Producers try to jazz things up with collaborations but faces at winners' podium remain familiar|
by Ashante Infantry, Pop & Jazz Critic, published on Febuary 09, 2009 04:30 AM
They may have played to the kids, but in the end the Grammys rewarded the adults, bestowing their highest honour, Album of the Year, on the classy, conservative pairing of former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant and bluegrass star Alison Krauss.
Their folk-rock disc Raising Sand garnered five awards, including Record of the Year for "Please Read the Letter" and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocal for "Rich Woman."
Front-runner Lil Wayne took just three of the eight awards his top-selling but explicit Tha Carter III was up for, including Rap Album of the Year.
He turned his performance on the show into a New Orleans tribute featuring acclaimed Crescent City jazzers Allan Toussaint and Terence Blanchard showed the thoughtful heart beneath his tattooed outlaw posturing.
Brits did well in the marquee categories: Adele as Best New Artist, rockers Coldplay taking the Rock Album category and Song of the Year for Viva la Vida and its title track. The band mocked their colourful Sgt. Pepper-style braided jackets with an apology to Paul McCartney, who registered the most shout-outs by various artists from the stage.
The 51st Annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles showcased diverse matchups of vets and youthful tastemakers in an effort to boost interest in the awards show, whose last offering ranked as one of the least watched with 17.2 million viewers compared to 26 million in the early 2000s.
Organizers stacked the deck with must-sees: the "utterly brilliant" (so announced Gwyneth Paltrow) Radiohead's first ever Grammy performance of "15 Steps" accompanied by the University of Southern California Trojan marching band; and nine-months-pregnant Sri Lankan-British rapper M.I.A. on her due date in a hip-hop summit with Kanye West, T.I., Lil Wayne and Jay-Z on "Swagga Like Us," which sampled her "Paper Planes."
Dressed in a sort of polka-dot maternity bikini with black shorts and tights, she sang the hook, while the rap pack, in tuxes and bowties, spit their verses. Though "Paper Planes"(also featured in the film Slumdog Millionare) didn't win Record of the Year, the incendiary immigrant lament, which samples gunshots, was considered an inspired choice by the academy, along with the Lil Wayne nods.
However, the association, comprised of musicians, producers, engineers and other recording professionals, has only tapped relatively tame, pop-leaning hip-hop efforts by Outkast and Lauryn Hill for Album of the Year in the past decade.
Sentiment got the best of the Best R&B Album category with singer Jennifer Hudson nabbing the first award of the telecast for her mediocre self-titled solo debut over more deserving contenders Rafael Saadiq, Al Green and Eric Benet.
Voters clearly had an understandable soft spot for the Oscar-winning Chicago native whose mother, brother and nephew were murdered last year. Just a week after her first public performance since the tragedy, at the Super Bowl, the singer was forced to the Grammy podium to make her first tearful public comments, which saw her thank "my family, in heaven and those who are here today."
The show kicked off with mainstays U2, not up for any awards, performing new song "Get on Your Boots" from their forthcoming album, and a well-coiffed but unsteady Whitney Houston who, on the comeback trail once again, presented Hudson's category.
Earlier, Justin Timberlake joined Green for a stirring rendition of the soul legend's classic "Let's Stay Together." The Memphis natives harmonized their crack falsettos with a killing band that included Keith Urban on guitar and backup vocals by Boys II Men.
The joyful pairing was all the more impressive since it was a last-minute replacement for singer Rihanna. Neither she nor boyfriend Chris Brown attended the ceremony, in which they were nominated for different songs in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocal category.
Other performance highlights included the Jonas Brothers and Stevie Wonder seguing from "Burnin' Up" into "Superstition"; Carrie Underwood's hard-edged delivery of "Last Name" and Jay-Z's freestyle intro to Coldplay's "If I Ruled the World."
Not nominated for any of the prestigious awards, Canadians were shut out of all but one of their B-list nods: Michael Cera and Ellen Page were among the various artists who contributed to the winning Juno soundtrack.