Kayne West performs “Jesus Walks” during the 2005 Grammy Awards.
Let me first say that this year’s Grammy Awards probably did more to recoup the statuette’s image than any previous year when it was granted to embarrassing D.O.A. pop trash, so artistically bereft that even future kitsch revivals won’t dare resurrect former winners even for the good wink of hipster sarcasm.
Though the Grammys still represent commercialism at its most whorish, I applaud the happy accidents of some of this year’s nominees. Pop music just seems to be getting better, or at least the Kanye Wests and Franz Ferdinands help balance blights like Jennifer Lopez and Hoobastank. But whatever assets the awards might have managed beforehand, the show squandered in a painful three-hour bloat.
For the definitive case against the 2005 Grammys, one need look no further than its Broadway belch of an intro, stitched together by some mad methed-out queer. Several nominees butchered their entries by making all the choruses dry hump each other surrounded by dancey-handed choreography. Gwen Stefani, once again framed by her back-up Asians, looked like a hobo pirate hooker next to Eve, whose outfit might have been used to wrap expensive Easter chocolate.
We don’t need the actual songs apparently, just the catchy bits, just the guitarist from Franz Ferdinand trying to segue into “Take Me Out” with Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas air-freaking him while dressed like a Wall Street Broker after your Lucky Charms. And yet, the distillation of Maroon 5’s “This Love” made perfect sense. After all, we’ve heard that tune so many fucking times that only the chorus still produces mild, involuntary pleasure. Los Lonely Boys seemed the most poorly served by this scattershot format: stuck out on an audience platform without girls shaking their money-makers, their performance seemed too much about the music.
I wish I could say these flat-footed moments were few and far between. Queen Latifah seemed perpetually out of sync in the hostess role, reined in to the point of sounding like a pandering imitation of herself when she dropped skidding phrases like “da bomb.” Even her clothes were wrong, a My Little Pony vision of femininity, where being big and beautiful remains so shameful that you have to have your belt chafing your armpits. Like the neck-popping sista roles thrust on her by Hollywood writers sticking two fingers down their throats, her Grammy role was an insult pretending to be a compliment. She was positively entertaining, though, compared to John Travolta and Matthew McConaughey, who presented awards while dropping mentions of their forthcoming blockbuster shit bombs, turning themselves into the world’s tackiest product placements. Perhaps next year, the actors can show clips. As long as it spares us some teleprompted chit chat, I’m game.
Music should be the saving grace of this show and, to the extent that this fat bore granted any reprieves, it was. Green Day, a band I don’t even listen to, put on the tightest set of the night, smashing out an edited version of “American Idiot” with enough fury to make me actually stir on the couch. Melissa Etheridge, defiantly and beautifully sporting her cancer baldness, ripped through her Janis Joplin tribute, a cover of “Piece of My Heart,” not the least bit impeded by Joss Stone flitting about barefooted. Even Kanye West’s tent-revivalist version of “Jesus Walks” conjured a certain uplifting overkill, reminiscent of Puff Daddy’s extravagant eulogy for Biggie Smalls on the MTV Music Awards. But for every moment when this self-congratulatory pageant managed to pierce my impending coma, there were four more performances that took a whipping strap to the goddess of good judgment.
Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez performed their duet, “Escapémonos,” which for some reason reminded me of the song Fievel sang from the gutter in An American Tail. They played house on stage, she combed her hair, and I wondered aloud how long this ballad-massacre could last. In my Grammys, the bed would be on fire and her exes would fall from the ceiling like a rain of bad decisions, in order to perform one or two of the song’s 50-odd verses. This soap opera audition will surely resurface in the divorce proceedings as a low point for all involved.
But that pairing wasn’t the half of it. If the all-star country jam featuring Gretchen Wilson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Tim McGraw were offered on a jukebox in a redneck bar, everyone would have opened fire for mercy’s sake. Have these people even heard “Ramblin’ Man”? I hope to God everyone was drunk because that would be the only excuse for the sloppy playing and cowboy hats with stapled-on crucifixes that resembled nothing so much as stolen hood ornaments. Is this the kind of concession we must make to the red states? It’s not worth it, people. Let them watch the WB. One lousy Jackson tit and we’re stuck prying Lynyrd Skynyrd out of their crypt to honor them for keeping the Civil War alive.
By hour three, I pulled out the Pledge because I noticed my shelves could use a good once-over. The low point came with John Mayer performing “Daughters,” whose only redeeming quality is that it might possibly replace “Butterfly Kisses” as the staple for the father-bride dance at weddings. It was the only point in the evening not interrupted by Cirque du Soleil, balls of rising fire, or five other songs crammed around its edges. Sadists: this show is designed by kitten-burning, baby-drowning sadists.
Just so, the much-touted tsunami relief number—a motley cover of “Across the Universe”—had Norah Jones’ smoky exhale rubbing against Scott Weiland’s best approximation of vocal cords frying in a lard-filled skillet. One can almost hear the phone calls between agents declaring that Steven Tyler and Stevie Wonder have been wanting to do a project together for years. My only regret is that a sample of John Lennon screaming from his coffin couldn’t be spliced into the background. Leave it to the theologians to parse out why bad things happen to good causes.
What the fuck is it with the Grammy medley? Are you trying to tell me that Mavis Staples, John Legend, Alicia Keys or Kanye West can’t hold our interest for the duration of a whole song? Medleys are for cruise ships, amusement park gazebo shows, and Beach Boys concerts where the lead-off is “Kokomo.” It doesn’t speak well of the Grammys’ credibility that its producers shotgun-marry songs and mash up the hooks, implying the only important part of a song is the one that gets stuck in your head.
All this to say that I’m not convinced television can capture live music. The music video seems a concession to this point, faithfully reproducing the album sound, coupled with diverting images. The more massive and shouty the musical numbers, the more I noticed how flat music sounds on television. Even the best performances, cut into a thousand multi-angled frames, felt sapped, string together like one big “you had to be there” tease.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, they handed out some awards every once in a while. Green Day won for a record maligning the evil fool in the White House. Maroon 5 beat Kanye West for Best New Artist and they stopped to hug him by way of apology and then thanked him for being “unbelievable” from the stage. Maybe they can pry off the name plate too. John Mayer forgot to nod to Kanye when he won “Song of the Year” for the insufferable “Daughters.” And I guess we’ve forgiven Jerry Lee Lewis for fucking his preteen cousin, as he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. During the Bush era, no less. God is good. If you need a blow-by-blow for the various winners, get on the Grammys website because sometime in the night I started folding my boxers and boiling tea water.
Like most awards shows, the Grammys is a showcase for an industry determined to spew its own narcissism into the wider culture. Some corporate music group gives cash cows and a few stray notables statues once a year in an overblown yawn of flashing lights, forgettable performances, and grocery-list thank-yous where pop stars get a chance to thank God for favoring them amongst all the losers without platinum records. Next year, producers might begin by firing the writers and asking a few of the musicians to just give up at last, for the sake of mankind and future tsunami victims everywhere.