In an effort to generate some excitement, underscore the allegedly historic
nature of the evening and shore up the sagging ratings of Sunday night's
3½-hour telecast, the producers of the 49th annual Grammy Awards have spent
the last few weeks asking music fans to remember their favorite "Grammy
A Web site launched by an advertising partner of Grammy organizers the
Recording Academy offers the following supposedly indelible moments as
• 2000: "Really, does anyone remember anything about this Grammy
night besides that J. Lo dress?"
• 2001: "Elton and Eminem sang their famous duet, while Destiny's
Child, U2 and Madonna also rocked."
• 2003: "Legends Simon and Garfunkel reunited, but it was newcomer
Norah Jones that stole the show."
• 2004: "OutKast and the White Stripes were red hot, and Prince and
Beyonce were the hottest of all."
• 2005: "Gwen and Green Day made statements fashion and political."
(Oddly, the Web site avoids mentioning that Green Day bandleader Billie Joe
Armstrong, while accepting an award for "American Idiot," surprised the
censors by flipping the bird.)
Judging from that list, you're justified in thinking that the Grammys
would be the runaway favorite to claim Most Bloated, Least Interesting
Awards Show, if such a prize existed. But while they hardly justify the
length of the telecast, the Grammys have given us a few memorable, bizarre
or must-see moments in the last few years. Here are some from my
• 1994: Frank Sinatra is praised to the high heavens as he's awarded
a Grammy Legends honor. But when Ol' Blue Eyes begins an emotional thank-you
speech, the director unceremoniously cuts to a commercial in mid-sentence.
Frank died in May 1998; said director is now rumored to sleep with the
fishes, as well.
• 1998: One the dancers hired to shuffle around behind Bob Dylan
during a performance of "Love Sick" suddenly strips his shirt off, exposing
the inexplicable words "Soy Bomb." Mr. Bomb shoves his way to the front of
the stage, Bob chuckles slightly, and the interloper is hauled off by
security 40 seconds later.
• 1998 (again): Opera great Luciano Pavarotti, who cancels almost as
many shows as he plays, calls in sick at the last minute, leaving producers
with a gaping hole where the aria "Nessun Dorma" is supposed to go. They
turn to fill-in Aretha Franklin, who makes the tune her own. The Queen of
Soul ... and Puccini, too.
• 2006: The homage to Sly and the Family Stone turns very strange as
Sly, making his first public appearance in 19 years in a blond Mohawk and
silver cape, mumbles part of "I Want to Take You Higher," then wanders off
in the midst of his own tribute.
Moments like these may be the stuff of chatter at the water cooler the
next morning, but they don't necessarily draw viewers. The Grammy Awards are
flawed, but they remain the most credible and prestigious honor in the
American music industry. The show, however, seems to become more boring and
less of a guaranteed television blockbuster every year.
In 2006, CBS moved the Grammy telecast from Sunday to Wednesday to avoid
competing with ABC's lineup of "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy."
But the move pitted the Grammys against "American Idol" at the peak of its
popularity. The result: "American Idol" drew 32 million viewers, while a
mere 17 million tuned into the Grammys, comprising one of its smallest
This year, the Grammys are back on Sunday, when the show airs at 7 p.m.
on WBBM-Channel 2. Yet while they're no longer competing with Simon Cowell,
Paula Abdul and company, the Grammys are bringing a little idolatry into
their own proceedings: The other part of the "Grammy Moment" promotion
involves a contest whereby "one unsigned, mostly unknown artist" was
selected by a vote of ordinary citizens who auditioned them online,
selecting a lucky winner to perform onstage with Justin Timberlake during
How does trotting out an unknown singer in a transparent attempt to ape
"American Idol" square with the stated purpose of the Grammys to "honor
excellence, achievement and innovation in the recording arts and sciences"?
It doesn't, and that underscores the biggest problem with the awards show:
It increasingly has very little to do with the actual awards.
Last year, by the time the broadcast started, 95 of the 108 golden
gramophone statues already had been handed out. This isn't to say that
watching the winners of obscure categories such as Best Polka Album, Best
Spoken Word Album for Children, Best Album Notes or Best Hawaiian Music
Album accept their trophies and thank their Creator makes for riveting
viewing. But it is supposed to be the reason we tune in.
Instead, producers have remade the telecast into a glorified musical
variety show that tries to provide something for everyone -- a smattering of
jazz, classical and Latin music, a few dollops of rock and hip-hop and
plenty of mainstream pop -- leaving dedicated fans of those genres
unsatisfied and pleasing no one. The trend in recent years has been toward
big, glossy, star-heavy medleys like the one in 2004 that paid tribute to
the Beatles by giving us mismatched pairings such as Dave Matthews, Vince
Gill and Sting stumbling through part of "I Saw Her Standing There." We
don't even get to hear many full performances by the original artists --
which is sad from an organization that's supposed to honor musical
The biggest news Sunday is that the three original members of '80s New
Wave hit-makers the Police will reunite to kick off the show. Yes, this is
one performance that may have some sizzle. But it is also the sweetest
advertisement for what could be the most lucrative stadium tour of the 2007
summer concert season.
Also scheduled to serenade us: Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige,
the Dixie Chicks, Gnarls Barkley, John Legend, Ludacris, John Mayer, Corinne
Bailey Rae, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Carrie Underwood.
Some names in this mix could deliver surprises that will have fans
buzzing on Monday morning: Legend and Blige are powerful live performers,
and Gnarls Barkley, the avant-rock-funk/ hip-hop collaboration led by DJ
Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo Green, is a gonzo wildcard capable of something
mind-blowing. The question is whether any of it will be worth 210 minutes of
your time and long stretches of dull television, in between commercials left
over from the Super Bowl.
My advice: Set your digital or video tape recorder to tape it, watch the
three or four highlights Monday and skip the rest. You'll be glad you did.
Every year, when it comes time to handicap the top Grammy Award
categories, I cheerfully note that your guess is as good as mine. With
20,000 voting members and more hidden motivations and competing agendas than
the House of Representatives, the Recording Academy is notoriously difficult
For every act that would seem to be an odds-on favorite, there's been
another that's come from left field, if not Mars. How else to explain the
Starland Vocal Band?
Nevertheless, I'm always game to try to predict the Grammy future. So
here are my choices for the top categories in 2006.
RECORD OF THE YEAR
(awarded to the artist)
The Nominees: "Be Without You," Mary
J. Blige; "You're Beautiful," James Blunt; "Not Ready to Make Nice," the
Dixie Chicks; "Crazy," Gnarls Barkley; "Put Your Records On," Corinne Bailey
The Predicted Winner: This one's a tough call: Blunt's soporific
ballad is exactly the sort of bland but ubiquitous pop that conservative
voters love; Blige is a true diva whose multiple nominations indicate that
the Academy is ready to crown her anew as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, and
there are, no doubt, liberal voters who'd like to congratulate the Dixie
Chicks for thumbing their noses at President Bush at the expense of losing
many of fans in the so-called red states. It's just a guess, but I'll go
The Most Deserving: Gnarls Barkley, which absolutely made the most
exuberant, inventive and unforgettable record of the year.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
The Nominees: "Taking the Long Way," the Dixie Chicks; "St.
Elsewhere," Gnarls Barkley; "Continuum," John Mayer; "Stadium Arcadium," the
Red Hot Chili Peppers; "FutureSex/LoveSounds," Justin Timberlake.
The Predicted Winner: Mayer, though I really hope it isn't so. I'm
afraid that the scattershot nature of this category will divide the voters,
with country, rock and dance-pop fans all going down those side-alley
detours while bland, mainstream Mayer plows down the middle of the road.
The Most Deserving: Gnarls Barkley again -- it's the only album
here that made my 10-best list -- but Timberlake is also deserving.
SONG OF THE YEAR
(awarded to the songwriter)
The Nominees: "Be Without You,"
Johnta Austin, Mary J. Blige, Bryan-Michael Cox & Jason Perry, songwriters
(Mary J. Blige, artist); "Jesus, Take the Wheel," Brett James, Hillary
Lindsey & Gordie Sampson, songwriters (Carrie Underwood, artist); "Not Ready
to Make Nice," Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison & Dan Wilson,
songwriters (Dixie Chicks, artist); "Put Your Records On," John Beck, Steve
Chrisanthou & Corinne Bailey Rae, songwriters (Corinne Bailey Rae, artist);
"You're Beautiful," James Blunt, Amanda Ghost & Sacha Skarbek, songwriters
(James Blunt, artist).
The Predicted Winner: This is a sad lot of nominees. Blige has had
much better moments, but she may claim this category if the Recording
Academy gets on a roll in honoring her. Unfortunately, I suspect that
massively popular musical mediocrity will prevail, so I'll say the prize
will go to Blunt.
The Most Deserving: The Dixie Chicks, if only for their admirable
BEST NEW ARTIST
The Nominees: James Blunt; Chris Brown; Imogen Heap; Corinne
Bailey Rae; Carrie Underwood.
The Predicted Winner: This batch is an even more pathetic group
than the contenders for Song of the Year; in fact, it may be the sorriest
bunch I've seen among the top four categories since I started covering the
Grammys as a journalist and critic. Blunt, I am sorry to say, may claim the
The Most Deserving: On this list, there's only one interesting
artist, the British art-pop ingenue Heap, who's been recording for more than
a decade. But it's an absolute travesty that Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco
didn't make the cut, because he's a more daring and promising new artist
than anyone who did.
Fiasco is up for three lesser prizes in the categories of Best Rap Solo
Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album. He deserves Best Rap Song, to
be sure, but I'm afraid he'll be shut out of all three of his categories by
more established names such as Missy Elliott, T.I. and Ludacris.