|February 28, 2002
BY JIM DEROGATIS SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
On recent broadcasts, the Grammys have brought us the Year of the
Woman, the Year of Santana and the Year of Free Speech (a k a the
Eminem/ Elton John controversy).
The 44th annual awards ceremony, broadcast live Wednesday night from
the Staples Center in Los Angeles, turned out to be the Year Without a
Theme, as well as the Year of Few Surprises.
As expected, heavily hyped R&B newcomer Alicia Keys, aging Irish
art-rockers U2 and the bluegrass and traditional country artists behind
the phenomenally successful soundtrack to "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
dominated the evening with multiple wins each.
Propelled by the unrelenting promotion machine of Clive Davis and J
Records, Keys took the honors for best new artist, song of the year,
best R&B song, best female R&B vocal ("Fallin' ") and best R&B album
("Songs in A Minor").
''I'd like to dedicate this to just thinking outside the box and not
being afraid of who you are, no matter what you do,'' the 21-year-old
The neosoul singer tied Lauryn Hill's 1999 record for most Grammys by
a female artist.
U2 opened the show with a low-gear rendition of "Walk On," then
claimed four out of the eight Grammys for which the group was nominated:
best rock album ("All That You Can't Leave Behind"), record of the year
("Walk On"), best pop performance by a group ("Stuck in a Moment You
Can't Get Out Of") and best rock performance by a group ("Elevation").
"O Brother" claimed album of the year and best soundtrack
compilation; Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen and Pat Enright (the voices
behind the film's fictional Soggy Bottom Boys) took best country
collaboration; 75-year-old Ralph Stanley won best male country vocal for
"O Death" (his first-ever Grammy), and the soundtrack's auteur, T Bone
Burnett, claimed producer of the year.
"Bluegrass kicks ass!" declared awards presenter Natalie Maines of
the Dixie Chicks.
The "O Brother" crowd also provided the evening's performance
highlights. Stanley and the trio of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and
Emmylou Harris mesmerized the capacity crowd in the huge arena with
haunting a cappella renditions of tunes from "O Brother," before the
Soggy Bottom Boys delivered the knockout punch with a rollicking version
of "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow."
Other performers seemed to be repeating things we'd already seen on
national broadcasts earlier in the year, including the teen divas behind
"Lady Marmalade" (Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya and Pink), who did
the same shtick on the MTV Video Music Awards, though Patti Labelle
joined them for the Grammys. Billy Joel, once again performed "New York
State of Mind" in honor of Sept. 11, though this time pop crooner Tony
Bennett joined him.
Generic guitar-rockers Train and the histrionic Keys both tried to
spice up flat performances of their unremarkable hits by incorporating
an orchestra, but the strings didn't help. (Train, who record for
Chicago's Aware Records label, won best rock song for "Drops of
R&B giant Mary J. Blige rocked the house, leaving the impression that
she could eat Keys for breakfast. Best rap album winners Outkast were as
insanely inspired as ever, and Bob Dylan was good but not great (maybe
he needed Soy Bomb to drop in). All three made the joint appearance by
'N Sync and Nelly sound like fingernails on a blackboard.
Always refreshing, the young dance-pop artist Nelly Furtado performed
her hit "I'm Like a Bird," then claimed the prize for best female pop
"Cool! Highly unexpected!" Furtado chirped. "I had fun writing it,
Host Jon Stewart did his best to entertain in a thankless role, and
he delivered one of the best lines ever heard at the Grammys--though you
had to be a serious rock lover to appreciate it.
"Afghanistan was recently liberated from a totalitarian regime, and
the first thing that happened was that they played music in the
streets," Stewart cracked. "Three days later, even they were sick of
In contrast, Michael Greene, chairman of Grammy sponsors the National
Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, hit a new low in his typically
self-serving speech. In the midst of what is shaping up to be a bitter
fight between artists and the major-label music industry over business
as usual, Greene sided with the enemy.
With a staggering lack of logic, he claimed that downloading music
from the Web is killing music--though he never made it clear how people
having the ability to listen to something before buying it could
possibly hurt anyone.
Didn't "O Brother"--where people heard the songs in the movie, then
bought the album in record numbers--prove exactly the opposite?