State of the (Musical) Union Pt. 2

If you missed yesterday’s "State of the (Musical) Union Pt. 1" posting on American Idol click here.

Part 2: The 2006 Grammy Awards, Wednesday, February 8, 2005.

7:00: Gorillaz open the show with Madonna. I don’t know about this 3-D approach. I think I prefer the normal looking 2-D Gorillaz. Woo-hoo! De la Soul showed up! I wonder if the Grammys realize that De La Soul is better than almost everyone nominated …

7:01: Here’s Madonna. Okay, “Hung Up” is a fantastic song. Her voice sounds a little weak here, but hey, at least she’s singing. That’s more than we can say for most “live” performances these days. The screens behind Madge are all disco balls, and she’s wearing a sparkly purple leotard … Well, it’s nice to know in this world of uncertainty that Madonna can still writhe sensually with the best of them.

7:06: Apparently this is “music’s biggest night”. How sad for music.

7:06: Matt Dillon? Oh, right. People think Crash should win an Oscar. Too bad South Park is a better social commentary on any given day …

7:07: Sad. Stevie Wonder said that it’s the “biggest night in the world,” not just music. Wow.

7:08: New Orleans mention number one. How nice of all of these rich, comfortable people to remember. Now they’re singing “Higher Ground” in honor of Coretta Scott King. Because, you know, a lot of annoying pseudo-celebrities famous for making crap is a perfect honor for a civil rights icon.

7:12: Aw, Kelly Clarkson’s crying. The RIAA must be thrilled that someone still cares. She’s quite endearing.

7:13: There’s Coldplay. Chris Martin is looking very scruffy … and a little insane. “Talk” is really a great song, but Martin’s vocals are … a little rough. Must be those late nights taking care of Apple. Also, why does he keep crawling around like Gollum? He just made a “whooping” noise. How odd.

7:20: Commercials. Seems like a good time to mention that I saw some of the pre-show on the E! Channel. Did you know that they had a green carpet instead of a red one? Why? It turns out that Heineken sponsors the show …

7:23: Confession: I kind of like John Legend. And “Ordinary People” is a pretty great song. His performance was definitely a highlight of the night so far. He was very unpretentious and refreshing. Amazing, considering he’s friends with Kanye.

7:27: Uh oh. Sugarland. Why does pop country exist? Wherever she is, I wish Loretta Lynn would rush on stage and punch this girl.

7:38: Bono claims that U2 is a folk band. Really? Does the Edge know about this? Fortunately, he acknowledges that “Vertigo” is a bonafide rock song. It is the next song performed. I hated this song the first time I heard it, but now I think it’s up in the pantheon of all-time greatest U2 songs.

7:44: Woo-hoo! Two stars from Crash. They start: “hey ya’ll, we’re overrated! Go see Good Night. and Good Luck!” Just kidding. They’re honoring David Bowie. It’s cute how Ludacris acts like he’s heard of Bowie before. They’re presenting for best rap album. Matt Dillon just tried to make a joke. I really really really want Be to win. What a great album. Kanye’s Late Registration (also great) wins. Ooohhh … his joke is bombing. He pulled out a piece of paper that says “Thank you list” in huge letters.

7:55: Kelly Clarkson, looking very fetching, is doing her solo thing. *Yawn*

7:58: Green Day. Ridiculous. I love his eye liner. What??? Gwen Stefani calls American Idiot “an incredible work of art”? Try “overrated by everyone because they really didn’t want to admit that an anti-Bush album is still preteen ‘punk’-rock.”

8:01: Grammy for best rock album: U2. Bono seems a little surprised to be addressing someone other than politicians. I’m so glad that Edge is speaking. He’s actually quite eloquent.

8:07: Paul McCartney. I’m not sure if I can make fun of him. I will say that I’m not thrilled that he turned “Helter Skelter” into a subpar Audioslave song.

8:16: R&B song. Someone from the Black Eyed Peas just called Mario “my ninja.” I’m going to start saying that. John Legend wins! A nice hug from Common. They must have a special row for “hip hop stars who don’t suck!”

8:28: Mariah’s been performing for a bit now. She’s not too bad, and there’s a gospel choir singing behind her. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that her 2005 resurgence was more wishful thinking on the part of the record industry and radio.

8:31: Best Pop Vocal Album. If Fiona Apple doesn’t win, there should be a riot. And if Sheryl Crow wins, well … the riot should turn into a city-wide conflict. Kelly Clarkson?! Are you freaking kidding me?

8:34: Side note during the commercials. Most people are probably watching Lost right now. If you haven’t already, can I encourage you to switch to Veronica Mars on UPN? It’s a really great show and has switched my allegiance on Wednesday nights.

8:57: Sly and the Family Stone tribute. I wish I appreciated this more; I don’t especially like Joss Stone, but everyone is so into it that I really feel like I’m missing something. Robert Randolph is, however, AMAZING on the pedal steel. Steven Tyler …not so much.

9:13: Jay-Z and Linkin Park! I actually sort of liked this mash-up, even though the whole Grey Album eclipsed it (and rightfully so). And Paul McCartney joining them on stage for “Yesterday”? Very, very good.

9:24: Tom Hanks introduces Bruce Springsteen. This is Dust & Devils Bruce, not crappy arena-rock Bruce. And I’m thankful.

See Also

9:29: Song of the Year: “Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own.” A pretty good song too. You know, I sort of feel like that about most of How to Dismantle … I like it when I listen to it, but I always forget about it.

9:37: Kanye appears now, warning us of a five-second delay. Yes, this is Kanye West: arrogant, talented and so ready to tell you about Jesus … but only after he’s engaged in some illicit sexual activity and finished his Hennessey.

9:40: “Gold Digger” is really fantastic. There’s lots of crazy posturing by both Jaime Foxx and Kanye, who are dressed as leaders of opposing marching bands. It’s weird, but the performance is still good. My friend comments that she’s not sure how she feels about Foxx’s pelvic thrusts. Probably nauseous because of the movement and the fact that he’s riding his Ray status into the ground. They close with a little snippet of “Touch the Sky,” which is the best track on Late Registration.

9:45: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” wins “record of the year.” I hope Kanye’s angry. He certainly should be.

9:55: Christina Aguleira is performing. Surprise surprise, she’s not bad! She looks like Marilyn Monroe and really has some great power in her voice. I hope she’s left her “Dirrty” persona behind for good. Having Herbie Hancock on the piano probably helps quite a bit.

10:04: Best New Artist: John Legend. Thank goodness. It’s nice to see a little bit of respectability being extended from the Grammys. Can you imagine if any of the other people had won? I mean, Keane? Ciara? Fall Out Boy? Wow. Poor Fiona Apple (who’s presenting) looks so waifish and uncomfortable.

10:16: The last award of the night … Finally!! Album of the Year: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. I’m disappointed. I think Late Registration was a stronger effort, and really would have given some credibility to the entire Grammy process.

10:20: The President of the recording academy reminds us of Hurricane Katrina. It is much more poignant and important than the usual “don’t download illegal music because we’re losing money” spiel. Now here’s the closing tribute to New Orleans. Much like the Sly and the Family Stone tribute, it’s nice to be reminded how much I don’t know about music and how much there still is to discover.

10:29: Well, the 2006 Grammys are over and done with. And actually, I’ll admit they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. However, I think what the Grammys need to think about is their relevance in the music world. The disparity between populist material and critical darlings have become increasingly drawn. Aside from Kanye (and John Legend) I don’t know of many of these albums that made it onto any critics’ top ten lists. The Recording Academy needs to ask itself what it wants to be; is it really a measuring stick for all of music to measure quality? Or is it simply a proverbial “attaboy” reward for those who sell a lot of records and manage not to anger too many critics?

I don’t know if there’s a proper answer to this. I do know that, no matter how much I generally believe in the subjectivity of what makes art “good,” I still believe in some kind of objectivity when it comes to quality. After all, I don’t think anyone could tell me (with a straight face) that Ashlee Simpson is a better “artist” than Radiohead because she sold more records in a given month. Does critical consensus equal artistic quality? Probably not. But I think it’s a good place to start. Why did so many people have bands like Antony & the Johnsons, Sufjan Stevens, Bloc Party and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! on their top ten lists? Is it all an anti-establishment conspiracy?

I have to believe that it’s because they look at what it means to make artistic and creative music. Until the Grammys decides to do the same, it will remain a mostly irrelevant ceremony dedicated to raising record sales.

-Ryan Hamm

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