Politics & Policy

A Night to Forget

Grammys 2005.

I sat through all three-and-a-half hours of the 47th Annual Grammy Awards telecast last night and I don’t have a single song running through my head, which tells you something about the music that is popular enough to win accolades from the financially lagging mainstream recording industry.

I probably wasn’t the only one who wanted to bail during the woeful opening medley, featuring execrable performances by Best New Artist winners Maroon 5, Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand and pop/hip-hop divas Gwen Stefani and Eve, all strung together by the truly annoying “Let’s Get it Started” from the Black Eyed Peas. But stuck in the middle of this mess was the refreshingly musical Texican brother trio Los Lonely Boys with their hit “Heaven.”

Los Lonely Boys also won the first award, for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal, restoring my hope that some more good music may be on the way. There was, but not much, thus proving Harris’s First Musical Law: 90 percent of everything is sub-par.

Remarkable Ray actor Jamie Foxx and Alicia Keys performing “Georgia” was pretty good, but Keys over emoting on her own song “If I Ain’t Got You” was as hard to watch as it was to hear.

U2’s minimalist performance of “Sometimes You Can’t Make it On Your Own” was characteristic U2, sincere and brilliant. Pseudo-punks Green Day were better than mediocre, especially if you like loud guitar and didn’t bother to try and understand the lefty lyrics of “American Idiot,” which I’m sure most people didn’t.

The honor for worst performance of the night was a hard one to decide, with both clunkers furnishing evidence of Harris’s Second Law of Music: The physical attractiveness of the performer is usually inversely proportional to that performer’s ability to sing well.

Watching Jennifer Lopez struggle and strain her way through a ballad duet with her husband-for-now Marc Anthony and hearing country hunk Tim McGraw apply his nearly nonexistent range to the schlocky “Live Like You Were Dying” both had me wishing I could click away for a bit (but I had an assignment–duty called). I guess I’ll give the worst-moment nod to McGraw since the fact that J-Lo was singing in Spanish saved me from understanding what she was attempting to sing.

The night’s best performance came as a complete surprise to me. With a few exceptions, I’m predisposed not to like modern R&B and hip hop, but Kanye West’s part gansta rap, part gospel “Jesus Walks” was truly compelling. The choice to have the Blind Boys of Alabama sing a haunting a cappella “I’ll Fly Away” as a mid-song interlude was inspired, and it literally made the hair on my arms stand up. The explicit lyrics to “Jesus Walks,” which I listened to on line after the show, would probably offend many, but it’s a sincere song about the need for faith nevertheless, which supports Harris’s Third Law of Music: Meaningful music often results when the sacred meets the profane.

The final, and most prestigious, award of the night went to the Ray Charles duets album Genius Loves Company. It was a safe and expected choice, honoring an uneven, yet pleasant effort by a rightly lionized and now-departed legend, and it’s a choice that reflects a growing divide in the music-listening public.

On one hand, there’s young and tech-savvy people who are increasingly eschewing the purchase, and even the concept of, CDs as albums, preferring to download single tracks for use on portable MP3 players or self-burned mix CDs. Look at the “most downloaded” lists on iTunes or Napster, and you’ll find tracks by all of the other four nominees for record of the year: Usher, Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Green Day.

On the other hand, you have everyone else, who still buy their music one CD at a time. These people no doubt enjoyed the exciting tributes to Janis Joplin, by 17-year-old British soul singer Joss Stone, and rocker Melissa Etheridge (who I normally can’t stand), and to the genre of southern rock, featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elvin Bishop, and former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickie Betts, as well as the win for the Ray Charles album, which included duets with Van Morrison, Norah Jones, Elton John, and B.B. King.

At 29, I have a foot in both camps, but I still enjoy the tactile experience of buying and playing CDs, complete with artwork and lyric booklets. But I’m on the wrong end of the demographic wave. The future of the record industry, which, tellingly, still calls itself the record industry, is going to be vastly different ten or even five years from now.

I, for one, hope that future includes shorter and better Grammy broadcasts.

Aaron Keith Harris writes for Country Music Today and Bluegrass Unlimited.

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