Monday, February 14, 2011

Ultimate Grammy Watch: Bombast Of WTF's

The music industry’s most important night, the 53rd Grammy Awards, was a bombast of What the Fucks—starting with the fact that the 3.5-hour telecast managed to squeeze out a scant 10 awards, while overcrowding the evening with 16 performances, many of which proved the sad state of popular music. (In comparison, the Oscars give out 24 awards.)

Of course, the overriding evidence of this off year came via the winners of two of Grammys’ biggest awards. Foremost is Best Album, which went to “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire, an indie rock critic’s darling whose disc finished the year at an unimpressive No. 80. Their win trumped Eminem, whose “Recovery” was the top-selling disc of last year, selling 3.4 million copies, along with platinum acts Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the heavily lauded, wildly overrated Lady Antebellum. WTF?

Second, Best New Artist Esperanza Spalding, a jazz bassist who has never achieved a lick of mainstream success, won in a category that was horribly flaccid: no-talent tween Justin Bieber, anonymous acts Florence & the Machine and Mumford & Sons and rapper Drake, whose record label dumped millions into making a name for the dude, obviously to no avail. WTF?

Is it any doubt that the record biz has been fading for a decade now? In 2010, album sales fell 12.8%, with digital downloads accounting for more than a quarter of sales. Only 11 albums sold more than a million copies in 2010, compared with 22 the year before.

Okay, on to the festivities! The Grammy telecast opens with a tribute to Aretha Franklin, who was too ill to attend (read: Popeye’s ribs & fried chicken weren’t available backstage). Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine shriek a medley that makes the Queen of Soul sound like a soft balladeer. Ladies, imitation, in this case, is not the sincerest form of flattery. It’s as if each singer (sans the wonderful McBride) was trying to out-yell the next. Ears-bleeding performance.

Twenty minutes in, the first award: Train wins Pop Duo or Group for a song that I loathe, “Hey, Soul Sister.” But lead Pat Monahan’s crotch-hugging trousers are right sexy. He wins!

But wait, Ricky Martin’s britches are even more dazzling. Silver! Tight! I like him gay! He introduces the best Grammy performance of the night, Gaga’s just-released “Born This Way.” The wondrous anthem about equality is set to debut atop the singles chart later this week; it logged the highest airplay by a debuting title in history, selling 450,000 digital downloads in three days. Bravo!

Lady G takes the stage in a giant, translucent egg. She’s already won a (non-televised) Grammy for Best Female Pop performance. My god, this song really does sound like Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” doesn’t it? She sings the shit out of it, with tight choreography that demonstrates why she is the greatest entertainer of the day. Grade A.Miranda Lambert sings “The House That Built Me,” which is about to win Best Country Female. Is that English? She sounds like a backwoods hillbilly. I know Texans can be uneducated (George Bush), but is that accent for real?

Hey, there's hottie Eddie Cibrian sitting with his girlfriend LeAnn Rimes. Grr!

Best performance of the night: Jennifer Hudson’s “It’s A New Day,” in her commercial for Weight Watchers. Girlfriend looks gooood!

Lenny Kravitz is wearing sunglasses. That’s probably to shield him from Muse’s blurry performance of “Uprising.” Good pee break.

Ryan Seabreast is reading his cue cards with typical cardboard acuity. I hope Ricky Martin takes him aside and explains the advantages of coming out. B.o.B. is horrendous, while poor Bruno Mars, an exemplary talent, tries his best to sing overtop B’s out-of-tune rant & chant.

Mar’s solo “Grenade,” cleverly aired in black and white, is a bit pitchy, but I’m forgiving. This young man has a bright future. Janelle MonĂ¡e, on the other hand, has no business in the music business. She sings like a goat.

Wow, an award! Miranda Lambert is talking. I’m laughing. “Thank y-u-u for wr-yi-yi-tin’ such a bee-yuu-tee-ful song.”

The moment we’ve all been waiting for… a chance to microwave some Hot Pockets while Justin Bieber sings like a girl. Wow, he’ll be 17 in two weeks and his voice still hasn’t changed. Fairly catchy songs, he’s singing in tune, but man, that castrado thing is irritating… But not nearly as abhorrent as the sudden, inexplicable presence of 12-year-old Jaden Smith, who looks just like his gruesomely precocious sister Willow. Their parents must be so proud to have spawned a new generation as disposable as Drano... Oh, there’s Usher. Wow, this BBQ chicken Hot Pocket is good.Grammy for Best Rock Album... I think I’ll have some chips, too. (Muse wins, the only nominee not on Medicaire.)… Now Ricky Martin is in a commercial for the American Cancer Society. Adorable.

Best Pop Vocal Album: Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, Lady Gaga, John Mayer, Katy Perry. Oh, come on, nothing against Perry, but if there’s an award that Gaga deserves, it’s this. She is surprisingly humble and sweet accepting, thanking her mammer and poppy and sis. The shout-out to Whitney Houston is a bit odd, huh?

David Letterman’s “Surprises.” He’s not funny. Likewise, this performance from Mumford & Sons proves how lame the Best New Artist category is. Mind you, the Brit folkies have never scored a hit in the U.S. I can see why... Bob Dylan joins in. He sounds like a snow shovel on uneven pavement. Wow, I’m deeming this the worst performance of the night. Go Bieber!

My god, we’re only halfway through as Lady Antebellum serenades me… right to sleep. “Need You Now” is a fine song, but hardly so consummate that it deserves to make them the night’s biggest winner, with five awards, including the big ones: Record and Song of the Year, along with Best Country Album and Song, and Country Duo or Song. Ridiculous.

Cee-lo is pretty hilarious in his colorful George Clinton get-up. Gwyneth Paltrow looks like Celine Dion! As annoying as she is in general, her performance is all right.

Katy Perry really needed to show us that she’s a singer, not just a cartoon character. “Not Like the Movies” is fine. “Teenage Dream” equally keen.

John Mayer, Snorah Jones and Keith Urban paying tribute to Dolly Parton... Could have done without this dreary performance. More exciting: KFC’s offer for an 8-piece family meal for $12.99. Let me make a note of that.

Rihanna’s outfit is fucking fabulous. Girl looks good. Meanwhile, her see-through red carpet dress, from Jean Paul Gaultier’s haute couture collection, was even more beautiful. I read she was ailing, but she’s pulling it off, singing “Love the Way You Lie” with Eminem. This is the first hit from the rapper I have ever embraced; it was my No. 8 song for 2010. Never thought I’d write these words: awesome performance.

Jewel and John Legend announcing Best New Artist. She looks lovely, as ever. Winner Esperanza Spalding looks as shocked as the entire world. At least she’s gracious with her acceptance speech, though her afro looks like something I should use to scrub my Calphalon.

Mick Jagger is skinny. He’s 67. That’s admirable. Pardon me while I hit the “mute” button as he sings.

MusicCares Person of the Year and eight-time Grammy winner Barbra Streisand is performing a straightforward reading of “Evergreen.” Nice to see her, if not an overwhelming reading. I have to giggle when I remember her calling in “sick” for the March 1997 Oscars when she was too afraid to sing, and Celine took her place, performing Bab’s “I Finally Found Someone” and “Because You Loved Me,” making Celine the first artist in history to perform two songs at the Academy Awards.

Worst outfit of the night: Nicki Minaj. Leopard skin and ridiculous hair. Why this gimmick is famous is lost on me. She’s ghoulish, while hit “Your Love,” which raped a sample of Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s,” is one of the great musical travesties of the year… Eminem, nominated for 10 Grammys, wins only two: Best Rap Album and Rap Performance.

Arcade Fire performs, proving without a doubt they are not ready for prime time. Pure noise. They immediately win Album of the Year, beating Eminem, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Lady Antebellum. Talk about ending on a sour note.

What the fuck were the Grammy voters thinking this year? Oh, wait, that’s right, I am a Grammy voter. I have to confess that for Best New Artist, I actually left the category blank. And believe it or not, I voted for Eminem for a number of nods; sadly, it was a matter of voting against acts instead of for any deserving victor.

And there you have the real story of the 2011 Grammy Awards. Better luck next time…