Like most of America, I’ve spent plenty of time badmouthing the Grammys over the past few years without pausing to reflect much on the fact that I rarely watch the show. So this year would have to be different. The wife and I sat down and braved the three-plus hour spectacle to see if Adele could single-handedly save a moribund award show on sheer moxie alone, even while performing for the first time since undergoing vocal chord surgery. Hey, she’s “saved” the record industry with her album 21, hasn’t she? Why should the Grammys be different?
Here are five things which we learned in abundance from this year’s telecast (not counting the fact that the show could have easily been trimmed by an hour without missing a beat).
#5. Adele has to be the most unassuming superstar in years.
She still sees herself as an underdog, despite having sold three times as many albums last year as her next closest competitor. And she proved that her voice is truly enough when she had the balls to come out tonight and make her first performance since her vocal chord surgeries take place in front of millions. More important, she knocked the ball out of the park, laying bare a powerhouse performance at the heart of the show which was only approached in quality by the Whitney Houston tribute later in the hour by Jennifer Hudson. Adele was by far the biggest winner of the night in more ways than awards can quantify. And if there’s much market she hasn’t saturated with 21 prior to the show, it’s only clearer now that once she actually gets to hit the road and tour to support it, the album’s only going to get bigger.
#4. Rock may be dying, but the Grammys love the Dave Grohl!
The big story may have been Adele’s six big wins, but no less newsworthy was the fact that the Foo Fighters, who won four of their awards off-screen prior to the live show, won five statues and were the leaders up until about 10:20 p.m. Eastern. A big story this year has been the decline of rock radio; a rock radio #1 gets a fraction of the listeners as a Hot 100 #1 does, and most major cities are losing their rock-formatted stations to other formats. But the Foo Fighters were up for Album of the Year against Adele, and had she not had the most dominating album of 2011 by a long shot, this could have been a very different story. Would White Limo beating 21 have been the biggest Grammy upset in years? Quite possibly. But it was never close to happening, and the domination of the album served more to highlight just how few great mainstream rock albums there really were in 2011.
#3. The Grammys continue to fail to understand how much they marginalize hip-hop and rap.
Thankfully, Kanye West and Jay Z, who won Best Rap Performance half an hour into the evening, decided not to show up to accept their award which tends to serve as a “here, hip-hop, we gave you something, now go sit somewhere and shut up” award. It’s hard to stomach Kanye sometimes with his relentless bitching about every perceived mistreatment leveled against him, but he’s had a point about the shabby way even mainstream-accepted rap albums get treated by the academy. At best, you get a nomination for Album of the Year and then lose to a less controversial mainstream album. I’m talking to you, Steely Dan, best remembered for their 2000 album Two Against Nature’s upset of Eminem’s Marshal Mathers LP and Radiohead’s Kid A in that category.
#2. Best New Artist is Grammy’s virtual dart-board pick yet again!
Best New Artist tends to be a joke most years simply because of the convoluted way the award is given, frequently to people who are only “new” in the remotest sense: “I haven’t seen it, so it’s new to me!” A case in point was this year’s stunning upset win by indie alternative band Bon Iver, which took Best New Artist for its sophomore album, over Nicki Minaj, who while still not new was at least nominated for her first. Minaj, you might recall, had such mainstream success even six-year-old white Americans were made famous by belting out the Trinidadian-born rapper’s frantic verses. That, and Vernon had publicly snubbed the Grammys after his nomination, saying he didn’t even believe the awards were relevant, and wondered if he should accept — he refused to have the band play live, because they wouldn’t get to play their songs. At least this year’s Twitter bomb of “Who the f— is Bon Iver” comments coming tomorrow will be topped by the “Who is Paul McCartney?” posts after Macca’s two Grammy performances of the night.
#1. People aren’t ready to forgive Chris Brown … at least on the Internet.
I’d been reading this weekend about blow-back relating to the Grammys’ decision to have Chris Brown play the show despite only being three years separated from the pre-Grammy evening when Brown beat then-girlfriend Rihanna, essentially getting a slap on the wrist from the long arm of the law. But I hadn’t expected the Grammy telecast this evening to attempt to force-feed Brown in large doses to America at large. Not only did he perform on the program in the first half hour, he also won Best R&B Album, thanked God for “letting me do my thang!” and then showed up three hours in to perform again in a “tribute to dance.” He can’t, however, have expected the vilification he received online after his win, including tweets comparing him to Jerry Sandusky, among others. The general consensus appears to be that the Grammys and NARAS don’t have much respect for women who buy music, which holds some water considering they actually had the gall to say this of the assault by Brown against Rihanna: “We’re glad to have him back,” said executive producer Ken Ehrlich. “I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” [My emphasis added.] That’s as though to say Rihanna getting punched in the face by Chris Brown hurt the Grammys more than her, and thus we should all be thankful they benched him for two shows. Or as columnist Sasha Pasulka puts it: “It was nice of the Grammys to let him off a couple years early for
high record sales good behavior.”