LOS ANGELES — Janet Jackson was absent from the Grammy Awards one week after her Super Bowl breast-baring, but her presence was apparent in the muting of the Grammy Awards’ usual sass and flash.
There were just a few references to Jackson during the semi-live telecast, which was being shown with a five-minute delay so censors could quash any potentially off-color activity.
Jackson’s public relations firm said CBS and Grammy officials had asked her not to attend before reversing themselves on Saturday and re-inviting her. The company said Jackson declined.
A representative for the Grammys denied she was ever unwelcome.
“Janet was always invited,” said Jason Padgitt of the publicity firm Rogers & Cowan, which represents the Recording Academy.
CBS, which broadcast the Super Bowl and Grammys, said it had “serious reservations” about Jackson’s and Super Bowl duet partner Justin Timberlake’s scheduled appearances at the awards show, the network said in a statement issued Sunday.
Both were invited to participate if they issued on-air apologies, an offer Jackson declined, the statement said.
Timberlake accepted, CBS said. After accepting his second Grammy of the night for best male pop vocalist, he issued his latest apology for ripping the top off Jackson’s outfit on the Super Bowl halftime show.
“I know it’s been a rough week on everybody,” he said. “What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys are offended.”
Among the celebrity attendees, most dressed with restraint, as organizers and some presenters tried to steer the attention back to the music.
“Sometimes it’s not about celebrity, it’s not about controversy, about gossip. Sometimes it’s just about the music and the power of the human voice,” said Queen Latifah, before introducing Christina Aguilera.
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Aguilera, known for her sexy album “Stripped” and its song “Dirrty,” performed her tamer single “Beautiful” clad in a suit and tie. She wore an extremely low-cut dress when she received a Grammy for female pop vocalist, but walked to the stage with her arms pressed demurely against her chest.
“I don’t want to have the same thing happen that Janet had done ... if I can keep it together,” she said, holding the straps of her gown in place during her acceptance speech.
CBS, whose chief censor was working in a production office in New York, briefly put a graphic onscreen that obscured her cleavage.
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said “it would be very nice” not having to deal with tape-delays in the future.
“The Grammys have been producing this show live for 46 years,” he said. “We know how to do this.”
Shout out to Janet
Patti LaBelle hinted at some of the drama when she introduced a tribute to stroke-afflicted singer Luther Vandross. Jackson had been scheduled to participate in the tribute, which went forward with Alicia Keys, Celine Dion and Richard Marx.
“A few of Luther’s friends — including Janet Jackson — wanted to take the opportunity to salute the man and his music,” she said.
Away from the live telecast, some performers came to Jackson’s defense.
During the pre-show awards ceremony, Grammy-winning producer Pharrell Williams used his moments onstage to blame the media for overhyping the incident.
“They’re catching a lot of flak for it,” Pharrell said. “You wouldn’t have gotten half of those complaints if the news wouldn’t keep it plastered on TV all day.”
Backstage during the main ceremony, Dave Matthews said he thought the scandal overshadowed the evening.
“I’m surprised that it’s shocking that a boob might be seen somewhere outside ‘National Geographic Explorer,”’ he told reporters. “That was surprising, that such a big stink could be made over such a little (thing). ... As shocking as it could be, it doesn’t seem like it deserves so much attention.”
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