This year's Grammy telecast was an exercise in extremes. Thebig winners were indie-rock... and middle of the road country-pop. The major performancemotifs were stripped-down acoustic ballads... and flame-throwing productionnumbers with pre-recorded backing tracks. And there we were, stuck in themiddle with you. Here's our list of the water cooler moments from the 53rdGrammy Awards:
BIGGEST ANTICLIMAX: LADY GAGA
Let's face it, we all got spoiled by the blood and meat. Butthe buildup was a bit much, with reports that Lady Gaga showed up forrehearsals Saturday in a hearse and translucent coffin, and that she'd spenthours today inside an egg. She didn't exactly lay an egg when she emerged toperform "Born This Way"-it was a perfectly creditable, well choreographedperformance-but the expectations were too high to be sated by the mere sight of...shoulder implants. Add to this the "Express Yourself" soundalike controversy,and Gaga suddenly seems very summer-of-2010.
BEST OBVIOUSLY PLANNED SPUR-OF-THE-MOMENT PERFORMANCE:ARCADE FIRE
We should have known all along, from the constant use ofpyro during the show, that the producers were subliminally tipping that ArcadeFire would be a big winner. Still, it was a huge upset when the band won theclimactic album of the year prize for TheSuburbs. Win Butler didn't seem too shocked, though, since he used hisacceptance speech to announce that they would immediately return to theirinstruments and play another number to close out the show. If Katy Perry hadwon best album, would she have borrowed Arcade Fire's instruments? Regardess ofwhether the fix was in, it made for a spectacularly rousing two-song closingset-with the band first playing their thrashiest recent song, "Month of May,"and then reassuring any older viewers grumbling about the death of melody with "Readyto Start."
BEST JUSTIFICATION FOR THE CONTINUED EXISTENCE OF CATWALKS:MICK JAGGER
He's still got it. There were an inordinate number of othertribute spots to old or decased artists on the show: the four divas payinghomage to Aretha; John Mayer, Keith Urban, and Norah Jones giving it up forDolly; Barbra paying tribute to herself. But Mick did the best job of capturingwhat was great about the honoree, Solomon Burke, as well as himself. Now if only his bandleader-Raphael Saadiq-had merited an introduction, but Mick has learned howthings can go wrong when you let the guitarist get a little attention.
BEST AND WORST SHOWBOATING: THE DIVAS
Plenty of folks were more bothered by Christina Aguilera'soversinging of the National Anthem than by her under-remembering the words. Andthere was nothing in her tribute to Aretha Franklin to suggest she's about toreform those ways. But the segment came off well, with Jennifer Hudson watchingher licks as well as her weight, and Martina McBride a model of relativerestraint. Best of all was Yolanda Adams, who exuded such easy confidence, youknew she could own any stage she walks onto.
MOST INEXPLICABLE CHOREOGRAPHY: MUSE
We all know there's nothing the Grammy producers hate more thana rock & roll band playing by themselves with nobody dancing. But we allknow there's nothing most rock & roll bands hate than synchronizedchoreography. So the black-clad extras who came out to wave flags and jerkviolently during Muse's "Uprising" seemed to be... the Anarchy Dancers? Apparently,all those protester kids have been spending their down time between World TradeOrganization summits attending the Arthur Murray Dance Studio.
BEST COMMERCIAL FOR A 3-D CONCERT MOVIE THAT OPENED TWO DAYSAGO: JUSTIN BIEBER
Bieber opened his medley by picking up an acoustic guitarand singing a chorus of "Baby," and for a few moments, it seemed like he wasout to prove to the voters that he really the musical crops and cred to justifythat best new artist nomination. And then the ninjas came out.
WINNER OF THE NIGHT: ACOUSTIC GUITARS
First, Miranda Lambert mesmerized the crowd by putting asidethe gunpowder and lead to sing "The House That Built Me" accompanied only byguitar, upright bass, steel, and a touch of tympani. Then came the mor-or-lessofficial salute to acoustic music, with the Avett Brothers and Mumford &Sons opening for (and ultimately playing behind) Bob Dylan. By the time LadyAntebellum did an acoustic medley that climax with the award-hogging "Need YouNow," the novelty of this thing the oldsters call "real music" had started to wearoff just a bit, and the country trio might have wished they'd played it upinstead of down.
MOST STONE-FACED PERFORMERS: (tie) EMINEM and THE JIM HENSONPUPPETS
We will never know whether actually winning the album of theyear prize, as favored, would finally have forced Eminem to crack his firstsmile. (And we'll probably never have another chance to see him and Streisandembrace.) But you can't discount the ferocity he brought to "Love the Way YouLie," even if Dr. Dre's trumpeted walk-on was too much like a cameo. As for theMuppets that legally no one is allowed to refer to as the Muppets, they too,rocked despite their inexpressiveness. Cee-Lo fit right in with theElton-on-some-old-variety-show motif, and seeing Gwyneth reclining on thatpiano, you realized how much Big Bird could have improved Country Strong.
MOST SURPRISING RASP: BARBRA STREISAND
Everyone expected Rihanna to sound a little off, because ofher well-publicized illness-and she was, in a few moments. But Streisand'sless-than-full-throated vocal on "Evergreen" was unexpected. Reportedly, shesounded fine when she sang at a benefit in her honor two nights earlier, so wecan only guess that the sight of Rihanna and Drake doing a full-on, nearlyR-rated bump-and-grind in rehearsals threw Babs into some kind of vocal shock.
MOST IMMOVABLE HAIR OBJECT: JANELLE MONAE
Through sheer force of voice and personality, Monae wasoutshining estimable medley partners Bruno Mars and B.o.B. even before she tooka dive and went crowd-surfing. No word yet on whether her bouffant putanybody's eye (or face) out.