled, she looked relatively healthy (by Amy standards, this means she didn't look like she was about to keel over and die), she was smiling gap-toothedly, she adlibbed some sweet shoutouts to her jailbird hubby Blake...and when she accepted her biggest honor of the night, for Record Of The Year, her own proud mama was there with tears in her eyes. Yay! I was rooting for Amy--perhaps the world was--and this time, Amy prevailed. Hey, maybe rehab actually works!
To be honest, after the much-anticipated halftime Amy performance, things nosedived (nosedove?) from there. Jazz pianist Eldar? Bocelli and Groban? John Fogerty, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard? Zzzzzzzz. And then Herbie Hancock won Album Of The Year over Kanye West. Huh? No doubt Kanye was typically peeved. It would have been great if Herbie's "Rockit" robots and Kanye's Daft Punk cohorts had duked it out like real man-machines, Battlebots-style, for Album Of The Year honors, as that would have been a more exciting way to end a ceremony that'd started off so promisingly. But that didn't happen, of course. Oh well.
Still, for age 50, I have to say the Grammys have aged very well. Not as well as Tina Turner...but pretty well nonetheless.