Chicago's Kanye West three-peats


February 9, 2006


While many handicappers predicted a major sweep by Mariah Carey -- and the media seemed eager to follow a preordained script heralding the diva's return from the brink of a personal breakdown -- the glory was actually spread out among several artists (including some surprising winners) as the 48th annual Grammy Awards were handed out Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

R&B butterfly Carey did win three of the eight Grammys she was nominated for, including best R&B song ("We Belong Together") and best contemporary R&B album ("The Emancipation of Mimi").

But Chicago's superstar rapper Kanye West, who also had eight nods, won three prizes, as well, including best rap solo performance and best rap song for "Gold Digger" and best rap album for "Late Registration."

In two surprising upsets, West and Carey were both shut out of the top two Grammy categories of album and record of the year. Album of the year went to Recording Academy favorites U2 for "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." And record of the year was awarded to pop-punks Green Day for their disappointingly lame and tepid ballad, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

At the end of the night, U2 wound up being the biggest winner, with a total of five Grammy wins.

The Irish crusaders and part-time rockers' other awards included best rock album and song of the year for "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own."

"If you think this is gonna go to our heads, it's too late," Bono said when accepting the latter prize. He went on to explain how the song was inspired by the death of his father, the "atom bomb" of the album's title.

"I'd like to thank him for giving me the voice -- and a bit of attitude to use it."

Never what you'd call a gracious competitor, West had declared earlier, just before his performance: "I've been here two years in a row, and if I don't win, it's gonna be a problem."

In accepting album of the year, Bono gave West a shout-out and promised, "You're next."

Unexplained mystery of the night: Kanye's new penchant for wearing gaudy, oversized gloves -- like Michael Jackson, times two. What's up with that?

This year's other eight-time nominee, West's friend and Good Records labelmate John Legend, claimed three prizes: best male R&B vocal performance, best R&B album and the prestigious best new artist award.

In the latter category, Legend beat out local pop-punks Fallout Boy. And unfortunately, another local hero, Chicago rapper Common, lost in all four of the categories he was nominated in.

In recent years, the Grammy broadcast has grown increasingly glitzy, glossy and hype-happy, playing up to the all-important network television ratings, and trying to provide more competition to MTV's Video Music Awards -- a much less credible prize, but often a more entertaining show.

The Grammy winners themselves were almost secondary to all the hoopla: This year, by the time the broadcast started, 95 of the 108 golden gramophones already had been handed out during the non-televised portion of the evening.

Frankly, given the quality of many of the 26 performances included in the show, it would have been more fun to, say, watch Sen. Barack Obama claim his Grammy for best spoken word album (though he was busy sparring with Sen. John McCain in Washington, D.C.), or to see Sturr claim the prize for best polka album -- even though it meant the heartbreaking defeat of Chicago polka heroes Eddie Blazonczyk's Versatones for the 13th time.

The best performances were the most simple and direct: Chris Martin of Coldplay jumping into the crowd; Mary J. Blige fronting U2 and absolutely tearing the roof off the place during the dramatic ending of "One" (with Bono, for once, actually silenced for a moment); Paul McCartney truly enjoying himself as he led his young band through "Fine Line," a song from last year's "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," and a solo acoustic Bruce Springsteen serenading the crowd with "Devils & Dust."

While it wasn't an unqualified success, West's performances of "Gold Digger" and "Touch the Sky" were certainly ambitious, unusual and eye-catching.

Joined by actor Jamie Foxx, who channeled Ray Charles to sing the irresistible "Gold Digger" hook, West dressed as a drum major leading a college marching band as he tore through his raps about an unfaithful, money-hungry woman. Unlike the Rolling Stones at the Super Bowl, he preferred not to have broadcasters drop the word "nigga" from the lyrics, and he did it himself -- simply repeating the last word of the choruses, as he has several times in the past for other televised performances.

The much-ballyhooed tribute to Sly and the Family Stone turned out to be one of the strangest -- and saddest -- moments in Grammy history.

It started out strong, with the trio of Joss Stone, John Legend and Van Hunt kicking off a medley of the legendary soul band's hits. But things started to fly off the rails with a procession of guest stars who had absolutely no musical connection to Sly, including Maroon 5, and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

Then things went beyond weird and got positively bizarre. Doing his first major public performance (sort of) in 19 years, Sly, 61, came out wearing a blonde mohawk, hunched over in a silver cape, and mumbled part of "I Want to Take You Higher" in a nearly inaudible voice. And then -- he wandered offstage again, clearly surprising the musicians, who seemed to expect a little bit more.

Stone remains one of the most tragic burnouts in rock history. After his pioneering work in the late '60s and early '70s, he dropped out of the music scene and became increasingly reclusive and dependent on drugs. It was with no small irony that his segment was introduced by comedian Dave Chappelle.

"The only thing harder than leaving show business is coming back," said the comedian, who is currently learning that the hard way -- after returning from his own departure at the height of his comedy career.

Also falling flat: screechy and histrionic performances by Carey and former "American Idols" contestant Kelly Clarkson (who claimed the best female pop vocal and best pop album Grammys); the solo portion of U2's set, the band's umpteenth TV rendition of "Vertigo," and R&B singer John Legend's reading of his hit song "Ordinary People," pretentiously broadcast in black and white.