The wonder women

February 12, 2007


  • If there was a theme among the major winners as the 49th annual Grammy Awards were handed out last night in Los Angeles, it was women persevering against the odds and coming out on top.

    Country-pop trio the Dixie Chicks claimed five Grammys: song, record and album of the year, best country performance by a group and best country album. The wins seemed like vindication after many gigs on last year's tour were cancelled in Red states, where fans continue to boycott the singers because of their political statements.

    "To quote the great Simpsons: 'Ha ha!,' " lead vocalist Natalie Maines said when claiming the song of the year statue. Later, accepting album of the year, she elaborated.

    "I think people are using their freedom of speech here tonight with all these awards," Maines said. "I think people were using their voice the same way this loudmouth did."

    Mary J. Blige had eight nominations and only won three prizes: best female R&B vocal, best R&B song and best R&B album. But the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul viewed the wins as public redemption after years of personal turmoil.

    "For so many years, I've been talked about negatively, and this time I am being talked about positively," Blige said. Later, she added, "I don't think you can have a great peak if you haven't had a valley, because it's in the valley where you find out who you really are."

    Also among the night's big winners -- though less deserving than the ladies -- were punk-funksters turned soggy balladeers the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose wins included best rock album, best performance by a group with vocal and best rock song.

    Rapper Lupe Fiasco had topped the list of Chicago nominees, but he lost in all three of his categories. This was especially disappointing in the best rap album contest, since the winner, Ludacris, was announced by two Chicago rap superstars: Common and Kanye West.

    The most high-profile Chicago area winner: power-pop band OK Go, which won best shortform music video for "Here It Goes Again."

    With 97 of the 108 Grammy categories presented during the non-televised ceremony before the broadcast, the show had less to do with the actual awards than ever. Instead, viewers got 3 hours of a mainstream variety show wishing it was "American Idol."

    Last year, when the awards moved to Wednesday, Simon Cowell & Co. drew 32 million viewers, while only 17 million tuned into the Grammys. This year, the Grammys moved back to Sunday to avoid the competition, and they tried to take some "Idol" tricks with them.

    The "Grammy Moment" contest invited viewers to vote for one of three unsigned, previously unknown singers -- all of them model-beautiful anorexic young women, introduced by Chicago's Jennifer Hudson-- to duet with Justin Timberlake. The idea had nothing to do with the Recording Academy's stated purpose for the awards -- "to honor excellence, achievement and innovation in the recording arts and sciences" -- and it was a slap in the face to all of the winners and performers excluded from the broadcast.

    In another nod to the immensely popular "American Idol," Carrie Underwood claimed the prestigious best new artist Grammy, in addition to best female country vocal and best country song ("Jesus, Take the Wheel"). She also peformed as part of a glossy new country tribute to the Eagles that was exceeded in its lameness only by James Blunt crooning "You're Beautiful."

    Of the other performances, the much-hyped reunion by the Police turned out to be anticlimactic.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Police, and we're back!" Sting said, laying the foundation for a summer tour that will be the band's first since 1984. But the still-peroxide-blond trio delivered only one song, "Roxanne," rendering the early single in the style of Sting's solo versions, complete with a pointless jazzy interlude. The group seemed to rely on taped backing vocals, and it lacked the explosive energy it displayed during the New Wave era.

    Another surprising disappointment was Gnarls Barkley's irresistible "Crazy," which Cee-Lo Green and DJ Danger Mouse inexplicably rendered as a march at half the speed of the recorded version. (The group was shut out of the major categories but won best alternative album and best urban/alternative performance.)

    On the plus side: Christina Aguilera's barn-burning performance of James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" and Chris Brown's display of rhythmic step dancing.