Monday, February 13, 2012

54th Grammy Awards: The Song that Never Ends

I, along with about 40 million others, anxiously awaited last night's telecast of the Grammy Awards to see if and how they would acknowledge the sudden passing of Whitney Houston
while keeping the show upbeat and lively. I am proud to report that they did, in fact, maintain this balance between respectful reverence and rock and roll. What was off in equilibrium, however, was the distribution of performances and awards (or lack thereof). Fine by me! Bring in the noise, bring in the funk...

Let's begin with the very suave and very... velvet... LL Cool J. While he originally struck me as a
somewhat odd and irrelevant host for the evening's festivities, I thought he handled what could have been an awkward telecast quite well. Setting the tone early in the show with a prayer in remembrance, it felt as though "Father" Cool J was giving us all the permission we felt necessary to allow ourselves a night of fun and enjoyment in the wake of such a tremendous and horrific loss. And enjoy ourselves we did. Performance after performance -- this was a year for the pure of heart and the genuine of talent. The genres were well sorted, showcasing legends like Sir Paul and The Boss (a great way to start and end the show) and entertaining the (younger) masses with acts like Chris Brown and Kelly Clarkson at the same time. I was pleasantly surprised by Bruno Mars' and Katy Perry's vocal performances, as they are notorious for struggling through the high notes of their live sets, although I've never been so sick of their "Look, I'm James Brown" and "Look, I'm a hybrid smurf/alien" motifs.

One of my favorites of the night was the ode to Etta performed by Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt with "A Sunday Kind of Love." Their pitch was perfect and their blend harmonious. There are few things I could think of more appropriate to honor someone like Etta than a collaboration of two different artists with different sounds from different genres -- undoubtedly a "nod" to the
many types of artists influenced by her musical stylings. On a side note, I noticed a bit of a social networking uproar over her absence in the “in memoriam” section. While I can't say the same for Don Cornelius, I was satisfied with the amount of attention they gave to Etta. The past year has proved a dark year for the music world, as we've lost more of the recognizable contributors to the industry than we're accustomed to, and I'm getting the impression that it's simply impossible for The Recording Academy to honor everyone as much as we'd like. After all, there was no Amy Winehouse tribute, right? And to give credit where due -- Jennifer Hudson has always irritated me (I mean, butchering "It's a New Day" for a Weight Watchers commercial?), she was the obvious and only choice for the moving musical tribute to Whitney Houston. She did a nice job, but it was clear (and truthfully, appropriate) that her emotions got the best of her during the song. Regardless, hearing someone else sing what is widely regarded as the single most romantic song of all time made me appreciate the bionic voice that was Whitney Houston all the more.

Back to the music. I'll go as far as saying that the Country performances and Rock performances are always on the top of my list. My theory is this: many Pop performances pale in an effort to recreate a tune to which there are several studio alterations, while many of the Rap genre are a let down because it's simply impossible to edit such a track without losing entire chunks of it (due to the lack of FCC approved vernacular, no doubt). When Blake Shelton or Civil Wars or Foo Fighters take the stage, there's very little in addition to their voices and their instruments. And, as a result, very little opportunity for us, the viewers, to be royally disappointed with how they sound live. But hey, that's just a theory.

Now, let's talk Adele. I thought she looked absolutely fantastic, not just stylistically, but in her demeanor. Despite her unprecedented success, we sometimes forget that she is a kid, younger
than most of you reading this very post. She was humble and gracious, charming the crowd more with each win. She's earned the respect of her "peers" twice or three times her age. When she took the stage, the room was inaudible. This very wealthy, very successful and (for the most part) very talented group of people were somehow, and rightfully so, in awe of this beautiful kid with a superhuman voice. And while I was slightly sad to hear that the raspy tone so characteristic of her voice had changed (perhaps due to her laying off the cigs after surgery?), it was undeniably stronger than it's ever been. Of Adele, my sister said it best: "Adele and her voice. No fancy set. No dancers." No competition.

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