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The 2010 Grammy Awards: Notes From A Fascinated Cynic

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I don’t watch awards shows any more, such as last night’s Grammy Awards. And yet I always am on top of the important news of the hour, which surprises many people. That, in turn, surprises me; isn’t it normal that, in a world ruled by YouTube and blogs, it would take mere minutes after the telecast is over to know everything there is to know? Actually, let me rephrase that: DUH!

I used to love these shows; the glitz, the glamour, the performances, the heartfelt speeches made for the perfect occasion to have Award Show Night dinners with my friends. But I haven’t done this in about five years, nor do I intend to do it anytime soon, unless something major happens in the music and/or film industries.

Perhaps it’s the looming next decade of my life, perhaps it’s the ever decreasing quality of the arts that are considered popular, perhaps it’s the fact that popular arts are considered to be the benchmark for quality – but I have grown quite weary of these awards shows. It doesn’t seem to be about the music any more as much as it is about being entertained. And I have a pile of 25 books right here that are going to keep me entertained well into the month of March. What I need is quality music to keep me company.

Before YouTube, I was able to simply dismiss the entire thing. But ever since that awesomely addictive platform was developed, like a moth to a flame burned by desire, I can’t help but look up the various performances and highlights of said events (here’s looking at you, Kanye). You could say that I have become a fascinated cynic, unable to stay totally away from the train wreck the industry seems to have become.

I sound like I’m in my 60s, don’t I?

In any case, just like every other show in the last couple of years, I checked out the links to some of the performances from last night. Ever wanted to hear what a fascinated cynic sounds like? Well here’s your chance.

Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John: "Pokerface," "Speechless," and "Your Song"

This year’s Grammys opened with a typically over-the-top Lady Gaga performance. It’s hard to believe that in a mere year she has gone from nothing to, well, everything in the pop music world. And I have to admit that when Elton John appeared on stage, I felt a twinge of envy.

Not that I play any piano or sing, but still, it would have been nice to perform something like that myself.

The concept was simple, yet its execution was flamboyant. Lady Gaga is churned out by a big “Fame Factory,” which spits her out wearing a green, sparkly outfit that everyone on the forum I was on immediately dubbed ‘Gaga-Tinkerbell’ outfit. After performing “Pokerface,” she gets dumped into a giant ‘Rejected’ bin, only to emerge behind her piano and accompanied by none other than Elton John for an amazing duet of “Speechless” and “Your Song.”

I've always loved Elton John, and it comes as no surprise that he performed with Lady Gaga. Honestly, we could say that he finally performed with Lady Gaga. As for her, however odd she might seem, there are two things about her that I find strangely compelling. The first is her confidence. She does what she wants, however extravagant it might be. And the second is her singing, especially when she accompanies herself on the piano.

It could be argued that the choice of song wasn’t the best, but it must also be pointed out that, in an era of young starlets wanting to live the dream of performing on stage without having the talent to do so well, Lady Gaga is actually one of the artists who has a voice and can use it well. It’s sad that people are so focused on her outfits that they rarely comment on that.

But perhaps that’s exactly what Lady Gaga is aiming for. What a social commentary that would be.

Pink: "Have You Ever" and "Glitter in the Air"

Pink is another artist I have always liked, and that I continue to like throughout the years. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that she can sing; perhaps it has to do with the fact that she came out of the bubble-gum pop mould she was initially cast in to become her own person. It probably has something to do with the fact that her lyrics are heartfelt and go beyond the stereotypical mushy-type lyrics.

One thing is certain: her performance at last night’s Grammy’s has raised the bar like nothing else has in a long time. In a number fit for a Cirque du Soleil act, Pink sang "Glitter in the Air" while hanging from white silk material. Her relatively simple attire – if you can call a flesh-coloured bodysuit that – as well as the lack of special effects put the spotlight where it deserved to be: on the high-flying, graceful aerial act graced with a perfectly sung tune, even during the longest spin sequence in which Pink’s voice didn’t falter once.

And while audience members did get drenched from the water cascading off Pink’s spinning form, I have yet to find one negative comment – and as she did get a standing ovation, I highly doubt we will be hearing any anytime soon.

Béyoncé: "If I Was a Boy" and "You Oughta Know

Yet another artist whose voice matches her popularity is Beyoncé. Yet another artist who was able to break out of the bubble-gum pop mould and grow with every year, she walked from the Grammy Awards with six awards (out of ten nominations), which is a record for most Grammy Awards won in one night by a female artist.

Her performance was also relatively simple, making full use of the expansive stage but refraining from extra effects. Of course there was the presence of about 20 to 30 backup dancers, dressed as members of a Beyoncé-assigned SWAT team, that filled up the expansive space, but it was, again, a performance focused on the song rather than on the showcase value. Although I have to admit that I was puzzled at her running up the aisle for a mere couple of seconds of singing on the centre stage before she ran back to the main stage.

She sang her song "If I Were a Boy," a great choice to showcase her amazing vocals. But while the medley with Alanis Morissette’s "You Oughta Know" made sense lyrically, it really didn’t do much (if anything) for Beyoncé’s voice; it really took away from what would have been another noteworthy Grammy 2010 performance. If only the melody had been reworked to suit her vocals.

Black Eyed Peas: "Imma Be" and "I Gotta Feeling"

The Black Eyed Peas won three awards last night, but if the response to their performance is any indication, they should have won a lot more. Their "Imma Be"/"I Gotta Feeling" medley seemed to have brought the entire crowd to its feet, and you could see the energy level rising ten-fold as the opening notes of "I Gotta Feeling" played.

It was a great performance, typical of the Black Eyed Peas, whose group features some great talent. The only disappointing part was the fact that we barely got to see the images flashing on the screens behind them, which were sent in from fans around the world.

Smokey Robinson, Céline Dion, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, and Usher: "Earth Song" (Michael Jackson Tribute)

This was such a disappointing tribute.

The disappointment started when Lionel Ritchie mentioned that the DVD of This Is It was out in stores. Using a tribute to do advertising? Not classy.

Then there was the supposedly never before seen mini-movie. They should have specified that the mini-movie had never before been seen by those who haven’t seen This Is It.

Then was the performance itself. While all five contributors have amazing singing voices, and their voices went well with both the song and as accompaniment to Michael Jackson’s voice, the problem was just that: they accompanied Michael Jackson’s recorded voice, which outshone them all.

It must have been quite a disappointment for Céline Dion, too, after the 2007 performance on American Idol where she ‘sang with’ Elvis. Now that would have been the most touching, tear-jerking tribute.

Then there was the 3D glasses. Now I don’t know about you all, but while I am a nerd and a geek, I do not have those lying around conveniently around my house, nor did I have time to pick some up in anticipation of this performance. It was a great experience for the audience at the Grammy Awards to see the short movie to "Earth Song" in 3D, as it was meant to be seen, but on a small laptop screen? Or even on a large television screen? Not quite the same thing. The only great thing about these glasses were the shots of celebrities wearing theirs, sometimes clashing quite formidably with their accessories.

I wish we had had a shot of Lady Gaga wearing hers.

Paris and Prince’s appearance on stage shocked many, but their poise and grace allayed any fears (and their matching red lined pants and red armbands, like the ones their father used to wear, were adorable). Someone (probably their grandmother) is doing their job well enough to enable them to collect their father’s lifetime achievement award.

At first I have to admit that I was shocked beyond belief that anyone would allow this. I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t, in a sick and disturbing way, encouraging the two children to walk the same path as their father did, to seek the limelight, be it for the best of reasons. Children shouldn’t be allowed into the sick world of superstardom and celebrity in the first place, and seems to be that the children of the talented man who tragically died because of the pressure of superstardom should be kept as far away from it until they are ready to face it.

However, truth of the matter is that Prince and Paris are Michael Jackson’s beloved children, and be it for that reason only, they are already superstars of sorts. Again, we don’t know what is going on backstage. We don’t know how well and by whom they are being accompanied through this entire ordeal. But it seems rather obvious to me that the only way to make sure they don’t grow up severely burdened by their father’s identity is to make sure that they grasp what that identity was and to learn to deal with the ensuing insanity. And going into the limelight, surrounded by their family and close friends (as they were last night) could be the very experience that they need to learn to deal with their unique position.

Who are we to judge how these children are being educated, when we, as crazed fans, created the situation in which they lost their father in the first place?

What would I have liked to see? First off, Michael’s introduction was perfect. The movie should have been shown in normal HD. The five performers, each of them with amazing vocal talent, should have sung the entire song. A choir would have made the ending more powerful. No marketing by Lionel Ritchie or anyone else.

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About Sahar

  • Brian: thanks, but unfortunately, that’s my problem – I don’t have that much time (yet). Soon, hopefully 🙂

    El Bicho: If you read a little about what the Grammys are supposed to be about rather than what they have become, you might agree with me. The People’s Choice, however, is definitely about selling 😉

    Jordan: I don’t quite understand what you are trying to say…

    Brian: Excellent analogy! I think perhaps that’s what bothers me the most: that the Grammy Awards are supposedly about the best music, whereas they have become about the best selling music. I love me some Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and even the occasional Britney Spears song, but I know that’s not the best music out there.

    Perhaps what bothers me the most is this: that music has become about entertainment only; it sometimes feels that not many people sing as a way of enhancing understanding and evoking emotions that cannot be put into words.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not necessarily always what the artists (or the art) brings to you, but it really can be what you bring to the artist that makes all the difference in the world.”

    HUH?! That doesn’t even make any sense…

    It’s good and all that people will like what they like (Hell, I like me some PepperJack with Triscuits)BUT, Award shows present these “artists” as the best of the best which is just uninformed. They should have to display a disclaimer at the beginning that says something to the effect that these artists sell the most records and that this show wants to award the best at selling records.

    Honestly, just because McDonalds is the top selling restaurant doesn’t mean they offer the best hamburger!

  • Jordan Richardson

    Sahar, it’s not the artist that is “awesome.” It’s your approach to the artist that decides whether something’s valid (or “good”) or not. Everyone’s approach to music or film or literature is different and these awards shows are just self-congratulatory advertisements.

    You can find good music if you want to because there’s no shortage of artists in all sorts of different genres. While many might find Beyonce “formulaic,” I happen to find her fascinating and she’s one of my favourite artists.

    The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not necessarily always what the artists (or the art) brings to you, but it really can be what you bring to the artist that makes all the difference in the world.

  • “yes, everything about the Grammys is advertising, but it doesn’t mean it should be”

    Then you miss the whole point of the show. It’s like complaining there’s gambling in a casino

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I can’t reveal all of my sources but I recommend you start with googling the genre of music you like,for example, one of my favs is Prog Rock / Metal. I found ProgArchives.com to be a great resource. Next, you can always visit the record label websites for the bands that you currently dig, for example, I love Death Metal as well. One of my favs is Gorod which happens to be on Willowtip. I visited their site and found Neuraxis and so on. If you visit the myspace page of a band you like then you might find some new bands in their “friends” section.

    Google can be your best friend but you gotta love music and be willing to spend some time researching.

  • Good point Brian regarding the fact that there is so much good music out there. We do waste a lot of time on drivel, don’t we? It kind of makes the whole argument invalid.

    My question, as someone who would love to find these awesome artists, is: where? I’m no music expert (as the use of layman’s terms in this article and many others I have written about music clearly demonstrates), and I really don’t know where to start. It’s sometimes easier to just turn on the radio and listen to something rather than to sit in silence 🙂

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I appreciate the attempt of cynicism but just like the Grammys, I only made it through a portion of your article.
    Seriously, there is sooo much other music in this world to be heard that bothering to analyze such a travesty does a disservice to plenty of hard working musicians all over. When people start turning this sh!t off and the ratings are lost then we will see a change. BUT, I doubt that will ever happen.

    It’s not whether Beyonce, Pink or any other artist on that show can sing,it is the actual music in their respective repertoire that is formulaic & predictive at best They resort to a greater entertainment value because the CDs that these people release don’t have a foot to stand on…

    You just heard from an apathetic cynic.

  • Jordan Richardson: I agree that the lyrics fit perfectly, but the song really didn’t do anything for Beyoncé’s voice imo.

    El Bicho: yes, everything about the Grammys is advertising, but it doesn’t mean it should be, especially when the performance is meant to be a tribute. That’s my point 😉

  • “Using a tribute to do advertising? Not classy.”

    Are you serious? Everything about the Grammys is advertising.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I LOVED the inclusion of the Alanis bit into the Beyonce number. Totally fit the “screw you, dude” vibe of the song and amped up her “woman scorned” imagery all the more.