Tragically, the Grammy viewing audience found itself asking all night, “Where’s Soy Bomb?” The utter lack of anything more controversial than another plunging neckline made even host Jon Stewart’s bits about a gay Eminem seem watered-down. The cavernous Staples Center was nicely decorated in shades of purple. But so is a baby’s nursery. After all, it’s the Grammys. It’s like watching a Soviet awards show – always 25 years behind.
2001’s Grammy Awards made an attempt at diversity. Throwing bones to vocal jazz, classical piano, and the Native American community was weak, but at least it was more sincere than last year’s Carlos Santana blow job fest. Unfortunately, whatever momentum gained from these gestures got lost in the shuffle of a poorly produced show with plenty of weak live elements (memo to Jon Stewart: a sardonic smirk doesn’t count as a punchline).
A bizarrely coifed Macy Gray beat out Madonna (nice accent!) in the best pop female vocal category for “I Try.” But hey, do we really need to hear the song again? I wonder if the blue hairs in NARAS thought they were watching another performance by Lauryn Hill. In the role of Britney on Wednesday night was Christina Aguilera, who could have hid behind her mic stand if she hadn’t been lip-syncing. Boring blonde braids flitting about, the JV-squad diva gave us a sneak peek of her Branson future by arriving in a flying Love Toilet and performing (in Spanish?) with an orchestra. Back up the RV, sister, it’s over. Another orchestra helped Faith Hill’s “Breath” sound like the AAA/Adult Contemporary tripe that it is. Looking like an all-growed-up Jessica Simpson, Hill’s 93Lite-FM performance didn’t exactly give some big ups to her Nashville peeps. Shocker: she later won for best country album (Emmylou Harris to waiter: “Get me a drink!”)
U2 performed “Beautiful Day” capably, helped along by a nice light show and Bono’s trademark histrionics. Picking up record of the year honors, The Edge – normally numb – unveiled his Appalachian comedian side. Sounding like an Irish Harry Callas, Edge gave the first documented shout-out to Jubilee 2000, 3-blade razors and frozen pizzas. No one questioned whether his black ‘3’ shirt was related to Dale Earnhardt. After some filler featuring more bad live cueing for Stewart and unlikely celebrity pairings, not to mention about the millionth Unnecessary Carson Daly Siting, Moby took the stage with Jill Scott and Blue Man Group. It’s just like the unassuming Moby to stand back, playing the bass while the Blue Men and Scott conducted an odd re-version of his “Natural Blues.” But those pesky Intel hucksters became annoying about midway through the song, and that was BEFORE they started firing confetti from their drum cannons. Too much percussion, not enough Moby.
While an artist being an afterthought in his own song would be re-visited later during Eminem’s “Stan,” the night’s best performance was its simplest. Sheryl Crow warmly strummed an acoustic guitar as she harmonized with best “new” artist Shelby Lynne. My pal Phil and I were waiting for the moment to be ruined by an orchestra or 18 backup singers. But for once, it didn’t happen. A lone electric guitar player joined with Crow’s acoustic towards the end of the number, giving it a nice Nashville-meets-Tom Waits feel. Some of Waits’ boozy energy was no doubt conveyed by two of the hardest (and hottest) partiers in the business in Lynne and Crow. Roll out the drink cart, boys – Shelby’s in town.
As the show was winding down, most of the fidgeting crowd seemed to be longing for something, anything to be excited about. Honestly, where’s ODB when you need him? After a self-serving speech by the smarmy president of NARAS, who no doubt cornered some unfortunate soul at the after-party and talked her ear off like your smelly Uncle Ned, Eminem took the stage for his fateful pairing with Elton John, King Of All Gays. Em’s rapping during “Stan” was fine; he showed off his unique flow while keeping it street enough for his homies back in Cell Block 6 (But what was with his right hand? It kept fluttering around like Gene Wilder’s shootin’ hand). As “Stan”‘s chorus arrived, John made his appearance, emerging from behind a set piece castoff from the last stage production of “Star Wars.” The song continued with terrible censoring, and ended without fanfare. The two men raised each other’s arms in triumph, looking like a homophobic Reagan greeting a gay Gorbachev at Camp David for a photo op. Meanwhile, somewhere in England, a forgotten Dido cried in her soup.
After such an anti-climactic event as the Elton/Eminem Peace Accords, the record of the year went not to Marshall Mathers, Beck, Radiohead, or even that over-produced fossil Paul Simon. Instead, the cutting-edge trend-setters over at NARAS went with NYC art-rockers Steely Dan, who evidently released an album in 2000. While cheers could be heard in coffee houses full of goatee’d grad students, no realistic music fan could really give a shit about Steely Dan’s triumphant return to our public consciousness. And yet, in a move similar to the Academy giving “Howard The Duck 2” the Best Picture nod, Donald Fagen, et al took home record of the year. I swear, even Steely Dan looked bewildered about their victory. Someone get Jethro Tull on the line, quick! But that’s what happens when an out-of-touch, thick-as-a-brick group of old voters is confronted with a potentially challenging decision. Whatever you think of Eminem, or even Radiohead and Beck, it’s obvious that these artists’ music was a just a LITTLE BIT more vital in 2000 than a bunch of aging math rockers from Greenwich Village.
See you next year. I’ll be over here in the bread line.