Little to sing about in predictable show

47th Annual Grammy Awards

February 14, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

We've come to expect nothing less than bloat and bombast from the Grammys. And, for the most part, that's what we got last night.

Maybe that was to be expected after a year in which the most successful pop music was mostly predictable and unadventurous. But the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, hosted by a resplendently Pearl Bailey-esque Queen Latifah, carried on in that spirit.

The choppy opening performances featuring the Black Eyed Peas (who used to be cool and edgy before they struck platinum with innocuous party pap), Gwen Stefani and Eve (both looking pretty garish), the Los Lonely Boys (looking menacing in dark suits and bandanas) and Maroon 5 (looking like blank-faced insurance salesmen) were boring. Franz Ferdinand, one of the better bands to emerge last year, also performed and was the only engaging act in that tangled web of amiable rock, lite hip-hop and lily-white pop.

Unlike telecasts in years past, the Grammys last night focused more on performances and less on awards. This is supposed to attract younger viewers to the usually stodgy show, but it would have helped if the performances hadn't been so drained of vitality.

Alicia Keys' retro ballad "If I Ain't Got You," which snagged a Grammy for best female R&B vocal performance, was unnecessarily puffed up with grandiose, syrupy orchestration. And the New York-born artist seemed somewhat lost in it all.

Afterward, Keys was joined by Oscar-nominated actor Jamie Foxx, and the two performed a slightly overcooked tribute to Ray Charles, stripping all the nuance and soulful subtlety out of "Georgia On My Mind." Foxx, by the way, may be a standout actor (the accolades for his portrayal of the late soul legend in the movie Ray were well-deserved) but a convincing or interesting vocalist he is not. Fortunately, that tribute was short.

Charles, who died in June, was celebrated throughout the night. Not surprisingly, he picked up all of the awards for which he was nominated. His tepid, posthumously released duets album Genius Loves Company won the Grammy for album of the year. By evening's end, he had won eight awards.

When the show wasn't paying tribute to stars of bygone eras (including Janis Joplin, one of the recipients of the lifetime achievement award) or boring us with corny jokes, the Grammys featured cringe-inducing melodrama. The much-ballyhooed duet between Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, which the superstar husband-and-wife duo sang in Spanish, was a cross between a scene from a big-budgeted musical and a glossy Spanish soap opera.

After that pointless performance, one hoped for a lively follow-up. And we almost got it with the tribute to Southern rock featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd, country "it" girl Gretchen Wilson and country pretty boys Keith Urban and Tim McGraw. The intentions may have been all good but still the performance lacked oomph.

Latifah, whose CD The Dana Owens Album was nominated for best jazz vocals, left her hosting duties for a moment to unleash the Vegas-style diva within. Looking stunning in a strapless black dress, the multifaceted performer crooned "Lush Life" before getting brassy with Dinah Washington's "Baby, Get Lost."

The "gospel" segment featuring the great and underrated Mavis Staples, soul newcomer John Legend, the Blind Boys of Alabama and rapper-producer Kanye West was one of the few bright moments of last night. The set suggested an old-fashioned church. The mix of West's rapping and the grainy wails of Legend and Staples was potent. But West rising at the end with angel wings was a bit much -- almost as self-aggrandizing as his acceptance speech when he won the Grammy for best rap album.

But his CD, College Dropout, deserved it. Speaking of deserving wins, it was great to see Loretta Lynn, looking regal in purple, pick up the award for best country album. Her acclaimed CD, Van Lear Rose, produced by garage punk rocker Jack White, was perhaps one of the most daring mainstream albums to come out last year. And it was by a 70-year-old woman, for goodness' sake.

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