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Grammy Notes: Its All About the Ladys

Sunday night’s Grammy Broadcast had the highest ratings since 2001, and the Grammy action on Twitter was so intense that industry curmudgeon Bob Lefsetz tuned it in to join the conversation. I realized that the Grammys were a very different experience for my wife and I. While she and I were wisecracking – she saw the Cirque du Soleil ninja drummer take a painful dive during Justin Bieber’s set – I was also swapping comments and critiques with another 40 or so people via Twitter. It made viewing the awards show far more participatory. Could that have had anything to do with the ratings?

Other Grammy notes:
- Most awards are given out during the “pre-tel” event in an adjacent hall. They have to end in time to give attendees a chance to leave, walk the red carpet and get seated in the Staples Center in time for the CBS broadcast. That means the pre-tel has to stay on schedule. When people sitting near the back were a little pokey getting themselves up and out of their row, presenter Kathy Griffin advised them, “Better run, fuckers.”

- Am I the only person who thinks Christina Aguilera dresses like she hates herself? And who hears every melisma-drenched performance as a statement: “I’m a musician, too!”

- So Lady Gaga incubated in an egg and emerged onstage as Madonna? People have made a lot of the resemblance of “Born This Way” to “Express Yourself,” but how about the “Vogue”-era ponytail and the voguing? The backing dancers in their underwear?

The performance typified my only issue with Lady Gaga. The emergence didn’t equal the production that led up to it. She’s made a production of her support for gay issues at a time when public sentiment favored the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and she’s made a big deal of being so unusual at a time when hoarders, polygamists, obsessives, short people and families with kids numbering in the double digits are on network television nightly. I look forward to a stand as radical as the build up.

- There was nothing wrong with Justin Bieber, but I didn’t see a reason why I’m supposed to be interested in 15-year-old. And the Cirque du Soleil ninja drummer wipeout was pretty fine.

- If Katy Perry didn’t look like Katy Perry, she wouldn’t even make it out of Hollywood week on American Idol. The footage of her wedding wasn’t nearly as exploitative as, well, the time she was on camera.

- The teaming of Dylan, Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers made more sense than just the joining of the old and new. As Mumford’s headbanging banjo player demonstrated, they lack piety for the old folk ways – a trait the Avetts displayed when they last played Jazz Fest. And who’s less pious toward folk than Dylan? Still, my favorite part of that sequence was watching Bob stand there, arms spread like he’s about to go for the big finish of “The Impossible Dream.” And after holding his harmonica mic for the whole song, he pulls out a harp to finish the song and promptly blows a bum note, holding the harmonica upside down.

- Did John Mayer notice that people like Johnny Depp more than him?

- Janelle Monae reminded me that I like her better live than on album, and nothing else from that sequence stayed with me.

- Great, brief footage of Alex Chilton with the Box Tops. Here’s the whole song:
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- Mick Jagger’s tribute to Solomon Burke was in perfect harmony with the song he was singing. “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” is great for two minutes, then it hits the point of diminishing returns, and Mick followed that pattern. He worked to keep the song alive for another two minutes, but the excitement was over. All that was left for him was to scowl at Raphael Saadiq for daring to bring his guitar on to Jagger’s runway.

- How did the production meeting that elicited BMX riders onstage with Arcade Fire not stall into silence when the idea was pitched? Did it occur to anyone that guys riding in close quarters are not going to get good shots of the band with their helmet-cams? Fortunately, the band was intense enough to blast through the rolling dumbness. As The Globe and Mail’s Carl Wilson tweeted, “AF makes Statement by playing Suburbs’ punkish song instead of the ones that sound like Tom Petty.”

- The Arcade Fire’s Best Album win for The Suburbs led to the Who Is Arcade Fire website, a tumblr blog reposting tweets mystified by their win. The general attitude of disbelief is represented by Rosie O’Donnell who wrote, “Album of the Year? Ummm never heard of them ever.” According to Rosie, if you don’t know it, it can’t be good. To their credit, the Arcade Fire unified fans of Eminem and Lady Gaga, no small feat. I like the person who also realized that unattractive things can’t be good, either: “Why is everyone from Arcade Fire so hideously ugly?” Fortunately, the rage has started to mellow, spread and hit on another basic truth – unpopular things can’t be good. “Esperanza Spaulding’s Twitter account isn’t even VERIFIED, thats how much of a nobody she is!! 11k followers, thats it, & she won a Grammy?” Did I die and come back as an extra on The Hills?

I find the disbelief as fascinating as it is hard to believe. After all, the same Grammy voters who rashly, recklessly voted for these Canadians also gave five awards to a band that’s a saxophone away from ’70s soft rock. If the vocalists were Australian, Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” could have come from the Little River Band.

- Backstage quote of the night: “I didn’t beat [Justin Bieber] — that’s not the way it works. I take this (trophy) home and tomorrow we return to being colleagues like we were before today. He still has great hair and I have great hair.” – Esperanza Spalding