What Grammy got right — and wrong

by Chris Macias

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

13 February 2008


That collective gasp coming from the Staples Center and living rooms around the country on Sunday night? It was just the reaction to the 50th annual Grammy Awards. Just when it looked as if Amy Winehouse was going to rule the night, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock took album of the year honors. The Grammys seemed poised to conquer the generation gap but turned into “the Grannies” once again. Here is how music’s biggest night shaped up.


Amy Winehouse had a huge Grammy night, even with the shocker of Herbie Hancock’s album of the year win. Voters stayed focused on her music and breakout year, ignoring the distractions of her recurring stints in rehab. Whether she is singing the hip-hop blues on “Rehab” or getting Middle America shook on “Back to Black,” Winehouse is the real deal.

Kanye West isn’t afraid to tweak the sound of hip-hop and spend some time ego-tripping along the way. But his 2007 album “Graduation” was truly original, fusing electro-pop elements from Daft Punk into the monster hit “Stronger.” Grammy voters haven’t been a historically forward-thinking bunch, especially when it comes to rap music, but West’s unique appeal has helped get the Grammys on a track toward relevance. It may take a few more Grammy shows, but West will score an album of the year.


How could Grammy voters not give Amy Winehouse or Kanye West album honors? How many people even heard Herbie Hancock’s “River: The Joni Letters”? If you’re talking about albums that rocked worlds, music that took plenty of chances, you can’t go wrong with Winehouse or West.

OK, we got it: The 50th Grammy Awards meant bridging the past and present _– but that led to a lot of clunky moments, like Kid Rock singing “That Ol’ Black Magic” with 1950s jazz-pop singer Keely Smith. That last harmony high note from Kid Rock actually hurt.

Too bad you couldn’t text-message “zzzz” for the “My Grammy Moment” competition. This was the Grammys’ second year of trying to add some “American Idol” excitement, and viewers voted for a string player to play with Foo Fighters and an orchestra. Ann Marie Calhoun turned out to be the Kelly Clarkson of violinists - if only you could hear her when the Foos were rocking away.


Holy Fergalicious. We’re used to taking shots at Fergie, but her duet with John Legend was - dare we say? - classy on “Finally.” And they had the tact not to try a stripped-down version of “My Humps.”

Oh-wee-oh-wee-oh: A reunited version of the Time singing “Jungle Love” was funky fresh, even if Morris Day’s voice was a little rougher than his “Ice Cream Castles” days. A cameo from Rihanna created a little megamix of past and present pop stars, and it would have been even better if they busted into “The Bird.” And Prince was in the building. Why no reprise of a scene from “Purple Rain”?

Alicia Keys kicked off the show in a duet with the late Frank Sinatra on video. It was awkward, but the R&B queen more than redeemed herself with a stirring performance of “No One.” And the only thing hotter than Keys’ leather pants was that tasty guitar solo from John Mayer. It added an extra level of sizzle to an already hot tune.

And let’s not forget the Kanye West-meets-“Tron” performance of “Stronger,” and the duet by Tina Turner and Beyonce on “Proud Mary” that was all legs and attitude.


The acrobatics were groovy in Cirque du Soleil’s tribute to the Beatles. But too bad a performance or duet couldn’t be mustered from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the two living Beatles. Starr was shown in the audience, but Sir Paul wasn’t around. He must have had some CDs to sell at Starbucks.

The telecast started with a page from the Natalie Cole “Unforgettable” playbook. Frank Sinatra made a posthumous appearance on video, and a very much alive Alicia Keys duetted with the Chairman of the Board on “Learnin’ the Blues.” It was the Grammys’ way of bridging the old and new schools, but the show shouldn’t have to resort to grave-robbing to make that point. (Note to Sinatra’s bodyguards in the afterlife: Please don’t break my legs for saying that.)


The Grammys spent their 50th anniversary trying to cement the generation gaps, and the telecast couldn’t have done better with a nominee and big winner than Amy Winehouse. Her sound is a kind of return to Grammy days gone by, like the big-haired, girl group era of the 1960s. But the beats on “Back to Black” are based in hip-hop and urban cool, so it never sounds like your mom and dad’s music.

No wonder Grammy voters went bonkers for her - well, up to a point. Solo female artists tend to do well at the Grammys (see: Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, Norah Jones), and Winehouse scored a nice trifecta of song, record and new artist honors. But the trigger couldn’t be pulled on a Winehouse win for album of the year.

Maybe all those drug busts and the gossip-mill fodder on perezhilton.com ruined her chances. Or perhaps the Grammys just didn’t have a clue, which would hardly be the first time for this awards show. But Winehouse got cheated.


“I’m so glad Kanye (West) won everything because you know how cranky he gets when he loses.”
—Patti Austin, after it was revealed West had won three Grammys in the non-televised part of the awards show

“I appreciate everything, and I know you are really proud of me right now, and I know you wouldn’t want me to stop and you’d want me to be the No. 1 artist in the world. And Mama, all I’m gonna do is keep making you proud.”
—Kanye West, speaking about his late mother as he accepted the Grammy for rap album

“Dad, I know I promised I’d give you my first Grammy, but we might have to fight for this one.”
—Rihanna, accepting the award for rap/sung collaboration

“I first started singing when Lincoln was president, and I know a star when I see one.”
—Cher (upon introducing Beyonce)


2005: The year Kanye West released the song “Hey Mama,” which he performed at the Grammys as a tribute to his late mother

7,578: Number of Grammys awarded since 1958

61: Cher’s actual age

9: Number of years since Frank Sinatra’s death; Alicia Keys sang a duet with him Sunday

6 feet: The apparent height of Prince’s boot heels

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