Why do we watch the Grammys? It would be a lie to say that it’s all about the awards. I mean, Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell tribute gets “Album of the Year”? Really? Plus, there are so many categories, only half of the winners are actually announced during the three-hour telecast (the rest are revealed just before the cameras turn on). The impact of a Grammy award to one’s career is questionable. You could win five Grammys but it’s not like winning five Oscars, or even five Tonys if you think about it. And, part of the problem is that few people actually think about it. Instead, the Grammys are primarily an opportunity to celebrate a year in pop music, sort of a New Year’s Eve party for the Top 40 list.
Which is part of the problem, because which year is it anyway? The Grammys calendar doesn’t follow most other awards shows, which is why this year you have Jay-Z nominated not for his latest album but for the one before it. Or, you have examples like Feist getting a “Best New Artist” nomination for her third solo LP (and countless guest appearances over the years, with everyone from Broken Social Scene to Kings of Convenience). Okay, point explained: the Grammys aren’t exactly the prime example of integral nominating skills. So, why do we watch them? It’s easy: for the performances. The Grammys are the Golden Globes with great stage shows. That’s why I tune in. While not every ambitious performance is a slam-dunk, the Grammys ceremony has delivered quite a few memorable concerts over the years (Michael Jackson moonwalking, anyone?). So, the prizes themselves may be dubious, but I would like to anoint a few winners from tonight’s 50th Grammy Awards. For the show’s performances, that is. Here they are:
BEST COLLABORATIVE PERFORMANCE: I’m gonna have to hand it to The Time performing with Rihanna. It’s a duet no one would have predicted, but somehow made total sense.
CREEPIEST COLLABORATIVE PERFORMANCE: Alicia Keys and Zombie Frank Sinatra. Okay, note to all live-performance producers out there: This concept worked precisely one time (with Natalie Cole and Zombie Nat King Cole in 1991) and that was only because they were father and daughter.
POINTLESS PERFORMANCE AWARD: The girl who won the opportunity to play violin with the Foo Fighters during their performance, for two reasons: 1. It was a violin part to a song that had practically no violins. 2. She was accompanied by a 30-person orchestra which basically drowned her out completely.
PERFORMANCE THAT WAS BETTER THAN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN: Fergie and John Legend, performing together. Just them. No big fuss. Classy.
REMINDER THAT YOU CAN DO IT SOLO AND THAT’S JUST FINE: Feist managed a delicate and simple version of her hit, “1, 2, 3, 4.” It was just her, a guitar, some horns, and no need for backing vocals by Paul Williams, or whatever.
PERFORMANCE THAT PROBABLY SENT THE MOST PEOPLE TO THE OPEN BAR: The well-intended but overlong salute to George Gershwin.
DUETING PERFORMERS I’D HATE TO BE STUCK IN AN ELEVATOR WITH: Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS PERFORMANCE: Kanye West, who managed to showcase both his bravado (with Daft Punk on “Stronger”) and his mourning (with the somber “Hey Mama”), and did it masterfully.
WORST IDEA: That meaningless medley/freestyle near the end of the show, by Will.i.am.
AUDIENCE MVP AWARD: The dozens watching Amy Winehouse, live via satellite, in some London studio as she performed “You Know I’m No Good” and “Rehab.” If it really was live, that means the folks in the UK were awake, cheering, and looking pretty at around 4:30 a.m. local time. Of course, that wasn’t much of a stretch for Winehouse.
P.S. Barack Obama won a “Best Spoken-Word Album” Grammy on Sunday night, for the audio recording of his book The Audacity of Hope. Of course he didn’t show up to accept it, because that category doesn’t fit into the broadcast. Maybe next time.