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Tributes only spark in lifeless Grammys

Academy plays homage to Beatles, Vandross, Zevon
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

In keeping with this year’s Grammy Awards telecast, you are kindly requested to wait five minutes before reading any further. The five-minute delay, implemented by CBS following the overheated reaction to the Breast Seen Round the World at the Super Bowl, turned out to be of no significance for the telecast, a fairly tame affair which barely registered a tweak on the Richter outrage graph.

The awards show, back in Los Angeles after a one-year stop in New York, featured 19 separate performances, most delivered competently and sometimes even brilliantly. The Staples Center venue, however, with its bright lights encircling the stage, turned several of these performances into blinding overexposures, complete with eye-straining geometric patterns and pulsating strobes.

Janet Jackson, whose breast-baring Super Bowl performance resulted, ultimately, in her absence from the telecast, was nonetheless on the minds of many. In the first hour of the 3-1/2-hour telecast, Justin Timberlake, Jackson’s stage partner at the halftime show, reiterated his apologies at the tail end of his acceptance speech for best male pop vocal. Not long after, Christina Aguilera, a winner for best female pop vocal, accepted the Grammy in a dress that might have made Timberlake’s presence superfluous. “I don’t want to have the same thing happen that Janet had done,” she said, tugging in just the right places to avoid any five-minute delays.

Nor, despite the military activity in Iraq and this being a presidential election year, was there much in the way of political references. Here the only exception was a nod to Democratic contender John Kerry in the acceptance speech by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, whose “Clocks” won record of the year.

Indeed, the only significant editorial comments came from Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, who criticized cuts in arts programs in school before launching into more self-serving comments about the academy’s latest efforts to halt illegal music downloads.

A highlight of the evening was to have been a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the appearance of the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” an event largely believed to have been crucial to setting in motion historic change in the world of pop and rock. The significance of the 1964 telecasts, though duly noted, never was clearly explained. What’s more, though Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono, widows of George and John, gave heartfelt speeches to mark the occasion, surviving Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney seemed nonplused by the whole thing.

Technical difficulties
The other significant tribute was for recovering stroke victim Luther Vandross. Here, Patti LaBelle stepped in for Jackson, who originally was scheduled to lead the plaudits. Unfortunately, the level of emotion was higher than the level of technical proficiency. The beginning of Celine Dion’s performance was delayed by a dead wireless microphone. Even after receiving another one, feedback problems continued, and Dion soon found herself discarding her earpiece.

As in the past, the highlights of the Grammy telecast were the performances and several deserved special mention. Beyonce delivered her selection in a setting that resembled a colorful and classical painting, by far the most eye-catching background of the show. In addition, Grammy show executive producer Pierre Cossette, briefly saluted by Andy Williams for his 34 years in the business, showcased pairings that seemed illogical but nonetheless proved quite effective. These included melded numbers by Timberlake and Arturo Sandoval in addition to a pairing of Chick Corea and Foo Fighters. Kicking off the show was the arresting combination of Prince and Beyonce.

As always, there was huge diversity among the presenters, including the odd match of Snoop Dogg and Jason Alexander, as well as the CBS-inspired choices of Amber Tamblyn and Marg Helgenberger. Two of the most well-received presenters were Ozzy Osbourne, still sporting a cervical collar following an ATV accident, and his wife, Sharon.

The academy also sprinkled lifetime achievement and other awards throughout the program, too many to designate with more than two-sentence announcements. Somehow it seems that anyone meriting a televised lifetime achievement award ought to get more attention than the minimentions afforded them during the telecast.