February 26, 2003

Tonight’s Grammys were unusual in one respect – there was no official host. This made the show seem a bit disjointed, moving from segment to segment rather quickly without a Jimmy Fallon or Rosie O’Donnell providing comic relief to tie it all together. But the Grammys were quite ordinary in every other way. Predictable and boring for the most part, with awards going to both deserving and not-so-deserving artists.

Among the deserving category: Eminem won for rap album – I’m no rap fan, but Marshall Mathers blew away all the others in the category, with the only possible contender being Nelly. Odd that a white man has become so proficient at what was originally a black man’s domain. Women are challenging the rap genre too, and it’s interesting to see the genre expand and grow as a result.

Among the predictable but boring: Springsteen with his 9-11 tribute, The Rising. Pretty much a sure thing – when the “boss” sings about the tragedy people assume its great music. I’ve never quite figured out why on earth anyone dubbed him the “boss” in the first place. As musicians go, his songs are built on no more than two or three chords, and every melody sounds the same, including this one. His performance received a standing ovation, of course.

Surprises? Well little Norah Jones, a virtual nobody I’d barely heard of before tonight, managed to walk off with a good chunk of awards, eight in all (new artist, record of the year, etc.). She beat out Canada’s Nickelback and Avril Lavigne (who looked quite po’d when Norah was awarded best new artist award). Norah is pretty and capable, but rather bland. Of course having Ravi Shankar as your father may give you a few advantages. Another newcomer, John Mayer, took the award for best pop vocal male performance. I’d never heard of him before tonight either, and his performance was equally as bland.

Speaking of Avril Lavigne, her live performance at the Grammys was one of the worst I’ve ever seen for singing off-key. Reminded me of another flash-in-the-pan artist, Nelly Furtado, who swept the awards last year then promptly disappeared. I had considered Furtado the champion for complete lack of tonality when singing live, but Avril Lavigne had her beat last night. Although I have seen Lavigne singing live on SNL and managing to remain in tune, so perhaps she was just nervous.

Ashanti won a few awards too. Another pretty and capable bland clone. Diana Krall won best jazz vocalist, the only Canadian to receive a Grammy, despite twenty or so nominations. Of course Krall’s boyfriend is Elvis Costello, and she dedicated the award to good friends Rosemary Clooney and Ray Brown, so it seems pretty clear she has the right connections to be successful.

Two moments really stood out for me. First was the Simon and Garfunkle reunion that started the show with an acoustic version of Sounds of Silence. While not exactly spine-tingling, the performance was deeply moving nonetheless, and had me glued to the screen. They stated that it was not meant as an anti-war anthem – but it sent that message nonetheless, since it was released at the height of the Vietnam War. The second was when the BeeGees were given the Grammy Legend award, and Robin and Barry Gibb dedicated it to late brother Maurice, who died unexpectedly of heart failure last month. They stated that the true measure of a man was his family, and seeing Maurice’s wife, son and daughter in the audience stand up for the honour as they wiped away tears was profoundly moving.

Many other wonderful artists passed away during the past year, and the Grammys paid tribute very briefly by flashing their names by. Of course the audience seemed to only recognize a few of these. Artists from a previous time, like Rosemary Clooney and John Entwistle, were met with silence, while rapper Jam Master Jay was acknowledged; your contribution to the world of music is quickly forgotten when you don’t have a current record out!

The show also was rather odd in how it accorded its tributes to lifetime artists. Alicia Keys and Cindy Lauper presented an award by prefacing it with a brief mention that jazz/blues legend Etta James had received an award. But James only received a passing mention and they quickly moved on to discuss the popular artist of the day (who I can’t even recall now…probably another award for Norah Jones). In addition to Etta James and Simon & Garfunkle, lifetime achievement honours also went to Johnny Mathis, Tito Puente and Glenn Miller, and in each case these were announced almost as an afterthought – certainly not with the type of respect you would expect for a lifetime achievement award.

I longed for the drama J-Lo brought to the Grammys a few years ago with her slit-to-the-waist dress held on by sticky tape; or the excitement of a performance by the ever-strange yet compelling Michael Jackson; or something like the unusual and riveting display that the Blue Man Group with Jill Scott and Moby treated us to at the 43rd Grammys. It was not to be. There were no outstanding or bizarre outfits, unless you count Aretha Franklin’s wild white concoction which made her look like a gigantic bird of paradise (something only the Queen of Soul could pull off and remain credible). With the exception of Simon and Garfunkle, I yawned through every performance.

The 45th Annual Grammys: boring and predictable.

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students Union.

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