Movies and TV

Thoughts On The 2009 Grammy Awards

Allison Krauss and Robert PlantI started out thinking that I’d just say something about Robert Plant and Allison Kraus. I was surprised they won anything, much less three awards, including best album. It was disheartening to hear the grumbling in the audience while Robert Plant was trying to talk while accepting the Album of the Year trophy. It was hard to tell whether that was coming from Lil Wayne fans or Coldplay fans, but I assume it was the former. After all, Kanye West has whined his way into awards, so some of the more clueless probably think the marginally talented Lil Wayne’s performance of banal rapping in front of a talented band which included the amazing Allen Toussaint was the apex of musical brilliance. I kind of hoped that Lil Wayne would leave the stage and let some of the talented people shine.
Other than a Lifetime Achievement award in 2005 as part of Led Zeppelin, the awards Plant and Allison Krauss received were the first of his career. That’s mind-blowing. If you look at it like that, how could anyone have really thought Lil Wayne would win anything? I thought Coldplay might get Album of the Year, but I wasn’t surprised it was Krauss and Plant. In the end, it seems to me that if Lil Wayne’s fans want to compare his career and accomplishments to Robert Plant’s, they should probably do so as soon as possible. If they’re honest with themselves, it might prove to be an humbling experience.
There really wasn’t a lot that impressed me about the 2009 Grammy Awards. But there never is. Although there are moments when the right person gets the award, it’s usually a popularity contest. Too many Grammy recipients have disappeared from lack of talent through the years to really give the Grammy’s full credibility. For evidence, just consider that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which is one of the most revered and influential albums of all time, never won a Grammy. In fact, the only Grammy Pink Floyd ever won was for the song Marooned off of The Division Bell (which is just laughable, in my opinion).
Anyway, here’s the performances…
U2 trotted out their latest overblown song to kick it all off. It wasn’t too bad. It jammed a bit more than they have in a while, but the pseudo-rap break in the middle was a little calculated. Maybe the song will catch on, but it seemed to me like yet another in a long string of relatively forgettable U2 songs. At this point I think they’re mostly making their fortunes from the fact that they’re U2, and not because they’re doing anything particularly relevant (kind of like the Rolling Stones).
Al Green and Justin Timberlake were good, but I think Justin was a wee bit out-matched on this one. I’ve always said that Justin Timberlake is terrific within the confines of what it is that he does. But let’s not kid ourselves. The boy doesn’t have the pipes to keep up with Al Green. He did okay, though, but the power in that performance came from Rev. Al. It’s always a pleasure to hear Al Green sing, and it’s amazing he can still bring it the way he does.
Coldplay was Coldplay. Well, once you got past the achingly boring Jay-Z part at the start. People who like Coldplay probably enjoyed their performance. I’m not a fan. But I like the singer. This one was nice enough and didn’t leave me hissing and spitting. But it did nothing to make me want to go out and buy a Coldplay CD. And Jay-Z? Um… no, thanks. It probably says a lot that it took me stumbling across a picture of Coldplay singer Chris Martin and Jay-Z together on stage to even remember that Jay-Z had been on stage.
Carrie Underwood? (insert yawn here) Her performance was good enough. She can sing. What annoyed me about her performance was what has always annoyed me about Carrie Underwood. Looks good, sounds good, but kind of leaves you wondering if you left the light on in the bathroom (rather than getting invested in the music). I think I’d like Carrie Underwood better if there was a personality underneath the make-up and sexy clothes. Watching her is kind of like watching a well designed robot. If anything impressed me (at least initially) during the Carrie Underwood set, it was the chick playing lead guitar. I mean, that chick was shredding. You don’t hear women who can really play rock guitar that often. Of course, once the novelty wore off, she was doing the the same thing which annoys me from the guys… shredding, shredding, shredding. How about a melody? Stop flinging off notes long enough to play us a melody! Biggest impression? “Nice legs, Carrie!”
Kid Rock? Oh, please. I’ve been astounded for years that he’s still around, and his performance did nothing to make me feel any differently. But someone’s buying his albums. If they weren’t, Kid Rock wouldn’t be on the Grammys. Raw talent wouldn’t get him there, would it? Is anyone else annoyed that he re-used the melody from Werewolves of London in that last pseudo-hit of his? Anyway, this performance was Kid Rock. Like it or not. *yawn*
Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift were marginally enjoyable because of Taylor Swift. Miley Cyrus always reminds me of a talented kid at a high school talent show. Taylor Swift has a silky voice and writes her own songs. Miley Cyrus is a product of the Walt Disney manufacturing company. Both of these observations were evident in their performances.
Jennifer Hudson? Finally! Some talent! Hudson’s performance was, in my opinion, the first real display of raw talent of the evening. She was painfully reserved in some places, but I’ve learned since that she was nervous about even being able to make it through the song. So with that in mind, her performance was just breath-taking. I laughed at my girlfriend for having tears in her eyes at the end of the performance, when Hudson teared up herself, but it was only because my eyes were welling up, too. This performance made the whole night worth watching.
Then there were The Jonas Brothers and Stevie Wonder. I almost had a melt-down during this performance. You’ve got some marginally talented white boys on stage with Stevie Wonder, and the white boys are acting like Stevie is their back-up musician? How nice of them to offer Stevie Wonder some encouragement during their performance together. The one that annoyed me most was the guitar player, who had the irritating habit of popping into the shot whenever Stevie Wonder took a vocal. But I was generally satisfied when the music gods smacked him in the ass, when it came time for him to sing his part of a Stevie Wonder tune and he forgot the lyrics. Dumbass! Go back to Teen Beat magazine where you belong.
Katy Perry? Well, okay, so I finally heard the damned song. It’s been everywhere. I’ve known for what seems like a year that Katy Perry kissed a girl (and she liked it). At this point I’m wondering why this hasn’t run its course already. Her performance was okay. She hit the notes, although she seemed to struggle with the combination of singing and running around. But give the girl all due credit. At least she was actually singing it. Still, nothing about her performance screamed “up and coming star” to me. Biggest impression? “Nice cleavage!”
Kanye West and Estelle came at a good time, because I had to use the bathroom. At this point, they could put a camera on Kanye West and it would offend me to see the man breathing. He’s a talent-less hack who has whined his way into the national consciousness; a living, breathing example of what I can’t stand about Rap music. Just another loser who sings the exact same rap rhythm over whatever song genre his engineers have ripped off lately. Estelle seemed capable enough, but she reminds me of a thousand other girls just like her. She’ll have a career, but it’ll surprise me if she really distinguishes herself from the crowd. However, she’s light years ahead of Kanye West in the talent department.
Kenny Chesney? Well, it’s Kenny Chesney. You like him or not. I don’t. *yawn* Biggest impression? “Why’s he always wearing that hat? Is it in case he has to wrangle some doggies in an emergency?”

Then we came to the much ballyhooed “rap summit”. Oh, please. This was as much a piece of bullshit as the careers of the people involved in it. Every single one of the rappers trotted out the same tired rhythms and phrases over each section. If you weren’t looking at the screen, it was hard to tell who was who. They all sounded exactly the same. Same rhymes. Same rhythms. Same arrogance. If these guys represent the apex of Rap, it’s no wonder the genre is on life-support. I’m old enough to remember the early days of Rap, when some talented lyricists were doing some interesting things with word rhythms, when Chuck D and Public Enemy and Tupac Shakur were shaking things up. Any one these “personalities” included in the so-called “rap summit” pale by comparison; I don’t care how many records they’ve sold. It’s all bullshit, and their performances proved it. Let’s quit handling Rap music with kid gloves because we’re afraid of offending black people. As a musical genre, Rap music hasn’t been artistically relevant in a decade. Kanye West is living proof of that. It says a lot here that my biggest impression of the performance was, “What’s with the pregnant chick? And why does she keep humping air when her water could break at any minute?”
Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl were fun to watch. I mean, McCartney trotted out I Saw Her Standing There for the gazillionth time and seemed to be on automatic, but it sounded good enough. The fun part for me was watching Dave Grohl on drums behind McCartney with that big grin on his face. He was like a kid in a candy store, playing at being Ringo Starr behind one of his heroes. It was a warm, human, genuine moment… and that’s such a rare thing at the Grammys. At the end of the performance, when Dave Grohl put his hands together as if to say “I’m not worthy”, my estimations of the man went up exponentially.
Sugarland and Adele were next. The chick from Sugarland always annoys me for some reason. Something about her attitude. Something about the way she always seems to be getting ready to spit out a grape when she’s singing. The music was banal. Just not my thing. I liked Adele, though, and I look forward to seeing where her career goes. She’s got some pipes, and will hopefully use them. But I agreed with my girlfriend when Sugarland wandered over to help Adele finish her song, when she yelled at Sugarland “Get off the stage, already!”
Radiohead performed with a marching band. Which was kind of interesting at first. After the novelty wore off, though, I realized it was just more of the calculated Radiohead weirdness. I’ve tried through the years to figure out what it is about Radiohead that has left them able to wear the badge of “influential”. I’ve never liked their music. I suspect people take one look at Thom Yorke and believe he’s a rags-to-riches story, because he always looks like he just wandered in off the street and snatched up a microphone. Sorry. The marching band was kinda cool. But where Radiohead is concerned, I still don’t get it.
Then there was T.I. and Justin Timberlake. I’d never heard of T.I. before this performance. He sounded just like all of the other rappers that performed on the show. I swear, they could send out the same guy in different clothes and no one would know it. Timberlake did a nice enough job on piano and singing, but at one point he looked out over the piano at T.I. and I couldn’t help wondering if he was calculating how many marginally talented rappers he’d had to share the stage with through the years. That’s the only real impression I got from this performance. Justin Timberlake was on-stage with some rapper.
I was surprised by the grouping of Jamie Foxx, Ne-Yo, Smokey Robinson and Abdul “Duke” Fakir (the last surviving member of the Four Tops). Jamie Foxx sang surprisingly well. Smokey was Smokey, though his voice isn’t as silky as it used to be. Duke Fakir had the best moves of all of them, though, and was clearly bringing that old school soul. Ne-Yo did what Ne-Yo does best; he sang passable but uninspiring vocals and dressed really well. I enjoyed it, though, because it’s always fun to see the old guys bringing it; especially when the young guys don’t realize that they’re way out of their league. But I don’t think anyone will really remember this grouping. No one will be talking about them next week around the water cooler at work. Still, it was nice for the Four Tops to get a nod.
After that, Neil Diamond did his Neil Diamond thing. It was fun watching the clueless young girls in the front rows trying to clap along with the song while their faces showed that most of them had no idea who this old dinosaur was. But you could also see on the faces of some of the industry insiders that many people had no idea what Neil Diamond was doing there. Did he put out an album? Is he nominated for something? Even Neil Diamond seemed to wonder, because his performance was hardly an inspired one. He seemed to mostly like he was being careful not to throw out a hip or something.
Another odd grouping was John Mayer, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Keith Urban. It could have worked much better, but the sound guy was apparently off using the bathroom. Some of the guitars were louder than others, and to my ear no adjustments were ever made. When they first showed these gentlemen, my first thought upon seeing Keith Urban was “which of these does not belong?” Come on. John Mayer can hold his own with B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and the pairing made sense. But Keith Urban? He’s an Australian who sings Country Music, for Christ’s sake. How’d he get in on this? The performances were capable but uninspired. Not surprisingly, the only sparks of the segment were brought by John Mayer. Neither B.B. King or Buddy Guy seemed particularly interested. And Keith Urban didn’t have a clue.
Then there was another Rap fiasco. Lil Wayne fronted a band featuring Robin Thicke on vocals, Allen Toussaint on piano and Terrence Blanchard on trumpet. It would’ve been enjoyable enough if it hadn’t been for Lil Wayne’s rap-by-the-numbers bullshit. Apparently he dreamed up some big message song about New Orleans, and had the clout to get some genuinely talented musicians to play along. But compared to the gentlemen he shared a stage with, Lil Wayne was a wisp of smoke.
Robert Plant and Allison Kraus performed a short medley of ”Rich Woman” and ”Gone Gone Gone” off of their album. I’m on the fence with this one. I think the pairing of the two is inspired, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. It reminds me of one of those quirky things that kind of works, but mostly because it’s so quirky. Take away the novelty of who’s doing this music and one has to wonder if it would still hold up. However, unlike most of the other performances of the evening, this one definitely makes me want to pick up the CD to see what the fuss is all about. Still, my biggest question was “Does this mean the Led Zeppelin reunion will never happen?”
The show was closed by Stevie Wonder. How do you not like Stevie Wonder? Without the annoying Jonas Brothers basking in his genius, Stevie Wonder closed out the show with ”All About the Love Again,” a new track written specifically for President Obama. Maybe his chops ain’t what they used to be, but Stevie Wonder on an off day could blow most of the talent in the room off of the stage. Unfortunately, the Grammy’s is a corporate affair, and they cut off Stevie halfway through his song so that they could start showing credits.
In the end, that probably said a lot. One of only a couple of genuinely interesting musical moments of the evening was pre-empted by credits and some chick reading those same credits to me. That probably says a lot about why my reaction to learning that the Grammy Awards is coming on is usually one of being under-whelmed. There were a few highlights to the evening, but overall I feel like I wasted my time unnecessarily in writing about it. It was pleasant enough to watch. But now I have to explain to myself why I wrote so much about it.
I guess it’s because the Grammy Awards are supposed to be the highest honor in music. But every year I feel like many deserving artists are overlooked and many un-deserving artists are rewarded. It says nothing for the credibility of the Grammy that Jay-Z has a trophy case full of them while Roger Waters, and slew of other amazing and influential musicians, doesn’t have a single one.
Perhaps Robert Plant summed it up best. “In the old days we would have called this selling out, but it’s a good way to spend a Sunday.” I’ll leave it at that.

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14 years ago

Holy Monkeys! You should have a career as an entertainment columnist for the New York Times! I agreed with it all except I DO like Coldplay and especially like Chris Martin. How can you NOT like the guy? And of course the highlight for me was Jennifer Hudson. I flat out love her. Period. And of course I’m always happy to see Dave Grohl in any role. He is the definition of cool. It was fun watching. And I’ll never forget the meltdown you had over Stevie Wonder and the Jonas 3….ack!!!!! Being that I was getting a drink or whatever, I had no idea what you were protesting about…..for all I knew, one of the cats had committed a serious offense.

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