Adventures in liveblogging: The 51st Annual Grammy Awards

February 8, 2009 at 8:51 pm (2008 in review, Awards and honors, Liveblog, Music, Television)

So I’ve never done a live blog before, but having read those of blogs and publications with vastly wider audiences (including many real-time readers) than this one, it always looked like an enjoyable way to spice up special cultural events, specifically awards show. And so begins a grand experiment, one that will test my wits, my blog savvy and my blind typing skills. And hopefully produce a handful of worthwhile observations (and I’m sure a fair share of trite comments) in the process. At the very least, we’ll see how many of the previous post’s eight predictions come true.

7:56 PM: Just switched over from a WKRP in Cincinnati rerun. I miss the days, halted in the mid-90′s, when E! would broadcast the pre-ceremony winners instead of endless, eye-rolling red-carpet interviews. Fact, I miss the days when E! would broadcast WKRP reruns.

7:58 PM: According to Grammy.com, the pre-telecast ceremony, home of over 100 awards, was broadcast online and is available for download. Even if I had known, I didn’t have seven hours to waste on the Grammys. Three is more than sufficient.

7:59 PM: An update from the Grammy website shows me batting 1-for-4, as only my prediction for Radiohead’s Alternative Music Album win came true. Duffy took Best Pop Album, Rick Rubin took Producer of the Year and Daft Punk scored Best Dance Recording. Oh well.

8:00 PM: Hey, here’s an act I’ve never seen on the Grammys: U2!

8:01 PM: Never realized how weak the lyrics to this new U2 song are until they were plastered on an oversize screen. “Love and community/Laughter is eternity…I got a submarine/You got gasoline/I don’t wanna talk about wars between nations.” Makes “Elevation” sound profound.

8:03 PM: Bono removes glasses for the first time since 1995.

8:04 PM: A standing O more for Whitney Houston being alive than being a legend.

8:05 PM: Five minutes in, and Clive Davis’s ass is already being kissed. Just give Jennifer Hudson her statue already.

8:06 PM: Well, at least I called that one. Six minutes in, three standing ovations. If you want Grammy fanfare, be legendary, be a druggie or be a victim of a horrible tragedy.

8:08 PM: I briefly forgot that Dwanye Johnson was The Rock. “The Grammys are not just an awards show…[they're] a way of life.” This is even more embarrassing than Katy Perry’s music.

8:10 PM: Paul McCartney with Dave Grohl = The Beatle Fighters. Ouch.

8:11 PM: With Justin Timberlake’s “general store” joke, I’ve officially lost count of the bombed quips.

8:12 PM: So JT is part of this “Let’s Stay Together” performance, featuring Al Green, Keith Urban and Boyz II Men. He actually may sing more of the song than Green does. Justin Timberlake is actually trying to upstage Al Green.

8:14 PM: And since when are there are only three guys in Boyz II Men?

8:15 PM: And of course, Keith Urban is not allowed to sing a note. Just to do some Mayer-esque guitar noodling.

8:16 PM: Fourth standing O before the first commerical break. Though the Green-Timberlake clash-of-the-titans was worthier than that phoned-in, desperate U2 performance. And I like U2!

8:21 PM: Simon Baker just called Coldplay transcendent. And if this is Coldplay, why is Chris Martin all I see right now?

8:22 PM: His piano is covered in technicolor peacenik graffiti, and his patched-up blue jacket looks borrowed from 1988′s idea of mall-punk style.

8:23 PM: And we see Jay-Z before we see any other members of Coldplay.  When he rapped “see Martin,” I thought he was talking about Chris, not King. Instead, he simply pointed to Chris when he said “See Judas.” Nifty.

8:24 PM: And now an anemic version of “Viva la Vida.” Chris Martin may officially be the worst wimpy-white-guy dancer since Michael Stipe. But at least Stipe doesn’t wear navel-bearing half-shirts. Or sweat profusely.

8:27 PM: Keith Urban’s second appearance in a half-hour, to salute Gene Autry and introduce Carrie Underwood. “Nobody will ever consider her a cowboy”: a possible dig, lodged by a Aussie who met similar resistance from the Nashville establishment. Not kind.

8:28 PM: This song won the Best Female Country Vocal Performance earlier in the evening, and this performance is proving why. On a show that has trotted out U2, Al Green, Timberlake and Coldplay, Underwood is upstaging them all with a raucous, energetic and yes, sexy performance.

8:30 PM: I love Taylor and Miley dearly, but there’s no way they can top this. If this doesn’t get a standing O when Coldplay did, I may just switch to one of the final new King of the Hill episodes.

8:31 PM: And the crowd stays seated. Snooty fuckers.

8:32 PM: Did they even invite Lifetime Achievement Award winner Brenda Lee ceremony? If so, why is she not there?

8:33 PM: Sugarland wins Best Country Duo or Group for the beautiful ballad “Stay.” Anything that beats Rascal Flatts is good by me, even if the singer has duetted with Bon Jovi.

8:34 PM: More Justin Timberlake to come. I’d complain but he is a one-man entertainment machine.

8:36 PM: Over on King on the Hill, LuAnn is having a baby shower. Tom Petty (the Best Long-Form Music Video winner) is delivering great lines as Lucky. And had he been in the Staples Center, Hank Hill sure as hell would’ve given Oklahoma-pride (it is right next to Texas) Carrie Underwood the standing O she deserved. Come back in ten years when you’ve survived a coke habit and an abusive marriage, Carrie!

8:40 PM: Duffy and Al Green together at last present Song of the Year. And they’re harmonizing on “Bridge over Troubled Water.” But if Duffy has to present an award to “Chasing Pavements,” the universe may collapse.

8:41 PM: Excuse my optimism for “American Boy.”

8:42 PM: “Viva la Vida” beats “Chasing Pavements” and “American Boy.” I am now one for five. In their defense, it is the second-best composition in the category.

8:43 PM: I was hoping Kid Rock could inject fun into the proceedings with one of his raucous party anthems. But he’s singing one of his self-righteous hell-in-a-handbasket songs, so no such luck.

8:44 PM: Though he did just broadcast his post-Waffle House mug shot during the song’s slideshow, within seconds of that “guilty of being white” line. That was ballsy.

8:46 PM: And so he launches into his tribute to Skynyrd (with a nod to the late Billy Powell). Though the irony of sampling Warren Zevon, he of the “play that dead band’s song” chorus, still seems lost on him.

8:47 PM: I actually enjoyed that medley, though I wish Kid Rock has flounced around a bit more. You’re Kid Rock. You’re on the marquee specifically to give us a show. So give us a fucking show.

8:53 PM: Miley and Taylor perform “Fifteen.” What a predictable song choice, as it’s one of the lowlights of Fearless. And Miley is totally going to steal the spotlight for Taylor Swift, isn’t she. What a camera-hogging ham.

8:55 PM: When threatened by a superior singer, Miley likes to amp up the facial expressions and try really hard to oversing. This is really terrible, two very mismatched performers and Joe Jonas rejects.

8:56 PM: Taylor Swift looks bored, and Miley really means that “I didn’t know who I was supposed to be” line.

8:57 PM: And Swift is still bitter about her lack of nominations, it seems.

8:57 PM: Will Miley present an award to “4 Minutes,” a song she helped popularize. No, because Plant & Krauss will win.

8:58 PM: And so it was written. Plant & Krauss that Best Pop Vocal Collaboration for the second year in a row, and they get a standing O. I know they’re both legends, and liking Raising Sand is the party line and all, but it’s not that great. And Alison Krauss didn’t even get a chance to speak. Save it for the Album win, I guess. Also, on principle, 60-year-old men with garish man-perms don’t deserve standing ovations, no matter important or groundbreaking that man may have once been.

9:01 PM: Like the similarly in mourning Kanye West last year, Jennifer Hudson is singing a powerful tribute to her late mother, which will no doubt net her her second standing ovation of the hour. The performance is worthy, second only to Underwood’s in strength and first in pathos so far tonight.

9:04 PM: If I pop a couple laxatives right now, will they come through in time for me to miss that “I Kissed a Girl” My Grammy Moment clusterfuck? Because a second amateur singer who thinks it’s rebellious can only improve that song, right?

9:06 PM: Long marginalized to blink-and-you-miss-it bottom-of-the-screen flashes, this year, it looks like they’re just gonna reroute anybody curious about the pre-ceremony winners to the website. The fewer distractions from those uncomfortable McCartney reaction shots, the better, I guess. I’ve been browsing the list during commercials: Weezer (Best Short-Form Video for “Pork and Beans”), Justice (Best Remixed Recording for MGMT’s “Electric Feel”), Kings of Leon (“Sex on Fire” for Rock Duo or Group) and They Might Be Giants (Best Children’s Album) are all winners tonight.

9:09 PM: Emily Procter (a CBS star, coincidentally) has just compared the Jonas Brothers to Cain and Abel. Awards shows break ground in nothing if not comical hyperbole.

9:10 PM: Stevie Wonder is performing with the Jonas Brothers, and aside from his hairline, his waistline, and his immobility, he’s fitting in just fine. That said, I’d rather watch the backstage awkwardness as the Jonas boys reunite with Miley and Taylor. These last 20 minutes have been a bit Disney Channel, no? Get ‘em before the kids’ bedtime, I guess. Save the Plant-Krauss and Ne-Yo performances for the 10:30 block.

9:13 PM: Predictably, Stevie Wonder is much better at singing Jonas Brother songs than the Jonases are at singing Stevie songs. That said, they do justice to “Superstition,” and also obliterate their exes’ duet.

9:15 PM: Blink-182 has reunited, and nobody in the Staples Center could give a shit. Hell, they didn’t even stand up for Travis Barker, despite his still-broken arm and visible burns.

9:16 PM: Coldplay won Best Rock Album. Their second acceptance speech, their second uncomfortable McCartney reference. Though I was amused when Chris Martin called their music “limestone rock…just as charming.” Way to compensate for being categorized with Metallica.

9:22 PM: CBS is not ashamed of synergy, as they trot out Craig Ferguson for some smarmy quips. Although the “Best Solo Performance in a Sex Tape…up against Screech” line was pretty funny. Much funnier than his Katy Perry reminds us lesbians are awesome schtick.

9:23 PM: Good lord, Katy Perry cannot sing, and her facial expressions are more grating than Miley’s. And being lowered on to the stage in a glittery phallus (a banana??): Katy Perry is as subtle as she is bicurious. Which is not at all!

9:25 PM: Who the fuck choreographed this anyway? Are the dancers suppoed to seem drunk? And in a song about kissing girls, how come nobody is actually kissing? Oh, right, network TV.

9:26 PM: The Jonas Brothers are supposed to be horny teens, and even they look more repulsed than aroused by Katy Perry.

9:27 PM: And in a scheduling coup, Kanye and Estelle are here to quickly erase that horrifically bad taste from our mouths.

9:28 PM: Even when looking like an extra from a 1985 DeBarge video, Kanye can still rock the mic like a pro, and remind us what’s truly great about music, i.e. “American Boy.”

9:29 PM: Best New Artist, courtesy of Kanye & Estelle, the former pointing out that while Bob Newhart, John Legend and Amy Winehouse (now, there’s a fun dinner party) have won the award, he and Estelle have not.

9:30 PM: Kanye announces Adele as Best New Artist, sliding further into my good graces by giving me my second correct prediction of the night. I’m now two in six. That’s 33%.

9:31 PM: Adele looks gorgeous. Better than Duffy, I’d say, who she specifically praises. I don’t know why the media insists she’ s ugly. She also confesses love for the Jonas Brothers, while leaving Lady Antebellum and Jazmine Sullivan out in the cold.

9:34 PM: Other pre-ceremony winners: Mars Volta took Best Hard Rock Performance, “Lollipop” got Best Rap Song despite not being much of a rap or a song, “American Boy” got some Grammy love in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, George Carlin got a posthumous Grammy for Best Comedy Album, and 90-year-old Pete Seeger took Best Traditional Folk Album.

9:36 PM: Morgan Freeman enters the stage, camera pans to his fellow Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. And of all the people Freeman was building up to introduce—biggest ticket seller, charitable altruist, personal friend—Kenny Chesney would’ve been close to my last guess. Also, was Freeman’s one gloved hand a subtle nod of support to the ailing Michael Jackson?

9:39 PM: He may fill arenas, but as a performer, Kenny Chesney is dull, dull, dull. Especially when singing a ballad.

9:40 PM: The time police must be cracking down on the standing ovations, as Natalie Cole, fresh from a Hep C hospitalization, didn’t get a single upright greeting.

9:42 PM: Three in seven, thanks to Plant & Krauss’s Record of the Year win. And Plant is now just being a douchebag about not allowing Krauss to say anything. It’s almost as if the guy who sang “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Lemon Song” is a misogynist who prefers women remain docile and quiet.

9:43 PM: And seriously, dude, that man-perm does no favors to your legacy or anyone else’ s sex drive.

9:44 PM: Post-Record of the Year commercial break. As good a time as any to note that I finally saw Slumdog Millionaire today, and during its “Paper Planes” montage, I realized that M.I.A.’s breakthrough hit is not only a fantastic record, but one of the most important, galvanizing, universally moving pop songs of the decade, right up there with “Gold Digger,” “Hey Ya!” and “Crazy.” All of those songs were denied a Record of the Year Grammy too. They all won Pazz & Jop though…

9:48 PM: Queen Latifah presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to Dean Martin, and also doesn’t seem to realize Joey Bishop is dead when she introduces the big “Swagga Like Us” performance. The Rap Pack rather than the Rat Pack. Get it?

9:50 PM: That seems to be the conceit for the performance, as the screen has gone to B&W and the guys are rocking tuxes. Also, M.I.A. is very pregnant, and being force to bounce around in the background after four lines of “Paper Planes.” No one said a four-man hip-hop summit would be kind to women.

9:53 PM: That was pretty fucking amazing, as all four of those guys (even Lil’ Wayne) brought their A-game. If M.I.A. seemed a bit of a weak link, she is due any day now, and she had the least to do. That was easily the highlight of the night thus far. Plant & Krauss (now poised to take Album after the Record win) have their work cut out for them.

9:54 PM: Of all the legends in the room, Paul McCartney is introduced by…Kate Beckinsale?!? Who said the Grammys had rhyme or reason?

9:56 PM: Back in 2006, Paul McCartney shared the Grammy stage with Jay-Z. That served him better than following Jay-Z & co., as he’s doing this year. This is a pretty stellar performance for Macca these days, but on the heels of “Swagga Like Us,” it’s a little musty, no? Even with Grohl banging the drums like Ringo never did. They should’ve scheduled it after Kenny Chesney instead.

10:02 PM: I’m now flashing back to the 2006 show, when Macca, Jay-Z and Chester Bennington sang “Yesterday,” prompting Gavin to oh so tastefully ask “Where’s Flight 93 when you need ‘em?” Gavin repeatedly reminded us of this quip for the next two months.

10:03 PM: Jack Black and his father-in-law (who knew?) Charlie Haden present Best Pop Vocal Male, but not before yet another McCartney joke. McCartney at the Grammys is like Nicholson at the Oscars.

10:05 PM: Jason Mraz better not beat Ne-Yo…

10:06 PM: He didn’t, but John Mayer did. Just keep showering him with Grammys and maybe he’ll go away.

10:07 PM: Jay Mohr (another CBS star, coincidentally enough) just made LL Cool J and the entire viewing audience very uncomfortable with his white-guy-being-black schtick, which hasn’t gotten any funnier since 1987.

10:09 PM: I never tire of hearing Jennifer Nettles belt “Stay,” easily one of the decade’s finest country ballads. Even better than “Teardrops on My Guitar.”

10:11 PM: I’ll refute prevailing wisdom, and state that, tonight, Adele looks much better than she sings. I expected Nettles to outsing her, but I didn’t expect this wide a gap. When you’re 19, and a 34-year-old country singer is the most modern element of your performance, perhaps you’re a bit outdated.

10:18 PM: Gwenyth Paltrow is introduced. No cut to Chris Martin? Classy.

10:19 PM: Two people in the audience recognize the opening lines of In Rainbows. Radiohead can kiss Album of the Year goodbye.

10:20 PM: Does Mrs. Chris Martin introducing Radiohead mean the Yorke-Martin beef is over? Or is it just another of
Martin’s desperate attempts at hatchet-burying diplomacy?

10:22 PM: Like U2′s ceremony opener, Radiohead doing “15 Step” with a marching band should’ve been better than it was. Yorke’s scruffy flailing couldn’t compensate for a disappointing performance that Radiohead disciples will no doubt love, and the rest of us will shrug off. Something’s gotta keep the college kids from completing their papers tonight.

10:23 PM: So commercial break, one performance, another commercial break. Scrambling to kill time, are we? Should’ve encouraged those Travis Barker/Natalie Cole standing O’s. Or included Robert Hazard in the upcoming In Memoriam segment. (I’m now just assuming his omission.)

10:26 PM: I guess we all needed time to process the deep philosophical meanings of “15 Step.”

10:28 PM: Sam Jackson can make you believe any indulgent hokum, even muted homophobia (see the “man love” comment).

10:29 PM: Timberlake and T.I. perform “Dead and Gone.” T.I. is clearly frightening the censors.

10:31 PM: This show needs a host next year, and I nominate Timberlake, so he can just stay on stage for every segment.

10:32 PM: A good performance of a good song, but there’s no way “Live Your Life” wouldn’t have been better, even with Timberlake doing Rihanna’s part. (For extra fun, he should wear Rihanna’s outfit.)

10:33 PM: A string orchestra and some Stomp!-esque bucket percussion. Two Grammy-performance cliches that should be retired, post-haste.

10:34 PM: Case you hadn’t heard, T.I. might be going to jail, but he’s on a road to redemption. (This was the entire premise of Paper Trail.)

10:34 PM: Crack open another beer. NARAS prez Neil Portnow has taken the stage, and he begins by noting Obama’s two Grammys. Only as a segue into emphatically begging for legislative arts support. His “yes, we can” refrains would be more believable if will.i.am had won Producer of the Year.

10:36 PM: I have not been to the Grammy Museum, but I’m betting there’s no Starland Vocal Band or Christopher Cross exhibits.

10:36 PM: Secretary of Arts. Let’s see that in the stimulus package. Boehner and McConnell would plotz.

10:38 PM: Smokey Robinson introduces a tribute to the Four Tops, joining Jamie Foxx and Ne-Yo singing alongside the sole orginal survivor Duke Fakir. Robinson’s voice is very weak and scratchy, and Fakir is, even here, little more than a back-up singer. But for people still mourning Levi Stubbs (as I am), this is still very touching. Wisely, none of these guys is trying to sound like Levi Stubbs; each is content to sound like himself.

10:42 PM: Okay, I totally expected the In Memoriam segment to follow the Portnow speech and the Four Tops salute. And yet nothing. They better be doing one this year. And Ron Asheton better be included in it.

10:46 PM: Gawd, these commercial breaks are getting longer. And odd for an awards show, there hasn’t been an award presented in the last forty minutes.

10:48 PM: In an attempt to send the younger viewers to bed early, MusiCares Person of the Year Neil Diamond is singing “Sweet Caroline,” and boy howdy, this song gets worse with age. And it was pretty terrible to begin with.

10:49 PM: T.I. looks as bored as I am.

10:50 PM: That got a standing ovation. And Carrie Underwood gets bupkes?

10:54 PM: As predicted, the In Memoriam segment (now dubbed Encore) omits Robert Hazard, Mikey Dread and Ron Asheton (Ron fucking Asheton?!?), but does include Norman Whitfield. Also left out: Sean Levert, Al Wilson, Paul Davis, Jeff Healey, Dee Dee Warwick, producer Jerry Finn, Dennis Yost and Dave Matthews saxophonist LeRoi Moore. But what can you expect from a montage that crams Odetta, Miriam Makeba and Nick Reynolds into the same three-second shot?

10:56 PM: Bo Diddley died so he couldn’t hear John Mayer and Keith Urban sing his eponymous tune.

11:06 PM: Lil’ Wayne, Robin Thicke, Allen Toussaint, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. A bunch of dancing chicks with umbrellas. All in some paean to New Orleans as unfocused and superficial as Lil’ Wayne’s verses.

11:08 PM: Even at 11 PM, how many less terrifying people must we cram on the stage to make Lil’ Wayne acceptable to older, middle American viewers?

11:09 PM: An hour after the last award, and T-Pain and will.i.am are here to present Best Rap Album. will.i.am congratulates Obama, who nevertheless didn’t help him win Producer of the Year. T-Pain laments he’s on only one of the albums, but like everyone else, T-Pain also knows that album will win.

11:11 PM: And it does. Fulfilling Standards and Practices’ wishes, Wayne gives a quick, pointless speech that offer one more reason why he’ll never be Kanye. The losers of the Best Rap Album award (Jay-Z, T.I., Nas and Lupe Fiasco) give the most supportive, good-hearted reaction shots of the night. How things change in a decade.

11:15 PM: They’re just dragging this out to 11:30, aren’t they? The final ten minutes will be a Plant & Krauss extravaganza, barring a major upset.

11:17 PM: The Blind Boys of Alabama look none too thrilled that they don’t even get a celebrity to announce their Lifetime Achievement Award.

11:18 PM: The soon-to-be Mrs. Ben Gibbard welcomes Plant & Krauss (& T-Bone Burnett), i.e. her and M. Ward in thirty years.

11:20 PM: “Gone, Gone, Gone” doesn’t speak to the strengths of either Plant or Krauss, which is one of the key problems with Raising Sand. It suppresses rather than exemplifies their considerable individual talents. I’d call this performance wobbly, but it’s every bit as wobbly as the studio version.

11:22 PM: And Robert Plant cannot and should not attempt to dance. His moves are like Chris Martin’s, but thirty years older and chubbier.

11:23 PM: Producer of the Year Rick Rubin didn’t even bother to show up. Green Day did—where have these guys been? They are sorely missed.

11:24 PM: And Album of the Year goes to…Plant & Krauss. Why, that’s almost a Herbie Hancock-size shocker, right? No. Well, maybe Plant will at least Krauss speak during the acceptance speech.

11:25 PM: The guys in Green Day can’t stop smirking in the background, as Plant can’t stop talking.

11:27 PM: Billie Joe Armstrong spends almost twenty seconds of dead air trying to hand the envelope to the guy who sang “Black Dog”, so that he can introduce Stevie Wonder and get to drinkin’. And Stevie sings his heart out to close out a grand clusterfuck, still singing even as the announcer begins to tout travel arrangements and voting rules. And another year’s Grammys end as foolishly as they began.

Even if my first liveblog proved a huge clusterfuck (and it didn’t, really), the Grammys are always a bigger clusterfuck. And I hit 50%, as four of my eight predictions came true. It looks better than it was, as three of the four categories presented on the show were spot-on. It was only the pre-ceremony categories, where I went one for four, where my predictions took a beating. However, those winners weren’t even broadcast on TV (save Rubin), so we may as well just forget them altogether.

And seeing as I have to wake up at 5 AM tomorrow, I’m off to bed. I enjoyed enough that I expect to do an Oscar liveblog. For now, a full winners list can be found here on the official Grammy website, and other snarky, detached recaps can be found pretty much everywhere else on the web. Enjoy, and I’ll be back later this week with more backward-thinking 2008 year-that-was type stuff.

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