While the music industry continues to grapple with declining sales, the old stalwart excuse of digital piracy is no longer the issue: the main reason behind the calamitous fall in revenue is that music itself -- not music sales -- has become an endangered species. If the Grammy Awards are meant to reflect the best that music (of all genres) has to offer, then the major label execs should pack their bags and seek employment elsewhere. To give you an idea of how dire the proceedings were, perhaps the best music of the evening was the lilting cover version of the Church hit, 'Under The Milky Way' in the Lincoln car commercial during the break.
This critique of last night's Grammy celebration is not about the event itself -- nor especially about the nominees/winners (another complete farce): this is merely a review of the "music" performances. More than ever, style triumphed over substance, glamor over music. What a mess:
Elton John & Lady Gaga: an amusing gimmick with no musical value.
Green Day: what next, American Idiots on Ice?
Beyoncé: superb vocals as ever and highly professional, but if she is this generation's equivalent to, say, Tina Turner, then her hits and performance pale by comparison.
Pink: despite the intriguing circus act, a rather pleasant song, extremely well sung in the circumstances. One of the evening's more memorable moments.
Black Eyed Peas: lots of populist fun from this genuinely talented troupe, which is fine, but by the end of their performance it occurred to me that I was watching the Village People.
Lady Antebellum: so average. What passes for a popular hit these days amounts to, at best, a B-side or forgettable album track from a comparable act twenty years ago.
Jamie Foxx/T.Pain: absolute aural diarrhea, Auto-Tune drivel. A complete absence of anything musical or redeeming. Everything that's wrong with music today. Slash -- what on earth are you doing?
Zac Brown Band: again, like Lady Antebellum, just average Country, nothing exceptional, just like any one of a thousand bands in a thousand bars. A strong uptempo ending, but not within a mile of Charlie Daniels' virtuoso fiddling in the latest Geico commercial. Leon Russell (bless him) looked suitably bemused.
Taylor Swift: what a shame for the evening's big winner to prove that hers is a studio voice. Her live chops were poor: mostly flat she was trying to be a star, not a performer. It may have been nerves, but her vocals were weak and off-key throughout. (Stevie Nicks was a welcome respite, top-notch as ever.) Great banjo.
Celine Dion/Usher/Carrie Underwood/Smokey Robinson/Jennifer Hudson: all strong vocal contributions to 'Earth Song,' all eclipsed by the vocal inserts of Michael Jackson. However, the visuals of the entire performance were clearly ruined by the fact that so few viewers at home would have kept their 3-D glasses handy from 'Avatar'. Perhaps there was a competition between the show's producers and the show's performers to see who could best screw up the evening.
Bon Jovi: veteran polish as one would expect, though the viewers who voted on which song they should perform at the end must have felt shortchanged by only hearing one verse and one chorus of 'Livin' On A Prayer.' Jennifer Nettles -- solid, in fine voice.
Andrea Bocelli/Mary J. Blige/David Foster: great arrangement by Foster, superb vocals by Bocelli and Blige and nice sentiment for Haiti. However, is 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' truly the only song which came to mind? It only reminded me to worry about who or where is this generation's Paul Simon.
Dave Matthews Band: strong song choice, well performed. Lovely idea to include lots of talented music students.
Maxwell: good, tender, polished performance of an average song (I don't care that it was nominated: it has 5% of the quality of Maxwell's brilliant earlier Kate Bush cover, 'This Woman's Work'). Nice to see Roberta Flack prove, like Stevie Nicks, that she requires so little effort to outshine today's "talent."
Jeff Beck: cute idea to honor Les Paul in reprising the lovely 'How High The Moon' chestnut, but it hardly gave him room to shine. Irish chanteuse Imelda May delivered a stylish vocal (she's worth catching on her upcoming US tour opening for Jamie Cullum).
Lil Wayne/Eminem/Drake: Okay -- this is not a generational thing, this is not a cultural thing, this is not even a subjective thing: this performance was diabolical and exemplary of everything that is wrong with today's music. While Eminem shone with his usual rapid-fire delivery, this was, overall, musical excrement. Lyrically puerile, devoid of any melody or musical sensibility, truly the best example of the worst in popular music. Its finest moments were unquestionably the merciful silence of the extended periods of (ridiculous) censorship. Modern day rap may be interesting, valuable, enjoyable, insightful, important and innovative: but it is not music when showcased in this way. And Jay Z is right: Auto-Tune should be banned from music -- in the same way that steroids are not allowed in sports. All it does (Drake et al) is prove you have no natural talent.
Grammy head Neil Portnow's speech pleading with consumers not to download illegally: brought to you by Limewire.
The best vocal performance of the evening: Michael Jackson's inserts in 'Earth Song'.
Best speech: the cute kid with Jay Z and Rihanna who, when asked if he wanted to say something, merely said "No thanks."
Best introduction sentence or phrase of the show: Robert Downey Jr., correctly reviewing the evening as these "gauche festivities."
Just on the off-chance that anyone actually appreciates good music anymore, my selections for the two best albums of the year were: 'Love Travels' by Angel Taylor and 'Belle Isle' by Mozella. The former may be the best female singer-songwriter debut in over ten years; the latter makes Beyoncé and all the other über-marketed R&B/pop princesses look vacuous, unimaginative and ridiculous. What both albums have in common are: real talent, real craft, real performance, real emotion, real songwriting -- real music.
In closing: this year's Grammy event was another dire showcase of (mostly) the worst that music has to offer: performers who are more interested in shoring up their deep insecurities and diminishing bank accounts than in showering the people with musical magic. In nearly every instance, I would have rather seen the presenters perform, and the performers present. I think even Simon Baker could have done a better job, singing in his shower.