March 7, 2002

The 44th Annual Grammys

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From the same overindulging nation that brought you the Super-Sized Extra Value Meal and Police Academies 2-7, we now have the King-Sized Grammys. The 44th annual installment of the awards, presented by the Recording Academy, took place Wednesday at Los Angeles’s Staples Center, which normally hosts Lakers games. But in place of massive forward Shaquille O’Neal, a very diminutive white man directed the evening’s affairs.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart hosted the ceremony, which, after three and a half hours, ultimately lost its focus of award-presenting and turned out to be a star-studded swashbuckling concert. Although the Academy gave out 101 little golden phonographs, only 12 winners were announced during CBS’s televised show. The music itself dominated the night: 17 performances, many involving collaborations among multiple artists, kept the monstrous crowd entertained.

This year’s Grammys were especially diverse, representing an extraordinarily broad range of music, from hip-hop to, well, whatever one might call that type of music that the Dave Matthews Band plays. The night’s biggest winners were 21-year-old sensation Alicia Keys, trustworthy U2, and the roots music-centered soundtrack for the Coen brothers’ film O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?

Although the subdued attire was left behind after the Emmys (Lil’ Kim was true to her exhibitionist self and Kid Rock embodied class in a Coors t-shirt and jeans), a significant amount of post-9/11 spirit still resonated throughout the Grammys. Alan Jackson sang “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” before a backdrop of collected children’s drawings illustrating their images of post-attack America. Tony Bennet and Billy Joel offered up a classy and much less heart-wrenching version of “New York State of Mind” than Joel sang at the Telethon for America. A gospel segment by Al Green, Brian McNight and CeCe Winans (with a little help from the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Choir and the New Christ Memorial Church Choir) closed the night, but not before raising the crowd to its feet with a spiritually charged performance of “Lord Lift Me Up.”

Latin culture also spiced up the evening’s flavor: Stewart gave special mention to several Latin Grammy winners, Destiny’s Child (singing in Spanish and English) joined Alejandro Sanz to sing “Quisiera Ser,” and Alicia Keys steamed things up by dancing the tango to her song “A Woman’s Worth.” Bluegrass and roots music garnered more attention than in previous years as the soundtrack to O Brother where Art Thou? collected award after award. One performance excerpted three of the film’s songs, and proved to America that it is Pat Enright and not George Clooney that sings “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow.” The collection, which features tracks from Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Ralph Stanley, also won Album of the Year and T Bone Burnett Producer of the Year.

And what would the night have been without a little gitchie-gitchie ya ya da da? The ladies of the Moulin Rouge (Christina Aguilera, Mya, Pink, and Lil’ Kim) actually waited until about halfway through their performance before stripping down to their skivvies. Their performance reached a climax with some high-pitched wailing from Patty LaBelle and then was capped off as the foxy ladies were handed the award for Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Alicia Keys tied Lauryn Hill (who won in 1999 for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) for most Grammys won by a female artist. Keys took home five trophies, including Song of the Year, Best Female R&B Performance and Best R&B Song for the “Fallin’,” as well as Best New Artist and Best R&B Album for her hugely successful Songs in A Minor. Although creatively-named India.Arie was nominated seven times for her album Acoustic Soul, she left empty-handed. U2 capped off a thrilling year by winning four awards, including Record of the Year win for “Walk On,” Best Rock Album for All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get out Of,” and Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for “Elevation.”

The night’s acceptance speeches were largely cliched and filled with boring references to record company execs and producers, although there were a few exciting moments. Nelly Furtado whooped it up like a sports fan, and U2 took a moment to remind the country that they’re not Americans. After the band received its first award of the night for “Walk On,” Bono announced that “being Irish, if you get eight nominations and no awards, they wouldn’t let you back in the country, so this is a public-safety issue.” The group ended up with four statuettes — does that perhaps merit them an Ireland work visa?

Jon Stewart was his usual self-deprecating self, but he managed to, at the very least, meet the laugh quota for an awards show host, first by setting off a metal detector as he walked out on stage, and finally by noting that although citizens of Afghanistan have only been allowed to listen to music for a few months, they are already sick of Creed.

There was a notable lull in the momentum of the ceremony as Academy President Michael Greene took a moment to remind everyone (that was still watching) that Internet music piracy is bad and that Academy President speeches are infallibly boring.

The 44th annual Grammy Awards did end up seeming a bit overblown, but then again, the Grammys are always a little confusing anyway. What’s the difference between a Traditional Pop Vocal album and a Pop Vocal Album? Where is the fine line between Hard Rock and Metal? And what’s with all the collaborations? The Academy gave out awards for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Country collaboration, Best Rock Gospel Album — what’s next? Best Engineered Rock Country Gospel Classical Album performed by a Small Ensemble?

It doesn’t matter. As long as we’ve got thousands of people crammed into a sports arena named after an office-supply store, a bureaucrat reminding us not to break the law, and curvy pop stars prancing around in their underwear, we know it’s still the American way.

Archived article by Julia Ramey