Let’s do a bit of math with the Grammy Awards. The TV broadcast last night went on for three-and-half hours, which would include about one hour of commercials. If you want to be really, really generous, you could say that there were about five notable performances, which would clock in at about 15-20 minutes (if that). That ain’t a good batting average and it points to a big part of the problem with the awards and the show.
But this time… Ask yourself this: if you could send or post videos of your favorite performances of the show, how much love would you spread around, you know, to forward in an e-mail or post on your Facebook page or Tweet about…? Jennifer Hudson was very moving (especially in light of her recent family tragedies- “I’d like to thank my family in heaven and here with me today”), Al Green & Justin sounded good together (though the Rev showed him up vocally), Sir Paul rocked out nicely with the Foo Fighters, Plant and Krauss (the big winners of the night) did a good set and the Four Tops tribute (with Ne-Yo, Jamie Foxx, Smokey Robinson(!) & the only original surviving Top Duke Fakir) was pretty moving. If you really want to stretch it out, maybe add Carrie Underwood and Kid Rock in there (debatable) plus the New Orleans tribute as a coda to Lil Wayne’s number. But that’s about it.
Otherwise, it was kind of an endurance test. Coldplay (who picked up a bunch of awards) sounded better than U2 (whose new song didn’t connect) and Radiohead (numerous bloggers noted that the marching band idea must have come from Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”), which is funny since Martin and friends wouldn’t exist without those two bands. The “Rap Pack” summit was disappointing if only ‘cause it sounded/looked so messy though it was briefly redeemed by the very pregnant and expecting M.I.A.. The Bo Diddley tribute featuring B.B. King seemed kind of haphazard not just in the playing but also since they didn’t even announce who was there (Buddy Guy, John Mayer and Keith Urban). Kate Perry and Kenny Chensey did their turns along with Neil Diamond but it wasn’t the stuff of legends. Since the Gram’s like to pair-up artists to make special moments, Stevie (w/Jonas Bros), Kanye (w/Estelle), Taylor Swift (w/Miley or Miley w/Taylor if you prefer), Sugarland (w/Adele) and Justin (w/T.I.) participated in that but if you missed them, you didn’t miss much. In any case, Robert and Allison showed them all how a mix of artists and genres was really supposed to work well. And the less said about appearances by Whitney Houston and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the better.
As a very astute L.A. Times article noted, a lot of the evening’s drama had nothing to do with the performances or even anything that was televised. The return of mall-punk gods Green Day and Blink-182 (reuniting) was a nice surprise as was an appearance by actor Jack Black alongside his father-in-law jazz legend Charlie Haden, who said that JB was a nice kid. And then there was the threatened lawsuit by Joe Satriani against Coldplay (who claims his tune “If I Could Fly” was pinched for the band’s hit “Viva La Vida”) and singer Chris Brown cancelling at the last minute because of an assault charge which may involve another last minute cancellation, singer Rihanna (aka his girlfriend).
So unless you needed to know the big winners (as opposed to the dozens of awards not televised) right away, you could have Tivo’d through most of the whole thing pretty painlessly. And why do we watch or care? For pop fans (and culture junkies like me), it definitely is a pretty star-studded night that looks good on paper. But this is basically what NARAS (who run the Gram’s) think pop culture should look and sound like. What they don’t understand is that the Oscar ceremony model ain’t working- their viewership numbers have been dropping steadily over the last few years, just like the Oscars have.
In an online world where users get their kicks from 10 minute or less YouTube clips or 140 character or less Twitter posts, a 3-hour-plus show, bloated with commercials, is ridiculous. Springsteen can manage that kind of performance and on a good night, so could the Dead, but they honed their individual acts over years and developed a relationship with their audiences. The Gram’s have been around much longer than each of those acts but they still have a lot of learn about connecting with their own audience.