The Dixie Chicks may not have been ready to make nice, but last night, band members showed they weren't above gloating -- at least a little -- as they accepted five honors at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, including record of the year, song of the year and best album. The super-trio was snubbed by many country fans and radio stations after lead singer Natalie Maines made disparaging comments in 2003 about President Bush. Taking the Long Way, last night's winning album, was ignored by the Country Music Association at its November awards ceremony.
"That's interesting," Maines crowed from the podium after winning the award for best country album. "Well, to quote the great Simpsons -- `Haw-haw.'
"Just kidding," said Maines, adding, "A lot of people just turned their TVs off right now. I'm very sorry for that."
Emily Robison noted, "We wouldn't have done this album without everything we went through, so we have no regrets. I thank everyone who voted for us."
Other major winners of the night included hip-hop soul queen Mary J. Blige, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and American Idol winner Carrie Underwood.
Despite making a big push for younger viewers last night, the Grammy Awards wound up feeling safer than ever. Ho-hum performances and bombing stage patter were the norm.
This year, the Recording Academy tried to lure a bigger audience by making the telecast more interactive and opening the show with a reunion performance by '80s supergroup the Police.
Picking up where they left off 20 years ago, Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers kicked off the show with a spirited take of "Roxanne," the rock band's 1978 classic single. A medley would have been better, but the Police kept it sweet and brief. The chemistry is still there, so a reunion tour would be a great (and probably lucrative) idea.
That burst of energy was subsequently drained by the Dixie Chicks. The country trio's performance of the heatedly defiant single "Not Ready to Make Nice" felt disappointingly soft. Led by Maines, who was decked out in what looked like a white junior prom dress circa 1990, the song sounded tentative. But the hit, a highlight from Taking the Long Way, won the award for song and record of the year.
The Grammys got the overwrought out of the way early on. Beyonce, evoking Billie Holiday with magnolias in her hair, wailed through "Listen," the boring, wannabe self-love anthem from the Dreamgirls soundtrack.
Early winners were predictable: Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett picked up the first award of the night for best pop collaboration for their warm rendition of "For Once in My Life," a hit for Wonder in 1967 -- beating out such hits as Nelly Furtado and Timbaland's "Promiscuous" and Shakira and Wyclef Jean's "Hips Don't Lie."
Blige gave a tearful, long-winded thank-you after picking up the gramophone for best R&B album. The Breakthrough, her seventh studio release, was among last year's biggest albums and one of her better CDs. Known to the world as the dramatic "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul," the native New Yorker led this year's nominations with eight. She also won best female R&B performance and R&B song for "Be Without You."
Underwood won best new artist, best female country vocal performance and country song for "Jesus Take the Wheel."
The Chili Peppers' double album, Stadium Arcadium, won several awards, including best rock song, rock album and rock performance by a duo or group for "Dani California."
Midway through the show, the winner of the much-hyped, win-a-duet-with-Justin-Timberlake contest was announced: Though pretty, Robyn Troup, 18, of Houston didn't radiate that certain "It" factor and looked awkward onstage. And she didn't get to display whatever vocal talent she may have. She shadowed Timberlake on a weak take of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and an even weaker version of "My Love," a cut from the pop star's FutureSex/LoveSounds CD.
Earlier, Timberlake also gave a competent performance of "What Goes Around." But it turned odd toward the end. Whoever thought it was a cool idea for him to sing into a hand-held camera like a YouTube amateur should be fired. This was undoubtedly an attempt to make the Grammys more interactive, more "cool." But it came off clumsily.
John Mayer, John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae, last year's most critically acclaimed artists under 30, gave a memorable performance, splicing together cuts from their latest albums. Although each comes from different genres -- Mayer, rock-pop; Legend, modern soul; and Rae, jazzy folk-pop -- their approaches meshed well. It was buoyed by Mayer's scorching guitar work. Afterward, he rightfully strolled away with the award for best pop vocal album for his stellar CD, Continuum. He also won best male pop vocal performance.