Grammys 2004: What a Fool Believes

Andre 3000's left and right nipplesIt was nice of CBS to hire the sound crew from Santa Monica High School’s winter production of “L’il Abner” for its live broadcast of the 46th annual Grammy Awards. It was music’s biggest night – or whatever – but pops, clicks, buzzes and feedback plagued both performer and presenter alike, causing even the coldest hearted French-Canadian dragon lady a few moments of very real frustrated bluster. The vocational school audio enthusiasts out in the sound truck unwittingly helped bust up the veneer that usually separates us from things like the fancy shmancy Staples Center Grammys.

The event was live – or at least live after a five-minute signal reroute meant to give CBS’ newly-installed naked boob-lancing SDI war machines time to power up and scorch the sky, the better to prevent the tainting of innocent cherubs. But this live-ish broadcast was fraught with clunky pacing issues and awkward teenage camera cue blues, making us wonder just how far forty years of televised music and media have really brought the medium.

This year’s Grammys became an unraveling ball of elaborate performance setpieces, distended award receptions, and unfinished strings of confused reaction shots and glittering, empty platforms – shards of a shattering mirrorball of an industry that no longer has the upper hand of cushioned celebrity detachment with which to burnish its often marginal product. Thanks, SMHS sound geeks. Your ineptitude demystified the illusion once and for all, unmasked Mr. Johnson. He might’ve gotten away with it, were it not for you pesky kids.


Seriously, is Prince a real person? Maybe it’s the pure water and clear air of Minneapolis, but that Dorian Gray motherfucker hasn’t aged a second since he wrote “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” two of the twenty-year-old songs he mashed into a medley with Beyoncé and “Crazy in Love,” the latter cleverly de-booty’d for any American Family Association viewers unready for Ms. Knowles’ considerable jelly.

The curious opener set a few patterns for the evening. One was Beyoncé herself, who together with a wily, crow-eating Justin Timberlake seemed ubiquitous both onstage and off. Prince and Beyoncé’s impressive harmonizing also established an encouraging trend toward live singing, something that’s been sorely missing from recent televised music. But for all its strut and flash, their overstuffed number seemed stunted, delivered with a shrillness akin to the drab, state-sponsored jelly shoe song and dances of the Soviet Era. “This is entertaining!” it screamed, ringing our necks with spidery fingers. “But please, don’t dig any deeper than the pretty flashpots and dandy smocks – you might find the bodies we buried in the alley!”

Beyoncé herself would circle, highlight, and smiley-face dot the I’s of this notion with a stilted, baroque, throat-throbbing living-picture retelling of her ballad “Dangerously in Love 2.” Her voice was off the charts impressive. But the feeling we were being spoon-fed some general audiences Malt-O-Meal was tougher to shake than a nine-week Zen-powered orgasm, the kind Sting was undoubtedly riding out when he helped Dave “I saw her dancing there” Matthews, a smug Pharrell Williams, and the well-fed Vince Gill stumble through a well-intentioned, but laughably bad anniversary tribute to the Beatles’ 1964 Ed Sullivan appearance. The Fab Four’s freshly-scrubbed faces flashed mechanically behind them as the ill-fated quartet labored through the high notes and flashed pained smiles at each others’ little flubs. Watching from backstage at the collaborative trainwreck occurring before him, Chick Corea thought about backing out of his duties as guest Foo Fighter piano tinkler during the inexplicably-nominated “Times Like These.” “What have I agreed to?” he muttered, and hid his head in the folds of his fancy bathrobe.

While “I Saw Her Standing There” was bar band butchered, the second part of the night’s Beatles tribute was more confusing than embarrassing. Olivia Harrision spoke eloquently about the meaning and message of her late husband’s music, but a consistent buzz of chattering background noise suggested the glitterati might be using the few minutes an opportune time to top off the cocktails. Harrison wasn’t phased, but her straightforward speech was at odds to corset-tightened wack job Yoko Ono’s disjointed paean to John Lennon. Compounding the confusedness were smarmy taped comments from Paul and Ringo, who admittedly didn’t seem to know what they were receiving. The half-baked tribute was typical of the Grammys and NARAS, which as an organization is expected to memorialize its fallen, but can rarely integrate the sentiment with any effectiveness. The event’s remembrance of Warren Zevon was better, but Luther Vandross’ quite deserved tribute seemed much too sad, as if he was already gone. Accepting the Record of the Year award for “Dance With My Father,” Vandross co-writer Richard Marx’s speech was more eulogy than tribute. To her credit, Celine Dion’s performance of the song with Marx was understated, with none of her normal hand-fluttering dynamics. And she stayed on pitch even after the amateur A/V techs couldn’t get her monitor to function.

But the question remains: why is Celine Dion always at this sort of event? Faith Hill would have been just fine; as it was, poor Faith had to close the show, looking hilariously uncomfortable in the crush of crazy people that accompanied Big Boi and Andre 3000 to the stage in celebration of Outkast’s Album of Year win. (The victory came only after they performed their respective hit singles, further proving the marketing genius behind Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.) The mixture of fear, frustration (“Pardon me, out of my way please!”), and tantrum flummox on Faith’s pretty face was shared by hundreds of thousands of dull-eyed home viewers, confronted in their living rooms by a shirtless black guy in sunglasses and lime green waders, climbing out of a tee pee with go go dancers and a marching band in tow. While Andre’s “Hey Ya!” performance still suffered from weird pacing and a somewhat forced outrageousness, it was a wonderful way to unleash the hip-hop id on a complacent nation of NASCAR fans.

If “Hey Ya!” represented the flaming blood of creativity flowing freely from the wound, then the White Stripes’ blistering, strobe-splattered medley of “Seven Nation Army” and “Death Letter” was the searing, sparking end of a severed power cable snaking through the coaxial of a nation. The two performances bookended the thudding bombast of the show’s midsection and made sitting through pompous ass Neil Portnow’s speech doable. No one has the ability to make the Grammys cool, not Jack, not Andre, not Meg, not Big Boi, not even Hilary Duff. But the White Stripes made the Grammys’ audio enthusiast trial-and-error sound issues work for them by overriding everything with ragged power, and Andre turned the show’s template for boob-less safety on its ear with his Green Lantern-meets-Sun Ra titty twister to the flabby chest of 99 percenter America.

Oh, and Evanescence sucks.

JTL

24 thoughts on “Grammys 2004: What a Fool Believes”

  1. I agree that Evanescence sucks, but how much does 50 Cent suck for walking on the stage as though he should have received the “Best New Artist Award?” I was shocked, and found this comment-worthy.

  2. Bravo Johnny! I can’t believe you could sit through the whole damn thing. You have the patience of a saint and the stomach of a fire eater.

  3. Great review. It wasn’t a horrible show, it wasn’t anything to write home about either, the grammys, it just is.

    I think Glono ought to give Johnny some sort of bonus for his award reviews, always solid.

    For the Bonus, he should be presented with his very own “Gorilla Unit” t-shirt.

    -cjg

  4. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the awards this year… There were decent, honest performances (even if the sound was fucked up), the nominations were varied and usually appropriate, and the winners weren’t all the usual suspects for once. For the first time in several years I would give the academy full marks for putting together an interesting celebration of the year’s music, even if it was a technical debacle and included the 347th completely unnecessary rendition of “Roxanne.”

    White Stripes kicked ass, Black Eyed Peas and even – shudder – JT were good. That whole tribute to funk in the middle was pretty well done, ironically, until Clinton came out and the whole thing became a muddy jam. I think Johnny was hard on Prince… He still knows what being a rock star is all about, for sure. I enjoyed his opening bit, even if it was too much nostalgia too soon.

    Come on, Yoko – “All you need is love!?” Is that the best you can do? Oy, gevalt.

  5. Did we really need another Parliament/Funkadelic singalong of We Want the Funk???

    Stripes were great. Hey Ya! was absolutely “forced outrageousness.” I was sorry I stayed up for it. Should have went to bed after Jack White let the final note rumble decay from his amps.

  6. I think Dre’s “Thank you” and Beck’s intro of WS were my favorite parts of the evening. But then Snoop and Jason Alexander were pretty funny too.

  7. JL is like my personal cultural bouncer. The Grammys tried to crash my scene, but he stiff-armed ’em at the door. I happily passed on watching the horrible thing, knowing Johnny was on the job.

    Would’ve liked to seen the White Stripes, but oh well. Great job, JL!

  8. I loved the fact that JT brought his mom to the show — a little PR band-aid, to let middle-America know that he’s not that bad. Tittygate was all Janet’s fault!

  9. Ahh what fame and fortune can do. Back in “the day,” 50 Cent would have simply shot that chick from Effervescence and pinned her Grammy to his kevlar like a piece of maximum bling.

  10. My “typical Grammy moment” was just the fact that Fountains of Wayne was nominated for “Best New Artist” after the release of their third album. As always, way to stay on top of the game Grammy people!

    Did anyone else notice Philip Bailey almost burst a blood vessel in his brain tryin to reach those high notes during Eart Wind & Fire? Damn, that was painful.

  11. Johnny, It’s no secret how very tepid I find Dave Matthews. It just adds to my utter disgust that he could screw up the TITLE lyrics to a TRIBUTE song. (aarrrrgh, in a very charlie brown way) The only thing that makes me feel better is fact that you, my soul brother and fav snuggle-bunny, would be right on top his ‘aim for medium’ ass.

  12. Would someone please pass the word to Justin Timberlake that (a) his fifteen minutes are rapidly coming to a close, and (b) the Chia Beard ™ look has never, and will never, look cool.

  13. Almost makes me wish my tv picked up CBS. Ah well, I was too busy enjoying my 3rd season Buffy DVDs.

    Can I make a confession? I can’t help but like the little Justin Timberlake I’ve heard. Saw him on SNL once. It was pretty crappy. But the recordings are good.

  14. I will back Safeguy… My respect for Timberlake grew noticeably. I think he’s got the makings of a good soul singer, I just wish he’d lay off the homeboy image. Robert Palmer knew how to do soul without looking affectacious. JT sounds good, but still looks like a marionette.

  15. Man say anything you want but Justin Timberlake’s album was by far in the top five albums of last year. Have you even bothered to listen to it? Anything the Neptunes touch is gold. That includes white boys. Fakin’ the funk.

  16. Ah, Jake, beat me to it…was going to ask if anyone had the White Stripes set online. Ironically, it was one of the few things on the show I missed. But I have to say, the main thing these award shows are good for is the Loftus review.

  17. That’s not sad to say! Ten years from now, I’d WAY rather be on the one-hit wonders on VH1, than be an artist who makes regular apperances on VH1. I’d rather not be on VH1 at all. VH1 has zero taste. Zero. Viacom, Mel Karmazin, suck it. Paris Hilton’s Wonderful Life, blow me. The music revolution will not be televised. The revolution is out there in the communties, it is happening right now for anyone willing to look it up.

  18. why would the white stripes be on the one hit wonders list in 10 years? they’ve had filwag, 7na, and hardest button to button, I think you meant to say, the darkness. fuck you!! and right now, train are headed that way too. Now, that’s sad, can anyone name any other song by train besides drops of jupitor?

  19. Johnny;

    So I guess it would be safe to say you didn’t like the Grammys much….enjoyed your comments and look forward to next year’s review…hope the show can live up to your expectations….

    ken ehrlich

    producer

    the grammy awards

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